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Duevel Bella-Luna Loudspeakers
|by Jason Hector
Talk to most Hi-Fi enthusiasts and they claim that Hi-Fi shows don`t tell you much about the sound of a piece of kit. Conversely, and liking to be different, I am beginning to think that shows are a good place to judge the sound quality of a component. Not the absolute sound quality perhaps but the sound quality relative to the other bits at the show. You see a good component will still sound pretty good even under and in spite of show conditions and if the designer / distributor knows what they are doing they will get much of the performance out. Which makes shows a good test of the distributors as well. I raise this because it seems that Duevel omnidirectional speakers have a reputation for making excellent sound at shows. It seems that anybody who has heard them, including the editor, has really rated how well they have worked and a quick trip to the website delivers loads of quotes and awards for best sounds at show. And hence the pair that I now have for review.
The Duevel is a German omnidirectional loudspeaker and, only recently, amplifier maker. Their product range (three speakers and one integrated amplifier) is distributed in the UK by Walrus systems who supplied me with a pair of the middle of the range Bella-Luna loudspeakers.
Duevel have some unusual views on why omni directional speakers are the best solutions to sound reproduction in the home. As far as I can make out, and I am paraphrasing from their literature, they believe that directional speakers produce an unnatural narrow beam of sound that contains the direct and indirect sound of the recording. This makes it more difficult for our brains to differentiate between the direct and indirect sound. If we struggle with this differentiation we perceive the sound as unnatural and we are more easily fatigued. So far so good, they then go on to say that and omni on the other hand excites the whole of the room it is in and this can allow the brain to make more sense of the audio signal with less effort. I must admit I struggle to understand how this works in practice but whether this theory is right or whether the Shahinian theory (simplified here by me) of "point source radiating in all directions is more like real instruments and that is what we try to create with the speakers" is more accurate is irrelevant to my enjoyment of the music when it is played on a good omni-directional loud speaker. A good omni-directional speaker seems to disappear from the chain and allows a really natural easy-going sound into the room; the Duevels have lived up the show hype and are a very good omni-directional loudspeaker.
You will certainly recognise a pair of Duevels in the demonstrations room. The most obvious visual impression is given by the two pieces of beautifully turned wood that are fixed one upon the other at the top of the speaker. These are also the key components to the operation of these loudspeakers. Please refer to the diagram at this point because the description gets a little messy. Right at the top of the speaker we find the tweeter. This is mounted so it is down-ward firing into the first of the turned, and in this case horn-shaped, wooden pieces. Directly below the wooden tweeter horn we find the second piece of turned wood. This one takes what can only be described as a spinning top shape! Strictly speaking it is not below the tweeter horn since its upper point enters and extends well into the centre of the downward facing tweeter horn. This creates a horizontally circularly symmetric horn loaded slot for the tweeter to vent from. So the sound waves from the tweeter are guided between these two pieces of wood to emerge, again symmetrically, all around the speaker at an angle of 90 degrees from the tweeters actual radiating direction. The lower point of the "spinning point" is suspended over the upward firing bass/ mid driver. Again this is acts to spread the sound pressure waves (at least the mid range frequencies) from the driver and steer them through 90 degrees. The final result is a very close approach to a lateral omni directional speaker and best of all it is an elegant and not a ruinously expensive solution! The two turned wood pieces are locked rigidly in place above the cabinet proper by four (one for each corner of the cabinet) machined metal rods. The wooden pieces are simply bolted to the supporting rods which are attached to a baffle mounted into the top of the cabinet. The bass mid/drive is securely fixed to this same baffle.
The bass/mid range unit is described by Duevel as "a high efficiency 8" diameter cone loudspeaker with 1.5" diameter voice coil. Other features are a carbon diaphragm and a double roll textile suspension. The woofer has a die cast chassis, a large magnet and a vented pole plate". All good stuff and an interesting mix of old (textile surround) and newer (carbon fibre) materials. The tweeter also uses carbon fibre for its cone. Again a powerful magnet arrangement keeps control of the 38mm design. The tweeter then vents through a clever phase plug straight into the mouth of the horn formed by the upper piece of turned wood. Duevel have designed the Bella Luna to have an output that is linear in phase and this is achieved in part by using a simple crossover and top quality components. The Bella Luna also boasts a healthy 91dB output at 1W and 1m and not a totally ruinous 6 Ohm load. In much of the literature they recommend valve amplifications (although their own amplifier is solid-state, try to work that out if you can) as do Walrus, but I used them with excellent results.
Straight from plug-in the Bella Luna´s failed to impress, the treble was a bit harsh and the bass pretty loose. On the positive side the mid-range seemed to be working well! After a few minutes, yes that short time, the treble had calmed down, sweetening, and the bass tightened considerably. These speakers were obviously cut from similar cloth to my own Shahinian Obelisks. They are both kind to poor recordings while still letting you know exactly what is happening upstream.
