If you’re new to this website you may wonder why I’m writing about a speaker whose production was terminated before the internet became popular. To quote Dominik Züger, tech rep at Peiga, “The last C40 left our factory quite some time ago, almost before the age of Internet and online data.”
The reason I like to write about used gear on this blog is partly that I believe some of it is still very much valid in 2022 and deserves a refresh of its aging patina. Some of the stuff you see on the used markets is junk, just like some of the stuff you see in the new markets. But there are some classics, designs that are still relevant long after they’ve ceased production. I believe the C40 is one of these designs and that it’s an absolute bargain in today’s used market. The Piega C40 was the company’s top-of-the-line reference speaker when in production, and retailed for $35,000 US in 2005. Factoring for inflation, that’s a $50,000 speaker system in 2022. A used C40, though quite rare, might be obtainable in 2022 for perhaps around $6,000 to $8,000 depending on condition.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Piega C40 Specification
I challenge you to find an online spec that is comprehensive and all in the same document. This is what I’ve been able to glean from various sources:
- Dimensions: 27 x 113 x 41 cm (WxHxD) 10.6″ x 44.5″ x 16″
- Weight Each 80KG / 176LBS
- Sensitivity: 89dB / 4 ohm
- Mid/High Drivers – foil coaxial ribbon tweeter and foil midrange ribbon membrane (the tweeter ribbon sits over the midrange ribbon) The driver has a frequency range from 300Hz to 20Khz and is phase coherent (using a very minimal crossover).
- Bass Drivers – 5 VIFA drivers are used, the top two driven the bottom three are passive radiators.
- Cabinet material – solid aluminum.
- Each speaker has 3 switches for EQ to assist in room matching
- Speakers are bi-wire for use with bananas or Piega favors connection via its own “Opus” cable and Lemo connector system.
The Piega C40 are real eye-candy, with their high gloss/glass black wraparound finish and polished aluminum fronts. If you don’t like to see the drivers, they come with aluminum screen grills that look very elegant and appear to do little of anything negative to the sound.
The speakers ship with circular footers on a 6mm x 1.25 thread, but you’ll want to replace these with cones, or better still, IsoAcoustics GAIA I feet. Only three feet are used per speaker so you’ll want to consider this when assessing the load capacity of whatever footer you use.
Setup, Positioning and EQ
I dropped the C40’s exactly where my previous speakers had sat, the Spatial Audio X3. Later, I played a little with the tuning controls on the front of each speaker, which are easy to use, effect worthwhile changes, and appear to be sonically transparent. Piega calls this EQ system “PIEGA ROOM ADAPTATION”, and it allows simple step adjustment of the bass, mid and high frequencies. Each speaker has three small toggles on the front, and, from left to right:
- Upper Position = Normal
- Lower Position = Bass lowered.
- Upper Position = Normal
- Middle Position = Midrange lowered by 2dB
- Lower Position = Midrange raised by 2dB
- Upper Position = Normal
- Middle Position = Treble lowered by 1.5dB
- Lower Position =Treble raised by 1.5dB
SHORT VIDEO CLIP FEATURING THE PIEGA C40
The manual suggested 15 degrees of toe-in and that’s roughly where I started out, perhaps a little less. The manual also suggests a ratio of 1:1.5 for distance to the front plane of the speaker from the listening chair. With the speakers almost 9′ apart and 76″ into the room, my chair needed to be pinned up against the back wall to get something close to 1:1.5, so that’s where I started out. Eventually I nudged the chair forward a little, about 18″ into the room, and that seemed to work best.
Connections to the Piega C40 need to be made by bananas, it’s not possible to connect to the C40 directly via spades. Piega also provides a proprietary connection method via a circular Lemo connector system, which I wasn’t able to utilize simply because I do not have that cable system on hand. The C40 is also set up for bi-wiring, and due to the banana-only option, it isn’t easy to use regular jumper cables to circumvent bi-wiring. Hence, I needed a set of bi-wire cables with bananas on the speaker end, which I did not have. So I resorted to dragging an old set of Audioquest bi-wire cables from the closet and had to use a quality spade>banana adapter. Less than ideal, but it’s how the listening began.
