Atomica Strato loudspeakers

16.09.2022

Introduction

I had been “courting” Daniele Melelli for a long time. Like many audiophiles, I was curious to find out more about Atomica's founder and C.E.O., about his production founded on very strict and uncompromising method of building cabinets, and on a “minimalist” number of parts: the following is a photo of his Atomica Floor loudspeaker, which is worth a thousand words.

 

Atomica Floor

 

Cabinet made from different materials sandwich panels, no absorbing material inside, apparently non-redundant filters, very neat construction. The strong visual impact seems intentional, but it is mainly a technical consequence – it derives from an essential designing that has nothing to hide and takes pleasure in showing the apparent simplicity of a complex problem. This certainly meets the taste of the most experienced audiophiles.

 

My courtship was therefore sincere and platonic, precisely because, as a long-time audiophile who is still 'addicted' to hi-fi and also has professional interests, I am still attracted like a magnet to realisations that have, or even only seem to have an originality, whether apparent or real, to be singled out and enhanced, to be scrutinised and appreciated, at least in the best of cases.

 

However, when the facts are proven, some magnets end up attracting real... disasters! I am referring to certain brands based more on image building than on objective and proven product quality. But, as they say in these cases, the market is big, there is room for everyone, producing by focusing on image rather than real results is absolutely legal, and ReMusic only deals in principle and since the beginning - see here - with equipment, speakers or components for which we have found a real use value, market or destination. In short, our sector is full of good products, so let's focus on these and forget about the others.

 

Back to Atomica, I also never had the chance to listen to its speakers, even by chance, at some trade fair or showroom. The reason, in this case, is very simple: most of Atomica's production is absorbed by foreign markets, a classic example of 'nemo propheta in patria', if you allow me the catchphrase.

 

The opportunity finally presented itself, because paths sometimes cross in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. We virtually became 'neighbours' and, just like good neighbours, we could then start hanging out and... exchange recipes and attention!

Please note that this does not mean I will have to move for every future manufacturer I will try to review on ReMusic: forget it!

 

Design

Joking aside, when a Hi-Fi magazine writes of a manufacturer for the first time, in this case beginning with Atomica Strato speakers, it is good practice to introduce him. This is a good rule for a reviewer, a tacit agreement with the reader which results in writing a lot to better present the new brand. However, in order not to bore the readers, it is preferable to direct them to the Atomica website, which is very comprehensive.

 

Today, Atomica Audio features a complete Hi-End catalogue. You can find it here. It took only a few years, considering Atomica Bookshelf XL won the CNA Vicenza award in 2016 during the sixth edition of Open Design Italia.

 

The company is the result of the cooperation of craftsmen, material processing experts and designers, specialised figures who work together to provide high-quality audio services, ranging from acoustic treatments to turnkey systems, but with a particular focus on the acoustic speakers sector, the one for which it is now best known.

 

Paraphrasing the very words of the company presentation, it can be said that - when it comes to audio systems - every audiophile is reminded of the idea of recreating the musical event in their own listening environment, and the same thing happens in the minds of the technicians, experts and designers whose job it is to provide the product that achieves this. The latter, however, know that creating a system capable of meeting this goal can be very difficult. But they also know, or should know and admit, that creating a system capable of meeting the same goal in any listening environment is definitely impossible.

 

This, in a nutshell, is the Atomic 'specificity'. Of all the components in the audio chain and given the same construction and design quality, Atomica believes that the speakers are undoubtedly the ones most able to influence the overall result. This is mainly due to their specific task of transducing the electrical signal into a sound wave. In other words, they have to transform electricity into music and diffuse it into our physical reality. Incidentally, I consider this approach to be very 'healthy', i.e. I fully share it, since I have practically always been of the same opinion, professing and asserting it to anyone, audiophile enthusiast or perfect layman.

