|It was well over a year ago when friend and ex-Soundstage! teammate Jim Saxon hipped me to a brand new loudspeaker he had just brought into his shop, in the paradise he calls Costa Rica. Those speakers looked unlike any I'd ever seen. More importantly still, Jimbo thought they sounded wonderful. He highly recommended that I go after a pair for review. At the time, they unfortunately had no US distribution so that wasn't to be.|
|Meet Markus Duevel|
|In 1987, Markus Duevel graduated with
an electrical engineering degree from the University of Osnabrück and one
year later founded "Duevel Lautsprecherbau" where he set about the
development of programming software that would simulate the operating
conditions of loudspeakers and then develop loudspeakers for other firms.
He specialized in hornspeakers with laminated and lathed plywood horns of
his own design. 1995 marked the beginning of project "Jupiter", with the
goal of constructing a horn that did not spot-beam as Duevel puts
it. In 1998, after two years in development, the Bella Luna was brought to
Markus Duevel told me that "in earlier years", he favored horn-loaded loud-speakers for their dynamics, high resolution and efficiency. However, he was disturbed by a small sweet spot and the classic cupped-hands colorations ascribed to many horns of the time. Eventually, Duevel overcame colorations by making his speakers omni-directional and adding his own crossover design which he claims incurs minimal acoustical phase error - something of paramount importance to successful omni-directional designs, according to Markus.
|Duevel Loudspeakers come from Northern Germany near Osnabrück. Car aficionados may recognize Osnabrück as the home of the Karmann automobile factory which these days produces the Mercedes CLK, VW Beetle Cabrio and Chrysler Crossfire. Today Duevel exports his speakers to 14 different countries and his non-feedback solid state integrated amplifier, the Shuttle, is sold to 16. Next month, the 2004 CES will play host to Duevel loudspeakers for the first time ever as these speakers are finally available in the US.|
Meet The Bella Luna
|If us audiophiles are predominantly men, then we are also, almost by rueful definition, a very visually oriented bunch of admirers. This bodes extremely well for the Duevel Bella Luna Diamante. It's one beautiful pair of speakers. Not that their beauty is lost on the female persuasion - my wife has favorably and repeatedly commented on their aesthetic sensibilities. The level of fit and finish is very high and the speakers evince excellent attention to detail.|
Standing a modest 42 inches tall,
the German-born and university-bred Bella Luna cabinet, on each of its four identical
faces, measures a svelte 11 inches wide and weighs in at a sturdy yet manageable 71 lbs.
Not only is the geometry unique and attractive, so are the numerous available finishes.
The review pair came in Padouk which was gorgeous. I'm told that somewhere around
70 finish options are available.
You can, for example, special-order the speakers in combinations of brushed aluminum,
acrylic, piano lacquer and sundry painted finishes - most at varying additional cost,
Duevel specifies a 6-ohm load, 91dB sensitivity and frequency response of 40Hz-20kHz +/- 3dB. Those claims seem perfectly reasonable to me. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photographs here are going to save my fingers considerable toil as these speakers do operate in rather unorthodox ways. The very apex of the speaker is actually the backside and magnet structure of the substantial tweeter assembly. Crossed in at a relatively low 1,000 Hz, this 2-inch carbon fiber dome produces a significant amount of midrange signal as well. Additionally, it is loaded by the uppermost laminated wooden horn which should, theoretically, enhance its efficiency and dynamics. It fires down into a similarly constructed lens. Picture a tweeter firing down onto the point of a Hershey's chocolate kiss. The carefully chosen geometry of this lens spreads the tweeter's dispersion 360 degrees in the lateral plane for an omni-directional radiation pattern while greatly minimizing diffractive distortions that would otherwise color the sound.
Likewise, the Diamante's 8-inch carbon
fiber woofer faces upward from the top of the speaker enclosure into a
similarly configured though differently shaped acoustic dispersion lens.
Its output is equally spread in an omni-directional pattern and thus
forces the entire frequency range of the speaker to be reproduced
in circular waves whose stacked centers coincide with the speaker's
vertical axis [below].
