Pylon Audio Sapphire review (2012)

Pylon Audio Sapphire Floorstanding Speakers

Dynamic and large sound with the expansive soundscape

Description
The Sapphire speakers under review have been nearly two years in the making. The first time I had them promised for a review was during the Audio Show 2011, the largest show of this type in Europe, not far behind the High End show in Munich, gathering over 9,000 people over the period of two days! It takes place every November in Warsaw and has been attracting audiophiles from all over Europe for the last fifteen years. As it turned out, the final work on the Sapphire design took longer than initially expected. I have now received for a review one of the first, if not the first production model of the speakers.

As I said, the speakers are a three-way, free-standing rear-vented design, with Polish drivers from STX. The speakers are really gorgeous and it is evident that the woofer is housed in a large chamber. The front is black lacquered and has chamfered edges that bring to mind Avalon speakers. The front baffle is quite thick, but these are still not very heavy speakers. They look very nice. Even the PVC finish is pretty cool as you need to get close to see that it is not a natural veneer. Anyway, for a small additional cost you can get the latter and to my eyes it is worth it!

Looking at the speakers' price it is not difficult to conclude that some corners had to be cut somewhere. The speakers are manufactured almost entirely in Poland, which naturally reduces the cost of labor and, to a certain extent, the cost of materials. Still, the price of $1000 USD for a pair of nice, large, three-way floorstanders coming not from China but from a European country, seems to be difficult to comprehend. Cost savings can be seen first of all in not too thick cabinet walls (18 mm at this cabinet size is really the minimum), not quite ideal fitting of the front baffle with the sides, and the used speaker terminals which, although very nice and sturdy with a WBT look, WBT they are not.

Locally manufactured drivers also helped to reduce the final price. Nevertheless, their quality is surprisingly high, supported by measurements and manufacturer's years of experience. The tweeter has a soft dome and a rather large suspension made of one piece of material saturated carbon fiber. The front plate is made of solid cast duralumin and the coil bobbin of Kapton. The design employs a double Ferrite magnet with copper Faraday rings for the linearization of the magnetic field. The GDWK-10-250-8-awx driver custom modified by Pylon clearly indicates Tonsil legacy as it is a Tonsil designation. It is an extremely robust, technically advanced design. The modified driver is called Pylon Audio PST T-100.08.

Midrange is handled by a 14 cm Pylon Audio PSM 15-150.08 driver, with resonant frequency of 110 Hz and a multiple-impregnated cellulose cone. The large magnet also employs linearizing Faraday rings. Low frequencies are reproduced by a 22 cm Pylon Audio PSW 22-200.08 woofer with a coated paper cone, similar to that used in the midrange driver. The baskets of both drivers are made of extruded metal sheet. A more detailed description of all drivers can be found on the STX website. The manufacturer specifies the speakers' frequency range between 35 Hz to 22 kHz (-2dB), their impedance is 8 Ohms and they are rated as having a high 90dB/W/m sensitivity. The speakers' dimensions are 240 x 1000 x 300 mm and their weight is 22 kg each. They do not have grilles.

 Testing Methodology
The speakers were auditioned in a reference system in which they replaced the Harbeth M40.1 speakers. They were also compared against the Monitor Audio Bronze BX6, the Silver SX6 and the Castle Knight 4. The primary amplifier was the Soulution 710 but I also used the Leben CS 300 XS [Custom Version] and the Music Hall a25.2. The speakers were positioned on marble plinths in a semi near field. Their midrange drivers and tweeters were around 5 cm lower than the respective Harbeths drivers. The listening room area is around 30 m2, opening onto the corridor. The Pylons were placed around 1 meter from the back wall and around 1.5 meters from the side walls. They were positioned nearly straight on, with only a slight toe-in, although in larger rooms it is worth trying a larger toe-in with drivers on-axis with the listener's ears. Testing was A-B-A comparison with A and B known. Two minutes long track samples as well as whole albums were used.