 

Furthermore, since we are basically talking about stereophony, it should be pointed out that well working stereophony needs the two audio sources to be perfectly symmetrical. We are talking not only about parts like crossovers or speakers, which must be selected to have the same electroacoustic value. We are talking also about the chassis. This is the first peculiarity which characterises Atomica Audio: using traditional materials to reach excellent quality standards, which are usually the prerogative of heavy and expensive materials such as aluminium or light and expensive materials such as carbon fibre. The principle which makes it possible is the resonance modes parcelization: it can be accomplished by using different materials or making irregular structures, which mutually damp each other; the “8” front shape of Atomica Strato speakers have the purpose of progressively reduce resonances, in a linear way, gently dissolving the resonance because it is physically impossible to eliminate it. For example, wooden structures are coupled and glued using very high-pressure hydraulic presses. This makes it possible to obtain highly compact, virtually non-resonant cabinets as well as pairs with identical mechanical characteristics, especially when compared to those obtained by classical methods such as clamping with manual terminals - the same as in DIY audio - whose tightness can vary by tens of kilos between one clamp and another. The same awareness is applied during the assembly of all screwed parts: each screw, nut or bolt is tightened with dynamometric control of the applied torque as defined by design.

 

Atomica Audio's objective was to create in its own facilities – through experimentation – all cabinets' parts, often using aimed techniques as you can read in the Atomica's blog. You can find out more also about the Atomica Reflex device, which allows to vary the Q factor of bass reflex speakers till they become closed boxes, like pneumatic-suspension speakers, which you can read about here.

 

Construction

It follows that those are bookshelf speakers – this is not a trivial assumption because many tend to forget it, to leave this concept in a spot like “all-season and all-environment loudspeaker”. This is the Atomica Audio's starting point: speakers cannot be “multipurpose”, the have to be designed and employed based on their purpose.

 

Atomica Strato 

 

Atomica Strato's cabinet is very small, less than 32 cm tall, which is the standard height for a modern shelf. It is very chamfered near the speakers to avoid first baffle reflections. Those parameters – together with their crossover, which is designed to show a roll-off allowing to compensate the reinforcement of real wall proximity – make it perfect to be used in near-wall or shelf placements.

Shape and filtering allow for an extremely broad sound field: polar response is maximised in both vertical and horizontal planes. This allows the speakers to be good in both near-field – due to their dimensions and proximity of emission axes – and far-field positioning, increasing sweet spot area.

 

Dispersione polare trasversale diffusori Strato a 0°/30°/45° su scala 10 dB, smoothing 1/3 oct.

 

Atomica Strato polar response 0/30/45° - 10dB scale, 1/3 oct. Smoothing.

 

The cabinet is made from poplar plywood. Thanks to Atomica's building technology, it is characterized by excellent resistance to compression and decompression modes produced by the woofer. This allows to obtain unusual body and sound emission for such a small reflex speaker.

The two horizontally-arranged cylinders are their supports, made from 6082 aluminium – Ed. | See Anticorodal, Ita only – de-coupled from the four o-rings. These supports are self-levelling because they are integral with the rear plate. When speakers are positioned, they softly rest – a very short excursion, less than a millimetre – to the front section of the cabinets, automatically giving full stability to the speakers.

 

The drivers are the treated paper cone woofer Seas CA15RLY and the Acuflex dome tweeter Morel Classic Advanced Line CAT 408. They are not modified according to specifications because the manufacturer considers it a mere marketing operation to distort speaker drivers of this type, which are virtually perfect for the design results obtained and highly advanced in realisation.

The crossover crosses the speaker drivers at around 2,500 Hz, uses Mundorf capacitors and resistors, while coils/windings are manufactured in-house using a proprietary method.

The loudspeaker cutouts are caulked, i.e. watertight, and the terminals are always made in-house and machined from solid.

 

Listening

Let’s start by saying the most important thing: despite their size, these speakers sound “big”. Forget about their size, try to listen to them with your eyes closed. Very big, accurate and well-presented sound.

 

If you look through the reflex pipe, there isn't any sound absorbing material. In my opinion, when a cabinet is well made, sound absorbing material is unuseful. It even tends to make the sound dull, making it boring and poor.

