ew of my recent reviews were a result of my stubbornness, of my inability of letting things go. A story behind this review of Slovenian loudspeakers is quite different. Some time ago the very first review of Model One was written by Matej Isak of „Mono and Stereo” magazine (you can find an interview with Matej in our „The Editors” series HERE). I admit that I read only few reviews these days as I simply have no time for it (my bad). But Matej released a teaser of this test on Facebook and it was so compelling that I 'made' time to read the whole review. After that I contacted Matej and asked him directly for even more personal insight. He confirmed everything I already knew from his text, added some more praises on top and ensured me of his absolute impartiality in this matter (after all he is also Slovenian so one could suspect some sort of conspiracy here... - I hope you know I'm kidding :) ).
I decided to send an inquiry to Ubiq Audio asking for a review pair, mentioning also my conversation with Matej. Guys from Ubiq contacted Matej, and I think also Hari from Natural Sound, and it seems that these two gentlemen confirmed that this Dyba dude from Poland is rather OK. And so still same day I got my answer stating that Ubiq crew knew, read and appreciated „High Fidelity” magazine and that they would love to deliver Model One for review as soon as the test pair would come back from Germany where these were assessed by potential German distributor.
And so I waited. Patiently. Really! I can be patient (sometimes, OK on occasion I can, even if these are rare occasions). Unfortunately (for me I mean) this German distributor liked the speakers so much he wouldn't send them back. And since Ubiq Audio was a relatively new and small company at the time with many potential distributors waiting in line for their demo pairs, delivering another pair to me was sort of an understandable problem. All I could do was to keep waiting. I felt that I was missing an opportunity to experience something special with Ubiq loudspeakers.
I don't know about you but I sometimes have a gut feeling about some components, an intuition, if you will, that tells me that I would love some component that I never even had a chance to audition. That's what happened once when I bought (also coming from Slovenia) a fantastic phonostage Nibiru by ESELabs that I've been using for few years and still using today, or a great linear TransFi tonearm, or Bastanis Matterhorn speakers that I decided to buy after the test and that are still part of my reference system.
This time also something told me that I had to listen to Model One. After few weeks I received an email from Mr Miro Krajnc, one of the three designers behind Model One, who I corresponded with from the very beginning, that there was a big chance Ubiq Audio together with a secret partner would exhibit in Warsaw during AudioVideoShow 2015. And that if that worked they would leave speakers with me after the Show. Yes, yes, yes! I thought to myself (Poles know whom am I quoting now) keepigng my fingers crossed. Later I found out that this secret partner was Italian company ForteVita whose products caught my interest already during last HighEnd Show in Munich. Italians provided amplification including absolutely delighful (in its appearances and sound quality) preamplifier and maybe not so beautiful but equally remarkably sounding power amps. Igor Kante, the owner of the Ubiq Audio brand, brought a beautiful pair of long awaited (by me I mean) Model One.
Those who visited this room during the Show might have not even noticed other elements of the systems - streamer and cabling made by a brand from New Zealand called Antipodes. Igor is a Slovenian distributor of this brand (among many others). Why did I notice them? Well, because I've been using Antipodes analogue interconnect called Komako already for a few years. I bought it not long after brand started to promote its products on Audiogon. I purchased it also because of that gut feeling telling me that it was a great product available at particularly attractive price – and, as usually, I was right! Today this brand not only offers even better cables – Igor claimed that the Reference series he brought for presentation to AVS was one of the best there were on the market regardless the price – but also a streamer, in Igor's opinion also belonging to the best ones.
Let's get back to Ubiq Audio though. From my conversations with Igor and Miro I concluded that the former was responsible for the foundation of the brand driven by a need of creating high-end speakers. As I already mentioned Igor is (and was) probably the biggest audio distributor in Slovenia which means he had a huge experience with several top audio brands and their product. When he decided to design loudspeakers under his own brand it was clear that he wanted to start already with advanced, high quality, high end product. As he told me, he was also a great fan of all kinds of live music. He attended multiple live concerts with music of different genres, so he knew the sound of real instruments perfectly, he knew how dynamic, powerful, energetic live performance could be and he wanted to reproduce that with his speakers.
The speakers to be created had to offer not only high quality sound but also this live-like dynamics and energy Igor remembered from all these concerts. Having first hand experience with many top loudspeakers from different brands Igor believed that many of them were not capable of reproducing the level of energy and dynamics delivered by live instruments. He had a clear vision, defined goal he wanted to achieve so he had to find some specialists who could help him to bring this project to life. He decided to invite Miro Krajnc and Janez Mesaric.
