Publisher Profile

6 Days of Living with the $170,500 Acapella Triolon Excalibur at Aaudio Imports

System Profile #2

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Introduction

In 1992, Brian Ackerman left Boston (MA) and came to California with $500 in his pocket; but he already had everything that he needed to pursue his dream: determination and experience.

A 17-year-old Brian Ackerman studied at the Navy’s culinary school in San Diego, Ca, after which he enlisted in a 4-year active duty in the Navy in the Atlantic. It was during this time that Brian had his first exposure to “cool” audio equipment from the military’s duty-free shops.

After the Navy, Brian held numerous jobs, including positions in a major Boston, Ma-based computer firm, handling shipping and receiving (hence his impeccable packing skills and techniques). He then went back to a specialized technical college and obtained a degree in Electronics.

One of the highpoints of Brian’s career was his tenure as a computer technician of a major corporation in New England, servicing the teller and vault computers of a chain of banks. This later transitioned into a position in San Clemente, Ca where he was personally overseeing the maintenance of mainframe computers in a nuclear power plant.

Aaudio Imports

A few years after founding his own computer servicing company in the 90s, Brian began incursion into the high-end audio industry and founded the dealership of Artistic Audio, which was then developed into today’s Aaudio Imports. Now, he is the distributor of a complete range of audio products, from the power and signal management products of Isoclean and accessories of Audiotop, to complete lines of electronics of Einstein and Accustic Arts, and loudspeakers of Acapella.

In his early years as Acapella’s U.S. Distributor, Brian already began planning of a home office that would offer a more comfortable living space for his family than his 2,500 square feet, 2-story Laguna Niguel residence, which already featured a listening space measuring 18 feet wide, 23 feet long with an 18 feet ceiling. He was not only envisioning a home with dimensions and settings more productive towards the next phase of growth for his business; he was dreaming of the ultimate American dream: living on a golf course in a custom-built house.

After 18 months of excruciating planning, the Ackerman’s finally mobilized in late 2006 and moved to the countryside of Parker, CO, a centrally located suburb 20 minutes away from Denver and 50 minutes away from Colorado Springs. Don’t ask Brian about all the roundtrip trailer-hauling between Colorado and California he endeavored in his trusted Land Rover LR3, or you’ll get an earful about the SUV’s horsepower, how it performed uphill, downhill, in rain, in snow, etc.

The new 5,500 square feet, 3-story Ackerman residence belongs in a stretch of a new community of custom-built homes resting on a slope around a club-owned golf course, each one with an average square footage of 5,000. Each of the homes on this slope has all its 3 tiers facing the serene golf course, with only the top 2 tiers above ground on the opposite side. The new home of the Ackerman’s is the result of meticulous planning to allow for comfortable living with an emphasis on his business. Thus, an 1,800 square feet basement that would become the Aaudio Imports headquarters, began to take shape.

The Sound Room, measuring 19 feet wide, 24 feet long and 8 feet tall, occupies one side of the basement that runs the entire length and width of the house. A pool table rests in the center room next to the Sound Room, adorned by a 50-inch plasma TV hanged on a wall, along with several framed, collector’s artwork. On the other side of the plasma TV wall is the Aaudio Imports office, complete with state-of-the-art computer systems, phone systems, fax and copy machines.

Stop staring out at the golf course from your office window and read some emails, Brian.

Considerably insignificant to our audiophile sensibilities is a fully furnished Home Theatre Room next to the office, featuring a 14 feet wide, 17 feet long, 8 feet high interior with an elevation of 7 inches for the platform of an entire row of a quartet of Cinema Tech Vantage motorized incliner theater chairs. Those lovely cup holders.

Presenting the Aaudio Imports Home Theatre Room: Seleco HT305E Projector ($9,000), Halcro SSP100 Processor ($10,500), Halcro MC50 Amplifier ($6,000), Integra DPS 10.5 DVD ($2,500), five James Loudspeakers ($6,400), three James Subwoofers ($7,300), Siltech Audio Cables ($10,200), Audioquest Video Cables ($2,150), Isoclean Power Conditioning ($4,400), Isoclean Power Cords ($8,700), Nevo SL Remote ($1,500), Cinematech Room Treatment ($25,000), and finally, four Cinema Tech Vantage seats ($24,000). Screen size: 100 inches.

Total for the Home Theatre Room: $117,650. Until you’ve watched a video in this room … enough said. That is not why I was there, anyway.

