Piega 5.1 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Brian Kahn   
Sunday, 01 September 2002

Piega is a loudspeaker manufacturer based in Switzerland, already well known to European audiophiles and definitely a striking-looking relative newcomer (5+ years) to the crowded U.S loudspeaker market. Piega has developed their most loyal following with a line of high-end speakers that incorporate unique ribbon tweeters designed and manufactured by Piega, along with traditional dynamic drivers. The Piega speakers are slender and modern in appearance, with a very refined sound.

The speaker package I reviewed featured two affordable pairs of Piega S4 floor-standing loudspeakers ($1,795 per pair), a S4C ($795) center channel speaker, and their pricier P Sub 1 subwoofer ($3,095). The S4s are part of Piega’s less expensive “S” line of speakers, a design that utilizes conventional electromagnetic drivers. Piega’s unique ribbon tweeters are only available in their more expensive “P” line of products.

The Piega speakers are very handsome and relatively small in size compared to other speakers in their price range (Energy, B&W, Sonus Faber, Paradigm). They don’t negatively impose their physical presence on a tasteful interior design. Piega speakers are a relief from the standard, bulky rectangular boxes that speaker manufacturers ask us to integrate in our living rooms. All of my review speakers were dressed in a sexy, brushed aluminum finish. The S4’s are tall, slim towers mounted on thin black bases. The front of the speaker is covered with black speaker cloth and framed with its aluminum body cabinet. Each S4 measures 44 inches tall, four inches wide, five inches deep and weighs a waif modelesque 20 pounds. The S4C center channel speaker measures 16 inches long, four inches wide and five inches deep. The P Sub 1 subwoofer is more portly at 68 pounds and is dressed within a similar looking brushed aluminum skin. The P Sub 1 measures 18 inches in height, 14 inches in width, and 17 inches in depth. This 500-watt powered subwoofer utilizes a powered 10-inch front-firing driver and a second 10-inch passive radiator.

The S4’s cabinet is surprisingly rigid and seemingly inert to the casual observer. Piega’s U.S. importer mentioned how the speakers are made of aluminum that is milled on the same machine that Audi uses for their A8 super sedan. There is no question about the build quality of the speakers. They are made with Swiss craftsmanship and reflect it from the first glance.

The S4’s narrow towers sit on a thin composite base, supported by rubber feet approximately three-eighths of an inch in height. The speaker binding posts are located at the bottom of the underside of the speakers. Located directly under the towers is a concave area with the speaker connections. As mentioned above, the base lies relatively low to the ground. This configuration makes it fairly difficult to get the speaker cables connected. The cables must be thin and flexible in order get under the bases and then curve upwards and onto the binding posts. Sanibel Sound, Piega’s importer, informed me that nearly all of the S4s are sold as “lifestyle” speakers and are part of a custom installation package. Custom installers of Piega speakers normally route the speaker cables under the floor surface, neatly emerging just under the speaker and directly to the binding posts. In more traditional systems, this isn’t as easy to accomplish. I found the S4s to work best when placed 18 to 24 inches from the front wall and between six to eight feet apart. Due to the S4’s limited low-frequency response, I used the reinforcement of the P Sub 1 subwoofer at all times in order to fairly compare the Piegas to other high-performance speakers. You would need to look at offerings a few thousand dollars higher up the food chain from companies like MartinLogan, Revel Performa Series, B&W and others for a more accurate comparison.

Music and Movies
I began my listening initially with just a single pair of S4s, powered by my Krell 300iL. I soon found that the bass just wasn’t strong enough for my tastes and installed the P Sub 1. The subwoofer was easily adjusted to match the S4s. I was immediately impressed by the Piega's ability to sonically disappear, creating more music than audio. The small baffle design is not new and has been utilized before by more tweaky, less lifestyle-oriented manufacturers like Vandersteen and Von Schweikert. The width of the Piega’s baffle barely extends beyond the width of the driver itself, minimizing reflections. I began with Enya’s Watermark album (Warner Bros.). The signature track “Orinoco Flow” demonstrated the Piega’s ability to step aside and expose the music. The soundstage was very solid and continuous throughout the horizontal plane.

I moved on to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley” off of his tasty album In the Beginning (Sony/Columbia). His voice did not exhibit any signs of chestiness as I have heard it do on other speakers in the Piega’s class. In fact, Vaughn's voice had a great deal of weight and heft to it, which added to the emotional appeal of the speakers. The spectacular guitar work was not wasted on these Piegas, with their ability to accurately resolve such extreme details. The S4s with the P Sub 1 are a full-range system that sound just on the laid back side of neutral. I found myself feeling a bit farther back from the action than I’d like.

Having experienced hearing Pink Floyd live in a large stadium venue back in the day, I fired up “Another Brick In The Wall” from The Wall (Columbia) to find out if the Piegas would place me closer to the stage than my seats (does anyone have that scalper’s number?) and deliver a large amount of coherent musical energy at realistic high concert volumes. The answer was yes, but not quite as close to the “front row” as I would have liked. Despite this, I ultimately got sucked into the record and listened to it from that track to the album’s conclusion.

When I pulled Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (Telarc) the Piegas were definitely in their element. The orchestra was portrayed with detail and accuracy, placing me seemingly more than halfway back in the concert hall. The violins were crystal clear and easily discernable in the overall orchestral mix, the horns were detailed and showed no signs of annoying sibilance as you might expect to hear on a $1,750 pair of speakers. This particular recording also does a great job in capturing live cannon fire; the Piega system had no problems with either the detail or clarity to convincingly reproduce the cannons. Throughout my listening, I found the small drivers to be able to quickly and accurately respond as needed. I was not able to get them to bottom out despite my evil attempts at neighbor-offending volumes.