The former had been studying acoustic theories for over 25 years implementing them in dozens if not hundreds of loudspeakers he built. As he told me, he built most of them upon individual orders but also under his brand, you might have heard of, called SoulSonic. The latter is an acclaimed industrial designer, receiver of BIO19 award and I.D. design award, founder and director of Design Studio Mashoni. The Studio takes care of Ubiq's visual identity. Janez is also the person responsible for the astonishing aesthetics of Model One.
Miro, basing on Igor's general concept designed a quite large, three-way loudspeaker, which was another key element of the whole concept, as Igor assumed that to recreate the scale of live event one needs large, at least 3-way speaker. Janez created the final look of Model One, not forgetting about acoustic requirements of such design, and Igor spent almost 2 years finalizing details, hand picking all elements and fine tuning the sound. They had one significant advantage over most loudspeaker designers – they could spend as much time working on even smallest details as needed as there was no pressure of time, no set release date, not set price level. From the very beginning of the project they knew it would be presented to the public only when it was 100% ready.
Model under review is the very first product of this new Slovenian manufacturer but they are already planning next ones. The road map for the near future includs a smaller model and two bigger ones. Igor also told me that he was working on an integrated amplifier that, when he is satisfied with its performance, would join the lineup. I won't dare to say it will happen soon as this guy is obviously a passionate driven by perfection which suggests that it might still take some time before amp is actually ready. :)
What is so special about Model One? First of all it is not so popular in recent years speaker with narrow front baffle sporting small diameter drivers with bass-reflex loading. From my conversations with Igor and Miro (I haven't met Janez) I learned that both of them believe that best effects are achieved by combining modern, advanced technologies with a touch of „well-proven tradition”.
So if the Model One was supposed to be a decent, 3-way loudspeaker (these gentlemen do not even recognize 1 or 2-way speakers as worth their attention) it had to sport a large, solid and heavy cabinet. And so Model One measures 118 cm (H), sport a wide front baffle (42 cm) and the depth of 37 cm is also quite 'serious'. It was supposed to be also heavy – 42 kg a piece confirms that the goal was met. All drivers sport membranes made of traditional materials – paper and polyester, all feature oversized coils (tweeter - 38 mm, midrange - 54 mm, woofer - 76 mm). Designers decided also to use large diameter drivers – one doesn't often find 12'' woofer, 8'' midrange and 38 mm tweeter in speaker of that size.
Model One sports (almost) closed cabinet. Almost as there is a small opening on the back of a midrange woofer chamber. Miro told me that is it there only to release pressure from the chamber to avoid distortion (so it does not work as bass-reflex). Tweeter works inside waveguide and it sits bit deeper than other two drivers to ensure time and phase coherency of all drivers. The woofer operates in a closed chamber.
Crossover is a point-to-point type. Igor decided to use selected elements of highest quality including, which is particularly interesting for us, capacitors made in Poland that during his experiments he found better than other competitors. Cabinet combines acoustic requirements with astonishing aesthetics – these are truly eye-catching, beautiful loudspeakers with a top quality finish. And I dare to claim that basing my findings on a pair that, as Igor claimed, was only a prototype not matching units from regular production in terms of make&finish quality!
There are no parallel walls within the cabinet, neither on the outside nor inside. The shape of the front baffle, placement of all drivers, shape of the whole cabinet with its wide front and narrow back – all these element were chosen to achieve the ultimate goal – the best possible sound. Miro pointed out that woofer should always be placed close to the floor level as that results in truly rich bass that has proper 'weight' and so Model One's bass driver sits close to lower edge of the cabinet.
The front is particularly interesting as most people who see Model One for the first time assume that it is a single, maybe coaxial driver, speaker. The only driver that is visible is the tweeter placed in a waveguide – hence the impression of a single/coaxial driver. The other two drivers stay hidden under a grill that sports only one, circular hole allowing us to see the tweeter but not other drivers. To make it look even more interestingly (and bit like one of Frank Serblin's designs) Ubiq placed a harp (as my daughter called it) in the front. These are vertical, flexible, rubber (I think) strings stretched between two metal bars that are mounted near the upper and lower edge of the front baffle. Only when one takes off the 'harp' and grill all drivers become visible sitting in a front baffle that is additionally damped with some sort of black felt mat.
