The Piega P5 Loudspeaker
|The Piega P5 Loudspeaker
10 May 1999
Type: 3 Way Ported Floor Standing
Bass/Midrange: 2 × 7″ Vifa Proprietary LDB-Woofers
High Frequency Driver: LDR II Ribbon Tweeter
Frequency Range: 30 Hz-50,000 Hz +/- 2dB
Impedance: 4 Ohm
Recommended Power: 50-250 watts
Weight: 88 lbs.
Size, H/W/D: 160 × 22 × 22 cm
Price: $3,900 Recommended Retail
Distributor: Pro Audio Ltd.
Tel. +41 1-7259042
Fax +41 1-7259192
29111 South Drive
Barrington, IL 60010
Tel. 847 526-1646
Fax. 847 526-1669
There is nothing like a session at Carnegie Hall to make you wake up and smell the coffee. Saturday was a day of music for us! Anita and I have series tickets to the Metropolitan Opera. And why not, our first date when we met in Italy was at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. We both love opera, which has been a central focus in our musical lives for over thirty years. That’s not to say that other kinds of music have been ignored. In our first year of marriage, we had season tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra. Twenty-five concerts that year with the likes of conductor George Szell, choral director Robert Shaw and such artists as Glenn Gould and Maurizio Pollini. What a way to begin a marriage! Yes, Anita knew what she was getting into. The first party at my villa in Taranto, Italy, had Quad ESL (57) speakers in the courtyard playing music from the Garrard 301 turntable (presently stored in my basement), SME tone arm and Decca Head (cartridge). I was already an inveterate audiophile! But things were so much simpler in those days. Speaker cables? Oh yes, x feet of lamp cord. Tweaks? Of course, I used a Decca record brush.
Back to Saturday. Rigoletto was the fare at the Met that afternoon. But we had been invited by Jerry Gladstein, one of the Board members of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, to the 10:00 am rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. The Orpheus group was rehearsing for the concert that night: Mozart’s Overture to The Impresario; Han’sDrifting Center…(a world premiere of a work by the Chinese composer); Ravel’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in G with pianist, Olli Mustonen; and Beethoven’s op. 131 transcribed for string orchestra.
“Well, what is the significance of all this”, you must be thinking. “I thought this was supposed to be a review of a new speaker system, the Piega P5.” Indeed, but the opportunity to experience a live concert in one of the world’s foremost concert halls together with the freedom to sit anywhere we chose gave us a chance to hear how the sonics were treated in different parts of the hall compared to the acoustical problems inherent in one’s home. Clement Perry and I compared notes on the listening experience. It turned out that the ideal seats were in the orchestra between the 17th and 20th rows. There the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra sounded the fullest, most cohesive. I was not surprised. Years ago, when we had series tickets to Carnegie Hall for several seasons, we preferred the seats we had in row T (the 20th row).
The interesting thing about the encounter at the rehearsal was the contrast between the experience in the concert hall with a live orchestra and the effort to find the best reproduction in my own listening room. There I was faced with finding the best placement for the Piegas and the best seat from which to listen. Sort of like moving the orchestra as well as your seat. And that brings us to a discussion of the P5.
I was not in the least familiar with the Piegas before the 1999 CES Show in Las Vegas. I was wandering by several of the exhibit rooms at the Alexis Park Hotel when I happened upon the Piega room. If you have ever been to the Alexis Park, you know that it is not a multi-story building but rather a series of separate yet connected, two story buildings surrounding swimming pools and gardens. Actually, it’s rather attractive but it’s like a maze making it difficult to find specific exhibit rooms even when you know the room number. So, at times it was easier to simply wander around until something attracted your attention. And so it was with the Swiss speakers. It was not only the glorious sound coming from the room but the strikingly beautiful tall yet narrow cabinets, a treat for the eyes and the ears. I spent some time listening, then returned later with a few of my own CDs. I was so taken with what I had heard and seen that I arranged with Carlo Struchtrup, Piega’s very affable export manager, to send me a pair for review.
