A premium dealership network is crucial to the long-term stability of the audio industry. For the audio hobby entails a “system” approach that is best conveyed and demonstrated by the brick and mortar establishment. Without stores that provide a personable learning and listening environment for the consumer, especially the ones that convey respect and trust for its customer support that in turn compels their patrons to return for further business, the industry will contract to a dismal existence.
In a functional high-end audio retail environment, every product will be sent through a dealership network so it will receive the extent of market exposure, specifically admiration and curiosities from walk-in customers critically required for the product’s long-term commercial viability. Regional members of the same retail network will bear the responsibility of serving customers indigenous to their area.
Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports (www.aaudioimports.com) is among the premium importers that believe a dealership-based mode of operation provides the most sustainable business model, in which the much needed continuous market exposure of products and education of the consumer are provided by regional dealers most effectively. In retrospect, this most conventional retail concept is taken to the utmost level by Brian, and I bear witness to the great lengths he has gone to continuously in the recruitment and education of dealers.
Brian spoke often of the immaculate reputation of his company that he had worked so hard to build, and I see that the diehard loyalty that exists between him and his dealers is admirable and solid. Brian’s concept is simple: He seeks long-term viability of his business, and he sees his dealers as an indispensable element to his goal.
This year, at Brian’s invitation again, I spent another 6 days at the Aaudio Imports’ Parker, Colorado headquarters at Brian’s invitation from June 1st to June 6th, and he has gotten busier to my observation. AI now imports such heavyweight German makers of high-end audio systems, such as Acapella (horn speakers), Einstein (tube and hybrid electronics), Lindemann (electronics and speakers) and Raidho (dynamic-driver speakers). Cable and accessory support is provided by Audiotop of Switzerland, Isoclean of Hong Kong/China and Millennium of Germany, although Acapella offers the most expensive cable products among the fellow companies. Phone calls from existing and potential dealers inundated his day, interrupted our discussions many a times and delayed me my meal too frequently. I was imposing with my visit already and I didn’t want Brian to miss any business opportunity on my account, so I insisted for him to break from our conversations and answer his eternally ringing landline.
In the interim between this June (2008) and my 1st visit to Brian Ackerman’s million-dollar Colorado residence ten months ago (see 6 Days of Living with the $170,500 Acapella Triolon Excalibur at Aaudio Imports), Brian re-arranged the megabuck listening room partially and added more Golden Acoustics treatment panels, so that additional GA panels of smaller proportions now also adorned the concaved portion of the ceiling above the main loudspeakers.. The result is a room now reconfigured to be able to showcase two pairs of loudspeakers at opposite ends of the room at any time. The $170,500 pair of the Acapella Triolon Excalibur continued to dominate the same spot that I first reported on them in September 2007. Now, the TE’s retail price has been adjusted upward to the tune of $192,000 due to increased manufacturing and material costs and the strong Euro.
Space on the other side of the room was reconfigured to allow for placement of a separate system, complete with its own pair of the Isoclean PT3030G III power transformers and the 80A3 power conditioner. A new Golden Acoustics treatment panel measuring 8 feet wide by 3 feet tall that served to control front-wall reflection now adorned the front wall of this 2nd system. Even the listening sofa was put on sliding coasters that allowed for an 180-degree rotation of the sofa to face either setup on the opposite ends of the room. The open space between the systems allowed for greater speaker-to-listener distances and the sofa was accorded an additional 3 feet back in respect to the system being auditioned. When the Acapella TE was being auditioned, a space measuring 14 feet separated the loudspeaker from the listener, with 6 more feet from the back of the sofa to the rear wall.
I have been reminiscing the sound of Brian’s Acapella Triolon Excalibur loudspeaker system since I reported on it in Dagogo’s September 2007 SPOTLIGHT article, as driven by two pairs of the Einstein Final Cut Mk60 (“60 watts”) OTL monoblocks to each of the stereo channel’s horn and bass columns. Despite my previous verdict on the Acapella horn system’s endless list of attributes, a year’s worth of new experiences in me empowered a new level of comprehension of what the Acapella Triolon Excalibur has always been doing, and that is producing a sound supremely free from enigmas inherent in all loudspeaker designs: resonance of the box in conventional dynamic designs, coloration of the horn and dynamic limitations of panels.
