Interview: Philippe Penna, R&D Manager at AV Industry

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The acoustic engineer Philippe Penna oversaw the development of the Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker.

Philippe Penna was introduced to the world of acoustics at a very young age, as his grandfather built loudspeakers under the brand WOODLESS in Marseille. As a teenager, Philippe Penna often visited the workshops to experiment with his own creations, which motivated him to study acoustics at university.

With a master’s degree in Physics completed in Brighton (UK), he began a second cycle in electroacoustics and room acoustics at the University of Maine in Le Mans, which he completed with a master’s degree in Denmark.

After working in an acoustics consultancy, Philippe Penna designed numerous products for the famous speaker manufacturer Mosquito. Several other professional experiences followed before Philippe Penna finally returned to his first love and became head of audio development at AV Industry. He is behind notable projects such as the Elipson Prestige Facet speaker range and more recently the Elipson Legacy range. We were lucky enough to review the flagship model of this range: the Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker.

We were able to ask Philippe Penna a few questions about this speaker.

What is your job at AV Industry?

When I joined the company three and a half years ago, I took on the position of audio development manager for the speakers of the group’s different brands (Elipson, Tangent, Eltax and Studio Lab, ed.). My first assignment was to oversee the development of the Elipson Prestige Facet range.

I also designed and developed the new Studio Lab SLB 102N speaker (Philippe Penna designed the first version of this speaker in the early 2000s when the Studio Lab brand was still owned by Mosquito, ed.).

It was Philippe Penna who designed the Studio Lab SLB102 speaker and its 2018 re-release, the Studio Lab SLB 102N (photo).

More recently, we developed the Elipson Infinite range, a series of in-wall speakers for home theater integration, before focusing on the design the Elipson Legacy speakers.

Right now, we’re developing professional speakers to bring Atmos and DTS:X surround sound effects to movie theaters.

How were the Elipson Legacy speakers developed?

The Elipson Legacy project began to emerge soon after the introduction of the Elipson Prestige Facet range. The warm reception received by these speakers, from both the public and the specialist press, encouraged us to develop a new, even more powerful range. Several concepts were then outlined.

We wanted to create a speaker whose design was inspired by the brand’s DNA and historic models, including the legendary Elipson 4050 speaker, by employing tried and tested techniques such as separating the mid/high frequency drivers from the low frequency drivers.

The Elipson 4050 speaker’s design (seen here in one of ORTF’s studios in the 70s) inspired that of the Elipson Legacy 3230.

Impressed by the performance of AMT tweeters, the group’s CEO Philippe Carré wanted to incorporate this technology into the new speaker range. 

Lastly, it was important to reproduce the Elipson sound signature with a warm, rich and structured sound that enables the listener to be fully immersed in the music.

Building on this concept, we took inspiration from the cabinet of the Planet L speaker and redesigned it to accommodate an AMT tweeter and midrange driver. At the same time, we developed the low frequency enclosure (the base of the speaker on which the high/mid frequency sphere sits, ed.) and worked on the drivers. After several months of research and adjustments, the Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker was born.

In addition to this imposing 3 way floorstanding speaker, we have a “small” 2.5 way floorstanding speaker, the Legacy 3220, as well as the Elipson Legacy 3210 compact speaker. In the near future, we intend to add a center speaker for those who want to create an exceptional home theater system.

The Elipson Legacy speaker range.

The Elipson Legacy speakers use an AMT tweeter. What are the characteristics of this technology compared to a ribbon tweeter?

A ribbon tweeter consists of a film with a conductive ribbon resembling a Greek key pattern that runs through it to conduct the electrical signal. The AMT tweeter uses the same principle, but the film is pleated like an accordion, to simplify. With this tweeter, you still have the benefits of a very light diaphragm, just like a true ribbon tweeter, but with a much larger emissive surface area.

The Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker’s AMT tweeter.

On the Legacy 3230 speaker, the AMT tweeter has an emissive surface that is four times larger than that of a tweeter with a conventional 1” dome.

A ribbon tweeter provides a very transparent and well-defined sound that can sometimes lack weight and presence compared to a good silk dome tweeter. The AMT tweeter, due to its specific design, combines the advantages of these two different types of drivers.

However, it does have one disadvantage: AMT technology is so well-defined, transparent and rapid that it needs to be associated with well-matched midrange and low frequency drivers.

What is the purpose of placing the midrange driver and tweeter inside a different enclosure than the woofers, as is the case with the 4050?

