MarkAudio-SOTA Viotti One Review

Stunning Midrange Performance a Jazz, Classical Lover’s Dream November 30, 2016

You could be forgiven for never having heard of MarkAudio Loudspeakers Ltd. Although the company’s wide-range speakers have made their way into a few retail speakers on the other side of the pond, it’s best known as a darling of the DIY speaker market. In other words, it’s a long, long way from our stomping grounds. But I’d hazard a guess that you’ll soon start hearing a little more about MarkAudio Ltd. as a result of the Viotti One.

The Viotti One is the result of collaboration between MarkAudio Ltd. and Sota Acoustics, who joined forces to create a new brand dubbed, logically enough, MarkAudio-SOTA. Engineered by Mark Fenlon, styled by Italian Andrea Ponti, and built in Hong Kong, the Viotti One ($2,995/pr) is a sight to behold, with a one-piece laminate wood panel that tapers along the sides and curves around the back, and a gorgeous reinforced cloth grille that does little to obscure the pair of custom drivers behind it. Each speaker stands right at 21 inches tall, and is designed to mate with custom stands that take the total height of the combo to just over 39 inches.

The Viotti One is the result of collaboration between Markaudio Ltd. and Sota Acoustics, who joined forces to create a new brand dubbed, logically enough, MarkAudio-SOTA.

The resulting combo looks a lot like a top-heavy tower speaker (albeit a short one), but the nice thing about this setup from the perspective of inventory is that the speakers, when boxed, are easier to transport and store, and setup only takes a minute or two for each one. For what it’s worth, if you have a tabletop or credenza on which to place the speakers, the stands aren’t necessary at all, from either a functional or aesthetic standpoint. But there’s no denying that the speakers and stands were made for one another.

After getting the speakers assembled, I connected them to the Classé Sigma 2200i Stereo Integrated Amplifier in my two-channel listening room and left some pink noise playing for a couple of days at low volume before sitting down for some critical listening.

First impressions can be everything, so it’s fortunate that my semi-random choice of first listening material was Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads, a lovely collection of folk songs that shine a bright spotlight on the Viotti One’s strengths. Their strengths are pretty much flawless midrange performance, wonderful high-end sparkle, unimpeachable time alignment between drivers, and gloriously wide and even dispersion. Mitchell and Hamer’s voices sound as true to life here as one could reasonably hope for, and although the album’s mix is simple and straightforward, the Viotti Ones do a bang-up job of capturing the tiniest nuances, like the sounds of fingers on strings, and even the very subtle differences in timbre between wound and unwound strings.

Two things did become apparent the more I listened, though. First, even with its stands, the Viotti One isn’t positioned at the ideal height for full enjoyment. The height from floor to tweeter (the center thereof, that is) is right at 34.5 inches, which would be fine if I had ears in my chest, but I don’t. So rather than resort to some radical surgery to correct that error, I placed the speaker-stand combos on one-foot risers to bring them up to my level. That did the trick, taming the brightness of the speakers and bringing the entire spectrum of sounds more into balance.

The second thing I noticed is that the Viotti Ones don’t like to be crowded. At all. For a speaker of this size, I would have expected them to be perfectly okay with a listening distance of around four or five feet. In practice, they really didn’t sound their best until I scooched back to more like six or seven feet, spread them the same distance apart, and reduced their toe-in.

Positioned thusly, I found myself getting absolutely lost in recordings like Rag No. 16 “Penn Station” from David Chesky’s The New York Rags album. I picked this track in particular because it tends to call attention to any egregious internal speaker resonances, but the Viotti Ones proved themselves to be free from such afflictions. Again, this is a simple mix. Piano only. No percussion. No vocals. But it’s captivating nonetheless thanks to the speakers’ depth and detail.

Of course, if you’ve read many of my reviews in the past, you may be thinking to yourself, “Dennis, that’s not the sort of music you normally rock out to.” And you’d be right in thinking that. After spending some time with a few more jazz and classical cuts, I popped in something a little more my usual speed, Imelda May’s 2008 album Love Tattoo, and hit the shuffle button. First up was the third track from the album: “Knock 123.” It’s a sort of throaty, whispery, sultry track with a jazzy backup, including piano, double bass, and light percussion. And again, it hits every one of the Viotti One’s strengths, not the least of which is the way handles complex musical textures and rapid-fire transients with ease.

When the album’s first track, “Johnny Got a Boom Boom,” came up in rotation, though, I’ll admit to feeling a little underwhelmed. While the Viotti One is capable of delivering surprisingly deep bass for its size (down into the neighborhood of 45 to 50Hz or thereabouts with no problem), what it can’t quite handle (at least not as well as everything else it does so well) is hard-hitting bass. So the raunchy, rockabilly riffs of “Johnny Got a Boom Boom” just don’t quite rock.

Much the same could be said for several cuts from Björk’s Post. The low, slow, undulating bass line of “Hyperballad”? It sounded delicious through the Viotti Ones, despite a little distortion in the very lowest notes. “Army of Me,” on the other hand, which lives or dies by its “When the Levee Breaks”- esque drum beats, just comes up a little lacking. Or at least it did until I added a subwoofer to the mix.

So, if you’re intrigued by the MarkAudio-SOTA Viotti One and are considering selling it in your own shop, keep that in mind. On its own, it’s not exactly the right speaker for rock ‘n’ rollers. And not all stereo setups can accommodate the addition of a sub. But if jazz and classical are more your clients’ thing, and aesthetics are equally important as silky smooth and natural midrange, seemingly infinite detail, and jaw-dropping dispersion and stereo imaging, this is certainly a speaker you need to audition.

markaudio-sota.com

Kudos
If stunning midrange performance, seemingly endless detail, and wonderfully wide dispersion float your boat, you need to listen to the MarkAudio-SOTA Viotti One. Pronto. This speaker is an absolute jazz and classical music lover's dream.

Concerns
Despite its size, the speaker doesn't exactly rock. Dynamic punch in the lower frequencies is a bit limited.

Product Specs
► Frequency range: 40Hz – 25kHz anechoic
► Sensitivity: 88.5dB, 1w @ 1m
► Dimensions (hwd, with stands): 1008 x 246 x 339mm (39.7 x 9.7 x 13.3 inches)
► 1 x Sota 5 wide-arange cone tweeter
► 1 x Sota 11 wide-range cone bass-mid
► Weight (each): 16.4kg (36.15 lbs.)

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