Home » Review: Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers- Hand made in Vienna
Reviews

Review: Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers- Hand made in Vienna

Review: Ichos N ° Four MkII SE are premium handmade floorstanding speakers which justify their price tag by sleek look and great sound

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE- The previous Ichos N ° Two was able to convince all around, especially under dynamic aspects, but could not completely hide a slightly rustic charm in the tonal elaboration. Almost two years later, Ichos presented somewhat smaller floorstanding loudspeakers , which this time won me over with a swipe. In fact, the Ichos No ° Four, which were painted in a striking “orange red” at the time, together with the excellent electronics from Silvercore, had the hotel room under control acoustically to such an extent that the exhibition situation was completely ignored and nothing but music could be heard.

Tonally, everything remained in balance – and the No ° Two were already on the move at lightning speed. The decision was made just as quickly to host the backwards loaded horns from Vienna for a second time and now to invite the Ichos No ° Four to my listening room.

The fact that it took a while to put the resolution into practice after the trade fair was due to the busy schedule and the understandable urge of Ichos developer and boss Robert Rothleitner to push the performance of his most successful model even further to the extreme . This is exactly what has now been achieved noticeably, which is why current N ° Four can now adorn themselves with the abbreviation MkII.

Profile of the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE

  • Neutral and balanced. With a natural tone, the Ichos play both extremely informative and emotional. Just right.
  • Not a deep bass miracle, which is hardly noticeable when listening to “normal” music. This is rewarded by the fast, yet not overly slim or too hard contoured bass reproduction of the N ° Four MkII SE with sonority and surprising power. Extensive repertoire of low-frequency timbres that are often found in vain with similarly sized floorstanding speakers.
  • The midrange reproduction convinces with realism plus a touch of drama and the ability to get very close to the sound with precision. This is a pleasure to listen to, but does not leave you with an acoustic feeling of fullness. Excellent voice reproduction.
  • The treble of the N ° Four MkII SE does not even try to charm with the smooth silkiness of first-class fabric domes, but instead with clarity and transparency. Freshness and energy are also part of the repertoire. Mistakes tend to be less forgiving.
  • Although not unconditionally bred to maximum levels, the backloaded horns go impeccably far in their size and weight class. But the great moment of the Ichos strikes in terms of fine dynamics. They react to the tiniest of impulses without a hitch and swiftly. Depending on the state of mind, this leads to speechlessness or even rapt laughter.
  • Basically, the N ° Four do not indulge in a lavishly spanned space, but if a church nave or a larger concert hall is on the program, they master this with convincing credibility and depth graduation in line with price class. Sound sources, which they depict very physically, often manifest themselves beyond the width limitation of the loudspeakers.
  • In terms of processing, the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE are consistently at the best level. High-quality veneers and coatings open up a multitude of options for individualization.
  • Hardly any amplifier is faced with difficult tasks by the Ichos. With an efficiency of 92dB / W / m and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, tube and transistor amps from around 20 watts are sufficient, and quality definitely pays off.

Facts:

  • Model: Ichos N ° Four MkII SE
  • Concept: 1.5-way floorstanding loudspeaker, backloaded horn for the low-midrange
  • Price: from 8,890 euros, with lacquer and veneer finish like the test model (walnut wood, high-gloss finish) 10,590 euros
  • Dimensions & weight: Dimensions: 1006 x 231 x 345 (H x W x D), approx. 25 kg / piece
  • Versions: depending on your requirements, RAL palette, real wood veneer, high-gloss lacquer, sometimes subject to a surcharge
  • Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
  • Guarantee: 5 years
  • 20 cm mid-range speaker, paper membrane, treated with particular varnish
  • 25 mm Tweeter
  • Efficiency factor: 93 dB/1 W/1m,8 Ohm
  • Frequency range: 39 Hz -20 Hz
  • Distance to the Listener: min 1,8 m
  • Weight : appr.20 kg/piece

MkII plus SE: There is still something going on …

The Ichos N ° Four MkII, which Robert Rothleitner sends us to test, is the once again optimized and particularly audiophile SE version. In analogy to the high-performance series of the automotive industry, the AMG or M-Sport models from the Viennese manufacture stand before me, so to speak.

