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INTERVIEW ⸜ designer

Pylon Audio, Cube Audio, Qualio

Where: KRAKÓW/Poland



Interviewing jurnalist WOJCIECH PACUŁA
translation Marek Dyba
images „High Fidelity”

No 227

April 1, 2023

've known MAREK KOSTRZŃSKI, if I'm mistaken, since 2014. Then he came to me with Mateusz Jujka, the head of a young, promising, but still small company, Pylon Audio (more → HERE). Marek is its chief designer and it is his ideas for the sound that the company largely owes its success to. Without efficient management, a clear vision of development and a good sense of the market, even the best product has no chance of success, which is why both men make up such a good duo.

⸜ Marek Kostrzyński visiting „High Fidelity”

From a small, provincial company, Pylon has grown into one of the major European players, supplying cabinets to many large companies, and preparing complete loudspeakers for some of them, from A to Z. And it's not only about inexpensive models, but also about top ones, known worldwide.

Along with Pylon, Marek's experience also grew. I remember our meeting on the occasion of the "PYLON AUDIO EMERALD Touched by High Fidelity" (Emerald HF) project; these were supposed to be speakers celebrating the magazine's 15th anniversary. It was a special version of them, with changes made according to my tips and suggestions. I remember well that the hero of this text did a great job of translating the description of the sound I wanted into a real sound. The result of these actions was really very good, I was really proud of these speakers. The tour we did in 2016 and 2017, when I presented the CDs that I use during the tests, was a great success.

So when the 18th anniversary of HIGH FIDELITY approached, independently of each other, the Pylon people and I thought of something similar. This is how the Pylon Audio Jade 20 High Fidelity Edition loudspeakers were created (more → HERE) . Completely different than the Emeralds, both in terms of appearance and sound, they are - in my opinion - much closer to the private interests of their designer. Marek, although fluent in the world of multi-speaker loudspeakers, is a dreamer. And in his dreams a special place is occupied by horn designs and those based on full-range drivers.

⸜ Marek Kostrzyński with Qualio IQ speakers

The Cube Audio run by Marek and Mr. Grzegorz Rulka, was born out of love for this type of products. It offers broadband drivers and loudspeakers based on them. They look great they also offer a refined sound. And a branch of Cube Audio, quite new, let's add, is another brand, Qualio. As I heard during the test of the IQ loudspeakers, it is supposed to offer a sound in which, in addition to the advantages of multi-way designs, we will find some character of the parent company's broadband drivers in a more affordable price range. This was achieved by changing the distribution system to direct sales (more → HERE).

So now you know that this time we are talking to a versatile, talented and driven man. We will ask him about his first projects, still for Tonsil brand, about the history of Pylon, as well as about his private projects. MAREK KOSTRZYŃSKI is being interviewed by WOJCIECH PACUŁA.


WOJCIECH PACUŁA Hello Marek. When you introduce yourself which brand’s name do you use?

MAREK KOSTRZYŃSKI Today I am with you on the occasion of the test of the QUALIO loudspeakers, which in a sense is also CUBE AUDIO, but we have known each other for years and met on occasion of the PYLON AUDIO loudspeakers test. That is the company I have been associated with the longest. I will add, and I am not trying to suck up to you, that if someone wants to show people something new efficiently and pleasantly, you and your place are a must.

WP Okay, let’s skip further courtesy :) You're an audiophile by birth, right? :)

MK I like to listen to live music, even without amplification and in random conditions, I like the vibration of air in the sound, which I usually miss even in ultra-expensive top systems (it's not the same as a "wall of sound"). It is true that I walked out of a concert twice in my life because it was so badly amplified that I felt more pleasure listening to music from the radio in the car, i.e. while listening in the car I did not feel unpleasant ...

But it was not these dramatic experiences during concerts that inspired me to start designing loudspeakers. I just felt the need. Curiosity of technology and the desire to understand how the barrier between it and emotions can be penetrated. That’s the simplest answer. About twenty-five years ago I bought my first DIY loudspeakers, they featured "carbon 18s" and Scan-Speak's Revelators 2905/9900. The logic was simple: top Scan-Speaks drivers equal top sound.

