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The flying egg and I. (Surveying the Soundscape).

The Flying Egg and I: The first time I heard (and saw) the curiously appealing U-Vola loudspeakers, I looked forward to settling a pair into my personal listening space and giving them a good going over. Little did I know that when they moved into the house, they'd turn that idea around.

The U-Vola name comes from the Italian phrase "l'uovo che vola," which translates loosely as "the flying egg." There may be some underlying idiomatic sense to that phrase. I never inquired about that. The literal meaning works nicely since the ellipsoid U-Vola enclosure resembles nothing more than a gargantuan elongated egg. And when it's hanging from the ceiling on a nearly invisible cable, the visual effect is absolutely that of a levitated egg, if not a flying one.

This look may or may not appeal to you, of course. There were wildly varying opinions expressed in my household and among various visitors who dropped by during the U-Volas' tenure here. My response to their visual statement was positive. I'll stop there.

The U-Vola enclosure measures about 16 inches long and 8 inches across. It holds a 4 inch woofer and a 1 inch tweeter, coaxially positioned and mounted in the lower half of the shape so they point somewhat downward.

The enclosures are cast from an extremely dense mineral aggregate compound called KCF. Those letters stand for Korodur Copetti Floor. Korodur is a German company whose specialty is industrial and commercial flooring materials and installations, but their products range from building chemicals to cat litter. The Copetti part of KCF refers to Alessandro Copetti. He's an Italian designer who came up with the marble-look flooring compound known as KCF and then transformed it into a speaker enclosure material. Copetti founded SynFactory SRL in Italy, the company that manufactures U-Vola. He's president and chief designer.

The KCF compound works up into an extremely dense, rigid, and inert enclosure, weighing in at about 18 pounds. When my evaluation pair of U-Volas arrived last month, hefting one was my first clue that the speakers were going to be a test for me as well as subjects of my own testing.

Clearly, my first challenge was going to be getting the U-Volas solidly and securely suspended. I also had to predict proper positioning for listening and get them there in a way that would leave minimal traces of the installation later since I was pretty sure they weren't going to move in permanently. (See the "visual statement" paragraph above.)

Actually if I had been intending a permanent installation, I'd have needed to worry a bit about being able to hide holes left behind by U-Vola mountings. You know how it is with speakers. The first places you put them often prove not to be ideal sonic locations. If the speakers are standing on the floor, moving them about is a relatively simple task which normally leaves minimal traces of previous locations. Remounting speakers hanging from ceiling mounts could leave quite a mess.

So I took off for the hardware store to see what I could find. I had decided that size 8 screw eyes (30 lb. safe working load) should be the basic hanging method, if I could find suitable anchors. After consulting a materials handbook the store had posted near the selection of anchors, I chose self-drilling, deep threaded plastic anchors that were made specifically to hold tight to sheetrock with sufficient rated holding power.

When I got them home, I performed an informal test of the assembly. I found a hidden wall in a storeroom off the garage, installed an anchor and screw eye, threaded a heavy cable through, and tried to pull it out. I was able to get it to move a little, but I was sure that I was leaning back on the cable with well over the 20 pounds or so that the U-Volas would apply. And when I took the anchor out, it left a clean _inch hole.

So I moved my attention to the listening area, chose locations more or less over my floor speakers, and installed the mounting hardware. The U-Volas come with everything necessary to hang the speakers once the ceiling mounts are in place: handy clips for attaching to the screw eyes, mounting cables to attach to the speakers (with a neat adjustable threaded connector that also isolates the enclosures from the cable and ceiling), guides to form and protect the loops of cable, and screw down clamps for the mounting cables.

What I didn't have were detailed instructions, but I forged ahead and attached a cable to one of the enclosures, passed that cable through clip on a screw eye, and undertook to hoist the enclosure to a likely height. That was a mistake.

First, the relatively small diameter stranded cable was painful to grasp tightly. Second, tension on the cable as it passed over the steel clip made it curl like a gift wrap ribbon. I abandoned this direct approach quickly and decided to measure instead.

I detached the cable, lifted the speaker to the intended height, and noted the distance from the top of the enclosure to the mounting clip. Then I set the speaker down and--fighting the unfortunate curl--measured a corresponding length of cable. I formed the requisite loop around the little guide, and screwed down the clamp to hold the loop in place.

I reattached the cable to the speaker, lifted the speaker again, and hooked the loop over the mounting clip that was still hooked on the screw eye. I closed the threaded lock on the mounting clip as the final step. I did the same thing on the other side and stepped back to admire a pair of bright red "flying eggs" in my listening room.

This would be a good time to mention the available U-Vola finishes. The standard colors seem to be white, silver, and the crisp red that I mentioned above. I've also seen one painted up in an uncannily accurate representation of a watermelon. Syn Factory's literature and website show various non-standard colors and even a U-Vola with a somewhat distorted) map of the world covering its surface.