In a most beautiful and spectacular convolution of the shapes of triangle, circle, rectangular and square, the Acapella TE freed itself of the confinement of elements and enacted a upper-midrange to top-end of the most dynamic, expedient and extended order with its ion tweeter, a devastatingly pure narrow-bandwidth midsize horn, a mysteriously dormant-sounding, oversized lower-midrange horn and the four-times as mysterious woofer column. It would be a mistake to assume that the quadruplet of woofers traverse only the deep. All my discoveries notwithstanding, even at a listening distance as short as eight feet, all the sound that arrived at my ears was meticulously formed and integrated, the realism of dimensionality and scale unprecedented.
How can a pair of loudspeakers with such huge horns work in a medium-sized room? Acapella claims, in its brochure, that the Triolon Excaliburs can be used in rooms of only 25m2 , which is equivalent to 269ft2 . My own listening room at 12 feet wide and 27 feet long measures some 300ft2 ! Per Brian, it is more vital to have a listening room with wider listening space to accommodate the Triolon Excaliburs than one with a narrower width and deeper lengths. All other loudspeakers I’ve encountered favor a proportionately longer listening room dimensions to certain widths; the Acapella Triolon Excalibur is the only one that is designed to pressurize the listening space not only by volume and mass but by sheer spectral density. Whereas large panels and multi-driver dynamic designs are alternatives to accomplish spectral fullness, high volumes and dynamics respectively, a horn is the only device that is capable of originating a high-density sound that can surpass that propagated by all other driver technologies.
Then, the Triolons were pressurizing Brian’s 19 feet wide by 24 feet long by 8 feet high room more than any other loudspeakers could in every possible way. In this regard, I feel that the listening experience was hauntingly analogous to the exceptional detail clarity rendered by first-rate headphones, and the Triolon Excaliburs were the only speakers I know of that can excite the air in the listening space so holistically and uniformly so as to vanquish any magnitude and multitude of acoustic inconsistencies that would otherwise have manifested themselves in their interaction with all other loudspeakers.
The TE horn’s expeditious transients and immense dynamic scaling transcends the speed of small-diameter drivers and the volume of the large-diameter one.
Dagogo featured Fred Crowder and his Acapella TE in a Spotlight article in September 2007; now almost a year later, I have listened to the Acapella on several occasions, including at shows. But, my impression is no comparison to Fred who listens to it daily; and we are excited to share Fred’s latest insights in the following with the readers:
“It has been a while since Dagogo published a SPOTLIGHT article on my Acapella Triolons speakers. While I stand by my comments to the original article, the passage of time has allowed me to do further listening. That in conjunction with changes to other parts of the system has yielded a few additional insights. With respect to a few of the specific points raised in my earlier comments:
Wiring Choices: As Brian Ackerman once told me, proper wiring choices are critical with a speaker at this level. Although I have, to date, chosen to use a single amp rather than to bi-amplify, I recently replaced my speaker cables (a bi-wire set ) with a tri-wired set of Jorma Prime cables hoping to achieve an improved tonal balance, as my Triolons had always sounded somewhat lean with the Parasound JC-1’s, which they did. Rather unexpectedly, the cabling change also extended the bass, tightened the mid bass enhanced dynamics, increased musically-significant low-level detail, extended the top-end in a way that is musically consonant, slightly improved image specificity (particularly the ability to hear things at the rear of the stage), and improved the coherence of the disparate drivers.
Bass Extension: Since the wiring changes, I no longer use the Cabasse subwoofers. Even given the extension that resulted from the wiring changes, the Triolons are still not flat much below 28Hz; however, the tradeoffs inherent in adding even a world-class subwoofer to these speakers are even more audible, particularly with respect to a loss of coherency in the region below 100Hz.