As if all this wasn't novel enough, close inspection shows that the Diamante's woofer is vented at the bottom of the speaker at all four corners.Thus truly omni-directional, the only objects that make the rear of the speaker, well, the rear of the speaker is a single pair of very nice and easy-to-use winged binding posts, plus the cable connecting the tweeter which is otherwise obscured while looking at the speaker from its front. Except for these two items, the speaker appears exactly the same regardless of your angle of approach.
|The Bella Luna Diamantes under review carry an MSRP of $7495/pair. That's not minor bling/bling but considering how they were priced at $8,000 when this review process commenced, that's an attractive savings. Because of the brutal beating that the American dollar has taken from the Euro since 2002, US distributor Ted Lindblad of HighEndAudio decided against adjusting the retail by the 40% the usual math would have forced and now sells Duevel distributor-direct - no more middle men. There is also a non-Diamante version available that sells for $500 less. The only difference? Purely cosmetic. The Diamantes offer greater options of finer finishes and sport a slightly adjusted cosmetic trim around the woofer and the base of the speakers are slightly different. That's it.|
|Ted delivered the speakers with about 300 hours of music clocked in so I can't comment on how they would have sounded raw out of their wooden shipping crate. However, I can tell you that Ted and I had a dreadfully difficult time of getting them to sound right. To Ted's credit, he sat back politely as I tried and tried. I'm sure he assumed that I knew my room (I do) as he watched me place them where I thought they'd work best. Eventually, he did ask for his turn at batting practice. Well, it may by my room, but Ted knows his speakers and his first swing was a home run. I swear that I'd placed them exactly where he did but what Ted knew and I didn't was that the Duevels' four bass ports can and should be used to tune the bass to the room. Where I was using no toe-in at all, Ted turned the speakers about 45 degrees. This directed the outer-most bass ports away from the rear corners of the room. Prior to that, the speakers didn't sound boomy per se but their tonal balance decidedly favored the bass.|
Ted's reorientation effectively redressed this balance. Suddenly the Bella Lunas had treble, life and air where there was none before. They now sounded much better. Truth be told though, Ted still wasn't thrilled with what he heard. Oddly enough, during the later review period, I did have occasion to move the speakers several times. I never again found them difficult to place nor did I suffer the initial muffled constipation which Ted and I experienced. In fact, in the end and fully acclimated, I found the Bella Luna Diamantes fairly unfussy about placement. There's no question too that despite their accumulated 300 hours, the speakers had more breaking in to do. I also think that Ted would have been much happier with what I was hearing when it came time to put pen to paper.
The only other real user issue surfaced when I needed to match the Diamantes with proper amplification.
|Bella Luna And The Tale Of The Three
These Duevels promised to be an easy
load so my first choice of amplifier was my 16-watt SET Art Audio Carissa.
Sure enough and without breaking a sweat, the Carissa was more than
capable of achieving the kind of levels that I enjoy in my room. Bass was
visceral and clean; treble clear, extended and airy - but for one problem.
In my review of the Carissa, I had already observed that it isn't exactly
ruler-flat through the upper-midrange. It exhibits a gentle rise
throughout the presence region. As it turns out, the same can be said of
the Belle Luna. Together, the two proved to be too much of an otherwise
good thing - the combo was a touch bright and edgy.
Next up were my Herron M150 150-watt
solid-state monoblocks. Well known -- and sometimes even criticized -- for
their neutrality, I was sure that they'd sound great with the Duevels. Not
really. The M150s certainly ameliorated the edge which the Carissa/Belle
Luna combo exhibited - but they went too far in the opposite direction.
Where previously the speakers sounded bright and forward, they now sounded
overly laid back. The amazing transparency I had previously enjoyed now
seemed somewhat obscured. The speakers also lacked the stratospheric
treble extension earlier noted and had lost a tad of transparency
through this region. They didn't sound bad, mind you; but I remained
convinced that more was to be had.
|Surprisingly, the Bryston 7B ST monos turned out to be the best match in the house. While the Bella Luna Diamantes could have cared less about the Canadians' 500-plus available watts, the Brystons produced proper tonal balance and 95% each of the treble purity and transparency I'd heard with the Art Audio Carissa. And, the Brystons made the most of the Bellas' bass. While the resultant combo did sound very good, I'm left with the suspicion that I haven't yet tapped the full potential of these speakers. With a more neutral SET amplifier such as Art Audio's own Jota or PX-25, I can only imagine the possible magic.|
Combine the midrange linearity of the Bryston with the increased transparency and treble integrity of Art Audio's 845-powered sweetheart and their music could only be blissful heaven on earth. The Audiopax Stereo 88 should make an equally amazing match as well [which might well be a future review - I have already discussed the possibilities of reviewing the top-line Duevels on my Model 88s - Ed.]. The Bella Luna Diamantes are amazingly responsive and transparent to the whims and idiosyncrasies of upstream electronics.
|Lest you think that
I didn't thoroughly enjoy my time with the Bella Luna Diamantes, think
again. 95% of available treble finesse still equates to excellent treble
performance. This treble-producing array -- one must consider the lens
part of that system -- may be the most effective I've yet had in my home.