I replaced the stock feet on the C40 with IsoAcoustics GAIA footers, three per side. These seemed to work quite well.
I ran the Piega C40 without the grills. I’m not really a huge fan of how Piega has finished the woofers on these in the same aluminum color as the natural aluminum used for the speaker baffles. I think it looks a little uninspiring, for want of a better word. The speakers look far better with the grills fitted, but I decided against this as I wanted nothing between me and the sound for the initial listening sessions. I’m sure the grills are fairly transparent (sonically), but I’ll check that out at some point in the future.
Initial listening was done using my digital rig [SonicTransporter i5 > UltraRendu > Denafrips GAIA > Denafrips Terminator DAC] into the W4S ST preamp (level 2) and using the Allnic Audio A-6000 300b monoblocks. Initially, I used the Gold Lion 300 tubes, which offer 50 watts per channel, later I switched to the Emission Labs 300b XLS tubes to capitalize on their additional 10 watts. (and far superior sound, it should be said). I ran initially with the Allnic A-6000 300b on the 8 ohms setting with negative feedback set to off. Later, realizing that the Piega C40 is a 4-ohm load, I switched to the 4 ohm setting on the amps which theoretically ought to be a better power match for these speakers, yet I preferred the sound on the 8-ohm setting marginally.
How Do The Piega C40 Sound?
Before I answer that let me provide a quick summary of how I landed these speakers and what my goals and intentions for them are. I’ve used the Dunlavy SC-III speakers as the reference in my system for over three years, but I felt it time to try to find a more ‘modern’ speaker which would elevate the (excellent) performance of the SC-III. That has proven to be a very difficult task. I’ve brought in almost a dozen different pairs of speakers over the past couple of years to try to usurp the Dunlavy’s, but I’ve found none that I’ve been able to live with beyond just a few weeks. While I do enjoy bringing in different stuff to try in my system and review for this blog, I also need a stable point of reference against which newcomers can be judged.
Just before the Christmas Holiday, I brought home a pair of Spatial Audio X3’s, believing they’d easily take the place of my trusted Dunlavy. So confident was I that I actually sold the Dunlavy and delivered them to their new owner on the way to collecting the Spatial Audio. To say that the X3 was a huge disappointment is an understatement.
You can read my Spatial Audio X3 review here.
The Piega C40 had been on my radar for a couple of months before I took the plunge and bought them. So as the X3’s left the house with their new owner, I began a text negotiation with the owner of the C40, pretty much thinking they’d plug the hole in my system until I could find something else. Why would I think of a $35,000 loudspeaker as being something with which to plug a hole? I’m not really sure of the answer to that. I just had a low expectation for the C40 and was probably still licking my wounds from the negative experience with the Spatial Audio X3.
So, with that preamble done, how did the Piega C40 sound, on the first listen?
Using Roon I jumped to my Playlists and picked out a track from my ‘Tests’ Playlist folder. This is a playlist assembled to give me some quick reference tracks to help me assess changes I’ve made in my system, be they new wires, components, or speakers. These are not necessarily tracks that are indicative of any genre preferences I hold, they’re just tracks I know well provide me with quick points of reference on specific elements of the sound. The tracks include Rebecca Pidgeon’s “Spanish Harlem”, taken from her album ‘The Raven’. This is a nice recording for assessing female vocals, along with air and space around instruments, tone and timbre of both a guitar and piano. The list includes Ray Charles’ “Fever” (with Natalie Cole) from the album ‘Genius Loves Company’, a great track for assessing soundstage width and height and also male vocals. Al Di Meola / John McLaughlin / Paco De Lucia – ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’ is another excellent track on my test playlist and I use it frequently for assessment of stage depth, spatial cues, air around instruments, transients, etc.