Then let’s take a look under the “hood” first: The SE guarantees Ichos for a particularly accurate selection of the built-in chassis. Ten pairs each go through a strict measuring cycle. Only the driver pair with the best values ​​is allowed to do its job in an SE in the end.

As part of the “Tunig” measures, the Ichos N ° Four is also granted higher quality internal cabling, the silver-plated copper strands of which are said to be good for even more precision and speed. Only in the SE version are capacitors made of tinned copper foil and silver-graphite resistors from the legendary Danish manufacturer Duelund, whose components can also be found in crossovers of ultra-expensive loudspeakers such as the Kaiser Kawero Classic or even the over-horns Vox Olympian . In addition, Ichos replaces the mineral wool usually used for insulation with pure sheep wool.

In order not to forget the “chassis”: Instead of the stainless steel spikes that are normally used, the SEs are made of bronze by the German metal construction specialist Liedtke-Metalldesign. That too, Robert Rothleitner assures me, has a further enhancing effect.

Outwardly, our test person also makes a bella figura: ecologically compatible veneers made from local walnut wood, selected in mirror image, clothe the flanks of the N ° Four, while the front and back are covered in deep black. Several layers of clear lacquer then seal the surface before specialists bring everything to a high gloss.

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers

I really like the little Ichos N ° Four in this very valuable-looking outfit. Such an extreme polish is of course a matter of taste, but it can also be more inconspicuous. In the standard version of the Ichos N ° Four MkII, which costs 7,390 euros per pair, the sound transducers are supplied in a varnish finish, whereby the buyer is free to use the colors of the RAL palette to customize “his” loudspeakers. Real wood veneers and high-gloss lacquer are optional. 1,500 euros are charged for climbing the SE summit. However, the tastefully grained veneer for 700 euros and the first-class paintwork for a further 1,000 euros lift the price of the test sample to 10,590 euros.

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE: Technology

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers

 

Let’s take a step back: three vertical grooves on the front set a particularly elegant accent. And the proportions are also right. The Ichos rise a good meter, are 23 centimeters wide and just under 35 centimeters deep. With a weight of 25 kilograms, the floorstanding loudspeakers do not pose any serious logistical problems.

The 21 centimeter drivers of the No ° Four, which are centrally installed on the front, are eye-catching. They have membranes made of paper, which have been lavishly treated with balsamic oils and violin varnishes. Typical for Ichos sound transducers: The chassis are broadband speakers by design , which not only radiate to the front, but also to the rear via a backloaded horn or through the open housing towards the floor. The principle of the backloaded horn usually supports lower frequencies, which broadband bands, which often have an exaggerated mid-range, can only pass. Of course, the efficiency of a loudspeaker also experiences a noticeable increase with such a horn .

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers

The broadband of the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE not only radiate to the front, but also to the rear via a backloaded horn or through the housing, which is open at the bottom, towards the floor

In order to largely avoid phase shifts, a defined distance to the ground must be maintained, which is achieved with the Ichos N ° Four via spikes and their recordings. By screwing in the spikes more or less deeply, it is even possible to a certain extent to influence the depth and energy of the horns in the bass range. Robert Rothleitner gives the -3dB point with an optimistic low 40 Hertz, but admits that this is not entirely independent of the space and the nature of the floor.

In broadband systems, high-frequency reproduction is a frequent cause of criticism, which is why so-called whirring cones are often used here, which are supposed to improve the radiation of high frequency components by acting like smaller, more rigid membranes. Unfortunately, this is often at the expense of tonality and quickly becomes a boomerang. In order to avoid this problem, Ichos supports the main chassis with dedicated tweeters and lets the full-range drivers run freely without any whirring cone. The Viennese put a CNC-milled waveguide in front of the 1-inch compression driver with an aluminum diaphragm selected for this purpose. From around 7500 hertz, the single oiler intervenes in order to finally transmit frequencies up to around 24 kilohertz.

The 21 centimeter wide bands have membranes made of paper that have been lavishly treated with balsamic oils and violin varnishes

To protect it from low-frequency impulses, the Viennese only use a specially tuned capacitor, i.e. they do without a classic crossover. This puristic design is only supplemented by measures for impedance linearization . Of course, much more complex crossovers can be built, says Ichos, but it is better to follow the ideal of avoiding everything that could get in the way of the signal and rob the sound image of energy and dynamics.