Brian provides DirecTV programming choices during late night relaxation sessions. No adult movies thus far. I was there, so I know.

To facilitate shipping and delivery of gigantic loudspeakers, an extra wide walkway stretching from the side of the house out front directly to the 3rd tier basement was laid. Brian thought of everything. One such gigantic loudspeaker is Acapella’s $170,000 Triolon Excalibur, the second-to-the-top model of the German manufacturer’s loudspeakers, also the subject of this article.

Acapella Triolon Excalibur, a 6-piece horn loudspeaker system that weighs 1,760lbs in three oversize crates, is consisted of two subwoofer towers, each housing four 10-inch subwoofers, two 31-inch horns (one for each channel) and two 19-inch horns (one for each channel). Acapella’s celebrated ion tweeter, Ion TW 15, complete in a standalone, original chassis intended for single purchase, is externally retrofitted as a connecting module with bridging mechanism for locking the subwoofer tower on one side and the horn tower on the other.

When assembled, each channel of the Acapella Triolon Excalibur stands some 7 feet tall, 3 ½ feet wide and 3 feet deep, and weighing in at 880lbs. Fortunately, the ground underneath the industrial-grade carpeted floor that these staggering beauties are standing on is of concrete.

The Sound Room

Measuring 19 feet by 24 feet by 8, the room features a foot-deep concave cutaway area in the ceiling area above the Acapella’s, though not specifically designed for acoustic purposes, is nevertheless helpful in dispersing a group of primary reflections. Similar construct is also applied towards the other end of the room, above Acapella’s own La Campanella. The entire room is treated with an assortment of 33 EQ Panels and 40 Absorption Panels customized by Golden Acoustics. The unique combinations of absorptive and diffusive sections equalized the frequency curve in the room, and I reckon this room is the audiophile equivalent of an anechoic chamber, the difference being the intended even distribution of frequencies inside Brian’s room, versus the anechoic chamber’s complete removal of all room reflections.
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Part of Brian’s plan for a new house from the ground up is a power control system so thorough and extreme that is consisted of a application-specific Isoclean Zero Ohm Breaker Panel, connected to the external grounding system via a incomprehensibly thick-gauge copper conductor. I’ve told him that he overdid it many times already; but that was only half of the story.

The external grounding system at the Ackerman residence is a patented design by ATI Tectoniks of Torrance, CA, consisted of a 10-foot heavy copper rod “filled with a solid ion material, which is said to last a minimum of 25 years and is maintenance free.” This so-called IEA (Ionic Earthing Array) retails for $1,680, guarantees a high level of connection from the electrical panel to the ground, thus providing a fundamental reduction of noise floor by means of dropping the ground resistance below zero ohms.

With labor, the grounding system cost a whopping $4,500. Digging dirt ain’t cheap.

ATI Tectoniks’ clientele are businesses and corporations. Brian’s order educated them of the existence of a new category of client base: audiophiles. However, the strangeness of our language and peculiarities of our needs prompted the company to come to a partnership agreement with Brian as their U.S. Representative for the home entertainment industry, inclusive of the high-end audio and home theatre segments. I should review it, no? Maybe we can cast votes in a future “Win With Dagogo” so that Brian has to comply with the readers’ democratic demand of having me review it. Brilliant!

With such comprehensive arrangement, Isoclean’s suite of power management products naturally adorn the Sound Room. ICP-003S Wall Socket, PT-3030G III Power Transformers (a shame such beautiful objects weren’t included in the “Transformer” movie), 80A3 Power Filters, Supreme Focus and Super Focus Power Cords – these are the fundamental but concealed measures that gave way to the system they were safeguarding and empowering.

The primary equipment rack is consisted of a Symposium Precision Rack Frame as the skeletal structure, with Acapella’s Fondato Silenzo filling it up as bases. The top Left and Right shelves supported Accustic Arts’ Drive I MK-2 and Oracle’s Delphi MKV turntable with an SME arm, fitted with Einstein’s TU-3 MC cartridge respectively.

Directly beneath the Drive I MK2 on the Left column is the Einstein The Tube MKII linestage preamplifier; Accustic Arts’ solid-state top DAC, the DAC I MK4, sits on the Right. Accustic Arts’ latest Tube Dac II, with its thick, laser-engraved top plate, though occupying only the 3rd tier of the Acapella Fondato Silenzio-populated, massive Symposium Precision Rack Frame, garners greedy glances from visitors nonetheless. Next to it is the spanking-new Lector Phono.

