When we meet Francesco Pellisari, the designer of the Zemi Aria speaker, he's a mixture of eccentric Italian and yet quiet in that seemingly genius-like manner. Does his latest speaker exhibit the same qualities as its designer?
We're drawn to the Zemi Aria for a number of reasons: it's striking to look at, with the same sort of distinction that the original B&W Zeppelin had; it also is distributed in Apple stores - or at least was, it's since disappeared from the online listings - which means it has mass-market appeal and might already have you wondering whether it's worth parting with £500 to own one.
The answer is a mixed bag. At its best the Aria is great. At its worst (i.e. at low volumes) it's average and won't suit all music genres. Here's what we've come to think after using the speaker for a number of months.
Zemi Aria review: Design
The Aria is about the size of a bowling ball; all round, except for a cut-off front, complete with silver grille with a swirl of circular openings. To the back there's an open port to for the on button, mini USB connector and power.
The speaker sits on a separate stand so it can be angled to a sensible position (and not just roll around aimlessly), which is important for the best possible sound projection. That front grille also helps with pseudo stereo separation, although its magnetic connection means it can be easily removed should you prefer.
There's Bluetooth with aptX for optimum quality and Wi-Fi connectivity for Apple AirPlay connectivity. It does need a wired USB connection to setup via WiFi, though, which sounds like something from the distant past. We're Android users, so have been restricted to Bluetooth playback - but have found the connection to be solid at all times.
There's also an included remote control, should you want to use it, but we don't think its silver and straightforward design fits with the Aria's altogether more exuberant design.
Zemi Aria review: Sound quality
Now here's where things get really interesting: because the Zemi Aria can sound really great… but it can also sound really dull. We've found it to be one of those speakers perfect for some situations, but quite the opposite for others.
When we first setup the Aria it was sat on our desk, as we so often do with review speakers. In this close-to-ears proximity its highs sound far too sharp, almost overly resonant - most notable with hi-hats and the like.
If you don't want to disturb the neighbours then you'll want to keep the volume down too. That was our predicament, so with the volume kept to a limited level we wondered what, indeed, it was about the Aria that was worth £500 - because at low volumes it just sounds muddy and lacking any pomp.
But warm the Aria up, set the volume higher, even massage an equaliser in iTunes to give a little enhancement to the low-end, and it can sound fantastic. At those mid-high volumes it can soar.
That point about an equaliser for bass is a repeat point of note, though, as the Aria is perhaps better set for classic music than it is bass-driven genres. That's fine, but it won't suit all, and with no on-board presets - Pellisari is particular about his audio preferences - you'll need to use third-party software for tweaks.
So there you have it: the Zemi Aria is a visually interesting, potentially great-sounding speaker. You'll just need to raise the volume and, for certain types of music, tweak the bass for the best possible output.
At £500, however, the likes of the Naim Mu-so Qb give the Aria a lot to think about. This Pellisari creation lacks the more technologically advanced processes, there are no presets and no multi-room functionality either.
That and its lack of pomp at lower volumes hold it back from being a vision of greatness. Still, with the settings set right it's a decent speaker, both visually and aurally.