After two, maybe three years of a struggle, I bought cheap speakers from a well-known Polish company, and thanks to the ease of their application and less demanding system - I was playing then probably the first tube amplifier Amplifon WL36 and not necessarily the top model of Marantz CD - their sound, despite technical defects, < b>translated into a greater desire to listen to music. There could be various reasons for it - lack of skills, hardware deficiencies, lack of skilful configuration. Today it doesn't matter, what I image doesn’t decide how I spend my money anymore, I always check the reality, the actual sound.

WP You are the main designer in Pylon, but this time you came to me with IQ loudspeakers by Qualio. This is your smallest company - in terms of lineup - right?

MK Building Pylon's lineup from scratch, I know what it looks like. Constructing the offer with Grzegorz Rulka, first for Cube Audio and now for Qualio, we did not intend to copy the solutions of the company aimed at the mass market. As a result, the time spent on a given project was certainly at least the same, and the funds spent on R&D were completely different.

Suffice it to say that the "start" of Cube Audio took almost two years, during which most of the work took place in Poznań, and during this time Grzesiek came to Poznań almost every weekend. During the week, further prototypes of magnetic systems were made for us, new membrane geometries were cut, baskets, lower suspensions, etc. were made - dozens of prototypes were created in this way. And it was all self-financed.

From the beginning we have focused on niche products, on a small scale. You can say it is an unusual approach. But we also try to dress this "uncommonness" in a mainstream outfit, in the positive sense of the word. So that the use of often exotic techniques by us has a common "sound" denominator with the market offer of mainstream companies. Cube Audio is dedicated to low-power SET tube amplifiers that need easy-to-drive loudspeakers. Literally 3.5 W from a 2A3 tube is enough. When you use 36W with EL34 it will not necessarily be better, maybe different. In the case of the Qualio we have the opposite situation, the loudspeakers love solid-state amplifiers with an output of 50 W and above, with decent current efficiency, like many available on the market ones.

WP How did you two meet with Mr. Grzegorz?

MK Grzesiek is a graduate of the Faculty of Physics at the Poznań University of Technology, we met when he was a student. As it turned out, has always liked full-range speakers. In a similar period I met Łukasz Fikus (head of the LAMPIZATOR company, more → HERE - editor's note), who used dipole drivers in his designs, among others, from German radio Saba. He shared speaker designs on his DIY website. I went to Łukasz, listened to his speakers and I liked it very much. They sounded special to me.

What's more, one of Łukasz's clients, whom we visited, system played - as for me - exceptionally well. I still remember Vaya Con Dios - the hair on my arm stood up. Some will make fun of me for this text, but that’s OK :) This situation does not happen to me often. The dipole design with a 15-inch bass turned out to be too big for my room. After bringing the boards home, the wife took a look at them and I knew that nothing would come of it. I placed an advertisement for sale on a popular website, and Grzegorz bought the drivers from me. That's how we met.

⸜ Cube Audio Nenuphar speakers • photo Cube Audio

WP Broadband designs were therefore on your "radar" from the beginning.

MK Yes, Grzegorz, as a fan of wide-range drivers, honed this idea from the beginning. When we decided to do something together, we didn't expect any commercial outcome of the project. This was my first real R&D project. Such, you know, top of its category. With Qualio it was a bit different. Based on our knowledge from Cube Audio and my knowledge of the market, we prepared a design that would appeals to a wider group of listeners, in which we have left as much of the advantages of a full-range driver as possible.

WP But you started with an idea of a single driver - what's so special about it?

MK We really liked such aspects of the sound as incredible speed and transparency in the midrange. It's hard to get a similar sound from speakers with a crossover, and I don't mean only my designs. In the midrange there is something that is physically present in music, and in classic loudspeakers it is a bit lost. On the other hand, in very good designs it is shown a bit differently, more sparingly. Hence our idea to build our own full-range drivers. From the designer point of view, the full-range driver is, in my opinion, the most difficult driver to make.

The first generation of our drivers was "no compromise" type. So much so that Grzegorz laughed that we would be constructing a 20 cm tweeter :) After some time our projects became mature. After comparisons with the broadband "stars" available on the market, we decided that it was time for the premiere. Suffice it to say that in the history of Cube Audio, several reviewers found them interesting enough to use them to evaluate devices in their systems. This is a big compliment for me personally.

