Campanili Series Torre
'Round the World in 360 Days
Got a favorite loudspeaker? We all have. I had a torrid love affair with the MBL 101 some ten years ago while working in a high-end shop in lower Manhattan. The sonic landscapes these omni-directional loudspeakers were capable of have never been equaled in other designs; I'd never heard another design light up a room left to right, forward and back as these masters of soundstage did when paired with their own electronics. But these unique loudspeakers need plenty of room to breathe, and that's the only reason I don't own a pair today--my room simply could not support them.
Another favorite is the Duevel Jupiter loudspeaker Greg Petan has reviewed, also an omni-directional design. It was instant love. Different in many ways from the MBL, the one thing I loved most about the Duevel was its sense of ease and flow, the quality ones finds so endearing in high-efficiency drivers. It presents music in a way that just melts away visual criticisms. I was very close to purchasing a pair but changed my mind after hearing them at the 2005 High End show in Munich. Let me put it this way; when these loudspeakers sound their best they are hypnotic, but when they sound bad, boy do they sound bad. Granted the room could have been the source of my disillusionment, but I was more surprised by how bad they can sound than enamored at how capable they can be, under the right conditions.
This brings me to the newest omni-directional design to come my way: Bolzano Villetri's Campanile 3000 series, named the Torre, that arrived here for formal review. The components are built in a Moscow plant, and this oddly but beautifully shaped transducer is assembled in Italy, as you may have inferred from its name. Because the Bolzano Villetri's exterior is unique (and in my opinion very attractive) it possesses a high Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF) which is typical of Italian designs these days. That said, once you unveil what's behind the Torre's four grill cloths, you're in for a real shocker! Looking like nothing I've seen before in a high-end loudspeaker, the BVT without its grills looks like a prop from a science fiction flick.
What the BVT loudspeaker basically amounts to is: two opposing enclosures, each employing a single 8" mid/bass driver; the lower one upward-firing, the upper one downward and always in-phase. These dual enclosures are supported by smartly crafted corner support beams which in turn also support the Villetri's smartly designed grill cloths. The upper and lower enclosures are spaced about 18" apart. Sandwiched equidistant between them are two 1" Morel tweeters mounted on the ends of a spider-like stem. The tweeters are designed to fire directly up and down at the midrange drivers in what Bolzano calls their Roundstream technology. Visually, this design looks rather simple, however all the technology that went into it is discussed at length on the Bolzano Villetri website, to which I refer you.
After spending a great deal of time with Victor Rakovich, Bolzano Villetri's US importer, discussing all the ins and outs of this oddly designed loudspeaker, I found out some interesting facts. There are no less than six patents pending on various aspects of its design. The design is not new either. After many years of research Bolzano was just awaiting the right time (and financial support) to bring this concept to market.
At the end of the day the ultimate judge will be your ears and tastes. Not to mince words, the BVT loudspeaker is no cheap attempt to win over wannabe audiophiles by sheer uniqueness. This loudspeaker is most capable in many areas we audiophiles value and simply could not live without.
The BVT loudspeakers arrived in huge flight cases that upon viewing for the first time in Victor Radovich's SUV brought to mind caskets. I was a bit shocked by this of course and thought to myself that if the speakers didn't sound as good as Bolzano claimed, maybe Victor, being the first US importer, would end up in one of those cases. Hefty by any measure at 120 lbs, and larger than I imagined from viewing them on Bolzano's website, the BVT' are over 5 feet tall! The bottom enclosure is a front ported design while the top enclosure's port is located on its side (my hunch is they do this to have the port firing out to the side walls to increase its low energy dispersion). Two pair of five-way binding posts located on the rear of the BVT's allow for bi-wiring. The BVTs are quite efficient (92 dB) and will be comfortable driven by low-wattage designs. The review sample I received was attractively finished in a gloss mahogany along its sides and piano black on its base.
Since the BVT's can be bi-amped, I took the liberty to first try them on Tact's new line of 200-watt digital amplifiers in their prestigious Boz line. Since both speakers and amplifiers retail in the same ballpark (between $10,500 and $12k), I thought it would be a good pairing. Cables ranged between Virtual Dynamics Revelation, to Elco's new and exciting Saturn 4 silver cables. CD players ranged between the fabulous sounding and affordable Original Leanardo, to the reference caliber Audiomeca Mephisto Mk3. The Boz has its own volume control so no preamp was necessary.
The first thing I noticed, after setting up the BVT's at about three feet from the front and side walls, was their tonal accuracy, very wide and open three-dimensional sound stage. Shockingly good right out of the box considering they had zero hours of burn-in and (I'm pretty certain) would require more in-room setup, particularly with regard to the upper enclosure's side firing port. Ultimately, the BVT's sounded their best three feet out from the front and side walls with their upper enclosure's side port firing outward into the walls as well. With the Original Leonardo CD player set to repeat I gave the BVT loudspeaker's a couple of hundred hours break-in before serious listening took place.
