Despite all evidence to the contrary, there might still be some trusting souls who imagine that all audio reviewers are consummate professionals so seasoned in the ways of audiophilia that mistakes aren’t just few and far between, but nonexistent; that their judgment, honed through years or even decades of experience, is infallible; that the process of sitting down to conduct some critical listening is highly ritualized, even sacred. Let’s imagine what that rite might look like:
A quiet intensity etched on my face, I stride into my listening room and don the cardigan I’ve left carefully draped over the back of my listening chair. On the side table lies a yellow legal pad dutifully filled with detailed listening notes, and a Parker Jotter ballpoint pen finished in an uninspiring shade of red. I perch my reading glasses on the bridge of my nose, and into a waiting wineglass pour a healthy yet responsibly measured splash of cabernet sauvignon. I take my seat, raise the glass to my nose, extend my pinky, and inhale dramatically. A smug smile creeps across my face as I note that it’s been 30 minutes since I turned on my amplifier -- which, of course, must reach its optimal operating temperature before I deign to listen to it. Satisfied with myself, deeply certain of my own talent and expertise, I lean back, grasp a remote control, and begin to listen and pass critical judgment on a product I am coming to know more intimately than I do my wife.
The reality, at least for this reviewer, is a lot less glamorous. Not long ago, I sat down to do some critical listening. My 15-year-old couch looks as if it’s endured three tours of duty in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, and although it was 10am, I hadn’t eaten breakfast, and I’m 34 years old, I nonetheless wore sweatpants and grasped an open box of SweeTarts. My graduate degree implies that I have my life together. But having just turned on my Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amplifier-DAC and begun listening to a song by Niall Horan featuring Diplo, my brow furrowed as I began to question that premise.
I’d recently hooked up Xavian Electronics’ big, stand-mounted Classic Quarta loudspeakers. They sounded very broken. Instinctively assuming that I’d miswired something, I popped more SweeTarts in my mouth and double-checked everything. The two pairs of gold-plated binding posts on the back of each Quarta are laid out horizontally in a row of four -- something I’d never seen before. Jumpers were included for each pair of binding posts, but there were no labels on the speakers themselves about which pair to use if you weren’t biwiring, and no notes in the accompanying documentation. I’d already tried using each pair of posts separately with my single run of AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables, to no avail. Rather than e-mail Xavian and ask them for guidance, like a responsible adult, I experimented with different cable hookups with my amp set at a very low volume. Using only the left or right pair of posts produced no sound at all. This made sense, once I bothered to the read the posts’ labels: the left pair are marked LF and HF, with positive polarity; the right pair are marked LF and HF, with negative polarity. I then figured that I’d secure each cable’s positive (red) lead to the HF terminal of one pair of posts, and the negative (black) lead to the LF terminal on the other pair of posts. Maybe they were linked internally . . . ? No dice -- the speakers still sounded all kinds of wrong.
Digging through Xavian’s website, I eventually used Google Translate to decipher a review of the Classic Quarta from a Czech hi-fi magazine that included pictures of the Xavian importer’s listening room, and a rear view of a correctly wired Quarta. Turns out that, when single-wiring a Quarta, you must secure your cable leads to either the two LF terminals or the two HF terminals. Having done the former, I was immediately rewarded with coherent sound. I recommend that Xavian include a note regarding the proper wiring procedure in their User Manual, for more challenged listeners such as myself. But no matter -- at last I was off and running, on the back of a well-earned sugar high.
Czech me out
Like so many speaker makers, Xavian Electronics was born of a love of music. Founder Roberto Barletta grew up in a family of musicians in Turin, Italy, and began tinkering with home-brew loudspeakers at the tender age of 14. This led him to spend five years, in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, with an Italian brand that designed and made speakers and amplifiers, before he moved to Prague, in the Czech Republic, where he founded Xavian in 1997. Since then Barletta has branched out with another company, AudioBarletta, which designs and manufactures drivers in Italy solely for Xavian speakers.
Despite its Italian connections, Xavian is a proudly Czech operation -- all speaker development and manufacturing taking place in its factory in Hostivice, just west of Prague, and sourcing all of its woods and veneers from within the Czech Republic. Xavian’s five lines of loudspeaker models range in price from €699 to €21,990/pair, and from two-way bass-reflex minimonitors to big, three-way floorstanders with cabinets of solid hardwood. Xavian also makes interconnects and speaker cables, as well as matching stands for their handmade minimonitors.
The Quarta -- “the fourth note,” according to Xavian -- is the top model of Xavian’s Classic line, and began life as a prototype that Barletta built for his own use at home. He was so satisfied with the result that he put it in production. Xavian currently lacks distribution in the US, but their products are distributed in Canada and throughout the EU, which explains why all prices cited here are in euros. Stateside audiophiles can buy any Xavian speaker model directly from the company’s online store.