Generally speaking, treble extension isn't a great priority for me. I've
been known to enjoy speakers with slightly sweet and shelved-off highs as
long as they avoided grunge, grit and other nastinesses and were slightly
forgiving of upstream system foibles. The Bella Luna Diamantes, however,
did impress me with their extension, their highly refined nature
and their open and airy presentation - abetted, no doubt, by their
If ultimate treble extension isn't always my priority, transparency most certainly is. And 95% of operative transparency was enough to make the Diamantes one of the most transparent sub-$10K speakers I've ever heard. It rivaled the Alon Circes, a speaker that has much in common with the Duevel and which I consider to be among a handful of best I've ever met, period. With the right amplification, these German speakers are amazingly colorless. However, colorless does not equate to being without personality. These speakers most certainly have personality.
|Before I describe their
persona, allow me to mention another trait they share with the more expensive Alon Circe - uncommon
dynamics, particularly at the micro level. I suppose this has much to do
with the hornloaded mid/tweeter. The speakers are exceptionally quick on
the draw, lending an air of speed and excitement to the music that other
speakers can't match. A further
prominent Bella Luna trait is complete honesty. These speakers exaggerate
nothing nor do they omit anything. With the exception of the nethermost
bass octave, what goes into them comes out with a confoundingly low level
of editorializing. Again then, these are amazingly transparent speakers.
They are also extremely coherent. They speak with a solitary voice that is
as unified as it is precise.
The Bella Luna is also a highly detailed speaker, superbly focused in a completely natural and easy-to-listen-to way. It doesn't induce listener fatigue as some speakers will - assuming proper system matching that is. I don't believe that there's an iota of musically significant detail that escapes the Bella Lunas' attention. They're amazingly quiet to allow for completely unfettered communication of detail and nuance. And then there's what I find so endearing about omni-directional speakers - a gloriously huge sweet spot married to tremendous soundstage depth. To put it bluntly, the speakers sound essentially the same no matter where you sit. While room modes mean that moving about the room will change bass presentation, tonal balance and soundstage specificity/performer placement remain essentially unaffected.
|And those glued to the prime listening chair? They'll enjoy a soundstage width that's accurately prescribed by the musical programme. When prompted, the speakers produce a soundstage that's astonishingly deep and layered. On most music, the front of the soundstage starts behind the speakers (hence these speakers are tailormade for those of us with small rooms). From there, it proceeds to melt away the rear wall until the listening room opens up onto the symphony hall, stage or studio. In the bass, the Diamantes are proficient yet restrained. When the music calls for it even in medium-sized rooms, the Bella Lunas can really energize. They muster a surprising amount of punch and power and are outstandingly clean and incisive. But when the music does not call for bass heroics, the speakers won't exaggerate and artificially pump up the sonics with unrealistic upper bass/lower midrange steroids. On first blush, one may even question if the speakers aren't a touch bass shy. They are not. But this aspect of their performance makes for tremendous agility; just try to catch them flat-footed.|
|The Diamantes are uniformly
sensational with the male voice. Chris Isaak's pipes were delivered with
complete aplomb on his Baja Sessions [Reprise 9 46325-2], one of
the very few discs that could make the Diamantes sound a bit too rich and
warm - congested. No worries though, that's exactly what's on the
Sara McLachlan's Fumbling Toward Ecstasy [Arista 18725-2 07822] was one album among many to which I turned for the Duevels' take on female vocals. I wasn't disappointed. Truth be told, I've never heard her sound better. I was also duly impressed by the bass impact and precision on "Possession", rendered almost unbelievably powerful for two 8-inch woofers yet completely under control.
