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Tosca loudspeakers

as reviewed by Francisco Duran and Larry Cox





ProAc Response 2s.

Reference Line Preeminence IA passive. Monarchy Sm70 amplifier.

EAD DSP 1000 III DAC. Pioneer DP 54 as a transport.

Kimber Hero interconnects, Acrotec 1050 speaker cables, and LAT digital cable.

Panamax PLC.


one.jpg (6551 bytes)   Out of Germany and into the United States via Axiss Distribution of Gardena, California comes the Odeon line of loudspeakers, and out of that line comes the Toscas. These gracefully-styled floorstanding loudspeakers made music in my home like a nightingale singing in a tree in my yard. If this sounds like I am giving up the blueprint too soon, the Toscas warrant it. But let’s start with some details. These speakers cut a dashing figure. They are 43 inches high by 9 inches wide. They’re a shade over 12 inches deep at the top, but swoop down to 16 inches at the bottom, with the front baffle slanted (probably for time alignment of the drivers). The front halves of the speakers sport a birch veneer (other finishes available), with the back halves done in black. Whether this was done for aesthetic purposes or to save on exotic woods, it works. The cabinets are pretty solid pieces of woodwork, with extensive internal bracing and WBT binding posts. The Toscas, along with the rest of the Odeon line, are very handsome.

Chief designer Axel Gersdorff and his team took several years to develop the Odeons. The tweeter driver has high sensitivity and achieves "the best linearity within its frequency band." Its spherical horn is shaped to "optimize and smooth the driver’s frequency response, minimize beaming and allow a wide dispersion pattern." The Toscas have what is called a floor mounted horn throat design for the bass driver, which allows the loudspeakers to fit in all room configurations. With my room, anything that controls the bass output is okay by me, as bass tends to load up in the right corner of my listening room. The speaker is supported by four metal legs, which are installed between the speaker and the bottom plinth. Two different lengths of metal legs are supplied for the user to further tailor the bass response. I installed the taller of the two sets, which made for less fullness and more control in the bottom. Metal spikes are also included, which can be screwed on to the bottom of the plinth. In my room and system, these speakers displayed full and articulate bass with great timbre. Bass was full and powerful when called upon. On CDs like the Lost World soundtrack or Haden and Metheny’s Beyond the Missouri Sky, percussive details were heard quite easily, and sounded very realistic. Percussion could be felt when bass fiddles and kettledrums were being played. One good example of this was Stravinsky’s Firebird on Reference Recordings. It seems the claimed frequency response of 31 cycles is not far off the mark. Although the Toscas’ bass was full and articulate, it wasn’t the last word in heft and impact, although this makes sense given the size of the enclosures and drivers. If you want bigger bass, you’ll just have to spring for one of the bigger Odeons. In my room, though, the Toscas fit right in.

While I felt that transients were not as sharp and fast as with my regular speakers, the Toscas definitely have a warmer, more full balance, which nicely complemented my clean and fast electronics. Piano on my Claudia Gomez disc was both delicate and clean. The texture of the wooden instruments really came through. Congas and timbales sounded lightning fast. Vocals had a natural texture, with no glare or undue sibilance. They sounded rich but detailed, with just the right touch of liveliness. To put it another way, the midrange of these speakers is one of their greatest strengths. Anything in the mids, from guitars to voice to the middle ranges of the piano, sounded slick—dare I say live-sounding?

Let’s move on to the delicate and sweet treble. The top end is very detailed and extended, without sounding the least bit bright. Even when I cranked these speakers to high volumes on jazz or rock, everything in the top end stayed in control. The spherical horn design was surely paying off. To me, a good tweeter not only sounds clean and extended, but also has a three-dimensional sound, a quality that was evident in the treble performance of the Toscas. The treble would float off into a very wide and deep soundstage, even in my 12 x 20-foot room. This aspect of the sound was not just audiophile gimmickry, but helped me get involved in the music. For instance, when I was listening to Joni Mitchell’s Night Ride Home CD, the Toscas really showcased how Joni articulated her voice. Her singing came solidly through her body and filled the air. Listening to music on these speakers kept reminding me of listening to live music. In those moments, you don’t pay attention to soundstaging details. You do have a sense of where all the sounds are coming from, but it blends together in front of you. That’s the way theToscas sounded. These speakers have the ability to let you hear way into a recording, yet they the music sounds natural and whole. The Toscas don’t blatantly yell, "Hey, listen to how good an audiophile speaker I am." Instead, they make music.

The Toscas have very good pace and rhythm. They reminded me of a big Cadillac. The speedometer says you’re going 120 mph, but it feels like the world is only going by at 60. My speakers, on the other hand, are more like a sports car, responding to the music in a fast and exciting way. This is not to say that the Toscas are slow sounding by any means. They present music without calling attention to themselves. With my speakers I get a tighter, leaner sound. Although the mids are full enough on my ProAcs, the top end is slightly brighter than the Toscas’. Music also sounds a little stiff with my speakers. Maybe age is creeping up on them. In the bass, my speakers are strong to 50 Hz, but at 31 Hz bass is barely noticeable. The Toscas, on the other hand, still have pretty good output to 37 Hz, and I could still hear some output at 25.

So, what we have here are well-built, good looking speakers with some innovative and unique engineering. They have sweet and clean highs. Their very clean midrange is detailed, yet has a golden, tube-like sound. The bass is well balanced. The only negative is that from time to time I got the feeling that music was a little mechanical sounding. This made me think that the Toscas would be more at home with a tube amp strapped to them. As it turned out, I didn’t have one on hand at the time. And while their build quality is very good, they are not solid hunks of heft a la the Merlins. But after all of this dissecting of the sound, the feeling I get with these speakers is of the live event. Take that as a compliment. I am aware that you can never recreate the live event in your home unless you invite the whole orchestra over for a garden party. When I had the Toscas, I happened to attend a few orchestral concerts played without the use of a PA system. Let me tell you, that was a sweet experience! There is nothing, I mean nothing, that can even come close to that when we are dealing with stereo systems. But speakers that can recreate that experience in my home as much as these did are welcome indeed. Francisco Duran





ATC 20.

E.A.R 802 preamplifier. Classe CA100 amplifier.

CAL Icon MkII CD player. Oracle Delphi MkII turntable, AudioQuest PT7 tone arm, Koetsu Rosewood cartridge.

Silver Audio Silver Bullet 4.0s interconnect and Beldon 1219A speaker cables.

API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners.


two.jpg (6646 bytes)The Odeon Tosca, a 94 dB efficient loudspeaker with a horn-loaded tweeter, is a visually striking floor-standing design with a blond wood front with a black painted back . Before hearing them, I thought there would be three things about them that I wouldn’t like—they would do a less than desirable job on the texture and timbre of music; they would have the "cupped hands" coloration that seems to come with horn-loaded speakers; and they would not do dynamics like the real thing. In that order, here’s my report.

The Toscas have a very delicate way of communicating the texture of instruments. They are more delicately and finely textured than my reference speakers, and frankly more so than any of the speakers I’ve had in my listening room. Many speakers, but especially highly efficient speakers, lose some of the velvet texture of voices, horns, and even stringed instruments, but the Toscas gently, sweetly, and elegantly convey the richness of these instruments. Throughout the late Joe Williams’ LP Every Night—Live at Vine Street, the distinct qualities of standup bass occurred in my listening room, clearly comprising both the string vibrating and the wooden body reacting to those vibrations. Joe’s vocals were rich and deep, and had a similar quality, but sounding like a vibration occurring deep within a large human cavity. Each instrument had a distinctly different quality of resonance, unique to itself. It was really a joy to hear, and represented "strike one" against my anticipation of the Toscas’ sound.

For those who haven’t heard horn speakers, sometimes they sound as though the music is coming through a can. You can replicate this phenomenon by having someone place their hands around their mouth and speaking. The Toscas’ tweeters are about an inch inside a horn, and I expected that this would create that cupped-hands sound, but it didn’t. Not a hint. Two strikes against Larry.