The Classic Quarta (€11,990/pair including VAT) is a modern take on the old-school stand-mounted speaker. It’s available in one of six finishes: Piano Black, Piano White, Rosewood, Walnut, Zebrano, and the striking Silver Ebony of my review samples -- a dark, flowing grain pattern that fully reveals itself only on close inspection. At 26.8”H x 13.8”W x 15.75”D and 88.2 pounds, the Quarta is neither small nor lightweight for a stand-mount. My samples came with the optional matching stands (€990/pair).
The Quarta is dense. Much of this is down to its cabinet of 1.2”-thick (30mm) MDF and its intricate system of internal bracing, which is similar to Bowers & Wilkins’s famous Matrix architecture. That interior is also chock-full of damping material. While I was able to maneuver the speakers and their 11.8” (30cm) tall stands into place on my own, it wasn’t fun -- do your back a favor and enlist the assistance of a strong and unwitting friend or relation.
The three-way Quarta has a 1.14” (29mm) soft-dome tweeter with an aluminum voice coil, and a “damped labyrinth chamber” to absorb and minimize the effects of the dome’s rearward output. The 6.9” midrange driver has an impregnated paper cone, a diecast chassis, a 2” voice coil, and a robust motor system. Both of these drivers are also used in Xavian’s flagship speaker, the Epica Prometeo (€19,990/pair), and both use pricy neodymium magnets. Last and not least is the 10.6” woofer, a hammer of a driver that also has a neodymium magnet, as well as a hand-impregnated, non-pressed paper diaphragm, a 2” voice coil, and a cast-aluminum chassis. The woofer is attached directly to the Quarta’s internal bracing, which Xavian says makes possible more precise control of its voice coil, for audible and measurable improvements in performance. Xavian hand-selects the drivers for each cabinet, and each pair of Quartas is level-matched to within ±0.5dB. The crossover includes premium Jantzen and Mundorf coils and capacitors with a 3% tolerance, and Mundorf resistors with 1% tolerances. The crossover frequencies are 300Hz and 2.7kHz, with “variable” slopes used to “compensate for the reactivity of the bass driver around its resonance frequency,” per Xavian.
Though a small company with just four cabinetmakers, three assemblers, and two engineers on the payroll, Xavian produces some 500 pairs of speakers each year, a number that they expect to rise pretty quickly following a strong 2019. They stand behind their products with a five-year warranty -- that’s rare for a low-volume manufacturer.
The Quarta has a specified frequency response of 47Hz-30kHz, -3dB, which is interesting for several reasons. A soft-dome tweeter that goes up to 30kHz is a seriously impressive one -- the outputs of the vast majority of soft domes tail off around 20kHz. Those bespoke AudioBarletta drivers used in the Quarta, with diaphragms sourced from the same company that supplies Denmark’s Scan-Speak, must be something special. It’s also worth noting that the low-frequency -3dB figure of 47Hz isn’t all that deep for a speaker with a honkin’ 10.6” woofer and large internal volume. On the other hand, the Quarta’s sealed-box design pays dividends in the form of its shallow 12dB/octave rolloff, which should offer more meaningful output below 47Hz than would an otherwise identical bass-reflex architecture, with its steeper 24dB/octave rolloff. The Xavian’s 8-ohm nominal impedance and average sensitivity of 87dB/2.83V/m suggest that it shouldn’t be tough to drive, a suggestion only reinforced by its power-handling spec of 30-250W.
Prising the Classic Quartas from their rain-soaked cartons -- they arrived in Philadelphia amid a torrential rainstorm -- and lugging them into position in my system provided me with my annual upper-body workout, for which I’m immeasurably thankful. I found that the best positions for them in my long, narrow room were about 1’ from the front wall, just under 6’ apart, and a little over 7’ from my listening position.
The Quartas spent most of their time here hooked up to my reference integrated amplifier-DAC, a Hegel Music Systems H590 (their flagship), with AudioQuest Rocket 33 speaker cables. It also saw use with Constellation Audio’s Inspiration 1.0 integrated and Mytek Digital’s Brooklyn DAC+ D/A converter. My source component is an Intel NUC computer running Roon and Tidal HiFi, wired to the Hegel or Mytek with a Nordost Blue Heaven USB link. The two integrateds and the Mytek DAC were plugged into an Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner with Nordost Blue Heaven power cords, to eliminate the hum from my century-old house’s circuits.