I started out with Rebecca Pidgeon’s Spanish Harlem, and my jaw literally dropped. It’s not difficult for this well-recorded track to sound good on almost any system. It’s simple, not overly layered, there’s nothing really too demanding, and it’s always sounded life-like no matter what speaker system I’ve used. But with the Piega C40, everything in the soundstage just locked into place in a way I’ve never heard before. Absolute three-dimensionality with palpable images taking rock-solid form right there in the room. The soundstage presentation was exactly as I enjoy it the most – slightly recessed with the entire stage sitting slightly back from the front plane of the speakers, and spread side-wall to side-wall and deeply layered front-to-back. And those images – tangible, reach out and touch images! It reminded me instantly of one of my top 3 most memorable encounters with a quality audio system. There are literally only a handful of occasions over my time in the hobby where the sound of a system has been so etched into memory, that I’m able to recall it vividly and use it as a point of reference for whatever I’m listening to at the present time. One such memory is of an active Linn Isobarik system, playing classical music in a large conference room at a swanky hotel venue in Manchester, UK. I sat toward the back of the room, in the center, and could literally “see” the orchestra stretched out before me. But the particular memory that came instantly to me on hearing the Peiga C40 was of a pair of Martin Logan Prodigy speakers powered by top-of-the-line Lamm monoblocks in an acoustically treated room at Sound World, in Appleton, WI. What struck me about that particular system was its liquidity and its ability to render fully-fleshed out 3-dimensional images in an acoustic space. Now, 20 years later, I was hearing something similar for the first time in my own system.
I switched to the track “Fever”, by Ray Charles and Natalie Cole. This is one of those tracks that you might use to impress a friend the first time he or she has a listen to your system. But it’s more than just sonic fireworks, there’s a lot of complexity to the mix and it needs a speaker system with excellent time/phase coherency to project the images into appropriate spaces around the room. In a well-set-up system, it can present a soundstage almost in the way that a Q-Sound recording can, with images well outside the boundaries of the speakers and emerging from within a true wall of sound.
The Spatial X3’s had been quite impressive with their rendering of this particular track, but the C40 took the presentation to a whole other level. With the C40, there seemed to be more of an effortless nature to the presentation, they have a more natural and ‘unforced’ delivery yet are still able to sound dynamic and ‘vivid’ when called upon to do so.
One thought that repeatedly entered my mind during this first session with the C40 was “don’t move them, leave them exactly where they are!”. I don’t think that has ever happened before. One always expects to be up and down out of the listening seat during the setup of a new speaker system, adjusting the toe-in, moving them a little closer, a little farther apart. But I was adamant not to move them, they couldn’t possibly sound any better than this so resist the temptation and leave them exactly where they are. It took over a week before the blue masking tape came out, but only an hour or so of listening to the Piega C40 before the audiophile neurosis kicked in. Yes, on deeper analysis, I was hearing a slight peakiness in the upper bass, and the top end coming from that wonderful ribbon tweeter sounded just a tad forward. Bass extension wasn’t as low as I was able to extract from the powered 15″ subwoofer of the Spatial Audio X3, but it was more tuneful, more taught, more ‘truthful’, and more satisfying overall. With those minor niggles in the back of my mind I was still able to spend the next four hours or so listening to music, fully engaged and without any anxiety or listener fatigue. This was exactly what I’d been looking for, and the minor anomalies were surely fixable with a little time and effort.
The next day’s listening session was productive. I began by restoring my ‘Swarm’ subwoofer setup. I hadn’t needed to use this with the X3’s, but the Piega C40 needs a little help with the bottom octave, as most speakers do in my room. The Swarm system is comprised of four subwoofers strategically placed in the room to give a smooth frequency response at the listening position. I use a pair of gutted Aerial SW-12 subs for the front L-R pair and active HSU subs for the L-R pair to the back of the room. A Crown XLS2502 power amp provides the juice for the SW-12’s and I use a miniDSP 2×4 HD for setting phase, volume, crossover points and slopes, time alignment, and EQ on all four subs. This distributed system with the miniDSP sits out of the circuit of the main speakers, so the mains are always run full-range and there’s no penalty for having an inexpensive unit like the miniDSP wired into the signal path, simply because it isn’t. On changing the main speakers it’s wise to go back into the miniDSP configuration and enter EQ and crossover points for optimal integration with the new mains. This of course requires setting up the measuring device, a UMIK-1, and running REW or similar to remeasure the new speakers running full range, then re-integrate the subs with a new set of crossover points and EQ filters. I’m too lazy to do all of that each time I change out speakers, though I’ll probably get around to it at some point soon, as the C40’s are going nowhere.
