MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T Tower Loudspeaker Review
- Design: three-way, bass-reflex tower speaker
- High Frequency Driver: 1 x 50mm (2 inch) low mass mixed alloy symmetrical sound field cone unit (Sota 5)
- Low Frequency Drivers: 2 x 110mm (4.4 inch) low mass, long throw mix alloy symmetrical sound field cone unit (Sota 11)
- Frequency Range: 40Hz – 25KHz anechoic
- Sensitivity (1w @ 1m): 87 dB
- Nominal Impedance: 6 ohms
- Crossover: 2nd order shallow slope design @1.9kHz
- Recommended Amplification (Class A/B @ 8 Ohm Per Channel): 50W to 100W
- Recommended Amplification (Class A @ 8 Ohm Per Channel): 12W to 25W
- Recommended Amplification (Class D @ 8 Ohm Per Channel): 30W to 60W
- Dimensions: 9 1/16in x 11 1/32in x 35 7/16in
- Weight: 44 lbs 1 oz
- Very good midrange sound
- Stylish cabinet with great finish
- Some innovative design decisions
- Cone break-up causing spikiness in treble frequencies
For some years now, MarkAudio has been known around the world by audio enthusiasts and DIY speaker hobbyists for their full-range drivers. Their drivers make it very easy for a hobbyist to build a reasonably good sounding speaker, since a single driver design can be used with no crossover needed. All the user has to do is build the cabinet. Full-range driver proponents champion this approach to speaker design, since they claim that crossovers color the sound and that using multiple drivers create lobing interference patterns that also sullies the sound. Earlier this year, MarkAudio introduced their finished speaker brand, MarkAudio-SOTA, into the U.S. market. Their product line-up consists of four speakers: three bookshelf speakers and a tower speaker. In this review, we will be looking at their tower speaker, the Cesti T. The Cesti T towers are a modestly sized towers meant for two-channel applications that come in a finely lacquered finish, and at nearly $3,500 per pair, are intended for an upscale market.
Setup and Appearance
The Cesti T towers arrived in boxes with a clever locking mechanism that kept the packaging safely together and also made it easy to unpack. Within the boxes, the speakers were sandwiched between thick foam blocks on the top and bottom of the box, with a thick foam band protecting the middle. While the packing looked good to protect the speakers from bumps and shocks, the speakers did not come in any kind of plastic wrapping that would protect them from moisture, an odd omission at this price point. Nonetheless, the speakers arrived at my doorstep in excellent condition.
Out of the box, the Cesti T speakers looked snazzy. They have a sleek, modernistic design, and that vibrant red color with its exquisite polish certainly gives them flair. Yes, ‘snazzy’ is the word I would use for these; they are not so conservative that they become sedate, nor are they so unconventionally styled that they become ostentatious. The rounded corners and the grooves of the waveguides around the drivers give the Cesti T’s clean lines that are free from any sharp angles. The drivers present themselves as aluminum disc cones surrounded by the black rings of the surround and driver frame. The only logo on the speaker is the inconspicuous initials ‘ML’ in the bottom corner of the speaker. If you look carefully, you can see that the waveguides are not completely symmetrical with respect to the cabinet. They have a slight directional preference. With the grille on, the speakers do lose much of their personality, and, as we will discuss later, the grille does not improve their sound, so there is no harm in leaving the grille off if the user prefers. The use of magnetic grilles keeps the front baffle clean of grille guides. The Cesti T speakers also come in white and black colors for those who want a more reserved look and would rather not have the speakers stand out as much. To sum up the Cesti’s appearance, they look good, and, depending on their color, they should be able to fit in a wide range of decors.