It might have been the Quarta’s old-school, wide-baffled look, or maybe that I’d at first wired them incorrectly. It’s also possible that I underestimated how good a Czech-made speaker from a company I’d never heard of could sound. I’d fretted about the Quarta’s potential to sound boxy or colored through the all-important mids.
Whatever the reason, when the Quartas began belting out “This Kind of Love,” from Michael Kiwanuka’s Kiwanuka (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, Interscope/Tidal), I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. I was dumbfounded by its intoxicating yet utterly balanced reproduction of Kiwanuka’s voice. It had terrific presence, with strong center fill between the big monitors. Yet there was also an accurately rich tonality that made me think I was at a big trade show, listening to a system with six-figure tubed electronics. The accompanying piano had gobs of hazy, jazz-club warmth with no hint of sterile or clinical sound. I was also impressed by how lifelike and three-dimensional Kiwanuka sounded -- the Quarta’s tweeter sounded even more refined and extended than the soft dome of Sonus Faber’s delightful Electa Amator III, which I reviewed last year.
I often find myself drawn to well-executed metal-dome tweeters, for their relative linearity up to and beyond 20kHz, and for their greater alacrity in comparison to soft domes, which generally sound more polite to me. But the Xavian’s 1.14” dome produced all the sweetness I could hope for from a fabric diaphragm while also demonstrating the fleetness required to accurately re-create the various sections of an orchestra.
With “Company Car,” from David Arnold’s original score for the film Tomorrow Never Dies (16/44.1 FLAC, A&M/Tidal), I reveled in the Quarta’s handling of Monty Norman’s original “James Bond Theme.” Hi-hats tinkled and brass interludes soared without discernible effort or strain. The Xavians didn’t throw the widest soundstages, but I could hear very deeply into recordings, with no veiling or vagueness to speak of. The softly struck xylophone at the rear fringes of the orchestra about two minutes in seemed to emanate from beyond my room’s front wall, this despite there being a mere foot of space between that wall and the speakers’ rear panels (a function of the narrowness of my inner city home). The Xavians’ imaging abilities were quite good if not exactly laser-guided, the signature Bond twang-guitar riff falling squarely in the middle of the soundstage. As big and boxy as the Quartas are, they “disappeared” fairly completely from my room.
The calling card for a speaker like this should be its tight bass output, and here the Xavian acquitted itself very well. While I heard no outright colorations or aberrations in the Quarta’s frequency response -- the handoff of tweeter to midrange was seamless -- its midbass response was generous and deeply satisfying. Take the big kick-drum poundings perpetrated by Jeremiah Fraites in “Ho Hey,” the monster single from the Lumineers’ eponymous first album (16/44.1 FLAC, Dualtone Music/Tidal). They weren’t overpowering, but there was a delicious sense of impact and control that was dialed up just a touch -- due no doubt to that big sealed box. In fact, at high volumes, the Quartas not only kept their composure, but convincingly pressurized my oddly shaped room, extending low enough to be engaging, without unduly exciting any room modes.
I think a pair of Classic Quartas could work well in almost any room of small to medium size -- just don’t expect full-range bass. The low end began tailing off below 45Hz, with useful output down to around 35Hz -- per the test tones I played, they’d run out of steam entirely by 30Hz. But what most struck me about the Lumineers track was how even-handed the Quartas were -- well integrated and cohesive from top to bottom of the audioband. The sound was neither clinical nor forgiving, and no single aspect of it called attention to itself. It was as easy and enjoyable as apple pie on a lazy Sunday. I could just sit back and enjoy the music.
Could the Quarta rock? For sure. I let fly with “Engel,” from Rammstein’s Sehnsucht (16/44.1 AIFF, Slash). The Xavians had no trouble keeping up with my freewheeling way with the volume knob as I prodded the Constellation Inspiration 1.0 integrated higher and higher. Lead singer Till Lindemann’s voice had copious weight, while Richard Kruspe’s lead guitar had healthy amounts of reproduced distortion and bite to keep my attention rapt. I would have preferred a bit more eagerness in attacks -- but that would no doubt come at the expense of finesse and palpability with subtler musical selections. When I hit a certain level -- maybe 90dB at my listening position -- the Quartas seemed to come alive, “Engel”’s hard-hitting synth bass line suddenly gripping me in a way it hadn’t at more sedate volumes -- and the solo of backing singer Bobo (Christiane Hebold) popped from the soundstage more vibrantly. The Quarta wasn’t the last word in dynamics and bass power, but it was still quite satisfying in those regards with exuberant music.
