Ne Plus Ultra

Ne plus ultra—Latin meaning "no more beyond," often used to describe anything that is truly ultimate. I can think of no better way to describe the Ultimate speaker system from Swedish boutique manufacturer Transmission Audio. This massive, hand-made system is exactly what its name implies, at least in terms of cost—a million bucks per channel, making it the most expensive speaker system in the world as far as I know.

The Ultimate consists of 12 separate, open-baffle dipole panels, each nearly seven feet tall. (The photo at the top of this blog entry is a "mini" Ultimate system with five panels.) In total, the left and right channels include two super-high-frequency panels (L1 and R1 in the photo above), four high-frequency/midrange panels (L2/L3, R2/R3), two woofer panels (L4, R4), and four subwoofer panels (L5/L6, R5/R6). As you can see, the panels are arranged in a mirror-image configuration, with the less-directional low frequencies in the middle and the more-directional high frequencies on the outside to create a stereo soundfield. Placing the panels next to each other, the entire system stretches almost 37 feet wide and weighs just over four tons—obviously, it needs a really big room with heavily reinforced floors.

The super-HF and HF/midrange panels, shown above with the covers removed, use the company's trademark ribbon drivers—a total of 210 feet of 2-inch ribbons in the HF/midrange panels and 13 feet of 1-inch ribbons in the super-HF panels. All the ribbons exhibit much greater maximum displacement than most, resulting in a distortion measurement below 0.02% at 99dB SPL. The ribbon sections include a total of 1304 superstrong neodymium magnets that are said to increase the impact and "slam" as well as enhance the microdynamics of the system.

Low frequencies are handled by the woofer and subwoofer panels, which use custom cone drivers. Each woofer panel, shown above with cover removed, sports 24 8-inch cones, while the subwoofer panels each include 10 15-inch drivers. Like the ribbon panels, these are open-baffle dipoles and true line sources, which avoid any cabinet-based colorations and limit reflections from the walls, ceiling, and floor thanks to well-controlled horizontal and vertical dispersion.

The Ultimate system comes complete with its own power amps—six BP-1s from Bridge Audio Laboratory to be exact. Each dual-mono amp generates 500 watts per channel for a total of 6 kilowatts, which seems like more than enough until you learn that the system can handle over twice that much power continuously and up to 62kW peak for 10 milliseconds! All six amps are controlled by one BC-1 preamp, which is also included. In total, the electronic components by themselves represent over half a million dollars, which is 25 percent of the total cost for a 2-channel system. (For an extra half-mil, you can get 12 bridged BP-1s with a total of 20kW, but company founder Bo Bengtsson doesn't recommend it unless you live in a castle with very rigid stone walls.)

The Ultimate's specified frequency response is mighty impressive—15Hz to 50kHz (–3dB). And it can play loud—143dB SPL at the maximum rated continuous power and 146dB SPL at peak power thanks to a sensitivity of 100dB/W/m into 8Ω, the system's nominal impedance. Interestingly, the impedance of each ribbon panel is 8Ω over its entire frequency range, deviating by no more than 0.5Ω.

Clearly, the Ultimate is intended for 2-channel listening, but here's a crazy idea for a ne plus ultra home theater—put one Ultimate system behind a 40-foot-wide, acoustically transparent screen and another behind the seats for the surround channels. Perhaps add an extra midrange/HF panel in the middle of the front system for the center channel—the company claims its ribbons can go down to 200Hz (-3dB) with its Ultra Propulsion transformerless interface—or set up the system to produce a phantom center from the front right and left channels. Of course, you'd need a commercial-grade digital-cinema projector to fill a 40-foot screen, but what's another few hundred thousand dollars when you're spending four million on the speakers and amps?

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COMMENTS
Silver Seven's picture

@ bpw: "I'd wager a tidy sum they don't image worth a damn." I'll take you up on that...two million bucks tidy enough for you? We're impressed by your name-dropping and all, but these dipoles ain't exactly a pair of Polks that need to pull 250 watts before they start sounding decent. Not even Snoop Dogg would run Ultimates at 143 dB sustained SPL. It's called headroom--ever heard of transient-handling capacity? The price point and the very size of this audiophile matériel predicate professional room correction and system calibration, respectively. Given that, Transmission Audio's unimpeachable accuracy, sensitivity, THD, dynamic range, and frequency response are just icing on the reference imaging cake. Cheating? Not on the order of four-channel SACD baffled mic'ing.

patronanejo's picture

@ Silver Seven: Agreed. The most important quality in a speaker is to be as transparent as practicable (i.e., introduces no artifacts, loses no information, undergoes no distortion). Once transparency is achieved, the critical determinant of spatial information is speaker placement. Indeed, this is a very Bob Carver-like exercise on the part of Transmission Audio: the Ultimate (1) Rubs audiophiles' noses in their loss of rationality around absurdly-priced equipment; (2) Showcases mainly qualities available in much less expensive speakers (i.e., the transparency discussed above); and (3) Reveals placement, a largely free component of all loudspeaker/monitor systems, to be the most important ingredient.

Laz's picture

what the heck can you play on those speakers to use their capabilities ? an old vinyl lp ? a $10 cd ? a $20 dvd ?

