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Cello Stradivari Legend Loudspeakers Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 October 1997
ImageCello Stradivari Legends are a $7000, 3-way dynamic loudspeaker system inspired by the cabinet style made famous by the legendary AR3 loudspeakers of the mid 1960's. Cello, the brainchild of Mr. Mark Levinson since 1984, builds rounded corner, exotic wood finished loudspeakers that utilize a highly efficient crossover with a compliment of three Dyn Audio drivers (a 1 inch tweeter, a 3 inch dome mid range and a 12 inch woofer). The cabinet is dampened by the internal use of a thin, green composite also used by NASA space shuttles, thus knocking on the cabinet is a futile exercise in that it lacks any significant resonance.

Legends are 26.5 inches tall, 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep, thus they need the help of a Cello/Lovan six prong, lead shot filled ($700) speaker stand to fit into a standard audio or theater system. Cello showrooms will make custom angled Legends that can either sit on the floor or mount to the ceiling, or they will build you a kit that will retrofit Legends directly into your wall. Whether you want your Legends painted in a custom color, housed in a super exotic wood finish or completely hidden in the wall, Cello Ltd. and the Cello dealers can provide you a solution.

Hooking up Legends necessitates the use of one of two varieties of Cellostring cables or using some sort of jumper system to accommodate for standard high end cables on the tri-wire connections for the loudspeaker. Cellostring CS II cables are priced at $555 for 3 meters and Cellostring CS III, their best grade of speaker cable, is priced at $2000 for 3 meters. I used Cellostring CS II over my Transparent Reference speaker cables on my Legends primarily because the Cellostrings are perfectly angled to fit the recessed terminal of the Legends. Cellostrings use no networks or other types of signal augmentation in the cables. The idea is that if you want to change the sound of your system for a recording you would use either a Palette Preamp or an Audio Palette tone control.

Cello Stradivari Legends are one of the single best loudspeakers I have ever heard. They are incredibly dynamic (94 dB efficient) but never overpowering. They can play at huge volumes for rock or home theater material and rarely distract you from the emotional content of the performance. My reference system represents somewhat of a political problem based on the fact that I use all Madrigal electronics including a Mark Levinson No. 333 amplifier, a Mark Levinson No. 38s preamp, and a Mark Levinson No. 36s DAC with Transparent interconnects and a Theta Data Basic II CD Transport. The politics refer to the fact that Mr. Levinson and Mark Levinson electronics used to be one until 1982 but are now in no way associated. Cello Stradivari Legends are ideally accompanied by the "Cello Baby" system including the $9500 Cello Duet 350 amplifier and the $8500 Cello Palette Preamp (and tone control). I have heard the Cello Baby system many times and it is quite impressive, perhaps slightly more impressive than my system because of the fact that Cello gear is optimally designed to work in unison, from DAC to speakers and room treatments.

The real power of Legends is the fact that they can be used to achieve Cello performance without having a blockbuster budget. The results you can achieve with Cello Stradivari Legends and an Aragon or Anthem amplification system can be astonishing without breaking the bank. Is it as good as a Cello Baby system? Of course not, however this downward compatibility makes the Legends a great value in that you can outline a sensible upgrade path to the promised land of all Cello without having to take all of the steps at once. The Cello showrooms are also very generous when trading up Cello "component" products like Legends to Cello Reference products. They will frequently return to you, 100 percent of what you paid towards a reference upgrade.

The Sound
Cello equipment is used in some of the world's most exclusive, high dollar mastering studios. One might argue you can't get closer to music or film soundtrack in playback as mastering engineers at Sony Music New York, Image Entertainment and Pope Music use Cello systems (including Cello loudspeakers) to make some of the world's best sounding platinum records and film soundtracks.

Pope Music's Mozart No. 25 in G Minor (kv 183) is an excellent example of a Cello mastered reference cut. Other than on the Cello Reference System have I never heard a Mozart performance sound more convincingly realistic than on this cut via the Legends. The strings were dynamically detailed with a tonal balance that made it possible for me to truly suspend my disbelief.

