by Norman Williams
Do you remember, the 17th night of September?
I do, and it was a soiree not to forget indeed. In fact, I consider it an early birthday present.
Jean-Pascal Panchard (JPP), owner and CEO of Stenheim had invited me to an official demo session of his Reference speaker back in late 2014 (before the CES Show), but due to conflicts I couldn’t make it. Later, I still was not able to make it for March 2015 follow-up date, and that pair eventually went off for review. Therefore, I was determined to make it to the latest invitation to hear the latest product, the Reference STATEMENT speakers, ie. the Reference MTM boxes with complementary bass towers. I am glad I did, and the group of invitees were delightfully treated to great music, a live song by a talented local young lady, and wine with tasty hors d’oeuvres served by JPP and his charming wife, Pascale.
Each of these metal-alloy monoliths weigh something like 300kgs with included stands, so moving them is no trivial matter, and these were not set up at the business premises in Vetroz, rather in his loft-space living room (in his lovely home) with a spectacular Valais mountain view as a backdrop. The Valais is a (South-Westerly) Swiss Canton, close to France and Italy, and the capital is Sion. JPP lives close to Martigny.
The main commercial market for these speakers is Asia at the moment, but I suspect that Stenheim has plans to broaden that base. The cool thing about the Reference module (and necessary given the weight) is that the MTM array is on a remote-controlled pivot, so the mids and highs can be actively adjusted for listening position from the comfort of one’s chair. This is a feature much appreciated by owners so far, I am told.
The only difference between the Reference system and the Statement system is the ability to pressurize a much larger room. Indeed, the rather large, open living room with near double-height ceiling was still way too small for the Statement, and JPP told me that only 10% power was being supplied to the bass modules. Anything more would have overloaded the room.
Stenheim has a strategic arrangement with CH Precision, as evidenced by the plethora of CH boxes on display at the demo, and indeed some of those boxes had bespoke crossover arrays for the Statement Bass modules and the CH bass amplifiers. As JPP was Marketing Manager for Nagra in a previous life, he appears to have retained great contacts there, and so the hot Nagra HD (Tube) DAC was the converter of choice for this session. Absolare tube amps were the selected for the reference MTM array. A NAT tube amp and a Nagra 300B amp were only there on static display.
The music was fed by physical CD via a CH Precision spinner, but mostly by a stock MacBook Air laptop. JPP was very gracious and allowed me to bring some SuperCD and UltraCD RBCD samplers, as well as various DSD and PCM HiRez tracks. Notable songs played were: Lhasa’s “Anywhere on this Road”, Chie Ayado “Tennessee Waltz”, Jose Carreras, “Misa Criolla”, Yuri Honing Trio “Walking on the Moon”, Lila Downs “Semillas de Piedra”, and a lot more. For DSD there were also many, but we made a point to listen to a vinyl rip of Satchmo’s “St James Infirmary” and to compare PCM and DSD versions of Masekela’s “STIMELA” (the PCM was better, as it was closer to the master source).
All sounded absolutely fabulous as you would expect from such a top-class chain — CH-Nagra-Absolare-Stenheim — and there was even a couple of standing ovations during the night. If I recall well, this would have been for the “Semilla de Piedra” from Lila Downs and “Swing Low” by the Fairfield 4, and the live number done by the surprisingly talented young lady with her acoustic guitar. I didn’t get a name, but she could not have been more than 20 years old. Based on what I heard, I think she needs to sign up for the EuroVision contest immediately!
It is not my style to wax poetic about the nuances of gear, so I will simply state that this was clearly in the top 5 of demos I have ever heard. With bass response going down to a good 10Hz, the Statement will handle any and all organ music with aplomb, as was heard with the rendition of Gnomus we threw at it. These are awesome, well-balanced speakers that provide reference sound reproduction in a very neutral and transparent manner. The system lacked nothing in terms of authority or clarity and delivered a thoroughly convincing performance, to the point where the mostly layman audience thought they were sitting in a live show. The applause was genuine and spontaneous. Kudos to JPP, Stenheim and his equipment partners. All the gear strutted their stuff and showed their class. I was told that while Absolare would be more warm, the setup could have been done with CH driving the MTM array as well and we could have expected more transient speed but with less mid-range “liquidity”.
Now, these Reference/Statement monoliths are not inexpensive by any means and will cost in the range of $200K for the 2 box Reference ULTIME and $500K for the 4 box Reference STATEMENT (both with appropriate crossovers), but the craftsmanship is undeniable and the cost of production is surely “up there”. The Nagra DAC is approximately $20K and CH boxes tend to cost in the $35K range each, except for the new M1 amp which is about $80K and weighs about 80 kilos itself.
An interesting tidbit is that JPP is also the show organizer for “Sons et Sens”, as Swiss-brand-only audio show set in the lakeside Montreux, last held in 2013 at the Grand Hotel-Swiss Majestic. Hopefully, it will be renewed for a 2016 edition as it is the only show I know that combines audio with art and gastronomy, and is set in palatial accommodations! Here is a link to some 2013 coverage of the event.
Thanks for the hospitality Pascale and JPP! I thoroughly enjoyed the occasion and hope to repeat it sometime in the future.