REVIEW: KRIX ESOTERIX ALTUM BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS

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by Peter Familari

23rd February, 2018

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REVIEW: KRIX ESOTERIX ALTUM BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS

Krix stands out from the crowd as much by its longevity as by its design and manufacturing brilliance. Qualities that give Krix an unrivalled global footprint. The Esoterix Altum is a 2-way bookshelf with some innovative tech.

Krix

Esoterix Altum

2-Way Bookshelf Speakers

If you value Australian audio manufacturing as much as I do, then you’ll agree there’s something special in the air in Adelaide.

What else explains why the City Of Churches continues to give the rest of the world audio brands and products that achieve the highest sonic excellence and build quality, along with fresh and innovative design ideas.

Adelaide, you won’t have failed to notice is home to Krix Loudspeakers, an outfit lauded by professionals and audio muggles like you and me. Praised, it has to be added, both here at home and abroad.

Those with longer memories will also tell you Halcro hails from Adelaide. So do Duntech and VAF. And newcomer Hulgich Audio also calls Adelaide home.

A quartet of brands and a collective labour and design wizardry keeping Australian audio on the world stage.

This high level of outstanding design has now given you and I the unique Krix Esoterix Altums that are now filling my listening room with pure unadulterated music.

Krix Esoterix Altum

Krix stands out from this celebrated crowd as much by its longevity as by its design and manufacturing brilliance. Qualities that give Krix an unrivalled global footprint.

One day some audio journalist will compile a paean to the history of Australian Audio design and innovation. When it’s published, we won’t be surprised to find a whole chapter devoted to the work of Krix founder and company luminary, Scott Krix.

If the stunning sound of the Esoterix Altum prompts you to ask a little more about this elusive but hugely talented speaker designer, here’s a few salient facts.

Scott Krix sold his very first pair of speakers 42 long years ago. Longer than a generation of millennial audiophiles have populated Mother Earth.

And long enough for his love of music to blend with his engineering skills. Skills moreover that have been honed by decades of skilled speaker crafting.

Scott KrixThe Krix journey began the day Scott, and a mate were compelled to set up shop making speakers. The place in Adelaide was called Goodwood, and the name of the pair’s enterprise was called the Acoustic Foundry.

It’s hard not to notice the symbolism in the placename Goodwood and Scott’s odyssey crafting fine loudspeakers with real timber finishes.

The Acoustic Foundry is also an apt name for an environment dedicated to exacting research and great sound.

Clearly, these were amongst the best years of Scott Krix’s life, and above all, one gets a sense of his voyage of sonic discovery and immersion in a fun-filled working life.

While his mate ran the shop, Scott built the speakers. Word of mouth soon saw the Foundry populated by a horde of do-it-yourself hippies and uni students.

Scott used his time at the Foundry to develop and build his first range of loudspeakers called the HG (Home Grown) range.

Not long after, the manager of the rather grand Capri Theatre on Goodwood Road asked Scott to design and build a complete set of cinema speakers from the ground up.

Anecdotally the story is that Scott looked at the screen, and the huge space behind it, and saw it as a complete canvas to work with.

Before long came the brilliant idea of building a wall that served as a wall to ceiling baffle.

Then came the hard part of building speakers into this baffle that not only sounded realistic but also moved enough air, and had the right kind of dispersion to titillate the senses of a theatre audience.

With mission accomplished, success on a huge scale soon followed. Before long Scott was building speaker systems for every major cinema in Australia.

The Krix legend spread globally. These days Krix cinema speakers and domestic surround and hi-fi models are sought after globally.

The hometown kid from Adelaide made good. Big time.

You’d think this would be impetus enough for Scott to put his feet up and allow others to research and develop new models.

Those that know Scott Krix, also know better. They’ll tell you Scott doesn’t measure success in dollars and he’s not motivated by accolades.

This deeply talented speaker innovator remains what he always was: an unassuming, unaffected bloke from Loxton, Adelaide.

Within him still beats a desire to craft a better loudspeaker. And this loudspeaker quite simply is one of his crowning achievements: the Scott Krix Esoterix Altum.

Introducing ...

The Krix rooms at last year’s International Hi-Fi Show in Melbourne were crammed full of visitors for the duration of the show.

Many who heard the prototypes of the Esoterix Altum came away with the notion that what they’d just heard was a giant-killing speaker model with elite build and styling.

On first listen, I knew they were always bound for audio glory.

Krix is a thoroughly professional outfit. The speakers arrived safe thanks to the comprehensive packaging, along with matching stands. Also attached was a four-page comprehensive manual full of easy to follow instructions and devoid of any 'merda di toro.'

We’ve lost count of the number of speakers arriving without a manual or missing one or two binding post links. As for stands, it’s almost mandatory for some speaker brands to squirrel these away from any reviewer’s mitts.

Krix also followed up with emails asking if the new babies had arrived safely at their destination and if we needed anything else they could help with?