Not only did the BVT loudspeakers perform amazingly well but tonally they performed like a single source driver. In terms of overall performance, the quality these loudspeakers bring into a listening space has to be heard to be truly appreciated. They remind me in a lot of ways of the bigger Magnaplaners in their overall ability to create a box-less, extremely color-less sound. That's saying a lot considering that these loudspeakers employ two box enclosures mounted atop each other. Moreover, the expansive sound field they create is on par with the much more expensive Duevels (as well as the MBLs). The BVT loudspeaker's ability to keep images focused and steady whether you're sitting or standing is very impressive, and rarely found in loudspeakers of any design.
Reproducing the lowest bass fundamentals from two 8 inch drivers just doesn't do it in my downstairs listening/dining room which measures 18' by 21'. Bass reproduction of the lowest octaves prove to be the BVT's Achilles heel. No need to worry: the BVT active subwoofer is a more than worthy partner: it is a necessary evil if you want a full range transducer. Using a 12 inch down-firing Hertz paper cone driver powered by a 500 watt digital amplifier using the best enclosure design Bolzano offers was a sense of relief for me. Additional variable tuning with respect to volume, phase and crossover is located on the rear. Many times in the past I've come to realize that subwoofers were merely afterthoughts of many loudspeaker designers and as a result never fully integrated into the sonic landscape without revealing their location. Not here. The Bolzano Velletri active subwoofer is not only powerful, but takes their overachieving siblings to true full-range status. Oh, BTW, they're seductively attractive as the Torres.
I've been listening at length to the new Chesky SACD Manhattan (Chesky SACD310) featuring David Hazeltine with the George Mraz Trio. This disc also features the one and only Billy Drummond, a jazz drummer who's also a personal friend and audiophile. I was invited to St. Peter's Church in Manhattan's Village earlier in the year by David Chesky, to see what techniques were used in this particular recording. The acoustic space of St. Peter's serves as a great backdrop for this recording and though I'm unsure what the other musicians initially thought of this space, I can say without hesitation that it is sonically a four-star recording.
I've had the pleasure of having Billy listen to it both in the big upstairs rig as well as down stairs with the BVT loudspeakers. I always find it reassuring when a world class musician and budding audiophile listens to an unfamiliar component and has the same sort of response as I initially had. Billy is a Maggie owner as well, and the first thing he said when he heard the sweet but melancholic "Detour Ahead" from the Manhattan CD on the BVT's was, "DAMN Perry, these speakers sound good! Rich, sweet and detailed!" He heard their incredible soundstage capability almost immediately and it was only then that I let him in on what was behind their grill cloths. Billy let out a couple of choice expletives I cannot print, but I can say they weren't far from what I uttered when I had the same experience.
One thing I can say about the BVT loudspeaker- sonically speaking, since they're visually thought provoking as well-is despite their unorthodox appearance and unique design approach, they don't stray too far from the boundaries used by conventional designs. For example, when it comes to the placement of images on a stage, it is the space between instruments that differentiates the BVTs from all but a select few designs. Images can appear, depending on the material and recording quality, further away and outside the physical boundaries with a rock-solid center image. This is particularly great if you're in a room that may be a tad too small but you've always wanted that big sound. Your challenge is getting a loudspeaker with this type of dispersion to sound good in a small room. Like the MBL and Duevel, the BVT loudspeaker simply sounds more open and extended particularly in the mid and upper frequencies. I don't why this happens but the unmistakable feeling I get when I (and many others) listen to an omni-directional is a complete openness that for me is very inviting and sonically stimulating. The BVT loudspeaker possesses this quality and listening to it turned into a sort of event. Let me explain.
Friday nights are generally jazz sessions by no less than a half-dozen of my closest friends. What would better serve as a test than to see if they could detect anything unusual in the BVT loudspeakers. None of my friends would ever qualify themselves as audiophiles. They simply like music and don't get too crazy over the electronics. Nevertheless, they unanimously found the BVT loudspeaker to be the sonic equivalent of a magic elixir. "For the first time, said Stan Maxwell, I can enjoy the music in a way that doesn't require the speakers to be in the middle of the room with all that stuff on your walls. I'm just afraid of how much they cost. They sound amazing." Of course, Stan was amazed by their price as well and said this would be a speaker system he would lust after. Everyone else had similar sentiments. The consensus was the BVT loudspeaker is a winner among those that care about the music more than the paraphernalia.
Here's my fear, I find the BVT loudspeakers so enchanting I continually think of the day my sonic bubble's going to burst and I'm not going to enjoy them anymore. The reality is, it's been more than six months and somehow they're sounding better and better. Their active subwoofer is a mandatory addition if low bass reproduction is a must.
Somebody did their homework and got this very unusual loudspeaker to work way beyond what I would have ever thought possible. It's easy to see where many audiophiles, especially those seeking that Bang For Buck deal, to feel like they've discovered some long lost treasure when they hear what this loudspeaker is fully capable of. As in life, there's going to be detractors who'll say the soundstage's too wide or the laser focus they enjoy is compromised here. As I've always said "Stand for Something or You're Bound to Fall for Anything." I absolutely love the way these loudspeakers sound as well as perform. Moreover, I love the price/performance for audiophiles seeking that ever-elusive, high-end performance at a marginal sum. A 2006 Publisher's Choice! Most Wanted Component by any sonic measure but most certainly in terms of affordability.