Amplifier Choice: Although I continue to have great respect for what John Curl and Parasound have accomplished with the JC-1’s, I have come to realize that as Constantine suggested in the original article in his comment that the JC-1’s have become a limiting factor in achieving what these speakers are capable of producing. The challenge has always been to find a single amp, although some would argue that bi-amping with identical amps is the right answer, that could: 1) control the eight 10″ SEAS woofers, 2) have the magic of a low-power SE triode or OTL on the horns and plasma tweeter, 3) render the sound of the disparate drivers coherent, and 4) enhance the dynamics of the system. In re-examining my listening impressions with a wide variety of amps on these speakers, only two amps have for me been “magical”: Audio Note UK Kegon’s and Lamm ML2.1’s. Both shared very similar circuit topographies. The Kegon’s sounded more powerful which is to say that they were more dynamic and did a better job of controlling the bass. Based on several listening sessions with the new Kegon Balanced at CES and on PQ’s comment that the KB would do a better job of controlling the bass and be a bit more dynamic, I have ordered a pair of Audio Note Kegon Balanced for delivery in August.
Low-powered vs. high-powered amps in the bass: I have also spent some time thinking about the difference in the bass produced by a really powerful solid-state amp and a well designed single-ended triode. While the bass of a high-powered solid-state amp clearly has a steeper leading edge and is tighter and more controlled, it often lacks the tonal richness and complexity and ability to differentiate timbre that is a hallmark of the single-ended triode, often sounding overdamped and dry rather than rich and lifelike. My preference is clearly for the harmonically richer alternative.”
The overwhelming caliber of all the listed Acapella and Isoclean products in attendance to the Triolon Excalibur did not begin to depict the musical experience as generated by the spanking-new, $21,700 Lindemann 820S SACD/CD player with the Analog Power outboard power supply and built-in analog preamp section (see Aaudio Imports Lindemann 820S product page). 822, a lower model with identical features sans the Analog Power and analog preamp section retails for $14,500
Though equipped with the built-in analog preamp section for driving power amplifiers directly, the 820S was to funnel through the Einstein The Tube Mk II balanced tube preamplifier, before sending the signal onward to the quadruplet set of the Einstein The Final Cut MK60 balanced OTL tube monoblock amplifiers. The difference between the Lindemann 820S and the Einstein The Source balanced tube CD player ($16,900) was exemplified by clearer dynamic contrasts of the Lindemann versus the Einstein’s no-less dynamic but rounder presentation. The tonal exuberance of the Einstein was beyond reproach, due decidedly to the Einstein system synergy; but since my priority was to probe deep into the particulars of the Acapella TE again, I preferred the last word of details as accorded by the Lindemann.
Since Lindemann also has technological expertise in amplification designs, the prospect of technological finesse that the company has also bestowed upon the 820S is an exciting one. Case in point: For $19,000, you can have Lindemann’s 855 dual-mono power amplifier that generates 400 watts per channel into 4 ohms and weighs only 59lbs (see Lindemann 855 product page). The half-power 852 is also available for $12,600. Space saving, powerful and refined, the Lindemann 855 exerted prominent dynamic control of Acapella’s $64,000 pair of High Violon Mk IV, which was set up at the opposite side of the room (see Acapella Violon Mk IV product page). The Lindemann did not concede in reconstruction of the live events to the pair of Einstein OTL’s that drove the Acapella before it.
