Esse Quadro L’UNA 146 Speaker review


Until recently, I had absolutely no interest in bookshelf speakers. I always thought small speakers cannot perform well in medium or large size rooms, and I was skeptical if I would like their sound enough to write a review.   But, all of this changed when I heard Esse Quadro L’UNA 146.  For the next few weeks, I listened to them diligently and was able to formulate an opinion.

To say I was surprised by their sound would be a gross understatement.

Esse Quadro is a small manufacturer based in Trieste, Italy. It was founded in 2015 by Salvatore Spatafora, who designs and creates each speaker himself. Assembly and rigorous testing are done in-house. Esse Quadro's approach to speaker design starts from building with passion. To create a natural, musical sounding experience, Salvatore prefers simplicity to over-engineering and incorporates the passion and beauty of Italian design.

Salvatore works closely with local painting professionals and leather experts to create custom colors and textures, which results in unique products that perfectly suit the styles of even the most demanding of customers.


Esse Quadro L’UNA 146 is the company’s entry-level model in the L’UNA (Italian for moon) collection. It’s a 2-way design with front loaded bass reflex, 28 mm Morel silk tweeter and 146 mm (hence the name) Seas treated paper woofer.  A sensitivity of 86 dB SPL means they need ample power to drive them properly. Impedance is 8Ω (min 6.5Ω) and frequency response is 40 Hz – 20 kHz +/- 3 dB.

The speaker cabinet consists of 3 parts, with decoupled front and rear baffles, which helps the drivers to achieve maximum potential by reducing vibration to the rest of the cabinet as well as cabinet resonance.  Asymmetric (off center) driver placement was initially a design feature to fit with the L'UNA shape (as can be seen in the photos) but proved to have sound advantages vs. linear placement.  Internal wiring is done with Van De Hul CS 12 OFC oxygen-free copper and silver.

The back panel features high-quality WBT binding posts as well as a 7 position tone control switch, which allow users to adapt the tweeter emission level to their tastes or to compensate for frequency response adjustment needs.

The speakers are fairly compact, with a dimension of 20.4 x 36.4 x 29cm and a weight of 10kg each. They come with removable magnetic front grills, leather covering, and a variety of custom colors such as bright red and orange. My review samples were light grey. High-quality iron stands with adjustable feet are included. They can optionally be filled with sand to increase mass and isolation. 

Everything about L’UNA 146 speaks of extremely high quality and remarkable attention to detail, which translates to the quality of sound these little speakers produce.


Esse Quadro’s Canadian representative Yuri brought the speakers to my place and I initially hooked them up to Mitchell & Johnson combo of S 815 Stereo Power Amplifier and S 800 preamplifier. These components may look unremarkable, but they produce powerful and balanced Class AB sound with 150 wpc into 8 ohms. I was immediately surprised by the sound while playing a variety of music from digital and analog sources, and even Yuri remarked that he’d never heard them sound this good. Giving them sufficient power clearly made a big difference. 

Our initial listening started with simpler musical pieces involving male and female vocals and a few instruments. Kari Bremnes’ “Montreal” from her Norwegian Mood album really caught our attention with its musicality, ambience and clarity, as did the taiko drum performance of Ondekoza on their “Fujiyama” track. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount and quality of bass L’UNA 146 were producing given that they go down only to 40 Hz. 

More surprises lay ahead. A few weeks later, I received SPL Performer s800 amplifier and Director DAC-preamp). The s800 produces 185 wpc into 8 ohms. Its quality and design are obviously in another class compared to the Mitchell & Johnson amplifier, so the differences were immediately apparent when I connected the speakers and began another listening session. Everything I liked about them initially, I now adored. The silky smooth midrange became even more pleasant and natural. The bass was more ample and pronounced. Given my room’s average acoustics, I decided to use the back switches and went all in with both switches set to +3. Oh my! A veil was lifted from the highs and I was in sonic heaven. 

But the ultimate tests still lay ahead. My friend and fellow Mono & Stereo Analog Editor, Richard H. Mak, received a pair of the new Merrill Audio Element 118 Class D monoblocks as well as Christine Reference preamplifier for evaluation and review. After trying them in his system, he suggested we try them in mine and see how well they perform with the L’UNA 146. 

It took some effort to get the Merrill gear to my place, as the monoblocks are very heavy, but the results were well worth it. With 400 wpc into 8 ohms, the Element 118 monoblocks took the speakers in a firm and authoritative grip and lifted them to a whole other level of performance.

In order to understand the sound, you will need to visualize my room. It is essentially a large living room with dimensions of 25 by 12.5 feet (7.6 x 3.8 meters).  My system is set up at a wall. To left of the system, the wall leads into a large dining room, and on the right it leads to a corridor. The wall on the other end of my room opposite my system has a window and stretches into a kitchen adjacent to the dining room. The kitchen and the living room are separated by a short wall with entrances on both ends.

In one of my listening sessions I was joined by a group of audiophiles. Everyone who was present commented that they could not believe the sound they were hearing was coming from these small bookshelf speakers. Music saturated the entire room, even people who sat on a couch at the far end of the living room in front of the window noticed that they could comfortably hear all the sonic details and the balanced tonality. People sitting close to the speakers admired the precise imaging and wide soundstage.  Though the image depth, unfortunately, wasn’t too deep, but it was understandable given the acoustic limitations of my room.