The bottom shelves hold the power supplies for the Lector Phono stage and the Oracle Delphi MKV turntable. The Einstein The Turntable’s Choice balanced phono stage is situated in an adjacent Symposium Rack.

Two pairs of the Einstein The Final Cut MK60 Balanced Mono Amps OTL (Output-Transformer-Less) are utilized to drive the horns and subwoofer towers in a horizontally bi-amping configuration. A two-tier Symposium Precision Rack Frame with the attendant Acapella Fondato Silenzio Bases houses the OTL’s.

The primary digital system was the Accustic Arts Drive I MK2 driving the spanking-hot Tube Dac II, routed onward to the Einstein The Tube MKII preamplifier.

Auditioning

The Ackerman Sound Room though measured 19 by 24 by 8, the listening position was positioned 11 feet away from the front of the Acapella’s, and 14 feet away from the 19-foot front wall. The 42-inch wide Triolon Excalibur’s were anchored 8 ½ feet away from each other, center-to-center.

Despite my constant fantasizing the big horns being in my own listening room, my 12 feet by 25 feet listening space would only be able to accommodate the giants along the long wall, which would pitch me much closer to the speakers and inches away from the rear wall inadvertently. The devil in this hypothesis is, it may actually work.

For the gigantic horns with the subwoofer columns worked in Brian’s relatively close-up listening distance. Despite my initial skepticism of the close-quarter arrangement, what with the big horns and subwoofers blasting straight into my ear, I have later come to realize that Hermann Winters and Alfred Rudolf, designers and business partners of the company, created this frighteningly large horn specifically for relatively close listening distances.

I brought 3 dozens of discs with me for this auditioning, and I had six days. Apart from the little sight-seeing and food-scouting distraction, as well as the button eyes of Trixie, I played all discs, albeit a few tracks on some of them. While all were my personal favorites that gave irrefutable reasons to the continuing reign of digital playback at my house, two acoustic instrument CDs among them have been my most powerful reference tools: one an audiophile piano recording, the other a Japanese taiko and flute excursion.

The sound of a real concert grand is always a captivating one, regardless of whether it is played in the Davies Symphony Hall or on the fifth floor of the San Francisco Shopping Center, and no other instruments can match both the delicacies and dynamics that a concert grand can produce. I have used RCA’s releases of pianist Evgeny Kissin playing Chopin’s music (Chopin · Four Ballades · Berceuse · Barcarolle · Scherzo No. 4 · Evgeny Kissin) (BMG BG2 63259) as demonstration in all of my reviews, and RCA’s SWR-Studio production with the 20-bit quality outshone all other labels’ piano recording summarily.

Having listened to the Acapella Triolon Excalibur’s playing this disc a mere eleven feet away reinforced the piano’s position nonetheless as the most communicative instrument; and the Acapella TE’s ability of rendering the sound of one single piano via its multitude of drivers with the most inexplicable display of driver coherency and control at the listening position was utterly supreme.

With their horns and subwoofers separated alarmingly apart, I was surprised every time the Acapella’s created a single sonic entity seamless in the individuality of the drivers and components, producing a piano of surreal layers of overtones and abundance of subtleties. I realized for the first time that the suite of humongous horns and subwoofer towers provided a breathing space for the reproduction of the piano of such immensity that it was the right way to do it.

Whereas some loudspeaker makers are producing designs with drivers that can produce sub-octave lows and ultra-frequency highs, believing such designs would be the most faithful in sonic reproduction, making even concert grand’s to sound surrealistically thunderous and earth rattling, I think such concoctions ultimately contradict with the sonics of a real piano.

For the subwoofer columns of the Acapella TE’s reproduced not the sensationalist equivalent of the string instrument but its richest nuances. And it was instantly understood and appreciated.

For a phenomenon worthy of the status of a major breakthrough in loudspeaker design and production implementation, the ion tweeters and the oversized horns with the attendant columns of subwoofers were not to blast the listener with decibels. Rather, seemingly releasing energy in a sonically most unreal, gentle fashion per the nature of a horn in its coupling to the air around the listening space, the Acapella TE’s were the first transducer design victorious in shedding the common characteristic of all top designs that I’ve heard: the clustering of sound.