In the case of speakers featuring full-range drivers, remember that system configuration is very important. That is: what will they be connected to, where will they be placed, in what room, etc. They can be connected to a great transistor amplifier, which sounds great with multi-driver loudspeakers, and it just "will not play". A 3.5-watt amplifier with 2A3 tubes or an 8-9-watt amplifier with 300B will do the job better for wide-range speakers. The maximum power we used during the presentation was 18 W from a single 211 tube.

Our sets are designed to play in normal rooms the way people usually set up their stereos. So not necessarily in the middle of the room. We assumed that they could stand close to the wall and even in corners. It is possible to design a very "linear" full range speaker, but it will lose, in my opinion, some unique features for which such constructions are built.

WP It is unusual that at Cube Audio you also build the drivers yourself..

MK Especially the drivers! At Cube Audio, we build everything from scratch. We have a production hall in Poznań with an area of 260 m2, where we have a CNC lathe, CNC plotter, we cut veneers, etc. We don't just have a paint shop. We make the drivers ourselves, physically and conceptually, starting with the design of the magnetic circuits, the geometry of the diaphragms, etc. This was one of the reasons why the Cube Audio company was founded - its own drivers.

WP What is the biggest challenge in designing such a driver?

MK To make it actually full-range. This means that, with a skilful configuration, it would deliver a full-range sound with an even band. One can imagine full-range drivers with passive compensation, and such are also constructed. We're not doing that at the moment. Our transducer is connected directly to the terminals. Speakers configured in this way must be designed from the start in such a way that they do not need to be corrected later. I am tempted to design a loudspeaker with an even more powerful magnetic flux and to use passive compensation or maybe even develop the first active design for Cube Audio.

WP What kind of cabinet do you load your drivers with?

MK It's a quarter-wave cabinet, but an interesting one. We tested a classic quarter-wave cabinet, as well as one in which it was additionally loaded with bass-reflex from the bottom. After the tests, we stayed with the current variant, for purely subjective reasons.

Besides, it's a classic. Our drivers are designed according to the classic Thiele-Smal models. With the exception of mechanical goodness, and we achieved a very high one due to the use of a specific lower suspension - their parameters look very "normal". On paper, one thing that is out of the ordinary is the need to use a larger cabinet than for the classic drivers of this diameter available on the market. We also offer higher efficiency.

⸜ Qualio IQ speakers • photo Cube Audio

Let me tell you an anecdote. When we went to the Audio Show for the first time, we had chosen a nice paper for the driver, which "sounded" very nice. The speakers were new, so we left the window open to to let them „breathe". When we came in the morning the speakers sounded like crap. It turned out that the paper "caught" moisture from the air. So after the show we chose a different type of paper, coated it with different types of varnish, measured it, listened to what we liked more, and each time a new driver model was created. There are many such things we need to account for, every detail counts. Grzegorz often told me to stop, because I could keep on improving such a project endlessly. And I'm just always curious what if...

After two years, we hired a girl who helped us with the mechanical aspects of assembling the drivers - gluing, etc. We successfully closed the first stage, when we sent the first loudspeakers to a reviewer in France. They liked it enough to keep them. It was similar with the review of the Nenuphar model in at Srajan’s. They became one of the references in his systems (interview with Srajan Ebaen as part of the "The Editors" series → HERE).

WP When you started the job, did you realize the enormity of the challenges?

MK No, absolutely not! We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We designed the first, you guessed it, completely failed loudspeaker and we drew conclusions one by one. We listened and measured. We were lucky that we had people around us who used loudspeakers with full-range drivers, e.g. from Lowther. So we had the opportunity to directly compare our designs with older versions of these designs. There is something beautiful about playing them, despite technical errors. In my opinion, currently you can hear their "otherness" bit too much.

WP So it's not true that everything older is better?

MK In my opinion no. But there are many things about designs from decades ago that are wonderful. People used to not have as many instruments to evaluate their work and had to rely more on themselves. In retrospect, it wasn't a bad situation. I have no fondness for old products, but I really appreciate their advantages. I measured several designs from decades ago and usually there is nothing "cool" there. Maybe apart from the size, but the 15-inch speakers have now been replaced by 15-centimeter ones.