 

Polar response is not only good on paper. It enhances the soundstage and reveals a quite big sweet spot: you will no longer be forced to stay motionless.

 

That ideal of the 'pulsating sphere' pursued by audio designers, is here very close thanks to the proximity of the emission points, the small dimensions, the soft attention with which the cabinet is 'shaped', the modelling of the crossover, and all the other Atomica construction details.

 

So when listening to the Strato, they do not disappoint and prove to be excellent implementations for easy listening in difficult conditions, such as with the speakers placed on a bookshelf or on a stand, always necessarily very close to the wall.

 

Despite their minimum impedance of less than 5 Ohm, they show an 86 dB sensitivity. The result is they can be driven with relatively low power: this fact is confirmed by my listening test with the Replica 300B Western Electric 91A. They accept also high-wattage amplifiers: they can bear 200 Watts each, and quantity only makes them sound better. The last pitch of the bass definition, the 'scratch' of the punch that the Strato's can achieve, you will definitely get with a good 'current' amplifier, as from the quick test made with my Maison de l'Audiophile Hiraga Class A. It's a pity I didn't have - I hope temporarily - the ItaliAcoustic HS-1 at my disposal: with its inexorable 200 watts per channel, I think it would have been a good match.

 

I mean, they really do 'pump'! To the point that, like a brat, listening to Joe Jackson's Go for it, from Body and Soul, I got behind them and lit a match at the exit of the reflex tuning tube and, predictably, the Strato put it out after only a couple of kick drum hits. I know, at my young age I'm still a silly child, but I did have fun... like a child! I will only add: don't do it at home and I will not take responsibility since I have warned you.

 

Pros

A total speaker, without any music genre predilection and very extended toward the extreme bass. All this in a way which is unpredictable for a such small speaker. Designed for small/medium environments but capable of great punch. Very versatile, both because of its dimensions and the possibility to place it where you would normally find home-theatre speakers which need one or more subwoofers.

 

Cons

Only this time, cons are focused on price. Usually, I don't do this because we are talking about a very debatable field. Hi-Fi and its most extreme derivations like Hi-End, make the cost of these objects completely subjective, anarchic, unjustified. Sometimes you can speak of luxury or unnecessary goods, but they are certainly not basic necessities. It follows that what is worth the money for me may not be worth the money for other people, and vice versa. Maybe only the final result – how a system sounds – can give objectivity to the money spent. But, but, but... this fact cannot give full objectivity because many systems, often among the most expensive ones, are criticized by some and yet very appreciated by some others.

 

There are no defects in their performance, this is another reason why Strato's price is probably the only possible obstacle. You have just read about pros. If you consider with complete impartiality the fact that they should be driven adequately, there is nothing else to criticize. Just to be clear: they do not convey the feeling of immanence, “relaxation”, and ease of muuuch larger systems, which should still be built with the same design rigour anyway.

 

Rather, the price seems – with emphasis on 'seems' – an obstacle in itself. Being two-way bookshelf/standmounted speakers, the Strato still have to compare and compete with high-calibre brands and models. Moreover, it should be noted that many of the competitors in other manufacturers' catalogues are indeed small, yet to be placed on stands, certainly not on bookshelves.

 

Let's start by saying that, although they are Atomica entry levels, they should not be compared to the relative entry levels of monster brands such as the B&W 607s2 at 500 EUR or the Amphion Helium510 at around 1000 EUR. Their natural competitors are probably the acclaimed and well-known Ls3/5a monitors, of which the current Rogers models are around 3,500 euro, but which - precisely because they are power 'black holes' and typically monitors - do not strive to reach the Strato's extension. We certainly start to reason with the 1,600 EUR Diapason Micra III Excel, also because I'm biased when it comes to Diapason, meaning that I really appreciate the integrity of their workmanship. To be fair, we will mention Amphion again with the 2,150 EUR Argon 3S and we can go up in price to Strato-spherical levels, such as the 4,000 EUR Sonus Faber Minima Amator II. Going back to British production, we can point out the ProAc Response DB1 at 3,700 EUR or the Harbeth HL-P3ESR SE 40th Anniversary at 4,200 EUR.