The Acapella TE’s ability to resolve definitions from what were clusters of instruments onstage via conventional speakers into a width and height of lifelike proportions represented the most extreme example I experienced of a direct correlation between the size of drivers and how that contributes to the solidity of instrument dimensionality and scale. For many large loudspeakers of various designs I’ve experienced, whereas some are champions of dimensionality, dynamic transients, spectral extension, tonal accuracy and etc., none sounded as dimensionally discrete, dynamically limitless and as spectrally balanced as the Acapella TE’s.

The manner in which the Acapella TE presented every layer of spectrum also brought new understanding in music appreciation. Despite having columns of subwoofers, the TE’s did not create the like magnitudes of bottom-end brutality that I initially experienced from top subwoofer design of other makes. What the TE’s offered was a new understanding in realities of sound reproduction within the confines of a room.

Listening to the Acapella Triolon Excalibur’s reproducing the gargantuan sound of a trio of massive taiko’s in the JVC XRCD Dotou Banri (JVC SVCD-1027) at the seemingly short distance, I realized for the first time that it would not only take those ion tweeters and the large horns to communicate the minutest shreds of precious, venue-setting reverberation of the hall in which the performance took place, it would need the quartet of 10-inch subwoofers in each bass column to accurately reproduce the triple criteria of force, scale and transient of the drums.For contrasting the effects of other manufacturers’ subwoofer designs, the Acapella TE’s subwoofer column did not launch the usual frontal assault on my senses, or induce piercing atmospheric pressurization of my skull and my body. Instead, the subwoofer columns of the Acapella TE’s loaded the area around the listening position with a wealth of tonal color of the taiko’s that were abundantly and evenly distributed in amount and layers.

I had proclaimed the JVC disc as the most powerful traditional instrument demonstration disc; but I reckon not even JVC’s own tonemeisters had ever realized the true result of their feat in studio-mastering until they hear the Acapella’s.

The Acapella’s seemed to have shed the last degree in bottom-end exaggeration in the Triolon Excalibur’s, created instead an inconceivably well-integrated multi-horn and multi-driver design that behaves more like an acoustic instrument in a room.

It was therefore perhaps not even surprising that because of the Acapella TE’s very nature of reproducing sound in the most expeditious and uncompressed manner, pop music with artificially inflated and overpowering electric bass notes was exposed in the most explicit fashion I’ve experienced, revealing even some of my favorite tracks as utter rubbish.

Conclusion

The art of loudspeaker design has always been as straightforward as creating a transducer that can play the softest and loudest passages concurrently with unlimited spectral extensions, zero cabinet coloration, zero dynamic compression and the most agile and faithful dynamics. But the historical act of conjuring up these ideals and contemplating their significance bears no relevance on preparing oneself for an actual encounter of a loudspeaker that is capable of such sound.

Each of the Acapella Triolon Excalibur was endowed with two oversized horns that produced precisely customized spectrums above those from the quartet of subwoofers and under that of the ion tweeter. The enormous, surrealistic scope of upper bass and lower midrange from these horns of unrealistic proportions conveyed such subtle and superlative tones as to revolutionize the role of horns in the virtual monopoly of the company.

Yet, the very nature of the Acapella Ion TW15 ion tweeter precludes descriptive associated with conventional reviewing. A membrane-less and mass-less electron-based sonic reproduction unit capable of a 110dB volume level within 5,000 to 50,000Hz, and yet powered by its own vacuum tubes, is a notion no less exotic than the aural properties it produces. Carrying a standalone retail of $15,000 the pair, this tweeter is an object of desire and the subject of review worth lining up for.

Then, there are the horns and the subwoofers. Contradicting conventional designs of same dimensions that require much larger room and farther distances for the sounds to integrate, the Acapella TE’s gargantuan horns and quartets of subwoofers are meant for exquisite enjoyment of the highest order. They do not manifest brute persona in an effort to exert the most forceful dynamics, nor do they seek to impress with me-too exhibitions of volume.

Retrospectively, several external factors contributed most fundamentally to the level of sonic excellence in the Aaudio Imports Sound Room. First, the methodical and systematic acoustic treatment as provided by Golden Acoustics rendered the room sonically balanced and aesthetically unobtrusive. The color schemes applied to everything in the room, from the carpet to the wall, from the equipment rack to the sofa, and even from the grayish horns to the Einstein OTL’s driving them, all converged into forming a soothing and peaceful mental state utterly conducive towards serious auditioning at a moment’s notice. I reckon speakers of all makes would be able to perform to their fullest potentials in this room.

