Living in Estonia, designer Alfred Vassilkov and business-partner Alissa Vassilkova of Estelon don’t do a lot of North American shows. If you haven’t met them, they’re a charming story, this father-daughter pair, and a delightful exemplar in how to properly indoctrinate the next generation. In person, it’s even more so. Alfred is very happy to entertain the oddball questions the random journalist might ask, and Alissa generally steers us back onto safer ground when the language barriers become a bit tricky. In all, they’re almost painfully kind and extremely generous of their time, and this seems to be true with any and all who care to stop by and ask them questions.
I met them first at a RMAF back in 2011; this was the show where I asked Alissa whether or not women would find the design of the loudspeakers attractive. Yep. I asked that of the designer’s daughter. Pardon me while I pause and shake my head. I met them again at Newport Beach in 2012, where I spilled wine on Alissa’s scarf at the reception. Ahem. I met them once more at CES back in 2013, but I was prepared this time, and just nodded a lot and stayed well out of arm’s reach. That was a mishap-free visit, and I take pride in that.
Anyway, and far more relevantly, their flagship loudspeaker, the Extreme, is very much summit-fi in both execution and price ($250k+). Adjustable in a rather innovative way, that topmost portion of the cabinet can actually extend upward along an arcing track in order to accommodate room size and seating position relative to the speaker. Overall, the speaker is a marvel of form and function, and it’s design was impressive enough to win a spot on our Best of 2014 list and pick up an Innovation Award from CES this year. In person, they’re quite grand, all long, sweeping curves and non-angular geometries. The look is startling and very much a showpiece — “functional art” has rarely found a more apt case-in-point.
The Extremes were on display at CES, but that display was static only, to my chagrin. Obviously, they were way too much speaker for the Venetian, roomy though that hotel was. Ah, well. One day. Instead, the extraordinary XA ($45,900) was front-and-center, the all-ceramic Accuton drivers winking smartly from the lustrous black of the sculpted columns. The Jadis PRE 1 ($11,900) and JA 120 mono block amplifiers ($26,900) glinted in between, with a Chord Electronics DSX 1000 DSD Network Music Player ($13k) providing the tunes.
If you haven’t heard Estelon, there is a “house sound” to the speakers that tends to defy current “tribes” in today’s hi-fi. They’re neither speedy detail-monsters, nor tonally-deep mid-range-only speakers. In fact, they’re one of the few brands that attempts to try to marry these two camps or pulls it off to any serious degree. I’m scratching my head here, but I think the only audio nut not going to be bowled over by this sound signature might be classic rock fans, or maybe fans of wild orchestra. Dunno. But they do “audiophile music” without fault, and I’ve never heard anything in their lineup sound anything but thrilling. Shown here with tubes, the sound was full, round and completely mesmerizing — most definitely “end-game make-a-statement with your statement-level equipment”.
While I may have been disappointed that I didn’t get to wallow in the glories of the very-highest-end that Estelon has to offer, I do take comfort that I did not step on either Alfred or Alissa at this event. That’s two in a row! Sweet.