Listening to, for example, the Lowthers feels like you're in a club. Maybe not in the best place, but with a unique atmosphere. In audiophile canons - it is often considered "wrong". This is not the type of sound where separate sub-ranges are evaluated. But there is some kind of dust in this sound, something in the "air", something unexplained, thanks to which you can feel as if you were listening to live music. Great space, atmosphere, scale. You have to be aware that these speakers were designed at a time when there was not as much need for low-end as today. You can see them in many of the current top speakers that have +x dB on the bottom end.

WP How does your loudspeaker production look like?

MK As I said, we do everything ourselves, except for small elements. The lower and upper pole pieces are turned in-house from low or carbon-free steel. The acrylic element that fixes the positions of the magnets in our speakers is cut out and polished by us. I would prefer Polish neodymium magnets, but like everyone else in the world, we buy them in China. I was looking for a factory in Europe and I found it - in the Netherlands. As it turned out, this "factory" has only an office there, production is carried out where it usually is. My dreamy plan was to realize the whole project in Poland. Reality quickly forced me to correct it.

Aluminum baskets are milled, varnished and screwed together on site. Some of the screws for the speakers are gold-plated, some are black. The lower suspension is designed and made by us. We also make the diaphragm, whizzer, coils, etc. ourselves. We cut out the membrane from five elements, which we glue and cover with varnishes. The copper cone is turned, polished and painted by us. The upper suspension is the only "ready" outsourced element - it is produced by the German company Dr. Kurt Müller. It is a leading manufacturer of components for companies from around the world. We use its services, also when designing drivers in Pylon.

⸜ Pylon Audio Sapphire 25 speakers under review in „High Fidelity”

WP That’s right, your main job is still designing speakers for Pylon. How did it start?

MK We met Mateusz (Jujka, head of Pylon Audio - ed.) during my short cooperation with Tonsil. I was interested in how such a company works.

<Tonsil - loudspeaker production plant in Września, founded in March 1945 by the management of the Polish Radio in Poznań. In the years 1945-1990 they operated as a state-owned enterprise, and in the years 1990-2004 as a joint-stock company, after the liquidation of which production under the Tonsil brand was continued by subsidiaries. Since 2012, the plant has been operating as a private enterprise owned by Sławomir Wieszczeciński. (…) The basic production profile of the company was electroacoustic transducers. Throughout the period of the People's Republic of Poland, Tonsil was a monopolist in this field.
source: →, accessed: 6.03.2023.

A YEAR OR ONE AND A HALF YEARS BEFORE Pylon was launched, one of my forum friends, Krzysiek Kramarzewski, hi Krzysztof, if you’re reading this, presented a technically very good project online. We "audiophilized" it a bit and it was first reviewed and then sold. Today I know that - looking from a commercial point of view - it was a mistake. Combining an almost open DIY project with a business is not a good idea. Yet, we sold a few pairs of these speakers.

We thought about continuing cooperation as Cube Audio, but with an idea for a new model that was not published anywhere. That's when I started working with Tonsil and told Mateusz about my projects. Shortly afterwards I got a cooperation offer from the newly established Pylon Audio company. At that time, we operated in Przyborki near Września (Tonsil was based in Września).

It was then that I decided to become fully involved in Pylon. The first designs were based on Tonsil drivers. I think they were good speakers, especially consider the price range - we are talking about PEARL model (test → HERE). Quite lively, nice sound - a lot of fun, simple design, which is everything I like.

In Pylon, the approach to the "mechanics" of the company's operations is completely different than in small companies. The focus was on development right away. And this is something that also suits me, even though it is a completely different company than Cube Audio. I know what is planned and I can prepare for it. The work can surprise me, but is generally predictable.

WP Did you plan to build entire series in Pylon from the start, or did you start with a single model, waiting for how it would be received?

MK We immediately thought in terms of the series. From the very beginning, Pylon has had a long-term strategy. The idea was that we would show the Pearl series first. Then another one, positioned above. I think it's natural growth.

Over time, the company became more and more recognizable. From the beginning, I tried to design loudspeakers that were easy to drive with most amplifiers. I avoided low efficiency, low impedance. To this day, I think it's a good idea. Maybe except for ultra high-end, where impedance is not a problem due to the capabilities of the amplifiers. However, this limits their choice. Over time, new product lines entered the market, and Pylon sets, regardless of the line, are appreciated by customers.