Piega SA, located in Horgen, Switzerland, on Lake Zurich, was founded in 1986 by Leo Greiner and Kurt Scheuch. As they relate it, there were frustrated in their search for the ideal speaker finding that what was available was either too big, too expensive or sonically unattractive. That was the motivation they needed to develop their own creative ideas. Not without technical expertise their initial achievement was the development of the first linear drive ribbon tweeter (LDR), which is now the heart of most of their systems. Greiner and Scheuch are engineers in the field of electromagnetics, which provided the necessary background in their design of a proprietary ribbon. Many ribbons appear to amplifiers to be very unfriendly devices partly the result of the manner in which the ribbon will flap so easily and consequently vary the impedance with frequency. In the Piega design, because of the special way in which the ribbon is pleated to become a rather stiff membrane, it behaves like a piston and doesn’t change impedances with frequency – more like a conventional cone driver. Although manufactured for them by Vifa, the two 6 ½’’ woofers are proprietary as well. Piega was involved with Vifa in the design which is rather unique; the cone is not round at the edges where it attaches to the driver frame – the material is straightened at various places in order to reduce cone break-up.
The P5 is a ported, three-way, column loudspeaker about 5 ½ feet tall with polished aluminum side panels – subjectively stunning. The cabinet has a small foot print, about 9″ wide by 9″ deep. The crossover is fourth order (24 dB per octave) with the crossover point at 3500 Hz for the ribbon tweeter. One of the two woofers operates in its own sub-enclosure within the cabinet from 20 Hz to 100Hz. The second woofer/midrange driver is crossed over at 3500 Hz and extends down to 20 Hz, altogether, a neat arrangement. The connector plate on the rear of the cabinet provides for bi-wiring and sports several switches mostly to adjust for differences in room acoustics. The “Low Level” switch allows you to toggle between “normal” and “extended” response; “extended” provides for flat, low frequency response, “normal” cuts frequencies below 40 Hz where low frequency distortion such as turntable rumble might be a problem. The “High Level” switch has three positions “N, -, +”; “N” is for flat response, “-” represents a 2 dB cut from 5k Hz to 18k Hz, “+” represents a 2 dB increase from 5k Hz to 18k Hz. All my listening was done with the switches set at “extended” and “N”.
Leo Greiner and Kurt Scheuch claim a “unique frequency linearity” for their speakers with the elimination of resonances due to effective damping. They go on to say that
What makes the Piega LDS loudspeaker unique is its sophisticated, carefully designed Box construction – the loudspeakers are put together from inner cabinet and enameled metal side panels to form an extremely rigid sandwich construction, which has stability advantages, as well as reducing corner reflections to a minimum.
My listening room is also my living room and in order to maintain domestic tranquillity, very little can be done to treat the room acoustically. Fortunately, the acoustics of the room are excellent. The room is relatively large, 25’ wide by 15’ long, with a cathedral ceiling; at the apex it is 9’ high and 5’10″ at either end. I mention this because the Piegas must fill a large room with sound, something they do handily. The room does have two problems; it is very lively and there is a grand piano at one end. To deal with these problems, I usually position speakers well into the room and I listen in the near field to eliminate excessive reflections as much as possible. The last month of evaluating the Piegas, I moved the speakers toward the back wall to take advantage of the bass reinforcement. That puts the speakers about 54″ from the rear wall.
Most of my listening was done with the following equipment:
KR Enterprise VT8000 Monoblock Amplifiers
Muse Tex Bidat D/A Converter & Melior CD Deck
Balanced Audio Technology P-10 Phono Stage
Croft Dual Mono Preamp
Linn Sondek LP 12/Lingo with Mod Squad modified Itok Arm
Lyra Clavis Da Capo cartridge
Revox B77 Reet to Reel Tape Deck
Harmonic Technology interconnects, speaker cables, AC cables
Since the Bidat D/A converter has its own wired, remote gain control, the CD source was usually connected directly to the amplifiers.
With record after record I was impressed with how cohesive these speakers are. I was never aware that this was a three way system and certainly not aware that this was a union of a ribbon tweeter with conventional drivers. The crossover is so well executed that no one driver points to itself. I learned later that that the crossover is a fourth order design, 24 dB per octave. When Brian Tucker, U.S. distributor for Piega, mentioned this to me, I was not at all surprised. I heard nothing that would have indicated that any of the drivers were operating too far out of their ideal range, a sure sign that the crossover was well designed.
