Esoteric Pro Audio system listening

14.12.2023

Not for the faint of heart

After the first descriptive part of this article that you will find here, let's now get to its heart, the listening impressions. And here the term "impression" must also be played in a double sense. The EPA system "makes an impression", but very much so. It strikes, enchants, surprises, shakes, soothes, alarms, slaps, caresses... In short, it really makes you sweat. It's not really for the faint of heart. 

 

With this I don't want you to think that the EPA system is "over the top", hyper-realistic, constantly pushed or on the run. No, this system does what it's supposed to do when it's supposed to do it. And this, in my opinion, is one of the best compliments that can be paid to a system as a whole, don't you think? 

 

Indeed, I would also add that even the feeling of "normality" that this system suggests when listening is further destabilizing. Do you expect to be “amazed by special effects”? If they are in the support, it brings them out in all their glory. If you are listening to a pianissimo, it is definitely there, and the very fact that it is perfectly audible and distinct creates amazement in this case too.

 

Roger Waters, Amused to Death

 

Let's get to the point. The superiority of Mirko's research is demonstrated. On Roger Waters’ Amused to Death, the famous front-back and high-low effects of this record, starting from The Ballad of Bill Hubbard and the beginning of What God Wants, are reproduced in a sculptural way, as I have never heard them, and this is due to the ability to perfectly phase the signal, as I had never been able to hear, I repeat. And in general, we already understand that the low-level signals are not hinted at, but palpable, not "staggered". 

 

In my beloved Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden the sound becomes primitive, dirty, appropriately grunge, but with an impact and clarity that supports precisely this contradiction. The system therefore combines in a delightful, truly tempting way the ability to express details and subtle musical chiaroscuro with that of playing at high volume and impact without distortion, compression or listening fatigue.

 

Ariel Ramirez, Misa Criolla 

In the often-abused Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez, tenor José Carreras – a must during the fairs, certainly tiring, but it has its reason – you can hear both the contemporary intelligibility of the choir and its warmth, distinct from that of the skin of the percussion and with a powerful dynamic, something that low efficiency systems fundamentally lack. In general, and depending on the quality of the medium, as a recording, the feeling of being in the presence of the reproduced event is very high.

The integrity and compactness of the scene make it a true virtual window. For the record and to be precise, I should use the plural, because we are talking about "virtual windows". In the EPA system, the differences between the "environments" recorded or those that you want to suggest in the mixing phase are very accentuated.

 

Petra Magoni e Ferruccio Spinetti, Musica nuda

 

In Roxanne by Musica Nuda – Petra Magoni and Ferruccio Spinetti, the album of the same name – the difference between the "dry" and "whispered" attacks is very revealing, both on the instrument and on the voice.

 

Enzo Pietropaoli e Adriano Viterbini, Futuro primitivo

 

Again in Black Hole Sun, performed this time by Enzo Pietropaoli, whose double bass faces Adriano Viterbini's dobro in Futuro primitivo, the performance expands well beyond the dimensions of the listening environment and the speakers disappear, as always, they do not seem emit anything, they do not seem to participate in the emission of sound, placed there, like ornaments or decorative elements. Furthermore, here we can clearly see, as in the many other passages revealing this aspect, how the scene can develop in depth even without resorting to the – very fair – trick of positioning the speakers away from the back wall.

 

Canto Stefano - Fausto Mesolella canta Stefano Benni

 

In Canto Stefano's Tulipani by Fausto Mesolella, Mesolella's presence is thrilling. And he doesn't have the "gigantism" that other executions bring with them.

 

Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert

 

In my opinion, the "Fibonacci treatment" also revives recordings that are a bit, so to speak, “so-so”. For example, Keith Jarrett's well-known The Köln Concert, the recording of a solo improvisation performed at the Cologne opera house on 24 January 1975 is perhaps the most famous solo jazz album in the world, with over three and a half million physical copies sold. But can I say without saying that it doesn't seem like the best ECM recording to me? I'll also point out that it's one of my favourite records – I have simple, rather mainstream tastes – but the EPA system makes it vivid, tangible, much clearer and more present than my memories. 

 

In summary, the EPA approach to the recompositing phase of the signal for the listening point and environment offers an absolutely unusual increase in the resolution and coherence of the musical message. “Crossovering” the speakers before sending them the power of the amplifiers avoids throwing away so much power and information in capacitance, inductances and resistances. In short, Kora wouldn't sound a penny of what they sound like now if they had a crossover... The EPA Hi-End system still confirms its original intention: the acoustic phasing of any audio system is probably the most relevant and strategic parameter and is achieved through technical setup and listening experience of the technician at the controls.

