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.