Secondly, the cabling, racks and equipment bases are all of superlative sonic integrity, the cumulative effects of them work towards preserving the purity of the signal.

Thirdly, the industrial-grade grounding scheme eliminated the grounding noise from every possible element in the room thoroughly, so much so that all equipment functioning in that room are free of the minutest grounding noise, and thus are able to sound their purest.

Fourthly, it was only in this acoustically balanced and isolated sound room could I blast at extreme volumes and exploit the Acapella’s potentials.

While the dual pairs of the Einstein “The Final Cut Mk60” output-transformer-less mono amplifiers with their sheer refinement and power, outputting 45 OTL watts into the Acapella Triolon Excalibur’s 4Ω impedance, enabled the loudspeaker to render dynamic scaling in the most faithful proportions I’ve experienced, the cool-running, Class-A solid-state behemoth in the form of Accustic Arts’ Amp II also procured equally awe-inspiring performance out of the TE’s single-handedly.

The Acapella’s are precision instruments for utter conveyance of the extraordinary happiness of immersion in music every time you listen – and do they make the most indispensable companion in our brief pilgrimage of life.

To have an audio experience worthy of remembrance, it has to be the Acapella Triolon Excalibur’s. To be able to exploit their full potentials in the foreseeable future, the auditioning has to take place in the best-sounding venue: Aaudio Imports’ Sound Room. I must return to this place again soon.

Additional Information:
Aaudio Imports July, 2007

The Sound Room:
Description US Retail Extended

(1) Acapella Triolon Excalibur Speakers – $170,500 (pair)
(1) Einstein The Tube MKII Preamp – $15,700
(2) Einstein The Final Cut MK60 Mono Amps – $29,600 (pair) x 2 = $59,200
(1) Accustic Arts Drive I MK-2 – $6,500
(1) Accustic Arts Tube Dac II – $10,500
(1) Accustic Arts Dac I MK4 – $7,000
(1) Oracle Delphi MKV Table w/SME arm – $7,550
(1) Einstein TU-3 MC Cartridge – $3,970
(1) Einstein The Turntable’s Choice, balanced – $8,200
(1) Lector Phono-System – $3,890
(1) Siltech Avondale Phono Cable, 1.5m – $5,200
(1) Ionic Earthing Array Ground Rod – $4,500
(1) Isoclean Zero Ohm Breaker Panel – $4,995
(2) Isoclean 80A3 Power Filters – $4,200 x 2 = $8,400
(2) Isoclean PT-3030G III Power Transformers – $3,500 x 2 = $7,000
(3) Isoclean Supreme Focus Power Cords – $4,000 x 3 = $12,000
(2) Isoclean Super Focus Power Cords – $2,100 x 2 = $4,200
(5) Acapella High LaMusika Power Cords – $5,000 x 5 = $25,000
(2) Acapella High LaMusika IC’s 6.0m – $17,000 (pair) x 2 = $34,000
(1) Acapella High LaMusika IC’s 1.0m – $3,000 (pair)
(1) Acapella High LaMusika IC’s 1.5m – $4,400 (pair)
(2) Acapella High LaMusika Spk cable 3.0m – $9,000 (pair) x 2 = $18,000
(1) Stealth Sextet Digital Cable, 1.5m AES/EBU – $3,800
(3) Symposium Precision Rack Frames – $21,000
(14) Acapella Fondato Silenzio Bases, 21×20″ – $2,700 (each) x 14 = $37,800
(7) Acapella Puck/3 LaMusika Couplers – $330 (set of 3) x 7 = $2,310
(4) Acapella Big Blocks, tuning weight – $1,300 x 4 = $5,200
(1) Acapella Speed Block, tuning weight – $1,500
(1) Isoclean TT-009 Tip Toe Base – $260 (set of 4)
(3) Isoclean TT-008 Tip Toe Base – $120 (set of 4) x 3 = $360
(2) Isoclean ICP-003S Wall Socket – $200 x 2 = $400
(3) Isoclean RF Isolators – $80 (set of 4) x 3 = $240
(1) Golden Acoustics Room Treatment – $31,000
(33 EQ Panels + 40 Absorption Panels)

Total System $527,575

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