Piega TC 10X Loudspeaker (Hi-Fi+)

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Piega TC 10X
Piega TC 10X Loudspeaker (Hi-Fi+)

There is something irrationally attractive about small, expensive objects. Cameras, exotic moving-coil cartridges, luxury fountain pens and watches with interesting mechanical complications all hold some kind of fascination for me. Now I can add to the Piega TC 10X speakers to that list. They are small, beautifully formed and frivolously expensive. Their diminutive size means that they will have limited applications but, for those with the right sized listening room and the finances to indulge their requirements when it comes to partnering equipment, they present an intriguing range of musical possibilities. Piega speakers have been made in Switzerland since 1986 and they currently produce several different ranges. Both the all-aluminium cabinet and the inclusion of the rather fabulous C2 co-axial ribbon midrange/ tweeter assembly define the smart little TC 10X, but these speakers are much more than a pretty face.

The cabinet is extruded into a gentle oval boat back, completed with an aluminium baffle and to the rap of a knuckle constitutes an extremely dead enclosure. The inner face is lined with directly attached damping material, along with extra wadding which, together with the size and shape of the cabinet ensures that the potential for interior standing-waves is killed at source. Although they come with detachable grilles I could find no reason for leaving them in situ as they shut down the mid/treble noticeably.Single or bi-wired cabling can be accepted via the four 4mm binding posts/sockets at the rear.

Like all exceptional small designs it soon becomes clear that these speakers are going to require some serious attention to detail if you are going to realise their considerable potential. For a start, let’s talk stands. Piega do manufacture models specifically for the little TC 10x but they were not supplied with the speaker. Having seen photographs of them and heard of other reviewer’s experiences, I can see why. They bring the speakers to the right height but have a slender, single pillar that, stability-wise, look distinctly marginal when it comes to giving the cabinets a firm foundation. These little things are surprisingly heavy and really require a specialist pair of supports. Once again I am left wondering why manufacturers of such interesting speakers do not spend more time over their stands because, as we all know, you can kill a speaker’s potential by using the wrong type. I do sometimes get the impression that they see themselves as speaker and not stand makers so don’t really “get” it, considering the stand only as an afterthought. Surely a speaker, especially one of this class, should be considered as a total package. During my time with them I used the Piegas with a heavy single-filled column type from Kudos and my current favourite, the super lightweight Quadraspire acrylic as originally designed for the smaller JM Labs speakers. Both did a good job, but once again, I found that the acrylic stands sounded as transparent as they look although I would want to try the smaller version, as the top would probably have been an even better fit with the speaker’s cabinet.

Low frequency extension is better than you might expect from such a diminutive cabinet. It is handled by a 6-inch driver which is reflex-port loaded via a small baffle-mounted slot. Piega fit their own Magnetic Optimised Motor system to this unit and have intelligently not sought to extend the response below sensible levels by overdoing the size of the porting. For those wanting or needing more bass, there is also a sub-woofer available.

While the inclusion of a subwoofer would increase its suitability for larger rooms, the TC 10X, used as a stand-alone, is only really suitable for more confined spaces. But this is no budget product and it will reward partnering equipment of the very highest quality, although it is not as ultra demanding in this respect as I was anticipating. I pushed the boat out and used it with several CD players including the Naim CD 555, the Gryphon Mikado and the Muse Erato II, while the amplification centred on the Lyra Connoisseur 4.2L SE preamplifier driving a pair of the superb Ayre MXR mono power amplifiers. The whole system was connected with a full Nordost Valhalla cable loom. This is quite a potent, high-resolution system but the Piega’s seemed to revel in the challenge and certainly surprised me with their ability to accept high power settings with no sign of strain.

Although, due to their size and front porting, they could be sited closer to a wall than most small speakers, gaining some bass weight in the process, this is not a trade-off I generally favour. I soon found that giving that mid/top unit enough space to breathe was far more important so I ended up with them pulled well into the room. This allowed the speaker ample air to really expand its musical view and did no harm to the tonal balance at all. Piega fit their own Magnetic Optimised Motor system to the other-wise conventional 6” drive unit. But the co-axial midrange/tweeter ribbon assembly is certainly a far more interesting unit. As you can see, the tweeter resides in the middle of the larger midrange membrane giving them both the same acoustic centre, which is one of the reasons why the TC 10X sound so wonderfully coherent in this frequency range. The foil of the mid-band unit itself is just 0.02mm thick and is driven across its entire surface by neodymium magnets. It is not really a ribbon but is closer to a planar-magnetic driver in concept. The entire assembly covers a generous frequency range from just over 400 Hz to an impressive 50 kHz and I have to say that this unit is a tour de force and makes the hours of painstaking work that goes into its construction well worth the effort. In this age of much-improved highfrequency units the Piega’s central driver provides enough resolution, transient ability and tonal range to compare with the best I have heard, but it is the way it is integrated with the midrange unit that really distinguishes it in this speaker.