Which neatly brings me back to what I believe is the Quarta’s strong suit: well-recorded voices. Young Englishman Timothy Lee McKenzie, aka Labrinth, treads in the style of fellow crooners Sam Smith and John Legend. His 2014 single “Jealous” (16/44.1 FLAC, Syco Music/Tidal) is gorgeous, with a simple, seemingly unprocessed piano intro that sets the stage for his cultured and dynamic voice to dominate the otherwise silent studio. I adore such unornamented passages, because they allow an artist’s -- and a loudspeaker’s -- talents to shine through without elaboration or encumbrance. And boy, McKenzie’s vocal power and texture were on full display, almost larger than life.
I have little doubt that the transparency of a speaker from Magico or Vivid Audio would unearth a bit more detail, along with improvements in lateral spatial definition. But I’m equally confident that those speakers would lose some of the warmth and sweetness with which the Xavian imbued “Jealous.” As always, tastes in sound differ, and one speaker can’t be perfect with all types of music. What I admire about the Classic Quarta is that while it shone with intimate recordings such as “Jealous,” it could also hold its own with pretty much everything else I threw at it.
For about the money you’d drop on a pair of Classic Quartas, you could also give a listen to something like Magico’s A3 floorstander ($12,600/pair). Like the Quarta, the A3 is a three-way, sealed-box design, but that’s the end of any similarity shared by Xavian’s big, stand-mounted monitor and Magico’s minimalist aluminum obelisk. The A3’s tall, squarish enclosure contains a 1.1” beryllium-dome tweeter, a 6” midrange, and two 7” woofers, and I get the impression that it was designed to meet one goal: maximum sound quality at the expense of everything else. Its cabinet of black aluminum is robust if not particularly attractive -- but hearing the Magico leaves you in little doubt that it’s incredibly resolving. In fact, it’s more revealing than not only the Quarta but almost every other speaker I’ve recently heard. The A3 can play a good 10Hz lower than the Quarta, paints a stereo image with greater specificity, casts a wider soundstage, and sounded, well, just more effortless. And as heroically built as the Quarta is, a pair are not going to “disappear” from your room as well as the Magicos do.
Now, I’m supposed to wrap this up by concluding that the Magico A3 is the “better” speaker, and suggesting that if you’re in the market for a five-figure, three-way stand-mount from the Czech Republic, you should at least consider the Xavian Classic Quarta. But here are the facts: As accomplished as the Magico is, it didn’t move me. Unlike in older Magicos, its tweeter is shelved down a couple dB, to eliminate some of the brightness -- and welcome effervescence -- of its predecessors, and that makes the A3 sound a bit flat to my ears. The A3 is also demanding, its nominal impedance of 4 ohms and sensitivity of 88dB (an optimistic figure, based on my experience) all but requiring a robust solid-state amp. Moreover, the A3’s output ceiling is pretty low, especially when its hardworking woofers are being pushed to their limits with bass-heavy music -- above 90-95dB, the A3 runs out of steam. (Magico’s newer, much larger A5 is an easy cure for this.) While I have a lot of respect for the A3’s talents, I wouldn’t necessarily want to live with it every day.
And that is the Xavian Electronics Classic Quarta’s appeal. No significant other will look at a pair of Magico A3s and exclaim, “Oh, those would look great in our living room!” But the Quarta will definitely warrant a second look. The Silver Ebony finish of my review samples was striking, and the speaker’s retro proportions just look cool. But don’t be fooled -- the old-school look does not produce an old-school sound. There’s no woolly bass or boxy tonal colorations -- just linear sound quality, engineered and voiced by someone who knows his way around computer modeling software and listening tests. More than that, the Classic Quarta is an easy speaker to live with day to day. In the all-important midrange it manages to sound at once supple and fun, and its tweeter might be the best soft dome I’ve heard this side of Dynaudio’s vaunted Esotars, boasting the kind of effortless extension I’m used to hearing only from costly metal domes. And while the Quarta can’t squeeze out the bottommost octave, what bass it does reproduce is potent and well controlled, even at high volumes.
These stand-mounted monitors from the Czech Republic look and sound great, and left a heck of a strong impression on me. Just . . . you know . . . make sure you wire ’em up right.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- KEF LS50, R3, and Reference 3
- Integrated amplifiers -- Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated 1.0, Hegel Music Systems H590, Simaudio Moon 700i v2
- Digital-to-analog converters -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC3 HGC, Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC+
- Sources -- Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal HiFi
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS (XLR)
- Digital link -- DH Labs Silver Sonic (USB)
- Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2
Xavian Electronics Classic Quarta Loudspeakers
Price (including VAT): €11,990/pair; matching stands, add €990/pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Xavian Electronics s.r.o.
Za Mlýnem 114
253 01 Hostivice
Phone: +420 734-528-189