 

But the list can be even more extensive, almost limitless, if we also consider products that are a little less, shall we say, mainstream - as pointed out by our editorial staff, specifically by Paolo Mariani - such as the AQ Passion Orca, the Ascendo C5 MKII, the Buchardt S400, the Elac Adante AS-61 or the Quad Z-2, all in strict alphabetical order and without expressing preferences. And what about the ones we tried, such as the Blumenhofer Mini, the KingSound Princess III or the beloved and esteemed – at least by me, but I know I'm not the only one – Novaudio Classic 8 Mk3?

 

So, if the price could initially be considered a downside, let's cut short and consider that there are two much higher-priced options, such as the stunning Diapason Adamantes V at 5,700 EUR and the Magico – sic, and sigh – A1 starting at a whopping 9,900 EUR.

 

Due disclaimer: all prices are per pair and to be taken with the benefit of inventory; they are 'approximate' list prices, precisely because they are highly variable depending on the sales channel or obvious market logics, such as the public price adjustments that sooner or later will affect or have already affected UK products due to Brexit.

 

What you have to consider, in short, is that while the speakers sector is certainly the most heavily represented, the two-way speakers sector is probably the most crowded and extensive in the entire Hi-Fi market. Somewhat like in the small car segment, where you can go from the cheapest Fiat Panda to the most expensive Mini or BMW.

 

The ultimate sense of this insight is that practically EVERY speakers manufacturer must or will, sooner or later, have a model of this type of product: it is only to be expected in response to market demand. So, in this arena that is as competitive as it is sanguinary, what chance does an Italian two-way speaker with a 'European' price tag – pun intended – of almost 4,000 EUR possibly have? I wish it a lot of luck, because it deserves it.

 

You never know 

If you'll pardon the motorsport comparison, Daniele Melelli is the Frank Williams of Hi-End. Unfortunately, also because of personal mobility limitations, but that is another story. Rather, it is more so because, like the founder of the Formula 1 company bearing the same name, he is a technician who takes engines/speakers from others and develops innovative chassis/cabinets to create cars/speakers with unique performance compared to the compact shapes. Smart solutions for complex problems, at once fascinating by design and yet surprisingly simple to the eye.

 

Quick metaphors and final synthesis 

Life does have a way of being whimsical. At the same time that I had these speakers for review, I also tested the Cube Audio Magus, which you will soon be able to read about in ReMusic – Ed. | In the meantime, you can find them here. As I switched from one to the other, regardless of their respective ambitions or achievements, price or size, I was struck by the paradox of their two opposing realities. The Magus is a unique and proprietary speaker driver with a rather ordinary cabinet around it, so much so that Cube Audio itself provides the construction plans of its own speakers for the DIY audio world. These Strato speakers, on the other hand, feature an extraordinary cabinet, which is the result of painstaking research to nullify its vibrations, its early reflections and, at the same time, its mass and weight, with two standard-production speaker drivers inside. Forgive my inevitable approximations, of course. Strato's achievement is also clearly due to the research and design of their crossovers. But, on the other hand, the Magus... have no crossovers at all! So you can see now how the radicalisation of the two designs is comparable, juxtaposed, just like a fascinating paradox. The Strato always seem to issue a challenge, they seem to say with quiet cheekiness: 'now you try to do better, to sound so good and so loud, with a speaker of this size! At the end of the day, they are proof of design strength. And I consider them fully successful.

 

Audience

If you are looking for a small speaker, or rather a tiny one, typically a stand speaker and really for the bookshelf, very easily placeable with no issues when placed near the rear wall, even better designed to make the most of rear wall proximity, able to whisper during evening listening, and to sound energetically during your zombie mornings when you need audio energy, well, then Strato are the speakers for you. Consider the proud Italian production – very important to me – and the fact that they are designed to produce a huge sweet spot which makes you truly enjoy music, with full bandwidth and a very living, relaxing, and at the same time animated soundstage... and it's done!