"Angel of Mercy" by Captain Luke is the most compelling cut from the Tim Duffy recorded and Mark Levinson mastered, Music Makers Foundation Patron's Sampler CD. Tim Duffy, on location with a DAT machine and a $90 mic has befriended and recorded the last of the American, living blues legends and released their music on a number of CDs starting with this sampler. This cut absolutely floored me the first time I played it. The presence on Captain Luke's voice is like no high end system you can buy. The timbre of Captain Luke's voice is filled with a harmonic content. This is the kind of sound normally, reserved only for live performances, not stereo playback. In this case you may ask the age old question, "It live or Cello?"

Ricky Lee Jones' "Dat Dere" from the Pop Pop album (Geffen) tested how the Legends could do with a multi-track, multi-mic, non-Cello studio recording and the Legends did very, very well. The percussive elements of the track were placed specifically across the soundstage and had a three dimentionality to them that is rare to find in a loudspeaker. On lesser systems one cannot hear the vocal harmonies in this cut; however with the Cello Stradivari Legends you can not only hear them, but easily discern each different vocal part.

To test a large ensemble piece I selected Lyle Lovitt's "Church Song" from his Joshua Judges Ruth album (MCA). This cut just took these speakers over the top. The depth of field in the soundstage and resolution with the choir and backup musicians was unprecedented in my system. The piano tone, the tightness of the standup bass and the presence on Lyle's vocals--plus the overall resolution on this cut--elevates the Cello Stradivari Legend to a high level of performance that few loudspeakers have ever achieved.

Cello Stradivari Legends far from perfect. I don't like the fact that the Legends are a $7000 speaker system that need $700 stands which provide no serious way to adhere the speaker to the stand. Blue Tac, that gooey, silly putty-esq, hardware store solution, is great for geologically stable systems, but for my system in West Hollywood, I need to keep my fingers crossed, hoping for a minimum of seismic activity. Also, if you have small children crawling around the house, you can forget Legends, one little push and you will have to test out your Cello lifetime limited warranty. A solution to this dilemma is to step up to the Stradivari Legend's bigger brother, the Cello Stradivari Premier ($12,000), which is a floor standing version of the Legend which is far more stable, needing no stand and providing deeper bass.

In comparison to other high dollar, high performance loudspeakers that sit on stands like Wilson Cubs, Revels, Sonus Fabers and B&W's, the Legends aesthetically fall way short. The competition has color matched and stylized stands that gives a much nicer uniform look and adhere to the loudspeaker in a much more efficient way. Additionally, the tri-wire speaker terminals are great if your using Cellostring cables, but if your are working your way out of a high end system that uses high quality cables towards the promised land of Cello you may not be able to justify an additional $555 (or up to $2000) for speaker cables on top of the $7700 investment you made to get the speakers and stands.

Currently, there are only two Cello showrooms where you can audition Legends, New York with Mark Levinson and Los Angeles with Joe Cali. However, Cello is opening up more showrooms reportedly in Houston, Miami, San Francisco, and elsewhere. You may have to travel to hear the Legends or at least coerce Mark or Joe to have a pair sent to you for audition. Either way it is well worth it.

All nitpicking aside, The Cello Stradivari Legends are one of the most high performance and flexible loudspeakers ever built. The Cello dealers will bend over backwards to make your system perform to the highest level your budget can afford. Whatever it takes they will do it, be it room treatments, custom finishes or providing you with the demo of your life at a Cello showroom. The value of the Legends is high in that these speakers allow you the ability to work your way into a true Cello system at your own pace. You can add a Palette Preamp and Duet 350 at your when your ready, based on the fact that Legends will perform well even with non-Cello electronics. If your considering speakers in the $8000 price range, I highly recommend you fly, drive, walk or take a taxi to an authorized Cello dealer to audition the Legends.

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