Krix speaker buyers, please take note. Our inference is you’ll get fab after sales service long after you’ve bought your Krix loudspeakers.

Unpacking the Altums is a two-mate job. Each weighs 11kg, but it isn’t the weight that bears attention: it’s the superlative finish.

Even though Krix had advised us our review samples were a pre-production pair, we can share our delight at the grand piano class finish and polish of our Altums.

In the light of the review room, the flawless lacquer coating applied to the Altum allowed us to see reflections with clear definition and plenty of detail. A finish that had us thinking we were looking at the best from Italian speaker legend, Sonus faber.

The Altum is a large, two-way compact conceived with classical, elegant proportions. This means the superb cabinet is deep, 380mm deep in fact, but only 260 mm wide. Height is 390mm.

Placed on their elegant, purpose-built matching stands, the Altum presents a small frontal footprint. A design profile my wife favours. And yes, when she saw the standard of external finish she said three words: “Beautiful! Sonus Faber?”

My wife loved the idea of an Aussie brand making a loudspeaker with a finish commensurate with a fine musical instrument. And so do we.

As for the distinctive wave guide that frames the tweeter, which will divide opinions, my wife described it as “audio sculpture.” Meaning it was to be admired and savoured for the radical innovation it truly is.

But this praise is coming from a partner that’s been exposed to all kinds of loudspeakers over the decades.

A partner moreover that still describes the wonderful Quad 57 as “a low-rent radiator” and the classic 1969 B&W DM70 hybrid/electrostatic speaker as “a washing machine for try-hards.”

We allowed the Altum a couple of days to settle in. A process we practice with all components sent for review. And please take heed: it’s one just as important as the “burning in” period afforded new components by careful and caring audiophile/music lovers.

While the Altums settled in, we poured through the manual to learn the frequency response is 40Hz-40kHz measured 'in room.'

The Altum’s sensitivity is 89dB (2.83V measured at a distance of one metre), and the impedance is a nominal 4 Ohms with a minimum of 3.2 Ohms.

The configuration is two-way using a 165mm natural wood fiber cone, innovative cast aluminium basket with a 38mm voice coil and large, neodymium iron/boron magnet.

The Altum’s high-frequency driver is a 26mm model employing a ring radiator design with a patented phase plug and large, neodymium magnet.

On the rear of the Altums are gold plated dual binding posts. The enclosure is a bass reflex construction with the vent on the bottom of each speaker.

The matching stands fix to the bottom of the speakers by way of four sturdy bolts while the stand post affixes to a weighted base using three bolts.

Measuring The Satisfaction Quotient

The musical prowess of any speaker rests upon the amount of visceral and cerebral pleasure derived from hearing them.

In my case, the deep feelings experienced by meaningful music played with faithful sounding audio components comes way ahead of any intellectual appreciation of the music and the gear.

Others see and hear it differently. Different strokes, for different blokes and women.

The Altums never failed to elicit an emotional response. Not once did they sound unengaged, cold or distant. Allow this to seep in.

No, they weren’t coloured. Not one jot. They’re certainly very smooth and assured even hammering away reproducing that elaborate aural fest called The Wall by Pink Floyd.

They could be better described as having commendable neutrality that allowed instruments, voices and acoustic environments to form and fan out in my listening room complete with each unique colour.

The system used to drive the Altums comprised an SME 20 turntable, SME V tonearm, Koetsu Rosewood Signature cartridge, Elektra valve pre and solid-state power amplifier, Marantz SA-14Si SE SACD and Pioneer PD-70A SACD player. Cabling was In-akustik throughout while the rack was the Solid Tech Radius four with sprung top shelf.

With Beethoven’s late String Quartets played by the Vegh Quartet recorded on CD and LP, the Altums leave you in no doubt that there’s a difference between CD and vinyl.

This speaker’s extensive working dynamic range and micro/mcro dynamic ability leave you in little doubt that what you’re hearing is a high-end compact.

But as the cello dips low into the profound parts of the music, you become aware this is a compact with a difference: it imparts the lowest frequencies with body, information, and depth. Real depth.

As for the highs, on CD the Altum’s neutrality exposed the recording’s poor quality. While treble wasn’t shrill, it was brash and truncated.

Interestingly moving to the LPs, the Altums revealed even more of the bathroom-like acoustic of this performance but the treble though still truncated, came across as sweet and certainly not brash.

As for the mid-range, via the Altums these natural instruments sounded just like the natural, unamplified instruments I’ve heard many times in real life performances.

But why use recordings that are less than exemplary to assess the Altum? Go back and reread the opening paragraphs to this part of the review.

And then borrow or better yet, buy the Vegh interpretation of The late Beethoven String Quartets on CD or Vinyl. Have a listen. And if you’re serious about music, compare this version to any other.

None plumb the spiritual depths of this incomparable music like the Quartetto Vegh. None retrieve the composer’s message as wholly as they do and with such a minimum of artifice.

The Altums have soul, dear reader. Many high-priced rivals do not.