 

Diffusori Esoteric Pro Audio Kora


Relative minuses

Forget about the plug-and-play system. If you don't know how to use its DSP it is practically impossible to fine-tune it. The good thing - and there are many here - is that Mirko himself delivers, installs and programs his system directly in the buyer's listening environment. And once this is done, the buyer becomes in all respects a true loyal customer, because any common-sense change to the system programming can be carried out remotely, simply by getting in touch with Mirko. In short, it's a short step from buyer/customer to true audiophile friend. In this sense, the EPA is a worry-free system. And he will never give any. The only thing left to do is feed him with good music. From any source. And adjust the volume, obviously, be careful not to overdo it… 

 

Furthermore, as already specified several times, it is a closed system. Here the "games" are over. If you suffer from the syndrome of compulsive changes of devices and speakers, cables and accessories, well, this system could be frustrating for you. Of course, you could replace the Caravaggio EPAs with power amps of your choice but, having heard them, having appreciated their integration with the overall project, I really think you would be wasting a lot of money, time and resources in general. Put very frankly, as we Italians say, too many hands will ruin the pasta...

Or... Even if always at your own risk... Only economic-financial danger though, nothing vital... In short, you could control and amplify your reference speakers with EPA electronics, bypassing their crossover! And perhaps better if it were a three-way starting point, to exploit all the potential inherent in the EPA system. This would make your eyes and ears pop, extracting all the potential from your most beloved and expensive speakers. 

 

Finally, are you a late-stage analogist? Give up! To bring out the best from your precious and pristine signal you will have to… sample it! This is what Fibonacci does and thinks about with its analogue input. It samples any signal of an analogue nature making it usable for all the rest of its processing, which I assure you is still successful and convincing. However, if you can afford this system but don't want to "disturb" your analogue signal, I feel sorry for you. Also, keep in mind:

  • variations in turntable performance dependent on air humidity and temperature
  • defects or lack of flatness of the LPs
  • the "historical" inaccuracies between the many RIAA curves actually adopted in recordings and the few standard ones that we can use in the most widespread and even high-sounding phono preamps
  • Tracking error marks in the innermost vinyl grooves of most arms, except the tangential ones
  • the acoustic feedback that afflicts the vast majority of turntables placed... in the same room in which their system emits the sound
  • all other possible errors in tracking, alignment, operating speed, skating, head support weight, calculation of arm-head mass, and so on and so forth

And the list could go on and on. And I haven't even mentioned what comes with the choice to opt for media born "pop", that is popular, but now rather "expensive" such as LP or tape, all due to marketing logic.

The final meaning is that we always listen to an “opinion of sound”. That offered here and now by our system. Also, the best available. IMHO plus you might as well equip yourself with the most revealing system possible – high efficiency – and less dependent on various randomness - digital.

 

Diffusori Esoteric Pro Audio Kora

 

Bias

If you have read this far and are not yet tired or demoralized, well, congratulations... But know that the worst is yet to come, and it is precisely in the next paragraphs. I'm referring to the "punch" I'm about to give you regarding the concept of "personal bias". I'll try to be quick, though. 

 

What do I want? Have you ever wondered what stage of your audiophile journey you are at? What are you looking for? Having been around audiophiles for more than fifty years, I have tried them all. And I don't regret any of it, let's be clear. But currently, in my day, I take more pleasure in putting together a balanced level digital front-end in terms of price/performance ratio; the best triode amp – but also class D – that I can get my hands on; the most sensitive, open and revealing speakers possible; solid core silver cables, which don't even strictly need sustained sections, given the few watts involved; few surrounding accessories; and so on, the music takes over. So, listening and evaluating the EPA system, I had to ask myself some questions. I had to ask myself what resistance I could offer to his performances. I did the bias. Not the one on tape recorder heads. The cognitive one. But the principle is the same. I therefore had to admit that in this part of my life I would like to go back to the implants I heard as a kid, the ones I couldn't afford at the time. I am therefore indulging in a somewhat romantic idea of Hi-Fi, even prior to Hi-End so to speak.