WP Ultimately, you gave up using the Tonsil drivers - which ones did you reach for then?

MK The next line, as far as I remember, was the Sapphire (test of the Sappire 23 model → HERE). I suggested for them the SEAS tweeter and the Visaton mid-woofers - popular, often used and simply very cool. When you compare them with others, you will find that they are very good in their class.

WP Where does the idea for specific speakers come from? I am asking because, as I understand it, the designers wants to keep the "brand" sound and wants the offer to be consistent.

MK I avoid extreme technologies. These are supposed to be loudspeakers for a wide range of people. Niche drivers require niche solutions and that's why they appeal to few people. In my opinion, the best material for large diaphragms of woofers and midrange speakers is simply traditional cellulose. It has a very good ratio of stiffness to internal damping. In the case of tweeters, we focused on soft dome diaphragms.

⸜ Marek Kostrzyński with prototype Pylon Audio Emerald at High Fidelity

These are the company’s basic assumptions I started with. Looking at the offer of other manufacturers, of course, I found that I am not original in this. But that means it's a safe, good choice. People just like these things. Maybe someday I will find other materials and develop more coherent constructions, then I will be happy to implement them. I'm not sentimental.

WP As far as I remember, you designed several drivers in Pylon.

MK Yes, these are the drivers used in Opal series, the low-midrange units. For Emerald there was a specific cellulose driver, with an outsourced diaphragm. We made a very nice transducer. And that's what I love about Cube Audio, that is the ability to design and manufacture the diaphragm myself. I have access to speaker genetics. Pylon is also currently polishing this type of new project.

WP What will it be?

MK These will be passive loudspeakers - because we are also working on an active model - and it's something big.

WP Aren't you more interested in the initial design process than the end result?

MK Well, yes :) There is something in me that always wants to further improve, refine every project and someone has to make sure that at some point I finish the project. Once, Grzegorz and I took a new model to a showroom and presented it as the Mk II version and that it was finally ready. To which the owner replied laughing that considering how long he had to wait for it it was probably the Mk IV or even Mk VI version :)

WP You have a unique experience accumulated over all these years - what is the most difficult thing for you, as a designer, when developing a new loudspeaker?

MK I think the hardest thing in any industry is developing this project in your head. So you need to know why it should look like this and not some other way. You must be aware of who you are designing it for and how it will be used.

In the case of speakers, you need to know that someone will pick them among others, e.g. because they liked their review. But right after that, an interior designer comes in and says they have a great color that his client likes. Probably most often it will be that they will play in some audio salon next to the loudspeakers of the competition or will go to the client and will play next to his previous loudspeakers. You just have to anticipate when they'll be liked.

WP From what I understand, you're not a particular fan of DSP digital speaker equalization.

MK If we are dealing with an active design, we have to use DSP. With passive systems I don't see the need. Even if something goes wrong in the measurements, it is usually enough to change the position of the loudspeakers or use acoustic treatment to control it. DSP is the last resort when we've done everything we can and there's still some "improvement" needed. Although, in my opinion, there are no rooms so bad that you can't do something with them without DSP.

WP What do you think about other than dynamic drivers?

MK There are attempts to replace dynamic drivers with other types, often even very nice ones, but this is still not something clearly better that would doom this old technology to "extinction". There are new concepts that cause drivers to have a different sound character. But is it better? - I'm not sure. They're just different. But if something really valuable comes up, I'll get into it right away, without any sentiment.

WP So is there any actual progress in design of dynamic drivers?

MK Over time, some nuances change, but ultimately we start going back to the same place. After years of uncritically measuring drivers, we return to the times when the so-called "klang", i.e. how the loudspeaker "speaks", mattered. Over time, on paper, the drivers looked better and better. We strove to make the linear part of the transducer's frequency response as wide as possible, wider than the range in which it would work. Usually to lift the constrains of a designer. It matters less now. Sound reception is more important now. At least for me.

WP Finally, tell me what your professional dream is.

MK My dream is to keep creating all the time. It's not my dream to make the best speakers in the world, but if it happens to me, I'll have to deal with it somehow :)

WP Thank you very much and I wish you a lot of good sounds.

MK I would like to thank the "High Fidelity" readers for their time.