The Piegas never misbehaved; I often played them much louder than I usually listen but I never caught them out. These are musical speakers, not hi-fi in the pejorative sense. It just occurred to me that what I am describing is what Greiner and Scheuch refer to as “unique frequency linearity”; no resonances intruding into the purity of the reproduction, tonality as neutral as any speaker I have heard. The Piegas provided a big, dynamic sound in my living room – rather surprising when you consider two 6 ½” woofers and a smallish ribbon tweeter – but, I suspect, partly a function of the column speaker design. When I moved them from a position 9’ from the rear wall (the usual placement to avoid some of the problems with reflections) to a point 54″ from the wall, I began to get quite respectable bass response down only –2 dB at 35 Hz. It was no longer necessary to use the Sunfire Subwoofer.
John Rutter’s, “Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace” (Reference Recordings RR-57CD, band 4), is one recording I will often use in evaluating a system. There are so many aspects of the recording that tell me a great deal about what the system is doing; depth, width, and layering of the male voices in particular. The recording is very dynamic with some very low frequencies from the organ accompaniment as well as the full range and power of the male chorus, The Turtle Creek Chorale, conducted by Timothy Seelig. I have heard instances of speaker compression, amplifier clipping and/or distortion in the upper midrange in all but the finest systems with this particular cut. The VT 8000 monoblocks and the P5s behaved beautifully and, believe me, I played this recording with the gain way up. The chorus was spread beyond the sides of the speakers with correct depth, layering and proper stage height. I found the response quite smooth, relaxed and well balanced – tonally correct. I missed none of the dynamics. I was quite impressed with the power of the organ as rendered by the Piegas and particularly surprised when I went into the next room and still heard the powerful bass so clearly. With this particular recording, I don’t believe I could have expected much more from any speaker system.
Some speakers are disappointing because they are unable to get the lower range of baritone and tenor voices correct. The upper bass and lower midrange (where the fundamental character of the voice is) seem not to be in proper balance with the rest of the voice. Recently, I had to sell an otherwise very fine speaker system that was an unfortunate example of this problem. I have since learned my lesson; I now listen very carefully to that area of reproduction.
Bryn Terfel, baritone, and tenor Jose Cura are two singers whose recordings lend themselves to careful evaluation of the Piegas. Since I heard Bryn Terfel at the Met, most recently this season in Le Nozze di Figaro, I chose his CD of Handel Arias with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. There are many wonderful arias on that CD (DG 453 480-2). Two in particular I will take note of; “Sorge infausta una procella”, from Orlando and one that is currently the rage (especially in a recording by counter-tenor David Daniels) “Ombra mai fu”, from Serse. The Piegas equated themselves well in preserving the correct lower fundamentals of Terfel’s voice while maintaining accurate balance as Terfel ascended into the midrange – overall, however, not quite the match of the Von Schweikert VR6 or some of the Sonus Fabers (but when you consider the price, the Piegas cannot be faulted).
In the past several months I have gone through quite a few LPs and CDs in my collection. One LP in particular, musica poetica: Schulwerk, 3 Dur, by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman, an extraordinary 1964 recording on hamonia mundi (HMSt 530 652), could be anyone’s demonstration/evaluation test record. Some of the cuts will exemplify my point: Intrade for timpani, wind intruments and recordersPaukenstuck, piece for timpani, cymbals and bass drum ‘S Bunkad Manderl, for xylophones, tambourine, cymbals, timpani, violoncello and double bassZuahipaschen, a kind of syncopated clapping.
There is also a children’s chorus that sings in many of the cuts. In a way, there is not much necessity to use any other recording in evaluating the speaker. I came around to this LP toward the end of my listening and I can tell you the Piegas never faltered. Resolution and detail were outstanding. The P5 proved to be smooth, well balanced and tonally correct with extended bass and dynamics that left nothing to be desired. This particular disk showed how well the Piegas dealt with transients without exaggerating them.
Piega markets both several high end and home theater speaker systems. There is a limited edition of the P5 LTD priced at $8,000 and the P8 LTD which is similar to the P10, their reference model. I will be receiving the P10 from Piega which will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of The Stereo Times.
In conclusion, I can honestly say that I could live quite happily with the Piega P5s, they are that good!
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