Xavian Perla Esclusiva Loudspeaker
The Mighty… Oak!?
For four years, the Xavian Perla monitors were made of walnut. They also used to be named the Xavian Perla, instead of the more regal sounding Perla Esclusiva. “We found oak to be a still better wood for enclosures: more stiff and robust and above all still,” says mystery maestro Italian designer (you ever heard of him?!) Roberto Barletta. His last name just sounds like he knows how to design things, doesn’t it? Beretta. Berlinetta. Barletta. Roberto is the “brains behind the scenes” at Czech speaker company Xavian.
He added that “The internal walls of the Perlas are damped by adhesive bituminous board, covered by textile and foam damping fibres.” This puts me in mind of Vince Bruzzese’s famed Totem Monitors; he of the bouffant hairdo and slick show demos, who’s company crafted my gateway drug into this crazy world of ephemera and subtlety we call high-end audio.
Unlike some of my favorite rear-ported Totem monitors though, the Perla Esclusiva has a super cool bass reflex “slot” beneath the 5.25” mid-woofer, and Roberto asked that I specifically mention that the Esclusivas have a “front reflex made of a solid MDF slot glued to the front panel. This allows easy installation because of front radiation and the remarkable quality of it. In fact, the well-made slot reflex has almost no resonance in the medium frequencies.” You can tell even over email, Roberto is very proud of this slot! It does look very cool, and in performance, I never heard a peep out of it.
According to Barletta (photo’d below right), the mid-woofer itself uses a “cast aluminum basket and a polypropylene membrane joined to a soft dust-cap” and like the tweeter, is made in Italy to his specifications. Roberto told me the tweeter uses a hand-coated fabric dome, a small working chamber under the membrane and a copper short-circuiting ring on the pole piece.
Tying these bespoke Italian drivers together is what Barletta refers to as a “very, very particular crossover which uses a series topology. It means that the tweeter and the mid-woofer are electrically connected in series.” He continued, “this topology asks for really quality components, as you may see in the attached pictures. Listening to a well-engineered crossover in series, the sound is more alive and integral compared with the common parallel solution.” Quality components indeed! As you can see, there are now some Mundorfs afoot in that crossover whereas previously they played on a lesser electrical team.
Roberto added “we recommend Perlas in small or medium size rooms where you may play them at low power levels thanks to their good sensitivity. Perla Esclusiva is using our four years old experience with the classic Perlas: I hope you are enjoying their response. We did the maximum for the most natural sound.”
Well, Roberto and Xavian are in luck! It just so happens that I have an insanely-overpriced-whadya-want-its-New-York-friggin’-City small to medium sized room (12’ by 20’) in which to test this theory!
Start Me Up (but take many hours to do it…)
Xavian recommends 200 hours break in. It’s not that things won’t sound great before that (they actually do!) it’s just that things get better and better and more and more open and less constricted over the course of that time span. I’d say around the 40-60 hour mark for me bass became more supple and controlled and another 20 hours or so after that, the tweeter opened up and began to have even more sparkle, but out of the super well-packed box, they sounded pretty darn right. YMMV as I can’t really blast them for extended periods in my insanely-overpriced-but-I’m-not-bitter apartment living room (Okay I am. Bitter.).
I put these expertly finished and hefty (17 pounds each!) l2.4” high by 7.5” wide by 9.3” deep solid oak boxes atop the prettiest pair of stands I could find! They are Kef Performance stands in white (filled with 7.5 pounds of exclusive premium kitty litter each) and thank you; yes, I do think I did a good job picking out a fetching match for my fetching white satin Perla Esclusiva review pair! My girlfriend LOVES the look and wanted me to buy the review pair for our speaker stable, sight unheardJ
Like my fave Tekton Lore References which are also front ported and satin white, the Perla Esclusivas ended up with their backs around 16” from the front wall and about 7 feet 10 inches apart center to center. I really didn’t move them around too much for best sound and again like the Tektons, they worked beautifully with just 10 or 15 degrees or so of toe-in.
Equip yourselves, men!!
