Melco/Exogal/Vitus/Estelon system

Integrated amplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
Estelon XC,
Exogal Comet,
Melco N1Z,
Vitus Audio SIA-025

The Estelon XC has become one of my favourite speakers. This is the only stand-mounted speaker in their range and its single column support is attached deep within that curvaceous shape, necessitating transportation in a pair of chunky flight cases. The speaker comprises a three-way design utilising ceramic drivers from Accuton fabricated to Estelon’s own specific requirement and mounted in a Mid-Treble-Mid configuration. A substantial rear facing port means that they need a metre or so of room between them and a rear wall of which a little more wouldn’t go amiss if you have the space.  Kog installed them on my wood floor, sitting atop Stillpoints directly attached to devices and with a modicum of toe-in; in fact, just about where they sat when I reviewed them a while ago. 

Balance wise, they are lean rather than over-ripe, and when driven properly they have a superb bandwidth and are clean and enormously focussed. This, coupled with quite fantastic driver integration, gives them a musical togetherness and articulation that is quite special. Tonally, they are on the cool side but are never too bright, though that superb ceramic tweeter has incredible texture and is explosively dynamic when needed. I love the way that they create so much space and depth as they project the music outside of those slim cabinets. Their scale and presence is also notable. The lack of excess fat and undue warmth in the bass is offset by their precision and resolution. When driven by the Vitus (through Nordost cabling in this system), they speak with eloquence and real authority – together they make a very musical pair.

However, given my previous experience with both amp and speakers it was always going to be the front end of the Melco and the Exogal that would make or break this system. Both have been reviewed in these pages recently by AS. The Melco N1Z in issue No. 24 and the Comet in the issue following that. I would suggest a read of both of those for the (much) bigger picture. My concern was how this collection of Kog goodies hung together as a system, if indeed it did: it was always going to be interesting.

The Melco N1Z is best considered a USB digital music library designed and built solely with regard for its musical capabilities and potential as opposed to borrowing internals from the computer spares shelf. The Exogal Comet, supplied here with the optional separate power supply, has also been making noises, not least for its quality/price equation. But, given its excellent connectivity and the fact that it can be employed to drive a power amplifier directly, it is actually a very capable digital hub. My only criticism would be its silvered display that is supremely difficult to read except from a few feet away and in the right light.  Though in truth, the remote allows you to quickly scroll through the inputs and adjust the level without recourse to the display.  A conventional illuminated design would be my choice, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker.  Hook this pair together with a decent USB cable (Entreq in this case) and you’re ready to go.

Both are immensely versatile when it comes to files and can handle anything from MP3, through higher and higher rates, up to many times DSD. The Melco has a pair of 512GB SSDs on-board with the ability to connect with external storage systems too. The entire music library is very straightforward to access and follows the layout that has become so familiar. The only real choices you need to make are whether to use Twonky or the Minimserver, both selectable via the app.

As someone used to listening through an extremely good CD-based digital front end, it didn’t take long to realise that this system has resolution to burn. The Melco had been pre-loaded with all manner of hi-res files and we also ripped some of my own CDs onto it via a MacBook. It seems impossible for me to try and explain how good it is without expressing my general (not total) disappointment with so much hi-res streaming I have heard up until now.  What is it that separates a truly musical performance from the somewhat brittle, compartmentalised, detail-etched attempts that have caused me to look the other way? Why do I use my own home streaming set-up as a distinctly second choice musical source? I guess the answer lies in the way the music is joined up, and this is such a broad subject – too involved for this review anyway. So, let me distil it and say that resolution without a truly musical context is rather uninteresting to my ear. It’s like a footballer that can keep the ball up for hours on end, while doing handstands, but has no aptitude for the game, the team, or the tactical flow of play. The Melco/Exogal are definitely team players.

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