With Richard Thompson - Old Kit bag (Diverse records wonderful pressing) on the Well Tempered Reference the speakers slipped quietly out of my consciousness, getting out of the way and leaving me to enjoy the music. To analyse the sound in the most general way, it is immediately clear that these speakers offer a very neutral window into a recording and the music it contains. They reproduce the tone of instruments very well and have the organic natural sound of the few good omni-directional speakers out there. Couple a decent dynamic range and low distortion to a wide in-room bandwidth and they could embarrass many more expensive and fashionable solutions. Play Bruce Springsteen - The Rising and the Boss´s voice was projected well clear and the emotion obvious. But this album was more variable with the Duevels and on a couple of tracks I found myself thinking they sounded a little slow. Not in the sense of overhang but the tempo of the track seemed slower. It´s a common effect with speakers that offer superior separation when compared to those that favour leading edges. So, slower actually equates to clearer (if less driven).
Onto some rock with the Kings Leon - Youth and Young Manhood and the White Stripes - Elephant, powerful albums that test any systems ability to follow rhythms under dynamic hard driving. Although the Bella Luna´s fared well on this material they are a bit too polite for my tastes. The music emerged intact and timed correctly musical and with the threads integrated but lacking in that last bit of excitement. It´s like some of the visceral impact, subtlety of rhythm and tempo and emotion is traded off for the resolution and tonal neutrality. With the Obelisks you want to jump up and dance, with the Duevels you are more likely to relax in your seat. The speakers handling of dynamics is impressive and they remain unflustered at very loud levels. The speakers´s bass output is notable, fast but also deep and punchy, these loudspeakers don`t try to sound quick by curtailing bandwidth. To achieve this depth of bass the speaker is ported at the base of the cabinet. Unsurprisingly this is accomplished in a novel way as well, none of the "shove a drain-pipe in the back" here. The cabinet has had its lower corners removed at an angle creating four apertures. Internal cabinet pieces are used across the corners to form a triangular cross-section port at each corner while bracing this section of the cabinet. The cabinet itself is very well constructed and from its weight has plenty of bracing. It does not make itself felt when music is playing meaning it makes a very good support for the drivers. Of course mounting the bass driver on the top means it is working against the cabinets strongest direction, a further benefit of the design. The speakers base is slightly larger than the cabinet increasing the stability of these pretty tall columns and is sculpted to lessen its massive black look.
Walrus supplied me with a pair of Bella Lunas that were pretty well run in and this particularly pair had their cabinets mounted on the Walrus preferred compliant rubber feet. Speaker wire is attached via some big chunky single wire only (lets hear it for single wiring…hurrah) multiway locking connectors which accept 4mmplugs. It is recommended that the speakers are placed 0,7 to 1,2m from the back wall and a similar although not identical distance from the sidewalls.
The new long player by Holly Golightly - Truly She is None Other (expect more coverage for this wonderful singer-songwriter after her appearance on the White Stripes latest) is simply fantastic fifties retro indie music. The detailed treble and expressive mid range of the Bella Luna´s combine to give great realism and expression to Holly´s volatile voice. The speakers pretty much disappear even off axis although they do not manage this trick quite as well as the Obelisks since there is more of a sweet spot with the Bella Luna´s. The drums on this album are well handled, bass drum has the necessary power. The loose skin effect of the kit sounds just right and cymbals crash and shimmer metallically.
Alison Krauss - New Favourite and Ron Sexsmith- Cobblestone Runway (both on Diverse) again demonstrate the fantastic tonality of the speakers and their detail retrieval abilities. It´s hard not to compare them with the Neat MFS´s I have reviewed recently. The Duevels sound a little more natural while the Neats win out in terms of pure treble quality. The Duevels miss that last ounce of resolving ability and power in the treble that the Neats have while their bass is more extended. The Neats sound faster with more drive but the Duevels render voices more realistically. The Neats paint a more precise acoustic space and image whereas the Duevels offer a bigger and more realistic impression of space. I call it a draw!
Interestingly the Ron Sexsmith album was the only one I played that caused the Bella Luna´s any problem in the initial room position I tried.
A certain frequency excited a resonance of the room speaker interface that was very difficult to tame, I wasn´t completely successful for the whole time I had the speakers. I am pretty confident that a peculiar room artefact caused this because I do not have the ideal room for the Duevels. They do like a bit more room to breathe in. I could give them room behind or room to the sides but not both. On the live Ben Folds crowd noise is fantastically real and you feel part of the audience as the announcer introduces Mr. Folds. The piano is pretty well handled and the Duevels sense of correct scale is very good on this album. But the piano did sound more lightweight and hollow than I am used to and the percussive element was also slightly underplayed; but piano is a particular Obelisk strength. Ben´s voice was again presented with plenty of detail, with all of the inflection intact. The speakers coped superbly with the shifts in pace that are all over this album, demonstrating plenty of agility across the frequency bands.
I have enjoyed having these speakers to review. They have really impressed me with their natural sound and excellent treble, especially their capabilities with vocals which regularly stopped me in my tracks if I was trying to do anything else while music was playing. The fit and finish of the speaker is certainly in keeping with the price being asked and they really look the money. The veneer for the cabinets is of a high grade, well matched and professionally applied and the black painted components are similarly well finished. These speakers make a definite statement in the room and I really like them. They never failed to raise a comment (almost exclusively positive) from visitors to Hector´s house. I won´t be replacing my Obelisks just yet; I find them more fun. But I´ll miss the natural presentation and refinement of the Duevels, especially at high frequencies. With less power on tap these would be top of my shortlist.