On hand for the review I had a plethora of amplifiers (okay, three). They included, in no special order, the generally beloved/overachieving 50-watt Heed Elixir integrated, the more refined and pricier 40-watt Heed Obelisk Si 3 integrated and my own beloved 150-watt reference, the Wells Audio Majestic integrated. The rest of the system consisted of my newly upgraded Aqua La Voce S3, Schiit Eitr USB converter (love it! And which I finally decided might sound a touch more clear and present in the highs vs. USB straight in to the DAC) and a SOTM SMS-200 streamer with Sbooster 12V linear power supply running into said converter. I used either Roon or Audirvana+ depending upon my mood and/or frustration tolerance and cables were my redoubtable Linn LK20 speaker cable, Chord Silver Plus USB cable, Supra 75ohm digital cable and Skywire 1400 SE interconnects.
At 88 dB and 8 Ohms, I wasn’t expecting the Esclusiva to be a pig to drive, though it presented a noticeably more difficult load than my 96 dB Tektons. This was most evident in a hint of dynamic restraint or a touch of ‘constipation’ at really lowish levels (68 to 70 dB peaks) particularly when driving the Esclusiva with the 40-watt Obelisk, but with the wick turned up just a bit more, they came to life with this little 40 watt amp. The Elixir and the Wells further diminished the gap between Tekton and Xavian at really low levels, though it couldn’t be entirely eliminated due to the significantly differing efficiencies.
“…every room has an ideal-sized speaker, and vice versa.” –Ken Kessler
Truth? I haven’t reviewed a speaker in a little while because of my love affair with the Tekton Lore Reference. I figured, “I’ll focus on equipment now. As for speakers, sorry I’m taken.” Truth is I was a bit scared maybe there’d be something out there I liked much better for not that much more money and I’d have to eat my words about how musical my Tektons are! Well, spoiler alert; the $1,000 pricier Xavian Perla Esclusivas are, in some ways, “better.”
For starters, they are finished to a much higher level of Italianate perfection. Like a fine Italian suit, they have a ‘nice hand.’ Yep, Tekton’s Eric Alexander is a genius, but at $750.00/pair he has to compromise somewhere and the Perla Esclusiva is simply finished to a higher and more refined standard. Silkier sheenier paint, regal binding posts and a knuckle-rap test as solid as a brick Schiit house.
The next thing that grabs you about the Perlas is, as the Brits would say, the “bloody good tone.” Slightly warm, slightly forward, and very dense, everything played through the Perla’s comes out sounding less like a “good stereo system” and more like people and their machines playing music. Cohesive and alive-sounding, they were also immediately somewhat more refined sounding in the treble than my Tektons.
I began with the Elixir, and while the other more expensive amps paired with the Tektons would later equalize this difference to some degree, even 10 or 20 hours into break in, with my fave Mitsuko Uchida recording of Mozart: Piano Concertos with Jeffrey Tate conducting (streamed via Tidal/Roon), the string section violins and violas were less steely and shone more radiantly forth from the left speaker. There seemed to be more depth to the stage as well. As it was early in the break in process, Uchida’s piano didn’t yet have the bell-like sparkle up top it would later develop, but nonetheless, this was a more refined and rosiny string tone than I was used to. Yep; that expensive bespoke Italian “hand-coated fabric dome” was doing its expensive bespoke Italian thing.
The next thing that stood out (accidentally) was the bass. Let’s not go with “my jaw hit the floor,” eh? It’s been done. It’s tired. How ‘bout “oh man, are these active speakers!!??” The first time I heard what the Perla’s could do in the bass I had turned around after pressing “play” to look for the remote volume and THUMP THUMP; a clean and deep bassline shook the floor. Wow! With Ex:Re’s album “Romance” (Tidal new artists) I had to turn down the volume! Even at lowish levels (maybe 70 dB peaks via dB meter pro iphone app), the bass was almost overwhelming in our apartment! A five inch woofer! Crazy. It was also drum tight and clean. Singer Elena Tonra’s voice was eerily present to boot and with previous band Daughter, the track “Amsterdam” from “If You Leave” was just stupefying in terms of bass impact and staging. So that’s what a lot of these reviewers like Noam Bronstein at Wallofsound.com were talking about when they wrote in their own Esclusiva reviews the usual “I wondered if a subwoofer was playing” or “close your eyes and it’s a Wilson Alexia” or what-have-you lines. They were not exaggerating (too much).
