MarkAudio-SOTA is a name that not a ton of people outside of the hardcore audiophile world know. It’s a collaboration between Mark Audio and SOTA Acoustics (obviously) and over the past few years, they’ve been putting out some seriously good stuff - albeit in a kind of low-key way. And even if you’re new to the world of audio, there’s a lot to love about the Cesti T - a floorstanding speaker with some terrific design and audio quality. In this review, we break down the Cesti T’s design, sound, packaging and accessories, specs and more, as well as how it compares to other models. You can also check out our video review.
Normally, we avoid getting on a high horse about colors. If you want to order your headphones in a weird and wonderful shade of puce or cerulean, that’s your problem. But in this case, we’re going to have an opinion, and it reads thus: if you get your pair of MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti Ts in anything but candy-apple red, you are forbidden from visiting this site in the future. Seriously. Don’t test us. We can make it happen.
These are among the most gorgeous floorstanding speakers we’ve ever seen. From a distance, they don’t look especially different, save for the absolutely fantastic color scheme. But a close examination shows that they really do have some hidden depths. Where so many other speakers are just big black boxes, all right angles and jutting corners, the Cesti Ts revel in the curve. The cabinet, which is finished in a smooth lacquer, is subtly rounded on the top edges, a shape which is easy on the eye, and which helps the speakers slide naturally into a room.
We’ll talk about the sound quality in the section below, but here, we want to mention the drivers, and how they slot into the design. There are three main drivers on each speaker: two 4.4” units, and a 2” unit. There’s a base port around the front, roughly the same size of the tweeter, and another around the back. What’s interesting is how these drivers are integrated into the Cabinet itself. They are not quite flush with the surface, set slightly back from it in circular depressions. Looking at them, we can’t help but think of ripples in a pond – doubtless the intention of the Cesti T’s designer.
These ripples aren’t just design elements, either; they actually have a sonic purpose. They are not quite symmetrical, positioned slightly off-center on each housing, a subtle guide to which speakers left and which is right. They also have a beneficial effect on the sound, so we are told, helping to guide it right into the sweet spot. More thoughts on this below. For now, we’re pretty convinced that these are among the best looking speakers of any we’ve tested. Compare them to something like the Audiovector SR3 Signature, a far more expensive speaker with more powerful sound (understandably) but far clunkier design. You might pick them if you wanted to really blow away your audiophile friends, but if you want a speaker that looks as good as it sounds, we know which one we’re going for.
Around the back, you’ll find a pair of well-designed binding posts. Unlike so many other models, these are easy to use, with thick, textured spinners that travel well under the fingers. These aren’t the heaviest of loudspeakers, either; at just over 44lbs each, they are simple enough to manoeuvre into space, and they won’t take up much of it either. At a mere 35” high, they’ll slot right into any environment you like, although we would advise positioning them slightly away from the wall, to let the bass port at the back make its full impact.
The company offers a thirty-day trial period, during which you can return your speakers if they are to your liking. We’ve asked the company to let us know if they offer an extended warranty, and we will update here when that info comes through.
But all in all, these speakers really score, in terms of design. They are absolutely gorgeous, with an attention to detail that puts most other speaker companies to shame, a level of styling and nuance that speaks of luxurious Italian Riviera homes and handmade leather shoes. We like. We like very much.
There are a few things you need to know about the sound that comes out of the speakers.
Despite the number of drivers, the crossover marks these out as two-way speakers; a highly-tuned bit of engineering that really helps maximize the power of the drivers. The drivers, by the way, are full-range, all three the same cone construction, and the combination of the subtle crossover, the driver design and the overall tuning means the audio blends harmoniously. Because whether you’re au fait with the jargon or not (here’s a good explainer we put together), there’s no question that the sound of the Cesti Ts live up to their price tag. These are some mighty fine speakers.
Overall, the impression is one of very tight, very controlled balance, with some absolutely wonderful tone and harmonics. These are among the most musical speakers we’ve ever tested – in fact, in the time we had them, we tested them in multiple combinations, including in a full 5.1 home theater setup and as part of a hi-fi setup with a stereo amp, and although they performed fine with movies and series - good, but nothing spectacular - they absolutely blew our minds when it came to music. The detail on these things is just absolutely extraordinary, with a very light touch in the high-end. More importantly, there’s a real sense but a huge amount of work has gone into making these sound not just good, but fantastic. It’s always pleasing to be on the receiving end of genuinely expert audio knowledge, especially when being on the receiving end means listening to a lot of your favorite music.
It helps that the soundstage is absolutely extraordinary. No doubt assisted by those ripples – known as waveguides, in the industry, and not as uncommon as they used to be – the sense of space and imaging was just breathtaking. Particularly in things like orchestral tracks, or movie soundtracks. There was a huge world inside the speakers, and all we needed to unlock it was a little bit of amplifier power. Truly extraordinary.
Speaking of that amplifier power: while the sensitivity of the speakers was a little bit lower than we might have liked (87dB), we didn’t have any real trouble driving them to a decent volume, and they don’t make excessive power demands. With a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the speakers ask for between 50 and 100 watts per channel at 8 ohms, which is more than provided for by most modern amplifiers. While you will probably need a decent amplifier to really get the best out of them, they are just as happy chugging along with a basic stereo amp (we tested them on multiple amps, from a Rotel RA-1572 - full review here - to a crappy Yamaha test model that we had knocking about).