The final step in getting the U-Volas operating is hooking the provided 3-meter signal cables to the amplifier and attaching them to the speakers. At the speaker end, the cables have 1/4" phone plugs that insert into recessed jacks at the upper back of each enclosure. I really liked Sr. Copetti's choice of speaker cable. It's 12-gauge TEC Precision OFC cable, in a wonderfully flexible twisted spiral configuration.

I made the amplifier connections, guided the speaker cables up through the supporting clips then draped the cable so that it fell loosely around the supporting cable, copying as best I could the artistic vision shown in the accompanying illustrations. I connected the plugs to the waiting jacks, turned on the system, and gave a listen.

Something was wrong. The bass, which I knew wasn't the system's strong point, was ridiculously wimpy. And the overall sound was totally insubstantial. I focused a bit more closely and realized that I was hearing mismatched polarity between the two speakers. A quick switch to mono mode absolutely confirmed this.

I disconnected, traced the cables back, and confirmed that I'd made proper connections according to the markings on the speaker cables and my amplifier's outputs. I then pulled out an ohmmeter and checked to see if the cables might be mislabeled. They weren't. I was pretty sure then that there were internal wiring inconsistencies between the two enclosures.

To confirm this, I got out a flashlight battery and touched it to the + and - conductors on each speaker cable. Sure enough, with one speaker the woofer cone went properly out when the +end of the battery hit the + conductor. With the other hooked up the same way, the cone went in.

A couple of transatlantic phone calls later and I had permission to disassemble the U-Volas and some hints on getting at the crossover board to check out the connections.

Sure enough, one of the crossover boards had the connections for both the woofer and tweeter backwards. A few minutes with a soldering iron put them right. A few more minutes got the U-Vola innards stuffed back in the eggs and I was listening to the systems as they were intended to sound.

Obviously the first thing I noticed was that the bass was back, as much bass as there could be from a pair of 4-inch woofers. I didn't expect a lot of authority in the lower ranges from the U-Volas and indeed there wasn't much. To Copetti's credit, he did kept what bass there was totally clear and uncolored without the hump that some designers add just before the inevitable rolloff to give an impression of solidity that actually isn't there.

I found that cranking the bass control on my amp about 45 degrees from vertical lifted the easy roll-off just enough to make the lower end of the spectrum listenable, but I pined for a subwoofer. Then I tipped the treble down a bit. That also helped make the light low end less obvious.

The U-Vola high end was comfortable to listen to unadjusted, with no trace of hardness or harshness. There was just a bit too much of it even for the somewhat enhanced low end.

The U-Vola's lack of flat surfaces and sharp corners gives them a very uniform horizontal dispersion pattern which in turn makes them much less fussy about location. It's easy to hear a decent stereo image from almost any location in the room, even some distance to the left or right of the pair. With so many rectangular box speakers, the left one in effect leaves the building in a huff when the listener gets too chummy with the one on the right--or vice versa, of course.

Of course if you get right up against one of the U-Volas, like a foot or so away, you're going to get an earful of one channel only. And that's actually easy to do with speakers that are hanging more or less at standing ear level unless you're a totally sedentary listener. I'm not.

In sonic terms, the U-Vola speakers--within the limitations imposed by the small woofer--are neutral and therefore honest with the music coming through them. The limitations, of course, are the lack of bass extension and a certain reticence about playing forcefully. But instrumental timbres are near-perfect, as are voices. I absolutely believe that it's the enclosure shape that supports such purity.

For almost any significant musical application, however, the U-Volas demand external bass support. A phone call from SynFactory's marketing director as I was wrapping up this profile, made clear that they are aware of this and a subwoofer is in the works. I have no idea what form it will take. I assume it will be floor-standing but will coordinate visually with the distinctive appearance of the U-Volas.

The other accessory product coming off SynFactory's drawing board is a floor standing support for the U-Volas themselves. At the carpentry level, that will facilitate U-Vola installation. Whether it will make them more visually acceptable or less is another matter. Copetti is quite firm about the fact that the suspended (flying) mounting method is critical to the musical success of his design. So the new stands will be made to hang the speakers from, not to set the speakers on.

Finally, there's the matter of distribution and cost. At the moment, SynFactory was not able to tell where a western hemisphere music listener might easily acquire a pair of U-Vola speakers. They apparently have made promising contacts at recent U.S. trade shows but those have not yet fully developed into retail availability.

When U-Volas do appear at retail, SynFactory expects the selling price here to be the direct equivalent of the 3500 Euro price tag that's current on the other side of the Atlantic.

They have not mentioned how much the absolutely necessary subwoofer might add to that or how much the accessory stands might cost.

You might want to keep an eye on http:// www.synfactory.com. I know I will.

-TK
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Evaluation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:2034
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