I say this hand on heart and truly. Heed me now and Heed me (get it?) well! At least in a 12’ by 20’ room, these refined little Italiano oak boxes, to paraphrase Freddie M, can kick your can all over the place! The reach, grip and clarity of the bass on offer here really is remarkable and not just given their size! At the low to medium volumes I play at, they can almost go head to head with my 5 times as big Tekton Lore Refs and never leave you wanting. To look at them, pretty as they are, I thought this was simply not gonna happen. Happen it did! Makes sense actually as the Perlas are spec’d as 3 dB down at 53Hz and my Lore refs, while spec’d in absolute numbers down to 37Hz, by my ear probably start giving up a 6 or 8 dB in the high 40’s or so too. Some interweb reviewer that measured the Perlas confirmed they certainly have palpable output in the 30’s though considerably down in level (like 12dB down). This likely holds for the Lore Refs as well.
Imaging is monitor-tastic! It’s wide and it’s deep and it’s smeared all over the front and sides of your room. Except there’s no smear. It’s precise and shapely, though there (thankfully) isn’t that super-pointilism mini-monitor thing going on where every artist is one of a “thousand [tiny] points of light” in your soundstage. (Please note, this quote comes to you courtesy of the archives of former president George H Dubya. Permission was obtained). To me, this lack of pinpoint pointilistic imaging is actually a plus in that live acoustic music does not exhibit such pin-point imaging and “precise localization” of musicians. In real life, you know the guy is “somewhere over there”, but you cant put an X exactly and precisely where they’re standing!
Chlara’s acoustic take on “Stay With Me” from her acoustic album Evo is so tactile and in-the-room present, you want to talk to her afterwards and ask her about her life goals and spiritual leanings.
Finally, these little guys are SPEEDY! I have owned Linn Kans in the past and later Linn Tukans and a few NEAT speakers (Critiques, Mystiques and Petites) and in terms of PRaT, the Xavian’s play close to this league, but with a more refined and Spendor-like tone (I’ve owned both Spendor 1/2’s and 2/3’s). The Linn speakers and the NEATs had more of a raw edge to the sound; more leading-edge emphasis and that was exciting, but it wasn’t always followed by the refined and natural sounding warmth and sonic density of the Perla Esclusiva.
Comparisons, Contrasts and Contravenings
Of all of the speakers I’ve owned, maybe the speaker the Perla Esclusiva’s most remind me of is the wonderful and now historical Daedalus Audio DARMA’s; walnut-loving designer Lou Hinkley’s ‘baby’ Daedalus. Ah, but the Perla sound is certainly not the ‘mini’ version of those glorious mid-sized walnut boxes. Rather, I think the Perlas have a very similar slightly warm and present midrange and silky, grain-less and refined highs while achieving almost the same level of punch and weight as those several times larger speakers. Maybe it’s no coincidence both are made of solid wood, have radiused edges all around, utilize ‘older school’ materials for their drivers and have a similarly impeccable way with coherence and tone.
Let’s see here; also, from the notoriously unreliable mental archives, they are more fast-n-fun than my eucalyptus finished Harbeth Compact 7 ES’s were, though with a similarly resolute and natural mid-band. (Never heard the Perla’s natural competitor from Harbeth, the P3ESR). The Perlas have “bigger,” more impactful bass than the Compact 7ES did. Essentially, think a cross between an older JM Reynaud or Spendor 2/3 with a Linn Tukan and there you have it; great tone allied with great speed. Maybe it’s their midbass heft, or their tonal density, but I must also mention there is some weird synergy going on here between the Perlas and a recorded piano. More so than any other small speaker I’ve ever heard, they positively shine with acoustic piano recordings; all but utterly convincing you of the presence of a big shiny Steinway betwixt and between them. So, if acoustic piano recordings are your thang, the Perlas are something special.
Ahhhh, but what about the (relative) elephant in the sound room? My current squeeze/crush the Tekton Lore Refs? Sooooo… that depends. Huh? Yes. That depends greatly on what amp you pair each speaker with and how loudly you generally like to listen!
No matter the amp; Wells, Heed Elixir or Heed Obelisk si3, The Tektons simply move more air and play a bit more dynamically at low levels. By the latter, I generally mean really low levels; like when you’re lounging on the couch late at night and don’t wanna wake your partner in the next room levels. Or when you’re half reading the (fake!) news and barely awake and you wanna put on something in the background at low levels. The 88dB efficient Xavian’s certainly play very well at lowish levels too, it’s just that the high-efficiency Tektons do it a bit better.
The Tekton sound is a bit more raw and edge-of-the-seat; more “jangly” with guitars and dobros, with the Xavian being a bit warmer and more grainless and silken, though I’d say both speakers have my preferred somewhat front-of the-house presentation.