They are placed inside a sphere that limits soundwave diffraction problems. Therefore, they are physically separated from the low frequency drivers and the sphere is decoupled from the low frequency cabinet using a rubber gasket. This allows better control of this frequency range, which is more directive than the lows. Placing the driver inside a sphere prevents the mids from being affected by the baffle. It also prevents any interference caused by vibrations from the low frequency enclosure that holds the woofers. 

The Elipson Legacy 3230’s tweeter and midrange driver are placed inside a separate enclosure.

The low frequency cabinet is made from medium-density and high-density fiberboard (MDF and HDF) panels that are between 25 and 30mm thick, with three internal braces. The sphere is made from a mixture of resin and silica. Using different materials and thicknesses helps counteract reverberation and eliminate the risk of coloring the sound.

The Legacy 3230 speaker’s midrange driver has a ceramic cone. What are the advantages of this material and are there any limitations to its use?

Due to the AMT tweeter’s responsiveness, agility and transparency, we needed to use a midrange driver with a light and rigid cone that could keep up. It isn’t easy to create a very light and rigid cone, but it is possible with ceramic. However, filtering is more complicated to work on when using ceramic.

Side view of the Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker’s ceramic cone midrange driver.

One of the advantages of the 3230’s midrange driver is that it covers three octaves, which is a lot. It starts at 400Hz and passes the baton to the tweeter at 3200Hz. As a result, the crossover doesn’t occur in the zone to which the ear is the most sensitive (between 2 and 3kHz, ed.). The other advantage of this midrange driver is that it features a large voice coil that helps the cone retain its shape throughout the covered frequency range. Consequently, the ceramic membrane is perfectly linear at the end of the frequency range. The connection between the tweeter and midrange driver is therefore seamless. The crossover between the tweeter and midrange driver is therefore seamless.

How would you describe the sound of the Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker?

The entirely neutral speaker doesn’t exist yet. All speakers have a certain sound signature.

I enjoy it when music is immersive, and that is something that I wanted to achieve with this speaker. That doesn’t mean drowning in pervasive sound, though. This speaker provides an extensive soundstage, but everything is where it should be.

When you listen to classical music, when you listen to an entire piece, all the different elements are where they should be, everything is clearly delineated. Voices are precise, centered, and aren’t obscured by the other frequency ranges. This speaker provides a very coherent sonic image. Furthermore, as I enjoy going to grunge concerts just as much as going to the opera, I didn’t want to create an elitist speaker but one that everyone can enjoy, no matter the style of music they listen to.

Elipson Legacy 3230 - Mise en situation
The Elipson Legacy 3230 speaker with the Atoll IN200 and McIntosh MA352 amplifiers.

Secondly, the speaker is bright and well-defined, but never tiring. Everything is properly organized, fast and perfectly timed thanks to the work carried out on the drivers, filters and cabinets. 

Lastly, this speaker provides deep, structured lows that don’t obscure the rest of the sound. We also wanted the speaker to be efficient in this frequency range because music without low frequencies is like a house without foundations. We don’t necessarily have to hear them, and they don’t have to be accentuated, but they are an important part of the restitution, especially concerning tones and the stability of the sound image.

What hi-fi equipment do you use in your own setup?

My personal hi-fi system is limited by the size of my Parisian apartment. For sources, I use the Elipson Omega 100 Carbon RIAA BT turntable and a Hegel HD25 DAC (playback via Audirvana – Qobuz Sublime +). I own a CODA Technologies CSI Limited integrated amplifier to drive my beloved Elipson Prestige Facet 8B 80th Anniversary speakers. But I’m probably going to replace them with a pair of Elipson Legacy 3210s soon…

What are your fondest musical memories?

When I was a student (late 80s, early 90s), three concerts made a lasting impression on me: the Pat Metheny Group for the sonic and musical richness, and the Pixies and Sonic Youth for their energy. I’m still a fan of pared down, energetic rock.

When I arrived in Paris to take up my new position at AV Industry, I quickly went to see Mahler’s 10th symphony at the Philharmonie, conducted by Daniel Harding. Mahler is my favorite composer and Harding is a recognized expert. At the end of the last movement, the audience held their breath to hear the end of the notes. In the finale, we were all overcome with emotion, with tears in our eyes. It was magical, in an exceptional setting with exceptional acoustics.

The Grande salle Pierre Boulez – Philharmonie de Paris © W. Beaucardet.

More recently, during an impromptu trip to Italy last summer with my teenage son who is a pianist, we stopped in Verona to see Puccini’s Tosca in the arena. The venue, staging, and performance were spectacular. We were transported to another time. And what greater pleasure than sharing your passion for music with your son…


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