That isn’t to say the sound is a hundred percent perfect. We did have a couple of criticisms. Chief among these was that the speakers required a little bit of time to get the positioning right; the difference between having them ‘toed-in’ (i.e. Angled towards the listening position) and having them parallel to one another was definitely audible, and it took some time to work out which we preferred – turned out to be having them parallel, funnily enough. The second thing is that in some cases, we felt the bass was just a tiny bit lacking. Nothing we’d call a real black mark, you understand, but just enough of an issue that we ended up wanting a dedicated subwoofer to go with our speaker/amp setup.
They also require a good deal of burn-in to get the best of. The concept of burn-in – a time period where music needs to be played through factory-new speakers in order to bring out the best in the drivers, similar to how one would age wine – Is still hotly debated, even today, but it’s clear that MarkAudio-SOTA believe in it. They advise a full hundred hours of burn-in, which is quite a lengthy time period. We didn’t get a chance to test this ourselves, or to see if it made any difference to the audio quality, as our review model arrived pre-burnt. Again, this isn’t a massive problem – somehow, we don’t think listening to a hundred hours of music on these speakers is going to upset many people – but it’s worth bearing in mind.
So in audio terms: yes. Big, big yes. The sound isn’t flawless, but it absolutely justifies the four figure pricetag, and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to appreciate the sense of spacing and detail. Bill Simmons once compared seeing the basketball player Allen Iverson to dinner at a five-star restaurant, or reservations at a good hotel: something where a professional performance was virtually guaranteed. Perhaps we should adapt that for our purposes here: buy a pair of the Cesti T speakers, and you are guaranteed Allen Iverson sound quality.
Very little to mention here. The speaker packaging is pretty standard, but then again, you have to work very hard to find innovative speaker packaging – and it’s not exactly an area that is crying out for improvements. The Cesti Ts coming two big, but still manageable, cardboard boxes – ones you can dispose of the moment you unpack them.
The only other accessory worth noting are the flexible mesh speaker grilles. These are…fine. And by fine, we mean that they are horrible things that hide the best elements of the design, and you can file their use under the list of Things That Will Get You Banned From This Site. Seriously, if you’re the type of person who feels the need to hide drivers behind grilles, then might we recommend you donate your eyes to science, because you clearly don’t have a use for them?
It’s true that for most people – certainly most people in an age where budget audio dominates – the pricetag of $3,495 per pair is going to be a little bit offputting. We get that. But it doesn’t stop the speakers being absolutely worth the amount of money the company is asking for them.
Think about it. They offer extraordinary, nuanced design, phenomenal build quality, sound that will just knock your head off with its detail and imaging, and an experience from start to finish that really justifies their place in any setup. They are among the most gorgeous pair of speakers we’ve ever tested, and we had so much fun with them. They are an easy lock for our list of the best floorstanding speakers of this year, and although MarkAudio-SOTA doesn’t yet have the namebrand recognition they probably deserve, it will come as they keep producing speakers as good as these.
The best available? Not quite – but they come bloody close.
What We Like:
- Amazing design - just gorgeous to look at.
- Solid build quality.
- Wonderful soundstage and terrific detail.
What We Don’t:
- Bass could use an extra push.
- Takes a little bit of time to position just right.
OK – so these don’t look quite as good as the Cesti Ts. That doesn’t stop them being, pound for pound, the best speakers available on the market today.
We mean that. They offer absolutely extraordinary sound quality, genuinely brilliant engineering, and a pricetag that, while still moderately high for those just dipping their toes in, represents some of the best value we’ve ever seen. These speakers blew our minds when we heard them, and if you can deal without the brilliant design of the Cesti Ts, they are a viable alternative.
Probably the closest match to the Cesti Ts, in terms of imaging and soundstage. This two-way speaker does a very good job of positioning instruments, and we had a lot of fun when we listen to it.
If we had to pick, we’d say it’s a little bit better than the Cesti T, but the differences are very slim. Like MarkAudio-SOTA, you will almost certainly have to go direct when you buy, so keep that in mind.
The case for the prosecution: looks ugly as sin, costs way too much for what you get, and definitely isn’t going to suit all setups. The case for the defence: still sounds absolutely brilliant, has an innovative upgrade programme, and is capable of taking a ton of power.
Whatever the verdict ends up as, this is a sizeable pair of speakers, and although the Cesti Ts offer far better value, these are arguably the next step up.
|MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T||$3,495||50-100W/8Ω||87dB||2 x 4.4", 1 x 2"||40Hz||25kHz|
|KEF R500||$2,600||25-150W/8Ω||88dB||2 x 5.25”, 1 x 5”, 1 x 1”||39Hz||45kHz|
|Totem Acoustic Hawk||$2,295||30-120W/6Ω||91 dB||1 x 5.5", 1 x 1"||32Hz||21kHz|
|Audiovector SR3 Signature||$4,480||30-275W/8Ω||91dB||2 x 5.5", 1 x 1"||27Hz||27kHz|
*RAP = Recommended Amp Power
**Sens = Sensitivity
***LF = Lowest Frequency
****HF = Highest Frequency