Acapella Triolon Excalibur cables:
Einstein amps: 4 x Acapella High LaMusika, 2M ($5,500 each)
Einstein preamp: 1 x Acapella High LaMusika, 2M ($5,500 each)
Einstein CD player: 1 x Isoclean Supreme Focus, 3M ($4,000)
Lindemann CD player: 2 x Isoclean Super Focus, 2M ($2,100 each)
Einstein Phonostage: 2 x Isoclean Super Focus, 2M ($2,100 each)
Einstein preamp to Einstein amps: 2 pairs x Acapella High LaMusika, 6M, XLR ($18,800 per pair)
Einstein CD player to Einstein preamp: 1 pair x Acapella High LaMusika, 1.5M, XLR ($4,850 per pair)
Lindemann CD player to Einstein preamp: 1 pair x Acapella High LaMusika, 1.5M, XLR ($4,850 per pair)
Einstein Phonostage to Einstein preamp: 1 pair x Acapella High LaMusika, 1.5M, XLR ($4,850 per pair)
Einstein amps to Triolon Excalibur: 2 pairs x Acapella High LaMusika, 3M, Spades ($9,900 per pair)
Isoclean PT-3030G III power transformers x 2 ($3,500 each)
Isoclean 80A3 power filter x 2 ($4,200 each)
Isoclean ICP-003S wall sockets x 2 ($200 each)
Isoclean TT-009 Tip Toe Base x 2 sets ($260 per set)
Isoclean RF Isolators x 2 sets ($80 per set)
Acapella Big Blocks x 4 ($1,400 each)
Acapella Speed Block x 1 ($1,600)
Acapella Fondato Silenzio Bases x 8 ($3,000 each)
Acapella Puck 3 Couplers x 7 sets ($390 per set)
Having listened to the HV for several hours on a few of my own CDs, I felt that the HV represented a necessarily different set of priorities that emphasize more on delivering the tonal palettes and dynamics of recordings, versus the Triolon Excalibur’s perfection in spatial realism. Particularly noteworthy and corresponding to what I observed above was a perceptively higher output and lower crossover setting of the formidable ion tweeter on the HV. Whereas the same ion tweeter was tasked with an easier job of reproducing a much higher and narrower band of frequencies, and sonically melted into the aural presentation of the dreamlike horns of the TE, their manifestations on the HV were startlingly more noticeable and constituted the primary source of sonic elation from the HV.
The TE’s extreme attributes of spectral density, dynamics and volume render all other loudspeakers diminished in their presentations, and the HV with its 14-inch horn was able to sustain the aura of the TE’s immensity, conceding proportionately in the TE’s ultimate dynamic scale and spectral density.
In the overall scheme of things, the High Violon Mk IV was thus more intimate sonically than the Triolon Excalibur, and more critical of the acoustics of the environment it is asked to play in.
A no less memorable audition took place in a full Lindemann system, comprising the 820S SACD player, the 830 preamp and the 855 dual-mono power amp, in the company of the Raidho loudspeaker of Ayra C3, the $35,000-per-pair floorstander (see Raidho Ayra C3 product page). Raidho actually manufactures 3 complete lines of loudspeakers, from the top Ayra series that is consisted of five models, including a pair of the 4-piece $306,000 C5 (to be introduced in 2009) and the $13,000 C1, to the midrange Eben series, which offers six models including the $130,800 X5 and the $6,600 X-Baby Mk2, to five entries in the entry-level Emilie series (MSRPs TBD).
Positioned five feet from the front wall, four feet from each side wall and nine feet apart, the Eben C3’s were completely toed-in toward the listener.
The unique Raidho Planar Tweeter of the C3 and C1, dubbed FTT75, is designed and manufactured in-house at Raidho. Covering the spectrum of 3.5kHz to over 50kHz, the FTT75 ribbon tweeter is claimed to have “extremely low moving mass, exceptional extension, power handling, ideal dispersion characteristics when it comes to integration with a conventional dynamic driver.” Equally exotic is the diminutive 5-inch ceramic woofer, an in-house developed cone mated to an Audio Technology drive unit, which Raidho proudly proclaims to be a product of special merit in this woofer being “the fastest dynamic driver available today,” for meeting the speed of response from their exotic high-frequency ribbon tweeter. The complex woofer, thus, “provides superb phase linearity and a naturally smooth roll-off, ideal for use with simple, first order type crossovers.”
The $15,800 Ayra by Raidho C1 two-way mini-monitor (price includes the accompanying pair of the $2,800 C1 stands) has a rated frequency response of 40 to 50kHz, while the $35k Ayra by Raidho C3 three-way floorstander features three additional woofers, and goes down to 30Hz. Brian took the time and effort to move the two models in and out of positions so that I could observe their respective strengths and weaknesses. I must proclaim the C1 the mini-monitor to behold in 2008, for it was in every way as encompassing and dynamic as the much-larger C3 at one-third the price.