The side walls closing in towards the back of the cabinet are made off 4 layers of hand-picked Okoume wood, that needs to be bent to achieve required shape. It is a complex process that takes a lot of time, effort and of course is quite expensive too. Manufacturer offers three standard finishes: White Pearl, Black and natural Slovenian walnut veneer. Another interesting and good looking solution is using the same material on the back of the cabinets as the one used for a grill in the front. I have to admit to color combinations used for Model One look really, really elegant (although apart from White version the other ones I've seen only on photographs).
Cabinet sports aluminum top and bottom covers – these are offered in many different colors. It is also possible to customize cabinet's finish upon customer's order. I have to say it, also because other members of my family also confirmed my observation, these are the most beautiful white speakers I ever reviewed and it says a lot as I don't even like white things (that remind me of a hospital). Having said that I should also admit that probably, as a traditionalist, I'd rather chosen a wood veneer finish for myself.
Manufacturer declares anechoic frequency range of 40 – 30 000 Hz, +/- 3 dB, but in a typical room bass may go down to 30 Hz, or maybe even to 25 Hz, depending on the room acoustics and placement of the speakers. Nominal impedance of 6 Ω (that it never goes below 5 Ω) combined with 88dB sensitivity make these speakers relatively easy to drive. Igor knowing my personal preferences told me though that low-power SETs were out of question.
Loudspeakers, or rather drivers and crossovers to be exact, undergo an initial breaking-in already at manufacturer's workshop – it's not (at least not only) about making user's life easier but about checking whether all elements work properly after operating for some time. After this initial break-in period measurements are taken again and loudspeakers are sold only if they meet rigorous criteria. This way Ubiq Audio enters the market offering not only high quality make&finish, and sound obviously, but they also right from the start let customers know that they did everything in their power to deliver a reliable, flawless product.
Recordings used for the test (a selection):
During AudioVideoShow volume levels in ForteVita/Ubiq Audio room were quite high most of the time with Igor Kante being responsible for that :) As he told me right away – he simply likes high volume levels as they remind him of live experience plus, of course, the conditions in Sobieski Hotel force exhibitors to play loud. Another aspect he proudly mentioned, was the ability of Model One to play very loud without any compression or distortion. He told me that these speakers were used also as stage speakers during live concert and they did that job perfectly too. I bet not so many audiophile grade loudspeakers would survive this kind of a test. The Slovenian speakers owe their 'durability' or ability to play very loud even over extended time to Italian drivers they feature made for professional market.
Honestly? – if I hadn't read Matej's review before, after all these information I would have most likely concluded that these must have been the 'type' of aggressively sounding, not very sophisticated, not particularly refined speakers that were usually used to amplify live concerts. Don't get me wrong - for that purpose such speakers are great – it's about loud, dynamic, energetic performance that does not have to be highly nuanced, detailed, refined, well balanced and so on. Such loudspeakers do what is needed for the concert hall really well but can't do what's required for home listening of jazz, or classical music in a (usually) small room at reasonable volume levels. But Matej claimed something different. So on Sunday evening, after the Show, with Jacek's help (thanks again if you're reading this) we took the speakers, loaded them on a van and brought them to my apartment.
Three days spent in a noisy environment of AudioVideoShow introduced a constant noise that I heard inside my head all the time and so it wasn't until Tuesday that I even unpacked and connected Model One. For starters I used an amplifier I also brought with me from the Show – an Italian integrated by Norma Audio. I wasn't going to start with critical listening session so using unknown amp was acceptable. I always allow all reviewed components to settle in my room for some time, so that they can 'forget' about transport experience, temperature differences and so on. I connected all components still using Sulek Audio cables, that I wasn't so willing to give back even after I finished my review, I set quite a low volume level, a long playlist, hit 'start' button and was ready to start writing my coverage of the Show and finish some other jobs.
Maybe a week later „Hi-Fi Choice” Chief Editor started asking about when I could finally deliver this promised coverage and I realized that I hadn't even started writing it yet. Listening to Ubiq speakers was so immersive that I forgot about everything else. Among many qualities of these speakers what surprised and delighted me most was a unique ability to convey this amazing, vivid energy of music, that wowed me so many times when I attended some concerts but that I was usually missing when listening to music at home. And it's not really about amplified concerts, but rather about sound of acoustic instruments – guitar, piano, trumpet – there is so much energy in their sound when one listens to them live, and that is lost (in part) during the whole process of recording and production and later also when music is reproduced over home audio system.
Let me explain that this energy I'm talking about is not dynamics as such, nor is it about playing very loud which could create such an impression. It's about feeling this energy that is created when a finger plucks a string, or when a vibrating air leaves trumpet or saxophone, for example. Stage monitors emanate a lot of energy but in their case it is mostly about high volume level/sound pressure and the sound they reproduce is not particularly refined, nor nuanced. Model One, just as their designers planned, reproduced this live-like energy in a fantastic way and they didn't have to play loud to do that.
