A studly study in stark contrasts? Moving in Martin's Wave 40, I wasn't concerned with one-pair-a-time rules. I wanted to conveniently swap without reorganizing my setup each time. The goal wasn't a fussy assessment. Such outcomes would be specific to just our room, hence of zero relevance. I only needed a generalized take on the differences between a deliberately tuned box using the same core widebander and tweeter; and its open-baffle alter ego. With the latter's strong points already defined, what would the ovoid tonewood speakers propose by contrast?

Rather than surprisingly close tonality which was just a bit darker for the baffles, the immediate differences on chamber music dealt in wetter textures and images with more depth for the Libération; and finer separation and greater transparency for the Wave 40. Regardless of stage width where my temporary setup obviously favoured the former, they still sounded bigger if also a bit sloppier or looser. Those last two words reflect point of view. Each describes the same phenomenon. One simply does it more critically, the other more appreciatively. Switching to bigger music, the Libération moved ahead with more boisterous dynamic reflexes and reach; and lower bass. Whilst that behaviour scaled more generously like a big engine accelerates harder, the Wave 40 sorted more precisely and exhibited the stronger forward projection. The Libération's subjective mix of direct/reflected sound was closer to a hall's far field, playing it bigger, with more waft, looseness and breath. It's why big classical was so convincing. On more compact minimalist music, the Wave 40's spatially less enhanced presentation and higher lucidity played it more precise and locked. The Libération's general mien was heavier. Big bore sound. The Waves were more fleet of foot or ripple. Their's was the smaller lighter car chassis with stiffer suspension and more compact high-revving engine.

Returning to our Zu Druid V—a conceptual kin with its big widebander augmented by a Radian 850 compression tweeter—confirmed what compared to the Libération seemed to be their box signature: tighter transient reigns for more visceral punch which by the very same turn was also an overall tighter feel vis-à-vis the open baffle's breathier gushier billowier gestalt. With the assist of the matching Submission sub for a $11'500 combo well below either Swiss, raw bandwidth that was additionally EQ'd to be up at 20Hz was obviously superior on the type music which contains such data in the first place. Where the Libération occupied unique ground was, again, on in-room acoustic mass, easeful V12-type dynamic reach and that peculiarly dense spatially immense staging.

Wrap. Commercial SOB aka salonfähige open baffles aren't exactly a dime a dozen; more like the dirty dozen in fact. Obvious suspects are Bastanis, Emerald Physics, Jamo, Kyron, Spatial and Zugspitz. From $2'000/pr to well north of $100K, even this incomplete sampling spans a gamut. Yet none look anything like the Swiss Libération. Whether that's good only you can decide. Suffice to say that their finishing is gorgeous. It's like fine handcrafted furniture from all angles. Whilst lack of experience prevents me from knowing how much of what I heard is inherent in the basic OB concept, I can confirm that ditching the box also ditches common room issues. Considering how the box tends to be a speaker's costliest part—here I lump enclosure build and finishing it to contemporary standards together—it seems outrageous that eliminating said expense would be so sonically advantageous. Yet there it is, unmistakably. With big woofers endemic to the concept, broader than currently fashionable baffles become part of it. Yet contrary to Twiggy propaganda, those don't undermine soundstage spectacle. Besides moving more air for bigger dynamics, big drivers also produce bigger chewier tone density. By exploiting their drivers' total not just partial output, sensitivity increases as well. If all this suggests pure upside, one wonders why commercial open baffles remain the exception. If it's the salonfähig aspect, Martin Gateley's efforts on behalf of more critical buyers should be major progress. If it's current obsession with ultra-sorted hyper transparent small-driver sound (premium mini monitor flavour scaled up for full bandwidth in an equivalent floorstander), an alien like the Libération becomes either blast from the past; or futuristic preview beyond that obsession's ability to make out yet.

Just so, to anyone seriously interested in our audio arts, an eventual listen to these soundkaos speakers should nearly become required rite of passage. It's something which, like valve amps or electrostatic panels or premium headphones, one must cross paths with at least once in a high-calibre example to be properly informed. How can any of us make educated decisions if we remain ignorant of this most valid alternative to the ubiquitous box speaker? Having righted my own passage now, I remain baffled. Why does going boxless remain so unconventional? It's not the equivalent of a town hall proposal to convert a tony seaside resort's only beach into a nudist colony; or is it? If so, current audiophilia is far too stuck on the status quo for its own good. It's shocking or bitingly humorous then that this glorious alternative should rise from that most conservative of countries called Switzerland. Or as their website puts it: "Without creativity, this would just be another pair of boring boxes." Vive la difference!

soundkaos website