19 September, 2011

Audition: Bastanis Atlas Mandala

L: official version.
R: welborne's take, clic
k to enlarge (photo by 唐吉訶德).

Audition: Bastanis Atlas Mandala

Bastanis redux
I have always had interest in "full-range" (or wideband) drivers. Years ago I had hugely enjoyed the Loth-X (BS-1, Amaze), Lowther (I still have the TP-1), Altec and the popular Goodmans Axiom 201, less so the usually unsuccessful variants (like Lamhorn/AER) . Perhaps one day I shall write about them. The question now is, does the Bastanis measure up to this august company?

I first encountered Bastanis many years ago at diyhifisupply. As with most of the gears at the showroom at that time, the sound was singularly lackluster, and I promptly forgot about them until recently, when old friend welborne painstakingly constructed a pair of Mandala Atlas (left pic is official version; the actual units heard are at bottom of article).

As there are many iterations, surveying the Bastanis official website for info on the drivers can be a bit confusing. Each Atlas Mandala comprises: an open-baffle top that houses 2x Mandala wideband drivers (100-11k Hz) and 1x Gemini tweeter (compression driver; here used with back open, "dipolar"); and an open-box woofer enclosing an 18" Mandala dipole woofer.

For an idea of the speaker, read the Enjoythemusic review. Be mindful that the version we heard differ in several aspects: 1. larger and dipole woofer; 2. open bass enclosure; 3. non-active bass driver. The cabinets were made to the official plan, but beautifully decorated with carved wooden reliefs.

Ancillary equipment
Digital: Sony DVP-PR50P as transport to 5842/417a based tube DAC (? old Promitheus)
Passive Preamp: diyhifisupply Django TVC
Amp for open baffle: JAS Bravo 2.3 6C33 SET amp
Amp for bass: T-amp of some kind

A few comments on JAS. If you read the reviews, you will see the reviewers introduce the stuff as Chinese products imported into the USA. But here comes the interesting stuff: If you read the JAS official website in English, there is no mention of the company's origins in "About Us", just a vague lofty bit on audio goals; BUT if you read the equivalent page in Chinese, you will read an entirely different article that starts prominently with the words "美國JAS AUDIO品牌", which means "American brand JAS".

JAS 在自家英文網頁只說一些風涼話,完全不提自己的出身;可是在完全不同的中文網頁第一句話就是"美國JAS AUDIO品牌",然後大篇文章說自己無論在技術或銷售上怎樣世界化;其居心可測。 This is a deliberate attempt to mislead the Chinese customers, who prefer "western" brands. This is a common practice that I have commented upon before, a deliberate strategy to market Chinese stuff as western in origin in order to sell more and charge more. A practice that I despise! If you then go to "Contact Us" you shall see there is an "USA office", but the other office is in Hong Kong. And yes, the only place you will see JAS in HK is a store in Mongkok that sells exclusively Chinese mainland stuff. The amp used here, JAS Bravo 2.3, was well reviewed by 6moons and Soundstage. But let me remind you there are other reviews of other products that did not do so well (in particular the Bravo 3.1 805 amp). If I were you, I'd exercise caution, especially since their amps are not that much cheaper (new) than superior Japanese products. JAS is also known as Dignity International; make sure you do not confuse them with Dignity Audio, the latter a respected and honest HK manufacturer who shoot straight.

I'd not mince words. Although the setup is rather new, and the drivers are likely not fully run-in, the sound was very very good already. I have known welborne for years and have heard quite a few iterations of his past systems (previous visit here). While all of them were reasonably musical, none of them began to approach this one.

The percussion CD highlighted the speaker's qualities. In terms of detail, treble air and imaging, I think the performance is equal to, if not superior to, most of the Maggies I have heard, but with the added benefit of good dynamics across the frequency spectrum (unlike Maggies, which have much less body with percussion instruments, not to mention bass drums). Most importantly, credit to the open baffle and dipolar tweeter, there is plenty of that elusive quality of live presence. In a word, they sound like horns!

I am sure run-in has not been completed, and more tuning needs to be done. On the big orchestral Prokofiev, played at very loud level, I felt the presence region pressed forward a little too much. The mid-bass and bass, though fast, were tight and not exactly tuneful. IMHO T-amp is probably the least suitable amp for bass. Also, although the performance of the Django TVC was reasonable, I am certain a real active preamp of quality would do bi-amping much better.

No matter, there is no question that Bastanis is the real thing, and a bargain. So much so, that I am contemplating a down-sized version myself for my apartment in SZ. There is also no question to me the speakers deserve even better partnering equipment. In fact, I can think of a few things welborne has sold over the years that would match well. I am glad he is finally at the end of his T-amp phase and back to real high-fidelity. And what a return!

That's joking a little, since I am sure the experience welborne gained in his journey with full range speakers (including Saba) has been of great benefit in his current quest. He is already committed to upgrade to the new Chrystal drivers.

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