|This lively recording also managed to bring the front of the soundstage forward into my listening room as few other recordings could. Despite its decidedly forward nature, I experienced none of the aforementioned 'edge' thus proving that I had effectively eradicated it from my system [Marcus Duevel to left applauding by banging his horn-lenses like marching-band cymbals.] My notes kept returning to the bass performance on this disc since in the end, I felt forced to characterize it as very chameleon-like. The proper recording will completely transcend the meager 8-inch woofers' physical size, leading the listener to assume far more robust artillery present. "Elsewhere" features a piano that was arresting in its authenticity. Excellent balance and exceptional clarity were its hallmarks, its aura occupying fully 1/3 of the soundstage behind the right speaker. "Circle" impressed with detail and hear-through tonality of the opening drum kit. I could sense the different tensions of the variously tuned drumheads. Curiously enough, this song's soundstage width was completely limited to between both speakers, demonstrating that the Duevels do not superimpose a one-size-fits-all dimensional terrain on the music as omnis are popularly accused of.|
|Consistent throughout the disc were crisp instrumentals that never became fatiguing, and outstanding depth both in timbre and soundstaging. I couldn't take my leave of the McLachlan disc without some "Ice Cream". Once again, the Diamantes demonstrated their fabulous treble extension on the song's cymbal work. "Bright, shimmering and smooth" were the words I chose to annotate my notes with; but now I'll add "delicate". Having amply demonstrated their chops on Pop recordings, it was time for something a little more sophisticated. Groove Note's hybrid SACD release of Jacintha's Lush Life [GRV 1011-3] seemed like a great place to start. It was.|
|The two different ride cymbals used on "Manha De Carneval" were spellbinding in their smooth and delicate refinement. The Bellas offer treble performance that I've never heard significantly bettered. Jacintha's voice arose from one of the blackest and most silent of backgrounds on "The Shadow Of Your Smile". She was all but standing before me, the Duevels delivering every breathy phrase and seductive nuance. Though the music just flowed with this disc, my listening notes did not. The Duevels provided a superior disappearing act and picking out individual aspects deserving of special attention was difficult. It was much like going to a live concert and thinking to yourself, "My, how those triangles just hang in mid-air." You just don't analyze live music that way - and such was my hypnotized mood while listening to the entrancing Duevels.|
|The total package just sounded like music and scrutinizing was made most difficult. But to be sure, all the important elements were present - a wonderfully fleshed-out soundstage with tons of air and loads of depth; resonant pianos, silky strings and an elegant simplicity that certain far more complex speakers can only dream of recreating. The Duevels went about presenting music that was a relaxed, non-pushy and completely natural in a way that I've only encountered in electrostatics before. They seem so unfettered by technology and distinctly non-HiFi. I call that a sure sign of the most mature of technologies implemented without compromise.|
|One day I broke out the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over [GEFD-24725]. I'd been watching the DVD and was curious about the two-channel CD. Well, screaming guitars on "Get Over It" and periodic billowing drums along with clear and present vocals pretty much sums up the experience. "In The City" featured excellent, clean and energizing bass power while percussion seemed to cut through time itself, such was its penetrating incision. And, it all arose from a stage as wide as my room. "Life In The Fast Lane" features an opening drum riff that was rendered powerfully dry. An oxymoron, this? Not at all. It was immensely powerful and real yet didn't incur excessive boom or overhang. Also featured was a dizzying array of dueling guitars guaranteed to quicken the pulse. Suspended above it all were Henley's vocals, again as transparent and open as I've ever heard them. Tying it all together with body and foundation were Schmitt's bass lines that were as skillfully reproduced as the bass drums.|
|For a classical fix, I turned to Jerry Goldsmith's Christus Apollo as performed by the London Symphony Orchestra [Telarc SACD 60560]. I knew by now that the Duevel Bella Luna Diamantes would get the nuts and bolts of the encoded data right. What I was looking for was musical emotion. Sweet and soothing melodies are not what this music is about. Think turbulent and cathartic outbursts instead. Think turmoil. Think played back loud for maximum impact. Rather than symbiotic harmonies, think contrasting discord that relies on divergent tonalities and textural counterpoints to succeed.|
|Again, the listening notes refused to flow. How many times can I reference transparency? How about coherency or outrageous soundstaging replete with cubits of space and air? After a while, it just becomes expected business-as-usual and accepted as something these speakers do so well - until you remove them from the equation to notice that these strengths are not the norm. These omnis illuminate inner detail with unforced transparency and microdynamic ease rather than supernatural in-your-face pyrotechnics. By doing so, they allow the listener to stay attuned to the music and forget about the speakers. It is in this way that they remain one of the most musically beguiling speakers I've ever had the pleasure to spend time with.|
|The Wrap Up|
|Saying that I'll miss these speakers once they are gone seems trite. It is trite. But dammit, it's true. I wish I had more time to spend with them. Sadly, they're leaving shortly for their CES engagement in Las Vegas. If I ever have occasion to review another Duevel speaker, I'll make sure to reserve more time. The Duevel Bella Luna Diamante combines terrific coherency and transparency with wonderful spatial dimensionality, life-like detail and ease. For all their sonic precision, once broken in, they are remarkably easy to position and their omni-directional dispersion pattern makes them indescribably easy to live with in real-world rooms and homes. Throw in excellent fit & finish and conversation-piece styling and you arrive at a truly outstanding loudspeaker. Perhaps best of all? The speakers' chameleon-like nature means that if you like the sound of your electronics, a pair of Bella Lunas will allow those components to shine as these speakers largely assume the character of whatever resides upstream in your system.|
|In any event, the Duevel Bella Luna Diamantes are an excellent value especially at their new price that no longer converts punishing but realistic Euro exchange rates. It's a speaker around which one can assemble a fine system that's immensely musical, pleasurable and relegates solitary sweet spot listening -- which, depending on speakers, could collapse with harmlessly tiny head movements -- to a diametrically opposed type of narrow-dispersion, highly directional speaker design philosophy. That makes the Bella Luna Diamante the perfect family-friendly living room speaker.|
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