With the Swarm system now active, the Piega C40’s feel and sound like a full-range speaker. There’s no sense that subwoofers are active in the system, in fact, they’re doing very little work at all. They just add in that last few notes on the bottom end and integrate seamlessly with the main speakers with absolutely no downside that my ears can detect. Having the subs up and running, it was time to experiment with the 3 EQ toggles on the front of each C40, to see if I could wring out a little more performance and have a more evenly balanced frequency response through the range. Setting the bass toggle to reduce bass output by 2dB removed that slight hump in the upper bass. Nice. Moving the treble toggle to the center position dropped the tweeter output by 1.5dB. A tiny amount but noticeable, it removed any sense of the top-end being too bright or forward. I also used the center toggle to drop the midrange by 2dB, this just seemed to help with the overall frequency response in my room. With those toggles now fully played-with and any lingering thoughts of tinkering fully exorcised from my mind, it was time to mess a little with toe-in to see how that would affect the tonal balance. I found, pretty much, that with the speakers spread 8+ feet apart, 15 degrees or so of toe-in toward the listening position worked fine. More or less toe-in had a clear and obvious impact, and I won’t say that I’ll never revisit this at some point in the future, but for now, 15 degrees works fine.
With the Swarm subs in the system, and with a couple shots of bourbon under my belt, I decided it was time for something a little on the heavier side. Out came ‘Paranoid’, ‘Moving Pictures’, ‘Back In Black’. It didn’t take long to realize that at steady levels around 95dB, the Allnic A-6000’s 60 watts per side wasn’t quite cutting it. I’d expected this might be the case given the C40’s 4-ohms and 89dB sensitivity. I’d written to the Piega factory in the meantime and the opinion of their design guy was that 60 watts probably wouldn’t be quite enough to allow the C40 to present itself effortlessly on loud, dynamic peaks. Not that they sounded at all ‘bad’ playing Ozzy at loud levels, and they certainly didn’t sound strained, nor was there any audible signs of clipping, but it was clear that a little more power would help the situation, so I bought an H2O Audio S250 Signature amp.
The H2O amp arrived a couple of weeks into the process and it is one hefty beast of an amp. I’ll review the H2O separately, but it’s an admirable performer and my first time in almost a decade with a Class D amp. Given its modest price at the time of manufacture, the H2O is an absolute bargain (around $4.5K MSRP, available for around $1600-$1900 used). My first experience with Class D amps was a brief spell with NuForce 9.0’s many years back, which were OK, but a little fatiguing. Then a Tact Audio, an S-2150 I believe, and later the spawn-of-Tact: a Lyngdorf TDAi 2200. The Lyngdorf amp in particular was a very good performer, its Room Perfect feature compensated quite well for any digital anomalies from the power side of the little integrated unit. But the H2O Audio S250 Signature is in another league, sonically, and works very well with the Piega C40. The H2O is remarkably warm and liquid sounding and presents itself nothing like one would expect from a B&O ICE-based amp. Driving the C40, the sound is big, bold, and dynamic without any hint of strain. Its top-end is actually slightly rolled-off compared with the more open and extended sound of the Allnic A6000. I need to experiment with cabling for both the Allnic and the H2O amps. The H2O in particular is notoriously ‘finicky’ about Power Cords and speaker cables, according to some old forum banter I was able to source on Audiogon and on Audiocircle. With the H2O driving the C40 I found it necessary to switch the HF toggle off, eliminating the 1.5dB cut in output.
Conclusion – A True Audiophile Classic, or Not?
Since I expect the Piega C40 to be around for a while, I’ll publish this review now then update it as I work through some different cables and partnering equipment. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the C40 is one heck of a high-performing speaker system, a true audiophile classic in every sense of the term, and that it is still very much relevant as a high-end speaker in 2022. It’s ridiculous to think that this much performance can be had for under $10K on the used markets, so I’d highly recommend the C40 to anyone who’s fortunate enough to see one in the wild.