FlorentFr's picture

I dont know why the english want use "Ne Plus Ultra" (introduce in 1630s) instead of "Nec Plus Ultra" (the true sentence).

Laz's picture

"Ne" or "Nec" what's the difference ? it's all Greek to me....

Industrial Hygienist's picture

If a theater does install this system I hope they will have all their customers sign a waiver if they plan to test out the systems upper limit. The OSHA standard allows for 15 minutes of 115 SPL exposure before hearing protection is required. Hopefully the people talking about car speaker systems don't care about not being able to hear their grandchildren later in life!

Robert's picture

@Tom from Albuquerque "Originally, the bass towers were powered by Great American Sound amps (a.k.a.: GAS Amps) that were "around" 600 watt mono blocks. They were disconnected and removed. A pair of Threshold S/1000 (two series) 500 Watt STASIS Mono-Block Power Amplifiers replaced the GAS Amps." Hi Tom, I believed that the IRS Basstowers had there own dedicated 1.5 kW amps amd later a 2kW amp. I know a guy in Germany that has two S/1000's on his Mid/Hightower IRS wing.

Brian's picture

I bet these speakers were created by the same people who sell the $1,000,000 bed that is threaded with gold filament and sheep hair/human hair/horse hair. Pretty sad world we live in.

Richard's picture

Posted Sat Aug 8, 2009, 1:08 AM

Stan's picture

If this system does what the articles purport it to do, it is likely a delicious sounding system, sounding unearthly. Why? There are several factors. They mention the drivers have very low distortion-0.02%. That is vanishingly low. If the loudspeakers can project properly, given that an acoustic space cab support their ungodly size, then they should project a headphone-like phantom image-wow. That is a tall task. I would think that the the woofers are specially designed precise extra-long devices. But they don't mention if and if so how the speakers are amplified or electronically multi-amplified. I would also be concerned on what electro-mechanical resonances this huge array might have. I would love to imagine someone installing this in a premium movie theater on the east or west coast (so I could hear it), but I would then wonder if it could be well-maintained for the long haul.

Hendo's picture

Don't get me wrong, I love great speakers and fabulous sound. But 2 million dollars would let Oxfam sustain 4,274 people (at AU$39/month/person) for one year. That's another reason why these speakers are a little over-indulgent.

sundar's picture

Is there a return policy without 15% restocking fee?

David Harris's picture

Would it fit in a small rucksack?

MrFabulous's picture

You ignorant peasants! Why must you always critisize and look for negative elements when something extreme comes up? At least show some competence before moaning and bitchin'. Extremely good sound reproduction requires extreme measures. Headroom in every respect is an important factor. Ever heard a big rig PA system at a concert, playing background music at reasonable levels before the performers go onstage?? Very effortless and clean. Reason?? Tons of headroom, minimum THD and IMD. If you want 100-110 dB of concert hall music at home, you also need headroom. Dipoles are very interesting, they do not add "box" effects to the drivers. BUT, you need driver area and dedicated drivers. This system has it in spades. Price can always be discussed of course, but you WalMar t DIY'ers can forget about creating something like this for pocket change. Get real. Get positive. Or go back to your puny LS3/5A's and PRETEND that you have good sound!

dennisd's picture

do they make headphones?

May  Buyif's picture

Some nice fabric covering wouldn't go amiss.... maybe something in a beige paisley and some padding to soften those nasty sharp edges.

Bob Aronson's picture

The important specification: If you have ever listened to a $10,000 speaker system, well this ultimate system costs 100 times more. It could even be a hundred times better than the best sound that you rarely hear. This sound requires a room which you do not possess, and demands ears that you once had before you were 18. It could be better than sex you will never have, unless you simply don't really require all of that flabby cash for your Bugatti Veyron or Platinum Ipod/Iphone/Iposer and Enzyte ear-buds / suppositories. . No really, your ultimate is way bigger and better than what most audiophiles enjoy, Pharaoh. The Ultimate ultimate, ultimately. Monster Cable and room tunes and Emperor's Club Outcall not included.

Cary Christie's picture

Having been involved in the design of the IRS Series I can assure you that the IRS Subwoofer amplifier was ours. The IRS Beta used any amplifier with our servo interface electronics for the Subwoofer. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean good but sometimes there are costs involved in manufacturing that determine the price. At the time the IRS was priced to break even with our cost but it still made it the most expensive loudspeaker produced then . We used it as a marketing tool for the rest of the product line. There are so many aspects of a loudspeakers design that determine how it reproduces sound that you can not determine them all with measurements alone. Distortion, power response, impulse response, polar response, and the list goes on are all important. There are a number of approaches that our industry has used to make some very good replicators of an original performance. I have my philosophy as do other designers. We will be showing something soon that will reflect our latest thoughts. Art

wedding's picture

I like it very much.Ask your wedding invitations vendor for references. Why you ask? No one is perfect!

loudspeaker's picture

Shenzhen Yinyifeng Electronic Technology Co., Ltd, established in 1996, is a professional company specializing in the field of PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM. Depends on the qualified products and comprehensive services, the

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