Stellé Audio Couture Pillar review

Months before Apple’s cylindrical Mac Pro finally touched down, new boutique brand Stellé Audio Couture had already launched a tube speaker.

The Pillar is a tall cylinder of a loudspeaker, 309 mm high and resembling a metallic oversized Pringles can, only one that makes more sound. And it’s entirely wireless too when required, thanks to Bluetooth audio connectivity and built-in batteries.

Looking at all things tech and cylindrical, there’s been a quiet trend toward the tube-like lately. D-Link was one of the first, with wireless routers like its chimney-shaped DIR-636L. After a generation of boxy products, it makes a refreshing change to see such style, even if a cylinder is acoustically about the worst shape you could dream up for a loudspeaker.

The Stellé Audio Couture Pillar works with any smartphone, PC or tablet – and if you don’t have Bluetooth or would rather not reduce audio quality more than you have to, you can always use the 3.5mm analogue input near the unit’s base. You could even route your telly sound through the Pillar as an upgrade to the poorest of speakers that get squeezed into modern flatscreen TVs.

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The Pillar is pitched at people drawn to designer labels, with ‘collection’ in the fashion sense used to describe the range of options on exterior finishes.

We tried the plain brushed-aluminium model, with an attractive deep grain running vertically, but you can also find it in gloss white, matt black, bronze, pewter – and two decorative finishes of gold triangles or silver interlocking circles. As a object of style, the Pillar wouldn’t look out of place in a Hülsta showroom.

Inside are three speaker drivers – a pair of 37 mm mid and treble units that play through the perforated grille top, and a 75 mm ‘subwoofer’ for bass support, and which seems to vent through an array of similar holes around the bottom. That kind of natural metal look with holes would sit well with Apple’s PowerBook G4 and Power Mac G5 from 2003.

Setting up the Pillar is straightforward. Stellé is so confident of its ease, it says you don’t need any instructions, although a small booklet in the box helpfully points out that in order to pair by Bluetooth you should press the Pair button on the top for three seconds until you hear a voice. At which point the recorded voice parrots ‘pairing’. It doesn’t explain how annoying that voice is though, an Australian female with learning difficulties which you’ll hear every. Single. Time. You power up the unit.

And power up we had to do frequently, as the unit automatically switches itself off after some time of disuse; and it’s not intelligent enough to power up again when it senses an incoming music signal, even with a direct wired connection.

You can also use the Pillar as a hands-free speakerphone once paired to your smartphone. We found it comfortable to listen to our caller although they reported poorer sound from our mic. We didn’t measure unplugged runtime but Stellé Audio Couture lists the Pillar as having 15 hours of battery life.

Stellé Audio Couture Pillar: Performance

This tube speaker has no matching tube amplifier sadly; instead it takes a basic Class D chip of unspecified power output. More important than the number of watts though is how loud it actually plays – and the answer is indeed quite loud.

We connected by the included flat-section analogue cable, which gives best results, and also tried connecting a laptop and iPhone over Bluetooth. With our laptop connection, we noted that only the mid-fi SBC codec was available, roughly equivalent to MP3-quality compression at 160 kb/s.

What you don’t hear is any stereo in the two-channel left/right sense. The Pillar’s great virtue though is its omnidirectional sound output, so that nearly wherever you stand in the room you get the same tonal balance. Its sound field is quite nebulous and not strictly located by ear as coming from the top of the tube.

Sound quality is average for the breed, with a different balance to most other low-fidelity wireless speakers. Through the midband and raised treble you get the slightly metallic, thin and scratchy sound of low-grade Class D amplifification, although it does nonetheless sound fast and reasonably dynamic.

Given weighty rock or jazz you will also get some lower-end bass presence to fill out the music, although it’s almost entirely without discernible tune and nigh-on impossible to place by pitch. For film soundtracks that need unvoiced explosion effects it’ll work fine.

The acoustic resonance properties of a pipe are being used to augment the bass output of the Pillar. This does give additional volume and scale to the sound, at the expense of much in the way of pitch definition.

Like an organ pipe, the stopped-pipe resonance increases efficiency for one particular note. But there’s a reason why a church organ has many pipes of different lengths – each tuned pipe is optimised for just one note. With only one pipe here, you mostly get to hear a single bass thrum repeated in place of a musical scale of bass notes. Play a walking jazz bass line, and the effect is rather like hearing the same note over and over.

OUR VERDICT

Construction quality is good and the style may appeal while its portability may also be of useful service when moving around the home or taking on picnics. With the Stellé Audio Couture Pillar, your £299 is paying more for unusual designer styling and wireless convenience rather than audio quality. It can play loud enough to fill a bedroom, and with some semblance of bass, although overall we found the speaker to be rather tuneless.

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