 

 

Timbre | frequency extension, ability to faithfully reproduce the instrument and its harmonics
The Seas/Morel speaker drivers pairing works well, seems linear without being overly rigorous, probably because the common professional, not 'blankly esoteric' approach favours timbral consistency.


Dynamics | micro (detail) and macro (absolute), extension and speed of transients
Strato speakers just stay put, that's how they're built. Perhaps the relatively low sensitivity - it's Physics, guys - reduces its expressiveness at lower output volumes, where high-efficiency speakers excel, but you can live with that.


Image | ambience, transparency, scene, sound planes, virtual stage, sense of presence, resolution

The Atomica advertising brochures speak of an 'immersive soundstage' and so it is. When they are properly placed, the sound stage is 'almost' live, but it is clear that it can only 'tend' to the two-dimensional, albeit very immersive. And that's a pity, because, placed away from the walls, they are analytical and three-dimensional, an ideal pair of stereo speakers to be complemented by another pair of powerful subwoofers. Mids and highs, in this set-up, would be able to express themselves at their best because the robustness of the speaker's design enhances their definition. Strato speakers do not vibrate nor shake, which can only be very good for the midrange and treble.


Pitch | general setting of the device, if present or characteristic: e.g. warm, cool, toned, amber, glossy, matt
As repeatedly said, positioning also has a great influence on this parameter. If placed close to a wall or in a bookcase, the Strato inevitably become 'warmer' but hardly 'swollen'. If placed on a stand and perhaps moved away from the rear wall, they inevitably lose quite a bit of bass extension but make up for it in 'neutrality' of emission, even if, in general, the gentle roll-off that in my opinion they also have in the treble never makes them really annoying, unless pushed to the limit as I did in my large, very large home listening room. Listening purely by way of example to the almost ultrasonic intro of Kraftwerk's Morgenspaziergang, from Autobahn, we immediately realise the presence and security of the high frequencies, but with that 'softness' on the treble end that makes them enjoyable in the long term.

 
Emotion | ability to be emotionally involved, highly match-dependent, absolutely anarchic and personal parameter
They need to 'pair up', one of the leading metaphors, so to speak, of audiophile reviewing. Which is normally related to volume, speaker sensitivity, overall radiating surface area, etc. etc. So I judge them to be neutral, which I think might even please their designer.


Manufacturing and packaging | The pair of speakers under test came in 'service' packaging, so this parameter is, so to speak, 'unaccounted for'.


Performance/price ratio | High if compared, as it is meant to be, to sheer size.

 

 

Official technical specification

Type: two-way stand/bookshelf speaker, wide listening position, zero-vibration chassis 
Usable cable terminations: spades and banana plugs, no stripped cable
Transducers: 16cm treated cellulose pulp woofer with extruded chassis, 28mm tweeter with Acuflex dome and aluminium voice coil 
Loading: reflex 
Maximum applicable power: 200W
Frequency response: 40÷25,000Hz in typical environment 
Efficiency: 88dB 1W/1m
Sensitivity: 86dB 2.8V SPL 
Minimum impedance: 4.97ohm, 8.2ohm at 1kHz
Dimensions: 20x31.5x24.5cm WxHxD
Weight: 6kg 
Finishes and wood textures: black, white, electric blue, any other colour on RAL scale available on request; cherry, light walnut

 

Official Italian dealer: direct selling, to Atomica Audio Solutions website

Official current price in Italy: 3,900.00 EUR excl. taxes, dedicated self-levelling supports, in matt black finish 45x64.5x41cm WxHxD, can be purchased separately

Associated equipment: to my system

 

 

RIGHT OF REPLY | MANUFACTURERS FEEDBACK

 

Hello, Giuseppe, very nice and comprehensive, congratulations.

 

Daniele Melelli

October 9th, 2021

by Giuseppe
Castelli
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