As with many who have made this apparent "downgrade", perhaps there are excellent reasons, still valid, but we will talk about them elsewhere. The fact remains that I am toying with the idea of equipping myself with a system that is as least "manipulative" as possible. I actually already did it. And, if you look closely at my audiophile past, it has always been more or less like this. In short, I for one have long been chasing an almost complete sound obtainable with simple but well-interfaced components rather than one apparently more complete but obtained with great complications.

 

And this is paradoxical. Because, what the EPA facility actually does is actually the most comprehensive, radical, and profound “complication” I have ever heard. But it is a manipulation – if this term can be used in this context – the most modern and cutting-edge possible, at least for these times.

 

The approach practiced up to now - although I should say up until yesterday, given that much has already moved in this direction - has always been to send an amplified signal to the speakers in the best possible way and to "hold your ears ” for any damage or alterations that the crossover, the environment or the limitations of the speakers themselves could cause. Once these damages or alterations were recognised, we went to correct here and there. Put a more powerful amp on the bass, but it could lose articulation. Put a “brighter” cable on the treble, which maybe cost the same as an apartment. Add a powerful environmental treatment, which perhaps completely "diluted" the dynamics and breath of the music. In short, there was no way out. He aimed for control when the stable had been thrown open and the oxen had irretrievably escaped. And for quite a while too. In short, Hi-End has certainly no longer reflected a re-presentation of the real event for some time. 

 

And it is precisely here that Mirko's personal listening experience made the difference. He has hundreds of live concerts of all genres under his belt. He fueled a passion that dates back to childhood, also squandering several fortunes in Hi-Fi. He runs his own theatre, basically for musical events, not on a daily basis but almost on a daily basis. He has produced a line of pro systems with unprecedented audiophile attention. He designed this Hi-End system virtually capable of the emotions and dynamics of the pro, all in proportion, obviously.

And Mirko's "resident" system, the personal one, of the "secret rooms" of his house, is an Ultimate Hi-End project. It has eight channels, needless to say it is full digital and uses four processors for its management, which must interface perfectly with each other, which required Mirko to continue and exhausting refinements lasting two years. The final setup was obviously obtained with appropriate measurement systems, because, as an authentic technician in the sector such as he is, Mirko is a great supporter of measurements, but, as he himself said "when the measurements tell you OK you have done a good job now you can turn on music, the best part comes and you have to listen". You have to “know how to listen”, I add. And above all you have to know what to look for while listening. 

 

The EPA system I tried here, after dozens and dozens of tracks and total days of listening, therefore goes well beyond my expectations and mental and economic availability. But at least I know – that's the bias – and I give him credit for it.

 

Impianto Esoteric Pro Audio

 

Consequences

The EPA approach, of Mirko and its results, can be destabilizing and definitive. How much it can take you to another dimension, that of the "highest" encounter ever heard between high efficiency - the "healthy" origin of audio - and the most advanced digital processing - the current "last frontier", always of 'audio. 

 

If I had speakers like the Acapella, the Avalon or the ATC, I would take a trip-visit-pilgrimage to Mirko. So, just to unblock my ears... They are all brands that begin with "A" - and it's coincidental, it "came like this" to me - but they certainly also have in common the complexity of their crossovers and the physical weight of their speakers. The principles are now clear and known, we have already noticed it on ReMusic and personally I will point it out again until boredom. Speakers with “heavy” membranes and filters need more energy to move. Ergo they start later and stop - if the amp can control them - just as late. Ergo, by doing so you "eat" a lot of micro-information. Ergo in their complex and oversized crossovers a lot of energy and information are inexorably lost, see proven evidence here - Italian only.

 

Again, on a purely personal basis, but arguable, I do not appreciate this type of approach. Whether I have heard large systems based on these, as well as on other brands or models of similar speakers, sound more than good, well, we need to agree on what is meant, depending on the situation, by "good". I'll just throw a couple of examples out there. Similar systems usually "come in pairs", they only start playing at high volumes, so right from the start they certainly eat up as much ambience as detail. Or they are unable to express authentic dynamics, perhaps volume and sound pressure yes, but not dynamics. If you are “low efficiency” it will mean something, right? If your expressive scale is smaller, you will express less, right?

 

In this regard, Mirko and I think alike. All high efficiency devices, be they drivers, horns or class D amplifiers, bring us closer to understanding the meaning of audiophile definitions such as "ease of emission", "involvement", "naturalness", "resolution"... If correctly implemented, that is, they allow the transients of live instruments to be better reproduced, something that low efficiency literally "eats" during operation, or cannot emit, by definition.