Speaking of price, the Altums have an RRP of $6,495 in black ash, Atlantic Jarrah, Walnut, Black Wood, and Cola finish. Stands in matching colours are $1,195.

A price point that invites comparisons with a couple of the Altum’s rivals which include the Sonus faber Olympica 1 ($7,495) and the Dynaudio Contour 20 ($6,499).

No listening session is ever complete without spinning some Sinatra as much for the mid-range beauty of this crooner’s vocals, as the spectacle of having a fabled large orchestra arraign itself in your listening room.

My go-to Sinatra recording is the album 'Sinatra and String's made with arranger Frank Costa in 1962. With both CD and LP on hand, I already knew the Altum would bring the music alive.

The CD version does have a shrill treble, particularly on violin. But hearing Sinatra sing Stardust, his second version of this classic, who cares? The CD’s mid-range and lower frequencies are perfectly enjoyable as is the soundstage that has plenty of width and height but lacks depth.

Play the LP version, and you begin to understand the magical pairing of Sinatra and Costa as the Altums unravel the lush and heavily orchestrated scores of Night And Day or All Or Nothing At All, and display it across your living room.

The LP version is still a tad closed in on the higher frequencies but makes up for this with its open-mouthed midrange, huge bottom end, and pinpoint imaging.

Did anyone mention soundstage? The vinyl has vast left to right spread and cavernous depth. Height is just right as well. Within this soundstage, the Altums place performers and instruments with alarming levels of accuracy and authenticity.

Alarming because instruments like the horns cut in with such clarity you’ll be startled if you’re caught unaware, as I was drifting into a deep slumber after one too many ports.

But that’s the thing about great speakers. They are so distortion and compression free, you begin to relax to relaxing music. The Altums?  They’re supreme relaxation machines.

Time to move onto something a wee more raucous.

Although it's embarrassing to admit, I have an affection for AC/DC. Partly because they’re a group that took shape in Australia but more so because years ago I wrote a news feature at the Herald Sun during one of the band’s tours.

It was about a woman from Tasmania who had missed a live performance of AC/DC during the early years of the band because she’d failed to complete some household chore.

Her father punished the then teenager by making her paint the roof of their house while the band toured the Apple Isle. She explained this experience to me by phone and asked me to help her find some tickets. We did.

A few weeks later the wife of one of the AC/DC band members who was moved by the story sent me a handwritten “thank you’’. I still have the letter.

Inspired by this memory I dusted off my 7-inch single of the band’s eponymous song, It’s A Long Way To The Top partly to see if the Altums could rock.

Could they?

Well, I played that track half a dozen times at ear-bleeding volume levels. And would have kept repeating it. But our two dogs started howling, and my neighbour called me on my mobile asking politely to have the music turned down.

So I pulled out a CD copy of the band’s 1975 album 'T.N.T', and have to unashamedly admit to playing every track before retiring to bed.

The Altums gripped AC/DC’s raucous and edgy music so tightly nothing of any musical worth was pulled apart. T.N.T’s recording quality isn’t world class. That said, the enjoyment provided by the Altums as they opened up the recording’s acoustic and production values can be summed up in three words: loads of fun.

Over the following weeks, as I played different music in different formats, I got to understand what makes the Altum such a complete, high-end loudspeaker.

Get on the end of a pair and the level of neutrality and transparency will keep you listening, and your feet tapping in time with the beat of the music, for hours on end.

As for the Altum’s much-touted waveguide, it works a treat. The waveguide by any other name is a horn. And we all know horns have a laser beam like directivity, don’t we? Horns are also cuppy, sounding particularly nasally with vocals.

All I can share is the Altum’s relative level of directionality. This speaker’s dispersion is very un-horn-like, and there isn’t a hot spot that requires your head to be bolted in a vice to enjoy the speaker’s “sweet spot.”

At a guess, the Altum’s waveguide allows them to have a dispersion of about plus or minus 30 degrees. Within this parameter, the frequencies do not tail over or diminish. And 30 degrees affords a comfortable listening position range.

As much as I admire Scott Krix and his team’s accomplished waveguide, there is much, much more to the Esoterix Altum.

The drivers are first-grade quality as is the crossover. A crossover that is audibly seamless and studded with audiophile grade parts.

Then there’s the Altum’s luxurious cabinet that I’m guessing is heavily braced and dampened because you can touch it as its playing back AC/DC at very loud volume levels, and it hardly vibrates.

The Altums join the select handful of compact speakers that in our opinion qualify as candidates for the elite grade of their genre.

Build quality is as good if not better than some similarly priced rivals, the innovative value is inestimable and the sound satisfying on all kinds of music.

Enthusiastic about the Krix Esoterix Altums?
You bet we are.

For more information visit Krix.

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Written by:

Peter Familari

One of the veterans of the Australian HiFi industry, Peter was formerly the Audio-Video Editor of the Herald Sun for over two decades. One of the most-respected audio journalists in Australia, Peter brings his unparalleled experience and a unique story-telling ability to StereoNET.

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