One of the drawbacks of ribbon tweeter designs can be their tendency to beam as the frequency rises, making the listening-window unhelpfully narrow, but the Piegas do not suffer from this at all. Instead you get the most gloriously open and detailed view of the recording as the balance seems slightly tilted toward the mid rather than the treble. Although the low frequency extension is better than you might expect from such a diminutive cabinet, I sometimes felt that the bass was slightly detached and not quite “of ” the whole, which is a trait I have heard in other hybrid designs. This is nothing to do with its dynamic qualities, just that it can seem slightly monotonous and lacks a wide enough range of bass tonality to match the mids. Given that the integration and resolution elsewhere is so good it is perhaps not surprising that the bass range suffers a bit in comparison. Although I never stopped noticing the lack, I never felt that it did any real damage to my overall enjoyment of the speaker. Put it this way, you are never going to buy these speakers purely for their low-end performance, but I very much doubt it would stop you from wanting them either. It is certainly very fast, with the lack of any real extension and the small, tight cabinet helping to give the speaker a very positive, but light rhythmic touch which is more than matched by the ultra-clean transient delivery through the mid and top. Unravelling tempo and timing conundrums is never an issue with these speakers.

Vocals and other predominantly mid-band instruments do assume a prominence and a certain amount of forwardness in comparison to my usual speaker, the JMlabs Micro Utopia Be and it takes a while to get used to the fact that the relaxed yet high-energy projection of the Piega makes it appear that, even albums you know very well seem as if they have been given an extra degree of midrange presence. The TC 10X has a sense of purity and clarity that never strays into the realm of being over analytical. In fact I found that there is a certain dry sweetness to their balance that is only emphasised by the stunning openness and lack of compression, even when confronted with complex material. Not warmth, that would be the wrong word, but a feeling of harmonic richness and tonal vibrancy that always seems entirely on the side of the music.

Presentation-wise there is little to criticise. If you like an uncompressed, broad and open soundstage, with good depth and brimming with resolution (and who doesn’t?) then these Piegas will delight you. It is true that certain components lead you to music that plays to their strengths and I did listen to a lot of vocal albums through these speakers. The more complex and involved the arrangements were, the better, as the TC 10X has that rare ability to unravel even the most dense of recordings in an unstressed way and when the system is so at ease with this material, you are too. It is no onetrick pony either. There is absolutely no denying the purity of this speaker when it can illuminate the tonality of pianos, strings, voice and guitars so beautifully. There is effortless control of these instruments right down to note level where, when dealing with leading edges, you find precision, followed by colourful sustain and decay that shows you the shape and character of each instrument’s voice. It can provide layer upon layer of different, or clashing tonal colours and spread them before you in a fixed picture of an acoustic space and is among the very best when it comes to what I call superimposition, where two instruments, close in frequency, are played alongside each other. Acoustic instruments like piano and guitar can be uncomfortable recorded bedfellows and I have often felt disappointed with the way that even expensive systems deal with this particular combination. Where the note shapes and tonal characteristics of each instrument, generally dominated by the piano, get congealed together into some amorphous swirl, you can end up hearing a guitano, the non-existent harmonic offspring of the pair. The Piega has the precision to resolve them both with absolute ease and makes understanding each instrument’s progress easy to follow. The result is that not only the instruments but also the musicianship itself is easier to follow and appreciate. So, given this level of insight, it is no surprise that it is also so articulate when it comes to resolving the micro-dynamics of classical music where those small changes in playing pressures and especially the shimmering fog of the massed vibrato in string sections often causes systems so many problems.

This is a smaller speaker than you might think by looking at the photographs, but I can see it appealing to many people. Obviously, due to its general sophistication and lack of real bass it is not going to find favour with head-bangers (rock or classical). But it is an attractive proposition for anyone with a small listening room who enjoys an intimate relationship with their music or those who have previously found smallspeaker compromises hard to live with. But, like all designs, the TC 10X is not a speaker without some flaws, however minor. If Piega could just improve both the low-frequency unit’s tonal qualities and its integration, then, for its size, this would be near perfect. This is an expensive design but, if you can meet its requirements, it can be quite brilliant.

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