MarkAudio-SOTA speakers place an emphasis on use of the MarkAudio full-range drivers as their chief selling point, which is expected given the name of the company. The MarkAudio drivers are full-range drivers, and, as such, should be able to cover most of the frequency range of music as a single driver. The Cesti T uses two 4” drivers and one 2” driver. Typically, full-range drivers are used as the sole driver in a speaker, in order to avoid the adverse effects of using a crossover and interference that can occur when multiple drivers. Full-range driver enthusiasts claim that the sound of a full-range driver speaker is purer and has greater fidelity, since there is no way to introduce any phase conflicts that can occur at crossover frequencies in speakers that divide frequency bands between drivers. However, the Cesti T uses two different full-range drivers and a crossover, in defiance of the traditional use of full-range drivers. The reason may be that MarkAudio-SOTA wanted to avoid beaming issues were they to use their 4.4” driver by itself, and their 2” driver wouldn’t have had the dynamic range needed for a tower speaker. In addition to that, the 4” driver would be far more capable of bass playback, and the 2” driver would be more adept at treble. This then begs the question: why use full-range drivers in this sort of orientation to begin with?
MarkAudio-SOTA’s answer looks to be that some of the more deleterious effects of crossovers and drivers of different character can be reduced when you pair together similar drivers with wide bands of operation such as MarkAudio drivers. One example of this is that since the MarkAudio drivers in the Cesti have very similar cone profiles and cone compositions, their behavior will be very similar, so you get a very close match in performance over the crossover frequency and will be less prone to the problems that occur between considerably different drivers such as a typical 5” midrange driver and a 1” dome tweeter. Using full-range drivers of such similar character also allows a more gentle and less severe crossover slope, since the drivers will blend together very well, so that should reduce the problems that crossovers can create. Since the Cesti drivers are so alike, the behavior of the MarkAudio drivers should blend very well off axis as well as on axis, in what MarkAudio-SOTA likes to call the symmetrical sound field, where the dispersion characteristics are the same from both drivers. MarkAudio-SOTA claims that these qualities give their speakers many of the advantages of multi-way speakers while preserving the advantages of single full-range driver speakers.
The drivers themselves use a shallow-profile mixed-alloy cone and a healthy-sized magnet. They have the distinctive “button” dustcap seen on all MarkAudio drivers. The cone itself is very light. The 2” driver looks very much like a shrunken version of the 4”. These drivers are also used as sole drivers in MarkAudio-SOTA speakers sold in Europe and are specified in those speakers as having a full-range response. The president of North American distribution tells me that he is thinking about bringing the single driver speakers to the American market. As with most full-range drivers, these are not able to take enormous amounts of power. The amplifier requirements in the specs sheet should be heeded here. These drivers are not as durable against large amount of current as conventional driver types seen in this price class.
The crossover for the Cesti T speakers is a simple design. It uses second-order slopes for both the high-pass filter and low-pass filter. As such, there looks to be only a pair of inductors and a pair of capacitors on the board. The Inductors and capacitors are sizable and look to be up to the task. As stated above, the rationale for such a simple crossover is that the cones are so much alike that they will be able to blend easily, so there is no need for a complicated crossover with steep slopes.
As with the crossover, the cabinet construction is also relatively simple, but there are a few noteworthy details. The paneling looks to be just short of 1” thick, perhaps ⅞”. There is no real bracing in the upper part of the cabinet, but there is a solid board bracing the lower section, perhaps to reduce the internal volume for the 4” drivers. The 2” driver is sealed in its own compartment in some kind of plastic rounded cone. This rounded cone shell looks to be shaped to diffuse any standing waves. The Cesti T towers have a port on both the front and back of the speaker, and port plugs are included with the packaging for those who want to reduce the bass response. There are some shallow waveguides carved around each cone on the exterior of the cabinet. One interesting thing about these waveguides is that they are not symmetrical on each speaker, but the waveguides do mirror each other as a speaker pair. One half of the waveguide opens up on one side of the cabinet while the other keeps contained in the front baffle. This is intended to allow broader dispersion of sound on one side of the speaker, which can be used to either minimize side-wall reflections or heighten them, depending on the user’s preference. The binding posts have a little divider between them, which is a nice touch that helps to prevent strands of cable from accidentally touching the other polarity and causing a short. I wouldn’t mind seeing this on more binding posts in the future.
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