The knock test shows that the Ichos developers did not rely solely on sheer mass and acoustic dampening when designing loudspeaker housings, but also factored in a certain amount of resonance in the walls. This is known from classic English monitors, for example those from Spendor or Harbeth. The sound transducers from Living Voice also follow the idea of ​​not storing vibrations in the cabinet, but of emitting them again in a targeted manner and as quickly as possible. So that this can succeed, the housings of the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE are not composed of MDF, but rather HDF panels with wall thicknesses between 19 and 28 millimeters that are better suited to resonance technology. For additional stiffening at particularly critical points, enormously strong armored wood is used.

It is logical that with these requirements it cannot be completely irrelevant what the N ° Four are on. More on that in a moment.

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE: formation & reinforcement

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers

 

Before we test what the N ° Four MkII SE can do in terms of sound, a few words about the list. With a listening distance of just under three meters, the speakers in my room are usually slightly angled towards the listening position, which results in better imaging precision and spatial representation. Aligned in this way, the two compression drivers give off a touch too much high frequency energy for my taste. It quickly becomes clear: Ideally, the Ichos don’t want to be heard on the move, but rather stand almost parallel to one another. A little distance to the back and side walls doesn’t hurt either. Between 80 and 150 centimeters is a good idea. It is also advisable to adjust the height of the loudspeakers as horizontally as possible using the copper spikes.

If you have undercarriages such as those offered by Acapella or Symposium-Acoustic, you should definitely try them out. Although the placement directly on the carpet proves to be unproblematic, a little more precision and energy can be extracted from the Ichos.

If everything is carefully set up at the end, the transducers largely disappear acoustically and can no longer be located as sound sources.

The reinforcement for the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE

As to be expected with a declared efficiency of 92 dB, the Ichos loudspeakers are satisfied with less powerful amplifiers. If listening at moderate levels is preferred, even a single-ended 300B tube might not be a no-go. For levels beyond room loud, however, the 20 to 30 watts that the Melissa tube amplifier from SoReal, already known from the test of the Equilibrium Idea S8 , can provide in triode mode is better.

Stereo power amplifier Dartzeel NHB-108, above the hybrid integrated amplifier Riviera Levante

Before you get the wrong impression: The pretty Viennese women are by no means only subscribed to tube amps. No less do they appreciate high-quality transistorized amplification. My Dartzeel NHB-108 stereo power amplifier (2 x 100 watts) or the Riviera Levante hybrid amplifier (2 x 130 watts / 2 x 30 watts Class A) also harmonize perfectly with them. The latter works in the prepress section with two ECC-83 triodes and was made available to me on a test basis by Hifi-Welt, the sales department to which Icho’s sound transducer also belongs.

Ichos sound transducer N ° Four MkII SE: sound test & comparisons

First impression

Beethoven’s “Eroica” is just the right time to listen to it for the first time after the Beethoven year 2020. And in fact, the Levante, at least 17,000 euros expensive, seems to be a pretty congenial partner for the N ° Four. After a few bars it becomes clear that this is by no means an amorphous sound construct that the sound engineer wants to sell to an orchestra. Real musicians sit here with their instruments and make music together. It is striking how authentically the Ichos can show the relationships between the instruments. Size and volume just fit. The big drum has depth and volume, the strings sound concise, but not too dominant, while flutes are sometimes ethereal-floating, sometimes captivating with the acoustic power of high frequencies.

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE Floorstanding speakers

 

In short: The Ichos N ° Four MkII SE are so incredibly balanced and homogeneously coordinated that I have to reach very high on the shelf to find something comparable. Spontaneously I would think of performances by Wilson Audio’s Sasha DAW or the small intonation Terzian. Also Acapellas Cellini , recently a fairaudio Award received for their perfomance belong to this category.

Yes, yes, the Ichos have really earned the comparison with the legendary sound transducers, because they too succeed in creating a sound image that experienced listeners should immediately perceive as particularly sensitive and coherent, regardless of price range and size. Not exactly what you would expect from such a backloaded horn.

An ace in bass?

Of course it’s still a little early to put a final hook behind the performance of No ° Four MkII SE. So let’s proceed a little more systematically. From now on, the Ichos will primarily be able to prove themselves on the SoReal Melissa tube amplifier, which costs 7,000 euros. In terms of price, a combination that can certainly also be found under real-life conditions.