As I already mentioned, after every Show I attend for the next few days I listen to music only on low/very low levels just to give myself a chance to rest after quite exhaustive experience. That's also exactly what I did with Ubiq loudspeakers and despite their unique ability to play very loud I was not in a hurry to exploit that option. Not only already low level performance delivered this incredible energy, but it was also amazingly refined, detailed, coherent and natural – so there was really no reason to increase volume level. Many other speakers when set to such low volume level loose some details and some vividness of the presentation. Like some information is simply gone. I am not talking about 'normal' day listening, but about 'night' sessions, when even noisy city gets quiet and one's senses become even more sensitive so at low volume level one actually hears more than during the day at much higher levels. Not this time. This time I was offered a full, rich, nuanced and energetic presentation at almost whisper volume level – something that most loudspeakers simply couldn't do .
Sure, some credit for that achievement has to go also to this Italian integrated amp, that performed so well that I didn't want to replace it with my own Modwright even after few days. But I think that it were the speakers that provided most of this magic. Even at such low levels they delivered full range performance with crisp, sparking, open, airy and very precise treble, rich, dense, colorful and smooth midrange and a brilliantly controlled and defined, punctual, well differentiated bass. Oh yes, I almost forgot about the best part - there was no sign of this nasty 'boomy' effect that most bass-reflex speakers provide listeners handsomely with :) I went through large part of my music collection, I played jazz, classical music, blues, opera and each time I was amazed with how much information Model One provided in a very natural but also neutral way.
I wouldn't call these speakers warm sounding as they surely did not add any sort of coloration of their own, they just conveyed a natural warmth of the sound of acoustic instruments. I played also some rock and orchestral music, which called for a higher volume setting. But it was the type of music that called for loud reproduction and not a necessary requirement to let speakers perform with such music.
Finally I gave them a chance to perform at even hardly acceptable (for my neighbors I mean) levels and they gave me hell of a ride! I started with AC/DC and pushed the volume knob beyond the point described on a scale as: 'are you completely nuts?' (or something like that – my Italian is a bit rusty). Immediately I started to think about Igor and his love for loud music – now I finally understood why he liked it so much. The performance was remarkably clean, well balanced, energetic like hell and without even so much as a hint of compression (I mean other than coming from recording itself). It played loud, very loud and yet I could listen like that for a long time without getting tired – it was this familiar feeling from live concerts – they are always too loud and yet I never have a problem with that. But until this day I always thought this crazy volume level was acceptable only when attending concert and never at home. I was obviously mistaken.
OK, it wasn't quite concert level, as I planned on keeping both: my hearing and my relations with neighbors more or less intact. But as for home listening sound pressure was bit crazy. Right after AC/DC with my neck and extremities hurting from involuntary, rhythmic movements (it's rock'n'roll after all) and my throat from screaming together with Brian Johnson I needed some rest, a chance to relax. So I played Le nozze di Figaro under the one and only Currentzis, a release that I mentioned so many times already in my different reviews. I did not decrease volume level for the overture – it played as loud as the Australian band before.
That's how orchestra can and should sound like when listened at home! Huge scale sound, unrestricted dynamics, with this extraordinary, lively energy that sent me straight to audiophile heaven. It happens a lot during live performances but rarely at home, when music is 'only' reproduced from a record. And again it was very realistic because sound was so pure, so well organized, so balanced. Not for a second did I feel as if volume level was too high, as the loudspeakers seemed not to care about how loud they had to play. The expression, emotions were as vivid, as overwhelming as the, so many times already mentioned, energy coming from speakers. I was totally immersed in Figaro's story and enjoyed myself a lot. Yes, this particular performance is amazing and it mattered but Model One also did a fantastic job conveying this funny story in a way that made me laugh repeatedly. And I couldn't stop clapping my hands when the spectacle was finished and kept shouting: encore! encore!
I could have listened to music, enjoy it until the deadline for this review concluding that these were one of the best loudspeakers I ever reviewed. I could have but... the top AudioTekne system arrived (by arrived I mean that Jacek and I had to carry 250kg to all the way to my apartment). 11 W delivered by top AT power amps was not enough to drive Ubiq optimally – that's what both, Igor and Hari told me. OK, I thought, but I could use the phonostage and linestage with my solid-state amp, or Norma operating as power amp...
