By Alan Sircom|
A small loudspeaker has the advantage of being almost a point source. It’s one of the great advantages the UK audio industry exploited to its fullest extent from the 1960s onwards. But there’s a great distinction between ‘almost’ a point source and a true point source, and that’s where the Markaudio-Sota Tozzi Two comes in. This is a genune point-source in its truest sense, because it’s perhaps the simplest loudspeaker Hi-Fi+ has reviewed in years. It shares many basic concepts with loudspeakers from Eclipse, in terms of size and number of drive units per channel, but the two diverge rapidly beyond that point. Of course, the cabinets differ pretty substantially, too.
The Tozzi Two is a small, light, rear-ported box loudspeaker, designed to be used in very near-field applications, such as on the desktop or in a tiny room. Basically, if they are close enough to touch from the listening position, that’s about right. The front baffle is slightly larger than the rear, creating a natural backwards tilt when the Tozzi Two is on that aforementioned desktop, and this angles the loudspeaker cones almost perfectly at seated ear height. Making the Tozzi Two potentially a fine computer speaker.
The rear ported cabinet isn’t breaking new ground (with one notable exception), but the single-wired Tozzi Two is every bit a form-follows-function design. That notable exception is on the baseplate, where at the bottom dead centre of the design is a small hole. This is designed to take a 1/4-20 UNC thread, the kind of screw-thread that is used extensively in photography and musical instrument stand design. In other words, if you have a small lighting stand, photo tripod, or microphone stand, you just got a loudspeaker stand. Given you can buy lightweight lighting stands from Amazon for less than £15, and microphone stands are sometimes even less, you are not going to be spending big on accessories.
But the ‘big’ aspect of the Tozzi Two is the drive unit; a variant of the 75mm Alpair 5 drive unit designed by the ‘Mark’ in Markaudio – Mark Fenlon. This is a crossover-free design (what’s there to cross over, there is just one drive unit?). It’s a free to air design, permeated from the baseline with Fenlon’s engineering smarts. Although he now lives in Hong Kong, Mark Fenlon is every bit the British engineer in the style of Colin Chapman of Lotus Cars. He lives by Chapman’s ‘Simplify, and add lightness!’ maxim, and it shows in the all-range unit. The Alpair 5 drive unit in the Tozzi Two eschews almost all loudspeaker conventions, right down to doing away with the spider at the rear of the unit and instead uses a single front suspension arrangement. The result is an ultra-wide band driver with exceptional linearity, especially when used in the kind of cabinet it was essentially designed for. In a way, if I’m being picky, the Tozzi Two reflects the design criteria of a loudspeaker drive unit engineer building a cabinet to house that unit. Concerns like a gently radiating wide horn taking up the whole of the front baffle, the square front plate. The sort of utilitarian, almost puritanical lack of embellishment on the loudspeaker cabinet… all shout ‘driver guy’. It is something of a tribute to Fenlon that he hasn’t simply sold the Tozzi Two as a cardboard box with a hole for the driver… that’s the kind of single-minded approach he’s taken here, and all the same, the loudspeaker is the better for being designed in an uncompromised manner.
The exciting part of the whole Tozzi Two is its performance. Mark clearly has been getting his sums right, because these loudspeakers behave like a notionally ideal point source, while also possessed of incredible speed of attack and release, extraordinary detail retrieval, and pin-point precise imagery. With the right music, played through the right electronics, in the right room, the Tozzi Two disappears in a way many products strive to achieve. Many are called, few are chosen.
I played Birdy’s cover of Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ from her eponymous debut album [14th Floor, Atlantic], and I must confess that I’m conflicted on this track. On the one hand, it’s an awesome first outing from someone who’s likely to be a fixture on the indie-folk scene for many years, I’m prepared to forgive her a lot as this was her first album (she was aged just 14 when it was released), and it’s a great track that lofted her to stardom. On the other hand, it can sound a bit breathy and fey. However, through the Tozzi Two, you don’t get so much of an accent on ‘breathy and fey’, instead you get someone standing in the room singing her young heart out with the kind of unalloyed candor and energy that only a teenager can deliver. The audio system folds away and it’s just her and the piano in the room.
Where this loudspeaker excels is in the playing of one or two instruments in an unamplified setting. Birdy’s voice has tiny reverb tails that you can easily define here, and her voice has a sense of organic body and presence that’s extraordinary at this price. However, scale things up to a larger band, and the same ‘disappearing’ quality is foreshortened. It’s perhaps not unexpected, but this is not the loudspeaker for showing off your latest cut from Mastodon, or playing ‘Du Hast’ from Rammstein’s Sennsucht [Motor Music] at an appropriate lick is not going to put a smile on your face. It’s not painful, but it’s not loud, and nor does it have a powerful enough grip over the bass to make it alluring. Similarly, trying to squeeze a powerful orchestral swell out of the Tozzi Two in anything larger than a box room is going to sound a little bass light.
In a way, we’re criticising a remarkable point source loudspeaker with excellent imagery and detail, for not being a huge tower loudspeaker that does neither of those things well, but comes with a lot of slam and punch. A small single drive unit designed to be as unchallenged by convention and as light as it’s possible to get means some considerations need to be made. This is not an efficient loudspeaker, but in some respects that doesn’t matter because you will be using it up close. Until you don’t. If you use it to fill a large room with plenty of loud sound, you’ll regret the decision. OK, so it’s not fragile, but don’t expect it to sound particularly good when driven hard. Keep it to less than about 20 watts per channel, and don’t expect gut-churning bass in a barn, and you’ll be OK.
The Markaudio-Sota Tozzi Two is a ‘specific task’ loudspeaker, and it achieves that task perfectly. It’s not for headbangers. It’s the kind of loudspeaker you could use on a desktop for hours on end without any stress, and could even be used to play good sounds in a small to medium sized room brilliantly. Not a speaker for the everyman, but loads of fun!
Type: One way ported loudspeaker
Drive unit: 1x Alpair 5 all-range driver
Frequency Response: 90Hz-27kHz anechoic
Power handling: 15W nominal, 30W peak
Optional finishes: Rose Alloy, Grey peak
Dimensions (W×H×D): 20 × 20 × 12.6cm
Weight (each): 1.96kg
Price:£1,500 per pair
Manufactured by: Markaudio-Sota
Tel: +852 2605 2811
Distributed in the UK by: Dr Scott Lindgren