Most of my critical listening was done in near field, with speakers toed in and my listening position forming a perfect equilateral triangle. Tweeters were pointed at my ears horizontally as well as vertically. 

The silky smooth midrange of the L’UNA 146 made vocal tracks extremely enjoyable. A perfect example was Anette Askvik’s title track from the Liberty album. The sound produced was incredibly ambient and detailed, presenting the singer’s voice with complete accuracy and presence. Ample and textured bass filled the room. Cello sounds as well as various background sound effects were easily identifiable within the sound stage. The accompanying saxophone sound was remarkably airy and pronounced, with decaying notes echoing in the ambiance of the recording space. A similar experience was found with Kari Bremnes tracks, especially “Montreal,” as mentioned above. Her voice had a remarkable presence in the room; it was as though her life size image was being projected directly in front of me.

I am not a classical fan, but there are some really outstanding pieces I truly enjoy. One such piece is Vivaldi’s “La Stravaganza Concerto Op.4 No.3 - Allegro,” performed by the Polish Arte Dei Suonatori orchestra with English violinist Rachel Podger. The energy and dynamism of this track immediately captivated me when I played it with L’UNA 146 and the Merrill amplifiers. The entire presentation was fast and confident. A similar experience was presented with Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre,” performed by the Minnesota Orchestra and conducted by Eiji Oue. It was an incredibly dynamic and explosive piece that had me smiling as I played it. 

Switching to more familiar things, I played Jean Michel Jarre’s Zoolook album. It’s a very odd recording in his discography that stands in contrast to his more recognizable earlier works, such as Oxygène, Equinoxe, and Les Chants Magnetiques. Nevertheless, I enjoy Zoolook for its unique sound, which contains over 150 tracks and samples, including human voices in 25 languages and various animal sounds. I have played this album countless times since I acquired it on CD in the early 90s. Hearing it again on this system yielded very enjoyable results with various complex details presented in an accurate manner, without being harsh or cold as one could expect from a completely digital recording on digital media.

During a listening session with friends we played two versions of the “Cantate Domino” by Torsten Nilsson, Marianne Mellnäs, Alf Linder and Oskars Motettkör. The first version was SACD remastered in 2003 and the second was a vinyl released on the original Proprius label, but pressed in Japan in 1980. Everyone agreed that the vinyl version sounded more dynamic and natural, although soundstage was perhaps not as expansive as it could have been due to the room’s acoustics.

No speakers are perfect, and L’UNA 146 are no exception. Playing a couple of tracks from Chinese movie soundtracks, like Kenji Kawai’s Seven Swords and Henry Lai’s The Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon proved challenging and pushed the speakers to their limits. The lowest frequency elements could not be reproduced at higher volumes for obvious reasons. However, given the overall performance, these are minor issues that most people would not experience with the majority of music.


Esse Quadro L’UNA 146 really took me by surprise and convinced me that even small bookshelf speakers can sound almost as impressive as floor-standing models, provided that they are very well designed, manufactured and, are driven with sufficient power. They sounded great in my large room, filling it with sound that was enjoyable in near field as well from a considerable distance. I am convinced they would sound excellent in small rooms provided they are paired with proper source components and matching amplification. 

For small bookshelf speakers they are not cheap (their retail price in Europe is € 5990 (€ 4910+ VAT) ), but for their price their remarkable performance can give even similarly priced floor-standing speakers a run for their money. These speakers are created with a passion and it shines through in their amazing performance, design, and build quality. I highly recommend them to any interested audiophile, as I am sure everyone who tries them will be just as surprised by their performance as I was. In closing, I would like to thank Yuri Hajtko for providing me with the review units.

Alex Gorouvein


- € 5990 ( € 4910+ VAT ) 


  • Type: 2 Way Speakers with front loaded bass reflex
  • Efficiency: 86 dB SPL (2.83V / 1m)
  • Impedance: 8 Ω (min 6,50 Ω)
  • Frequency Response: 40 Hz – 20 kHz +/- 3 dB
  • Drivers: Tweeter: Morel 28 mm silk / Woofer: Seas 146 mm (5 ") treated paper
  • Crossover: 6dB / octave - 2.0 khz
  • Binding post connectors: WBT next gen 100% nickel free
  • Internal wiring: Van De Hul CS 12 OFC oxygen-free copper and silver
  • Dimensions: 20.4 x 36.4 x 29 cm
  • Weight: 10 kg each
  • 7-position tweeter volume selector
  • Removable magnetic front grill 


  • Mitchell & Johnson S 815 stereo amplifier
  • Mitchell & Johnson S 800 preamplifier
  • SPL Performer s800 amplifier
  • SPL Director DAC-preamp
  • Merrill Audio Element 118 monoblocks
  • Merrill Audio Christine reference preamplifier
  • Pear Audio Blue Little John turntable, Cornet 1 tonearm, Hana EH MC cartridge
  • Gold Note PH-10 phono stage
  • Gold Note PSU-10 external power supply
  • OPPO BDP-95 Universal Player
  • Bluesound Node2 streamer
  • KirmussAudio High Definition speaker cables
  • Crystal Cable Special speaker cables
  • BIS, Cardas Audio and Crystal Cable XLR interconnects
  • BIS power strip and power cablesCrystal Cable Special power cables


Esse Quadro Speakers
Via galilei 21A

Phone: +39 040 2606552

Representative in Canada:

Yuri Hajtko