In terms of staging, the Xavians may just have the edge on depth, and they also do those spooky monitor things such as imaging wayyyyyy-outside-the outer-edge-of-the-speaker as well as tell you precisely in space exactly where people are (or were). Head to head though, the Tekton is absolutely no slouch in any of these regards and it was positively amazing to me how closely the bigger ‘clumsier’ speaker aped the smaller and presumptively more ‘lively’ and precise ones.
Then it got interesting. I started swapping amps and even a power cord or two. In some sense the Elixr v. Obelsik Heed sibling rivalry mirrors the fight between the Tekton Lore Ref and the Perla Esclusivas, with the Elixir assuming the role of the Tekton (i.e. less buttoned down and refined and a bit friskier at lower levels with more bass quantity) and the Obelisk, with its warmer, more tonally refined and ‘nobler’ presentation, playing the role of the Perlas. And as I heard it, that’s the exact opposite of how the amps liked to be used!
With my beloved Wells Majestic back at the shop mid-review to sort out some weird channel balance/distortion issue, these two amps picked up the slack for me, with the Elixir turning in a stellar synergy with the Esclusivas and the Obelisk si3 putting me in seventh heaven with the Lore Ref. In a word, the Elixir driving the Xavians is stunning! So much raw punch and speed allied to that glorious Xavian midrange and holographic imaging; tuxedo/Rolex refinement meets t-shirt/Casio G-shock hair shirtedness, and presto! A match made in heaven. You can still tell the Elixir isn’t as refined and tonally elegant as a ‘super’ amp, but the Xavian covers for it nicely.
Similarly, the suave sophisticate that is the Heed Obelisk si3 met the slighter, rougher-n-readier Lore References and the two may as well call in whatever favor they have to get mentioned in the local matrimonial section of your paper of record. Essentially, the Obelisk packs on more refinement and brings to the Tekton party more of what makes the Perla Esclusiva so special; a triode like midrange and gorgeous voices and refined and rosiny strings, whereas the Elixir imbues the Perlas with that much more impish charm and ebullience such that the combo is striking in terms of its ability to sound super-fast, punchy and at the same time refined and engaging.
While I deeply and achingly considered parting with enough cash to make the Perla Esclusiva my new “reference” speakers, ultimately only the tremendous synergy with the Heed Obelisk the Tekton had with its slightly bigger image size and slightly more dynamic way with things at very low listening levels prevented me from doing so. If I weren’t forced by the laws of apartment living to listen many days at very low levels, I might have purchased the Perla Esclusivas for use as my primary speakers. And given how I feel about my Tektons, that’s saying something. Speaking of feelings, I feel it’s also my duty to inform you that Roberto told me going up in the Perla’s family range (the Natura range), the Ambra and Premio offer even higher standards in terms of extension, distortion, dynamics and resolution. Now THAT would be something truly scary!
As it stands, the Perla Esclusivas will join Totem’s Model One signatures and Neat’s long-dead Critiques (as driven by a $20K Naim system at the time) as one of, if not THE very best small speakers I’ve ever heard. The Xavian Perla Esclusivas represent a remarkable achievement in terms of research, design and sonics and they are solid proof that the fundamental principles of monitor design, when expertly applied, do indeed allow for a smaller speaker that not only sounds huge, but lets you forget about its presence and just stream album after album after album.
I bid you peace.
Retail Price: (standard finishes) 1850.00 US (excl. VAT)
Mid Bass Frequency Unit: 150 mm AudioBarletta – special polypropylene membrane – soft dome – die-cast chassis
High Frequency Unit: AudioBarletta – 26 mm voice coil, soft dome, short-circuit copper rings
System: two-way damped bass reflex with front firing slot
Cabinet: massive “mosaic” italian oak, (no use of MDF or DTD); rests for 3 weeks before use
Frequency Response: ( -3dB on reference axis): 53 – 20000 Hz
Connection: 1 pair of single mounted massive Xavian terminals
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Crossover Frequency: 3000 Hz
Sensitivity (2.83V / 1m): 88 dB
Recommended Amplification: 30 – 120 W
Dimensions (HxWxD): 315 x 190 x 236 mm
Weight (1 Piece): 7.7 kg
Xavian Electronics s.r.o.
Za Mlýnem 114, 253 01
Hostivice – Prague, Czech Republic
Phone: +420 734 528 189
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