 

Then I use a test CD with closely graduated sine tones to find out that not much happens with the N ° Four in my room below 50 Hertz. With music, however, it feels completely different, because the acoustic bass Steve Swallows, the bassist of the Carla Bley Trio , has the sonority on Live goes on that is familiar from my Acapella La Campanellas – and a lack of depth is also not to be expected attest. If the recording goes far down, you can almost feel the moving air with the Ichos.

In order to explore the bass range even further, the New Puritans thesis must now be applied . The British are known for their mix of club music, folkloric and symphonic echoes, and for always using big drums and deep synth basses. If I was just expecting to be able to show the Ichos limits now, they are already hammering the bass attacks on Hidden  into the room with surprising stability and pressure.

However, such a deep bass rumble is rather rare in musical events and of course a domain of particularly large and heavy sound transducers. The 25 kg light Ichos N ° Four MkII SE certainly doesn’t belong to this group, but their bass doesn’t seem anorexic or powerless. The coupling of the housing volume to my room via an opening in the floor brings, test CD or not, an acoustically convincing result.

The bottom line that the bass side does not have the very last word in terms of dryness and hard contouring may be due to the horn principle and the slightly resonating cabinets. Those who are just after that will find other speakers. In the price range of the N ° Four there would be the Equilibrium Idea S8 with closed casesto be mentioned, whose kick basses shot cleanly into the room made a lasting impression. But even if the bass of the Ichos does not pop that jaggedly, you should be careful not to deny it speed or even precision. The basic speed is there and also satisfies (my) spoiled ears. But the N ° Four can do more. They succeed – and this is what I usually miss with speakers in this price range in this quality – to put the subliminal textures of deep tones in the right light and to comprehensively present the richness of timbres of the bass section.

 

A skill that, for example , is of great benefit to bassist Brian Bromberg, who freshly mastered his album Bromberg plays Hendrix to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the guitar hero’s death. When Bromberg’s 300-year-old Italian double bass Hendrix strikes “The wind cries Mary”, the Ichos accurately carves out the almost cantilene-like tone of the old wood. Anything other than plain, monochrome bass thumping, but accurate, fine fanning out of wood, housing resonance and string swing. The above-mentioned Equilibrium Idea S8s, which are less differentiating in this regard, do not achieve this in this quality either.

In the middle? Naturally!

Can the No ° Four reproduce the subsequent mid-tone just as homogeneously and naturally? It is not for nothing that broadbands in general and horns in particular are more likely to be trusted with color-toned escapades.

But the Ichos No ° Four MkII SE are at best related constructively to such representatives of their guild. Elia Duni’s current album Lost Ships , recorded with guitarist Rob Luft for ECM, is reproduced by the Ichos in a finely nuanced and resolved manner. The clear voice of the Albanian-Swiss singer, which reveals any tonal deviation, serves as exemplary evidence of the superb timbre of the No ° Four. One of these almost intimate moments is the “Hier Encore” carried by Duni’s voice and Luft’s guitar. Our Austrian guests bring you really close to this voice, very close. Acoustic magnifying glasses? If you will.

 

Equilibrium’s Idea S8 are more distant emotionally. They also play neutrally, but their neutrality seems more serene and less involved than the Ichos. The Audio Tunes Marvel , which are also constructed as backloaded horns, come closest to them , and our test confirmed that they deal particularly naturally with the human voice. The Marvel also master drama and emotion, as soprano Diana Damrau as Konstanze in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio proved at the time. In the end in vain, because the Ichos inspire me a little more with their greater impressiveness.

However, it should not be concealed that the big sister of the N ° Four found it a little difficult four years ago on the terrain of the classically trained voices. With a hoarse undertone, the spark just didn’t want to jump over during the recordings of the great Maria Callas.

Plain text

Nevertheless, the compression drivers of the N ° Four MKII SE are by no means on a cuddly course. Precise plain text is spoken here, which is why they unequivocally place resolution, energy and clarity above the silky beautiful sound of a textile dome. With good and excellent recordings, the dose of released high frequency energy is just right. However, the Ichos can hardly be expected to show indulgence if the height of the production is too cool and stringy. Then they spit out the nuisance just as it was captured. What I prefer, however, than being left in the dark about the true content of a recording by loudspeakers. Sure, a few tubes in the signal path are usually a nice thing, but the Ichos can also do without. The combination of Silvercore’s passive preamp 324 and the Dartzeel NHB-108 equipped with bipolar transistors works very well on the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE. After a precise attack, cymbals shine in metallic splendor and then sound out in a controlled, clean and long manner. Hook on it.