It was a great idea but not so easy to implement – I needed long cable runs and lots of effort to move these damn heavy components around. But as I already mentioned I'm stubborn so I managed to set everything up the way I wanted to. I used a remarkable Raven Black Knight with Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum that sent signal to top AT phonostage (these huge and heavy monoblocks), than to top AT linestage and finally to my Modwright or Norma that drove directly Model One.
Surely any of these two amps was a bottleneck of such system but... These two AudioTekne components introduced a new level of refinement, delivered much more detailed, nuanced sound, conveyed all the information read from the groove by Koetsu. Acoustic instruments were so vibrant! I mean I thought they had been already before but after adding these two AT devices into the mix Model One delivered even better, more realistic, more palpable performance then before. I could not just hear but also feel vibrating air particles carrying sounds to my ears (and body) – what an amazing experience! It also proved class of these Slovenian loudspeakers that were able to clearly show the influance of top-high-end components despite not being of the same, very high price level.
Music, or should I say instruments, breathed so to speak. It was particularly obvious with brass instruments – trumpets, saxophones, trombones – Model One delivered an unbelievably natural, vivid and absolutely immersive performance. The other name of such instruments – wind instruments – gained with these speakers totally new meaning. With support of AT components Ubiq Audio loudspeakers were able to even better reproduce acoustics of recordings, especially the live ones. With this system the impression of participating in musical spectacle was simply irresistible.
There is a chance that one of the Slovenian guys (Igor or Hari) will stop talking to me after reading this part but I'll take that chance. On the very last day just before finishing this test I decided to give the full AudioTekne system a try (with Model One, of course). Yes, I have to admit that dynamics was no longer such an outstanding advantage of this system. Maybe there was no THAT much energy in the sound either and bass surely wasn't so perfectly controlled and defined. But the midrange - OMG!! Just before replacing Norma with AT monoblocks I was listening to David Gilmour and this album sounded so good. And then I played it again after connecting Model One to AT power amps. What the Japanese amps did to David's vocal, which reviewed speakers managed to convey was pure magic, it just took my breath away. How could I even describe this sensation since already before I used expressions such as: great, remarkable, wonderful and so on. None of these terms were enough any more to describe this absolutely mesmerizing presentation of Gilmour's vocal. It was naturally warm, rich, dense even, palpable and vibrant. I think I didn't even mention before how great was the presentation of vocals already with Modwright and Norma driving Model One. But now it simply got even better, just HEAVENLY, just perfect.
Ubiq Audio proves that a newcomer on the very demanding audio market can make quite an entrance. Recipe seemingly is simple. You need a few experienced, passionate, driven professionals who have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. These people need proper means for project realization not to work under time pressure, without a particular deadline when project has to be ready. They need enough time to make sure that the final effect of their work satisfies them fully. And finally they have to take care about every single little detail, including eye-catching design, reliability of the product, perfect make & finish and last but not least remarkable sound quality. Piece of cake, right? :)
Model One is probably the best debut of any brand I ever experienced. I couldn't find any flaws that usually happen to first products of a new manufacturer. These are perfectly made and finished loudspeakers that will look great even in a very elegant living room. And wait until you hear them... 12,5 thousand euros is a significant amount of money so surely not everybody can afford Model One. But I recommend a listening session with these speakers even if you plan to spend twice as much. I know that Igor already chose a distributor (AudioCave) for Poland who is waiting for his first few pairs of Model One to arrive, so soon it should be possible to give them a try if you want to.
It's a very mature, refined product and it's easy to tell it was prepared by passionates who really wanted and knew how to make a great loudspeaker. Model One doesn't care what kind of music you want them to play. They will deliver rich, refined, well balanced sound already at very low sound levels, but they shall also allow their user to 'go crazy' when he feels like it and deliver clean, uncompressed and uncolored performance even at (almost) concert levels. Whatever your music and volume level preferences you may be sure that Model One will deliver a high-end, classy performance (assuming the system driving them is good enough).
Among all speakers I had a chance to listen to in my system only one (as I remember that) outperformed Model One (by not so big margin) – the Hansen Audio Prince V2. But one has to remember that Canadian speakers cost over 40 kUSD, so in fact they are in a different league. Let me state the obvious (if you read the text until this moment) - Model One are remarkable loudspeakers! The first ones ever since I bought my Matterhorn that made me think about replacing German horns. Ubiqs can not be driven by low-watt SET amps – that is the only flaw that I found (flaw from my perspective) that I would have to accept. And who's to say that I won't? :)
Specifications (according to manufacturer)
Sensitivity: 88 dB