My last preconception about the Toscas was that they would be unable to convey the dynamic shading of numerous instruments playing at the same time. In complex musical passages, different instruments have different dynamic structures. For example, the roller-coaster-like vibration of an electric bass is substantially different than the dynamic peak of a kick drum—the former rolls to its climax and the latter is like a spike. Present in live music are varying levels of loudness for each instrument as well as the dynamic structure of numerous instruments playing simultaneously, albeit at different tempos and volume levels. Reproduced music rarely, if ever, has this. My ATC speakers have it, and this is one of their key attributes. Live music has just a little more "liveness" through the ATCs than through other speakers, when properly powered. With the Toscas there was just a little less sense that the bass guitar on "Crazy ‘Bout an Automobile," on Ry Cooder’s Borderline, was working its own little odyssey of pulsation, distinct from the other instruments playing at the same time. What the Toscas seemed to do, which the ATCs didn’t, was to impose a similar rhythm or dynamic structure on different instruments. So, with regard to this particular attribute, my prognostication was correct. The result is that Led Zeppelin and Van Halen fans should look elsewhere. That said, I still felt that the Odeons were wonderful performers and made listening a joy.

The Toscas seemed to do really well with smaller ensembles like string quartets and acoustic trios. Every Night was a perfect example. From cymbal to male vocal to standup bass, it was all there for me to hear, and happily. Female vocals, like Sympathique by Pink Martini were deliciously rendered, without any edge or beaming, whether in quiet pieces like "Lullaby" or "Song of the Black Lizard" or on big, bombastic songs like "Amado Mio" and "Donde Esta, Yolanda?" Other female vocals were also well rendered, from Fiona Apple, Joan Osborne, and Jewel to Ella, Billie, and Doris Day. The Toscas’ delicate way with the ebb and flow of music, their ability to distinguish one instrument from another in a way that isn’t highlighted, but naturally lighted, was wonderful. On the right sort of music, the Toscas disappeared, despite being fairly large. Another of their attributes, not terribly important point to me, was that they imaged really well. On tracks like "The Train Song" from Holly Cole’s Temptations CD, images were precisely placed in all three dimensions. On this track, a ringing bell moves from left to right across the soundstage. Compared to my ATCs, the Toscas made following the movement of the bell quite easy. On CDs that were more musically interesting than Temptations but which don’t image as well (which includes most of my collection), the soundstage depth disappeared, but images still were granted their own fiefdom and stayed rooted in their place throughout a song, moving only when they were supposed to, like that bell on "The Train Song."

At the top end, the Toscas gave up nothing in sweetness to their little brothers, the 17s (positively reviewed in Issue 5). The sound was delicate as appropriate, with cymbals tinkling, bells clear and delicate. The top end in particular simply evoked a sense of "rightness." On the track "Amado Mio" from Sympathique, the harp was sweet and delicate. Each pluck and swirl of sound was rendered with sustained tone and decay and a sense of a musician attending "just so" to the music. By comparison, my ATCs were heavier and not as fast, so that the impression of a harpist in front of me on Amado Mio was just a little less engaging, and the sound slightly less stirring and romantic. The Toscas’ treble is a bit more accurate to my ears. This is a high compliment, as the ATCs strike me as being a very fast speaker, in some ways comparable to electrostatics in their speed and precision. Plus, the Toscas’ top end integrated well with their overall tonal balance, seeming of the same piece.

Their midrange was slightly lighter in weight, as well as faster sounding, than my ATCs’, again doing a wonderful job on male and female vocals, and doing fantastically with Gerry Mulligan’s baritone saxophone on most of his catalog, giving an appropriate rendering of "blatty" sound. The bottom end was quick and present, with good articulation, especially for a ported speaker. This may be because the port is downward-firing, so any chuffiness which might be present is sent to the floor instead of to your ear. The bottom end rolls off gently, in a way that audiophiles might not like, but which live music will tell you is how bass occurs. I’m not sure whether it is a function of the ported design, the downward-firing woofer, or the Toscas’ limited extension, but on music like "On the Border," kick drums didn’t pressurize the room as they do with my ATCs do when they are played loudly. Still, the kick drum was well rendered—it was patent that a tightly strung piece of skin was being struck, and the timbre of the drum was spot on. Larger orchestral pieces like Holst’s Planets are not the forte of the Tosca, but the beauty of an orchestra’s recreation of Elgar’s Fantasia was wonderful, as was Grieg’s Piano Concerto, with a vividness that was a joy to hear.

With the caveat that deep bass fans should look elsewhere, the Toscas’ province is music played by acoustic instruments. These speakers are open from the lower midrange up, and have a rightness and lightness to their touch. People that love beautiful music will sense that their music has been rendered with a realistic timbre and exceptional imaging. Way recommended. Larry Cox

Axiss Distribution