 

That said, High Fidelity with capital letters is often a matter of taste. Everything sounds. And if it sounds like you like it, we're happy for you. Everyone is happy when they appreciate and live well with their system. And it is also legal to have a system that is perhaps a little unbalanced here and there. A little more presence here, a little more fullness there. Why not? Have you ever heard a totally and truly linear system from 20 to 20 thousand Hz? It's one of the least rewarding experiences you can have... But here we are beyond that. Mirko's system is absolutely linear. But also satisfying. How to explain it? I'll try now, I'll try "my" explanation, always using and relying on a metaphor, so don't take me literally.

 

Mirko made a "stew" of music when it is just a molecule, an atomic measurement. As such, by modifying it and directing it in its development, he manages to finally re-propose what the music really wanted to be: a superfine thread. This very fine stew - as never attempted and successful before - is done when the dimensions in the field are microscopic, the finest currently manageable, all at a digital level and at very high resolution.

This is why, when listening, you absolutely do not have those negative experiences of those who try to fix things when they have already gone through amplification, cables, speakers, environment... If I can and want to intervene on a gross level, I will have crude, biased solutions, colourful, approximate. In the choice to operate in the microscopic world of DSP and digital indefinitely, however, there is indeed a reconstruction, but with results far superior to those of relying on chance, throwing music into the system and then listening to "the effect it has”. 

 

I am very pleased that so many audiophiles - or, worse, self-styled reviewers - write the final check of the peremptory phrase "the best system in the world that I have ever heard". I'm so pleased that they have little listening experience. Or that they want to end with the catchphrase. But the reality is that the EPA system as a whole can truly be defined as such, that is, the best system in the world that I have ever heard. Because it is made by a cutting-edge audiophile who has not given up on any challenge. He didn't marry the vintage pimp, which I appreciate very much for the reasons I explained to you. He didn't sacrifice himself on technicality for its own sake, on the contrary, he made it undeniably musical. In short, he created a complete system with the best of both worlds: audiophilia and progress. 

 

You can love it or hate it. Indifference is not contemplated. So, anyone who isn't yet convinced by my words should go and listen to it. And also listen to the EPA pro* system. And also listen to the personal system, from the so-called "Ultimate Hi-End", by Mirko Marogna*. You will suddenly understand how much "room for manoeuvre" there is above and below the cost of the system that I have described to you, but always with the same methodological approach that I have described to you. And he will understand at the same time and all of a sudden how limited his personal system is, the one built together with an idea of assembling even "top" components born, so to speak, in the 80s of the last century. I was there, I lived through that period, and I know all its strengths and weaknesses, which still reverberate today.

 

In conclusion, as much as I am in love with a certain type of audio reproduction systems and systems, as I have practically defined "romantic", research and progress continue, and the new Hi-End frontier is being tracked by people like Mirko and systems like his.

 

*These are other stories, which we have yet to tell but which we will not let you miss…

 

Ends | To previous part

 


Official technical specification

EPA Fibonacci Audio Manager manual

EPA Caravaggio Hybrid Amplifier manual

EPA Kora Speaker System manual

Please Note: The purchase of the system includes its delivery, assembly, setup and environmental calibration, the latter is not related to the simple listening position – sweet spot – but according to the response in the environment, working on modes and standing waves.


Official Italian dealer: direct sale, to Esoteric Pro Audio website

 

Official current price in Italy:

Kora Speaker System 19,500.00 EUR

Fibonacci Audio Manager 7,450.00 EUR

Caravaggio Hybrid Amplifier mono 7,300.00 EUR 1.400 watt at 8 ohm

Caravaggio Hybrid Amplifier stereo 7,450.00 EUR 700 watt/channel at 4 ohm

Esoteric Pro Audio Fibonacci audio manager
Esoteric Pro Audio Fibonacci audio manager
Esoteric Pro Audio Fibonacci audio manager
Esoteric Pro Audio Fibonacci audio manager
Esoteric Pro Audio Caravaggio power amp
Esoteric Pro Audio Caravaggio power amp
Esoteric Pro Audio Caravaggio Mono power amp
Esoteric Pro Audio Caravaggio Mono power amp
Esoteric Pro Audio Caravaggio Stereo power amp
Esoteric Pro Audio Caravaggio Stereo power amp
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker, mid-high ways close-up
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker, mid-high ways close-up
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker, mid-high ways rear view close-up
Esoteric Pro Audio Kora loudspeaker, mid-high ways rear view close-up
by Giuseppe
Castelli
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