Moving to 5.1 listening, I allowed the second pair of S4s and the S4C to break in for a couple of days then got to work. I first listened to Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth (DTS), which definitely has the down-home country theme to it. While listening to the Piegas as part of a 5.1 system, my reservations about not being close enough to the action vanished. With Piegas all around, I felt as though I was in the middle of a 360-degree sphere of good sound. The S4s in the four corners of my room provided seamless sound and smooth pans. The S4C proved to be a solid sonic match for the towers. I ran it as a “small speaker,” crossed over at 80 Hz, which allowed it to blend well with the P Sub 1. The Piegas continued to remain accurate and detailed. Their monopole design also allowed certain discrete sonic cues not possible with my electrostatics. As with my prior two-channel listening, the Piega cabinets sonically disappeared and did not interrupt the soundscape.

The next piece of 5.1 music was Toy Matinee’s self-titled DVD-Audio (DTS). I was immediately grabbed by the Piegas abilities on the first track, “Last Plane Out.” The bass line was reproduced with detail and weight while remaining warm and non-analytical. I felt as though I was listening to the band performing right in the middle of my listening room.

Despite the utilization of small drivers, I did not encounter any dynamic range restriction problems, a credit to the mysterious engineering within the S4’s cabinets. I moved over to movie viewing and began with the highly touted “Training Day” (Warner Home Video). I moved around my listening room and found the S4C to do a fine job reproducing the voices of Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke with consistency from a variety of seating positions. This action-packed film often had crowd scenes in which the characters were surrounded by a large number of people and sounds. The Piegas were extremely detailed and had no problems reproducing the needed sonic cues in all the channels, putting the listener in the middle of the action. The Piegas also held up well when it came to action scenes -- gun blasts came across with a great deal of realism.

I then moved to "U-571," a movie with a bass track that would work out the subwoofer (Universal Studios Home Video). The movie takes place in a submarine with lots of low-frequency ambient noise. As I suspected from my music listening, tight bass wouldn’t be a problem with the sub engaged. I then cued up a scene with numerous depth charges that would work the dynamic range of the system. The depth charges shook my listening room convincingly, without muddying up the higher frequency details. The use of 10-inch drivers, rather than larger 12- or 15-inch drivers, allows the subwoofer to maintain speed and detail to easily blend in with the main speakers. The 10-inch drivers did not move the room the way my Sunfire Signature Subwoofer can. However, unless your room is extremely large, the Piega should get the job done and matches the look of the other Piega speakers.

The Downside
The actual design is visually striking but, despite their clean lines, the speakers were a pain to actually connect. I had to go through quite a few cables before I found some that would fit. Piega argues that the S4s are normally installed by custom system designers. I could recommend hiring a good installer to be able to utilize high-end cables without jeopardizing the S4’s clean lines or physical stability. If you are a high-end audio enthusiast, these speakers are the perfect entre to the pricey Nordost brand of speaker cables, which are thin and somewhat flexible. I have heard from A/V industry friends that they also can sound really good. The cables I used were from BetterCables.com and ultimately got the job done and sounded fine, considering their modest price. It is a shame that a speaker has to dictate the way you connect your cables. In many cases, people may decide not to buy Piega speakers because their old cables won't fit well and new cables could cost at a minimum hundreds – if not thousands -- of dollars.

Sonically, I found that, as part of a two-channel system, these speakers placed the listener farther away from the music than I like to be. The distance of the listener prevents the "in your face" sound that I enjoy. I respect the fact that others search for a more laid back sound, which the Piegas certainly have. If you think front row seats to a performance are the best, then Piegas are not the speakers for you.

Piega speakers are a beautiful system designed for a more reserved listener who appreciates style and design as much as a laidback sound from their speakers. It is unfair to really compare them with other speakers under $2,000 per pair because the Piega’s really need a $3,095 subwoofer to create a full range sound to create a complete, full range speaker package.

At closer to $5,000 per pair you must start to also consider speakers from more blue chip loudspeaker companies. When I first got my system, I was impressed with the sound versus my B&Ws at under $2,000. Upon further thought I should be impressed because the Piega system is closer to $5,000 if you look at them as more as a haute design, sat-sub system. Make no mistake, the Piega would torch anything B&O ever designed and has looks good enough to win a Zoolander style “Walk Off.” Now would I trade in my MartinLogan Ascents and Sunfire Signature Subwoofer (a sub and stereo speaker system at about the same price)? The answer for me is no. MartinLogans definitely sound discernibly different than the Piegas and if you are looking for some speakers that are more mellow to sooth your nerves after a hard day at work you are likely going to audition Revel’s Performa series. At $3,500 for Revel Performa F30s and $2,995 for a B15 sub, you get the laid back sound I described with the Piegas coupled with a better, more advanced subwoofer (complete with EQ and neat setup software), more advanced drivers and, best of all, better residual resale value thanks to Revel’s sizable brand recognition in the U.S. But don’t discount the way the Piega’s look compared to Revels. The modern, slim stylings work in more rooms than Revel’s awkward curves and plastic add-ons.

The global loudspeaker market is vicious. There are players that fit every niche and many that are very successful at many different levels and price points. Piega’s system, excluding price for a moment, is fantastic for a newcomer to the U.S. market. Classical enthusiasts, lifestyle buyers and fans of British speakers are the best candidates for seeking out a Piega dealer.
Manufacturer Piega
Model 5.1 Speaker System
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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