 

Not an end in itself

The richness of detail that the Ichos N ° Four are capable of does not need to hide from designated monitor speakers. The Ichos are very close, even if a Genelec 8361A or the Lyravox Karlsson (we tested both) throw one or the other additional detail into the balance , as is typical for the genre. But the fine resolution of the Ichos is not an end in itself. What counts is also the view of the musical whole.

Need an example? The individual voices of the Moscow New Radio Choir under Elena Rastorova ( Russian Acapella Choral Music, Three Choruses From Tsar Feodor Ioannovich – Prayer ) can be followed without much effort , but if desired, the singers merge in the next moment to the typical overall sound of the choir, which what makes Russian choral art so unique. Once you have swiveled into the acoustic long shot, it is easy to see that the choir is separated according to vocal ranges and positioned at the back rising. In addition, there is room information in the form of echoes and reverbs, which are simply part of choral singing and give the listener an excellent overview of the size and height of the recording environment.

Now it is also noticeable how big the recording room, probably a church, actually is. So far, I had not considered the subject of spatial imaging to be an unconditional strength of the Ichos. But a cross-check with Schubert’s octet in the current recording with Sabine Meyer on the clarinet not only illustrates how neatly the N ° Four MkII SE separates individual instruments from one another (not that easy with octets), but also shows a really airy, believable deep and The width of the room extends far beyond the loudspeakers.

Fast as an arrow & stable at level

The four-piece album Amid, recorded by the Iranian composer and world musician Hesam Inanlou , develops a hypnotic undertow thanks to clever rhythms, surprisingly changing tempos and dizzying percussion. The tombak, a drum played with the fingers and the emphatically percussive used Piano form the basis of the lively compositions. Inanlou plays the kamancheh, the typical string instrument in Persian music, in a rather unusual way. The frantic buzzing, popping and swinging of their strings over the N ° Four sounds almost frighteningly direct. As if you were actually only sitting a nose’s length in front of the instrument.

 

Not without reason, because as horn-loaded full-range drivers, the Ichos N ° Four MKII SE are of course real experts in terms of (fine) dynamics. They meticulously feel the complex, dynamic shades of this music and thus come amazingly close to the live experience. Their seamless and lightning-fast signal processing brings back memories of the expensive drivers from the British broadband specialist Lowther, which, packaged in highly complex Audiovector Symphonic housings, reacted with a similar dynamic response. However, they didn’t take it tonally as precisely as the Austrians. Real level stability was not one of the strengths of the English treasures. Unlike the Ichos, who, although acting quietly, completely and dynamically, seem to challenge high volumes. And indeed, fired by the Dartzeel NHB-108,Jazzrausch Bigband (tip is the title track of the same name on Dancing Wittgenstein ) confidently and, if necessary, even loud for a party. Well-groomed entertainment has been out of the question for a long time.

Ichos N ° Four MkII SE  – Conclusion

So if you have ever got the impression that your own living room-friendly loudspeakers could do little outside of the relevant audiophile program, with something more tangible à la ZZ-Top, then you will definitely like this side of the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE: Beside acoustic music, classical and jazz, they convey the hard electric blues of said Texan gentlemen just as easily and competently as Roger Waters Amused to Death or even the rap tracks of a Capital Bra contributed by his twelve-year-old son. Note, even a particularly finely knitted (backloaded) horn sometimes just wants to be a horn …

With a joy of playing that does not shy away from hearty musical fare, the Ichos N ° Four MkII SE will win over even listeners who previously had little in mind with horns. All the more so because the sound transducers, which are largely uncritical to amplifiers, can convince with a balanced, neutral tuning and also realistic timbres as well as excellent imaging precision.

In the price range of the N ° Four MKII SE loudspeakers can be found that deliver deeper bass or more gently whispering highs and perhaps can handle even louder listening levels, but hardly any that can respond more spontaneously, perform more dynamically, competently or musically. And that’s exactly why the Ichos N ° Four MKII SE belong on my very personal list of the best speakers under 10,000 euros and may stay, I bought them.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment