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MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T Tower Speaker Listening Tests

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So How Do They Sound? 

In my approximately 24’ by 13’ listening room, I set up the speakers with equal stand-off distances between the backwall and sidewall, and equal distance between speakers and listening position, with the 2” driver at ear level. A Pioneer SC-55 receiver was used in ‘Direct’ mode, so no tonal processing would interfere with the speakers’ natural sound. Subwoofers were used in some instances to assist in low-frequency playback with content with strong bass dynamics, using an 80 Hz crossover frequency. Speaker distance from listening position was about 10 feet. Most of the below listening was done with the Cesti T speakers facing straight ahead rather than toed-in.

Music Listening 

As always, I like to start with a clean The_Celts.jpgvocal recording, as vocals are where we will most easily detect a problem with the sound, since our hearing is so heavily tuned to the sound of the human voice. For this review I used Enya’s ‘The Celts’, a CD I have had for many years and have heard countless times. Enya’s vocals are awash in reverb on some of the tracks, but others are very clear and intimate. There is also some nice recording of live instruments in addition to synthesizers, with some very beautiful piano and violin arrangements. The vocals on this album were rendered exquisitely by the Cesti towers. Imaging was quite good, with stable positioning of the instruments and vocals, at least in the tracks where a shortage of effects allowed precise stereo imaging. The Cesti T speakers pronounced the slight harmonic shimmer of Enya’s voice that a darker speaker would subdue. I enjoyed ‘The Celts’ on the Cesti T speakers and felt they did a fine job with this classic recording.Brandenberg.jpg

For music on a larger stage and something with more traditional instruments, I turned to what is likely the most current popular recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Virgin’s recording performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. This is a widely available and inexpensive album that is highly regarded for the performance and also the sound quality. There is nothing I can say about the Brandenburg Concertos that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over, so I will refrain from commenting on these well-known compositions. I will say that this recording of these famous Concertos belongs not just in every Bach collection, but everyone who would have even a rudimentary collection of classical music. The Cesti T speakers nailed the imaging, with a convincing soundstage with nicely detailed instrument signatures. Woodwinds sounded centered with some depth, which is what one would expect in a typical orchestra. String instrument placement sounded like it was spread out across the stage a bit more, with a clavichord also taking center stage. I would say that the Cesti towers caught the delicate character of many of these instruments without losing the grandeur and cohesion of the larger orchestra.Night_Silence_Desert.jpg

An album with music that ranges from simple and minimal to rich and dense is ‘Night Silence Desert’ by Kayhan Kalhor and Mohammad Reza Shajarian. I do not have a deep familiarity of classical Persian music, but the liner notes explain that this disc is a mixture of classical Persian styles. Keyhan Kalhor is the instrumentalist with Reza Shajarian as vocalist. They are backed by a troupe of players of a variety of traditional Persian instruments. The recording itself is quite good, with clear placement of instruments and singer. It sometimes engages in extreme panning for effect but mostly holds a fixed placement of the various players. The Cesti speakers placed the instruments well when they were mixed in a conventional recording style but also conveyed the intended effects on those instances where the sound engineer decided to have some fun with panning and an ultra-wide stereo image for certain instruments. The Cesti’s rendition of Shazarian’s voice was rich and lifelike. Listening to ‘Night Silence Desert’ was a pleasure, and this album as reproduced by the Cesti speakers made me want to dig into classical Persian music more. 

I switched gears to something a bit more rambunctious at this point, so I threw in Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ album to see how the Cesti towers sounded with something rowdier than the previous content. I can happily report that Billy Idol sounded pretty good on the Cesti speakers. Billy was squarely anchored to the center of the soundstage with the guitars, bass, and percussion raging all around him. ‘Rebel Yell’ is a fun but short album so I threw in some other stuff such as Depeche Mode.Rebel_Yell.jpg

On Depeche Mode, I found the Cesti speakers to be rather sibilant. The S sounds in David Gahan’s voice were quite pronounced, as were the snare drums. This was consistent in track after track. Curious if this was something I had missed in ‘Rebel Yell’, I replayed some of the tracks from that album, and it wasn’t there. However, switching back to Depeche Mode and several other rock and also electronic dance music, I did hear sense a sibilant character on many of these types of recordings. ‘Rebel Yell’ seems to be an exception, as though it is mixed with the treble a bit depressed compared to these other recordings. 

‘Rebel Yell’ also sounded quieter when switching back and forth from the other rock music, and it occurred to me that ‘Rebel Yell’ might have been mixed for a more natural sound then the heavy compression that occurs in more modern rock and pop music. Examining some of the tracks in ‘Rebel Yell’ as a waveform in a digital audio editor, it was clear that if any compression was used in its mix, it was a relatively mild amount, unlike so much other popular music these days. However, we are still left with the fact that the Cesti T tower speakers do have a sibilant character with recordings of this nature, whereas many other speakers do not.

When I first received the Cesti towers, I placed them toed-in to face the listening position and ran through a sampling of different music to get a sense of their sound. It became apparent that these speakers were on the ‘bright’ side of loudspeaker voicing, so I angled them to face straight out so the listening position was off the direct axis. That seemed to alleviate much of that brightness. What I found out later, when I queued up Depeche Mode, was that this straight-ahead positioning was not a cure for sibilance on music where the frequency range of sibilant sound is fighting for dynamic range against all of the other sound in the recording. We will examine the reasons for this characteristic more when look at the frequency responses in our measurements section. 

Movies and Television

One movie I thought would be right up thThe_Doors.jpge alley for the Cesti T tower speakers is Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic ‘The Doors,’ which contains a superb sound mix with music nearly from the beginning of the movie to the end in a variety of acoustic environments. Music is mostly pieces from the Doors, with many of them sung by Val Kilmer himself in a dead-on impersonation of Jim Morrison’s singing. There are also some orchestral bits, ethnic music, and a few songs by other rock groups. ‘The Doors’ sounded great with the Cesti T speakers. Dialogue was clear and intelligible against the background music and environmental sounds. The music itself sounded great on the Cesti speakers. This is the kind of movie that the Cesti T speakers are made for and is what they excel at. I deferred from playing a monster action summer blockbuster, since I didn’t want to risk sending elevated levels of deep bass frequencies to the Cesti speakers. They are not made for reproducing massive explosion sounds or content like that. The dynamic range of the Cesti T speakers isn’t bad, but these speakers will not tolerate much abuse in that vein. These speakers will handle dialogue and typical acoustic music at healthy loudness levels, but not blast effects-driven movies or bass-heavy electronic music, although such content will not endanger the Cesti T speakers at modest levels.

Something else I watched on the Cesti T speakers was the third season of Amazon’s ‘Bosch.’ Bosch is a policeBosch_S3.jpg drama about a tough homicide detective in L.A. While that might sound like an awfully generic scenario, the show itself is very expertly made, and the protagonist is well-drawn and given depth. The sound mix is not out of the ordinary, which is why I chose ‘Bosch’ for the Cesti T speakers. One thing I listened for was to hear if the sibilance on some of the rock recordings could be heard on dialogue in the sound mix of a typical drama, but it didn’t seem to crop up. Dialogue and music sounded natural and even. The opening credits were punchy and tuneful on the Cesti T speakers. The ambient sounds of Los Angeles was not lost in the dialogue or action scenes on the Cesti T speakers, and the sound mix of the show felt distinct but also cohesive. The Cesti T speakers made for another absorbing season with Detective Bosch, and my only complaint was that it ended too soon, and now another year-long wait begins for Season 4.

 

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gene posts on July 10, 2017 02:30
MarkAudio-SOTA has recently launched their brand to the North American market, and we had a chance to give their Cesti T tower speakers a run around our testing grounds to gauge their performance. MarkAudio-SOTA is a new speaker manufacturer that uses a team of highly-respected industry vets to assemble a line-up of finished speakers based around full-range drivers. The Cesti T uses three full-range drivers placed into a very slick, modern cabinet with a crossover designed to get the most out of this driver array. Read our review to see how well this idea translated into practice.

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Read: MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T Tower Loudspeaker Review
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