Sound
The Sapphire speakers are quite substantial, employing a relatively large woofer; therefore we subconsciously expect low, strong, perhaps even over-emphasized bass. This expectation comes from listening to too many speakers which sound just like that and whatever their price turn "dimensions" into "quantity". However, the Pylon designers came up with something different they used a large cone woofer housed in a large chamber to create a large sound, to achieve even very high sound levels with no compression whatsoever, without a feeling that the whole system is somehow choked. The speakers sound very "easy" and "free", i.e. they seem to have no limits; they are dynamic, well-balanced and, above all, coherent. They are not the best design in the world and I know a few others in a comparable price range that also have something going for them. The Sapphire has its weaknesses as well and I will not neglect to point them out. Still, the combination of characteristics listed above makes them a very attractive proposition. Interestingly, they are not necessarily a first choice for the lovers of heavy rock or dense electronic music, although they can handle it, but will best suit people listening to jazz and classical music.

What matters most is their coherence. I could not really hear drivers' transition ranges and when I did, it was more due to a slight drop of dynamics, a slight lowering of definition, rather than any problems with tonal balance. The speakers sound very, very coherent over the whole range from the bottom to the top.

At the same time, the Stereo Sound sampler revealed something that has to be a conscious choice of the Pylon designers, the consequence of using these drivers and not others, and which eventually results in them not being the ideal speakers, with alternatives within a similar price range. They do not offer a particularly saturated sound. I mean, it is not lacking anything in particular, yet listening to the Castles from the Knight line or even the Monitor Audio Bronze BX shows that higher midrange as well as midbass can be better saturated. There is no thinning out, that's not the case. As I said, the overall tonal balance seems to be exceptionally well maintained. It is more about saturation with harmonics, a more "mature" sound that can be achieved. The Pylon Sapphires are rather transparent, easy and free than fleshy.

Conclusion
It seems to me that the key to success will lie in a proper selection of an amplifier. The Pylon loudspeakers offer a lot but they also need support from a proper choice of amplification. It need not necessarily be a tube amp, although I do not dismiss that, but simply an amplifier whose sound is based on even slightly accented lower midrange it could be a NAD, Music Hall, etc. That will make the most of the speakers' incredible freedom of delivery, their dynamics and large sound volume with an expansive, wide and deep soundstage, while simultaneously "powering-up" the lower midrange. Then we get something that is extremely rare at this price level coherence and dynamics. The speakers can play loud without compression but they need to be driven by a fairly capable amplifier. The 8 Watts from my modified Leben CS-300 XS was simply not enough for comfortable listening.

The Pylon Sapphire speakers are moderately priced and nicely finished. They employ very cool drivers, with a special nod to the tweeter. The manufacturing quality is good; however, it might be worth paying more attention to proper fitting of the front baffle with the rest of the cabinet. On the other hand, that could be an isolated problem of the particular pair of speakers I reviewed one of the first that had been manufactured. Poland, for many associated with Komeda, Stanko, Mozdzer, Chopin, Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Gorecki, Preissner, A.P. Kaczmarek (in Polish it goes like this: Komeda, Stańko, Możdżer, Chopin, Penderecki, Lutosławski, Preissner, A.P. Kaczmarek) only to stay within the music circle is also a place where a lot of audio equipment is manufactured. Some manufacturers quickly disappear. For years others "navigate" between DIY, single orders and full production. Pylon Audio is a comparatively large manufacturer, cooperating with other high productivity companies and everything indicates that its plans are more ambitious than most of boutique-like, tiny manufacturers. 

Specifications
Type: Three-way floor-standing loudspeaker
Tweeter: Pylon Audio PST T-100.08 
Mid-range: Pylon Audio PSM 15-150.08 
Woofer: Pylon Audio PSW 22-200.08
Frequency Response: 35 Hz to 22 kHz (+/-2dB)
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m
Dimensions: 240 x 1000 x 300 mm (HxWxD)
Weight: 22 kg each
Cabinet Type: Bass-reflex
Warranty: 36 months
Available Finish / Color: Black, walnut and wenge
Price: 3,100 PLN ($1000 USD PVC finish), 3,700 PLN (natural veneer) per pair

Review By Wojciech Pacuła (originally published in 2012)