For readers with rooms not larger than Brian’s, and with sufficient amplification, the C1 will fit into the same floor plan as the C3; but if pipe organs and taiko drums are to be reproduced with unrelenting realism, then the extra 10Hz into the bottom-end from the C3’s three extra woofers are indispensable for the listener.
Both the C1 and the C3 delivered highly seductive levels of cohesion in spectral balance within the confines of Brian’s listening room. Once you have heard what the diminutive C1 can do in both spectral cohesion and extension, you’ll start to crave for the C3; and for readers with listening rooms similar and larger in dimensions to Brian’s, with a high-power solid-state amplification, such as the Lindemann 855 dual-mono power amplifier, the thus-empowered C3 will deliver some of the finest aura experiences available.
During the days of my stay, Brian took me on a little sightseeing around the town of Castle Rock, a mere 10 minutes from his home. His 2006 Land Rover LR3 was comfortable and fast. His driving was faster.
The full potential of this pair of the Triolon Excalibur has now been exploited seemingly by Brian since its maiden installation in May 2007. When I put this thought to him, his response was chilling: “These speakers can be tri-wired, you know? I have been bi-wiring them only.”
A pair of the $23,000 Acapella ten-footer loudspeaker cable called Reference LaMusika was also due to arrive a few days after my departure, and Brian did bring it over 2 weeks later in his annual California road trip for dealer presentations (see Acapella Reference LaMusika product page). Out with my Audio Note AN-SPx litz silver speaker cable, and in with his extremely expensive Acapella monstrosity, and a few minutes of eyes-closed listening later, I shot the following at him: “Once I get this speaker cable, I will have no need to explore other speaker cables anymore. How much more is the bi-wiring version?” I believe he did answer, but for some reason I just couldn’t remember. Pure solid silver conductor, ceramic insulation, mechanically damped and yet surprisingly flexible: the Reference LaMusika should at once be considered indispensable in system of readers who already have the best in source, amplification and loudspeaker.
I must return to this place again.
Comments from Aaudio Imports:
I would like to thank Constantine for his second visit to my showroom, and for his professional opinion of my treasured products. I believe Constantine has a great ear for the high-end, along with a true passion and understanding of this industry. His words are very well thought out and carry true insight into the products that he writes about.
As I continue to improve and refine the sound in my showroom, I will always be honored to have Constantine write another article which will allow the Dagogo reader to experience what I call “The Art Of Music Reproduction”.
Also I extend a welcome invitation to all music lovers… please feel free to come by for a listening session whenever you find yourself in the Denver area. Just call in advance please.
All my best,
Brian Ackerman (President, Aaudio imports)
PS: Please enjoy the following comments from Al Helo who represents the Acapella & Einstein products in Sanibel Florida.
When I first installed the Triolon Excalibur’s into the main room, the feeling was that I had reached the end of the road as far as the speaker quest is concerned: They culminated in the perfect blend of art and science both visually and sonically. I soon learned that it wasn’t the end of the road, but the start.
The TE’s motivated me to continually refine power supplies, cables, room treatments, tubes etc. The smallest changes to the system or room become easily detectable. After trying several amp types, high-power solid-state, push/pull tube, and a few SET’s, I settled on my usual favorite – OTL’s. A set of Einstein 60-watt monoblocks provided the clearest window into the music.
These speakers reward the listener with each improvement in up-stream components. The solid-state amps may have provided a bit more bass extension but the OTL’s had slightly better definition and pitch. A case of quality vs. quantity bass with what seems to be unlimited top-end extension; midrange textures are magical.
Brian suggested I try the Acapella LaMusika speaker cables. I had been using top quality copper cables at the time but eventually installed the Acapella LaMusika solid core silver cable. They added the last degree of air to the treble without the slightest harshness that silver cables seem to produce in certain other applications. At that point I could not help but wonder what the system would sound like with additional amps. The Triolon Excalibur speakers are designed to be either bi-wired of bi-amped. I added another set of Einstein OTL amps with a matching set of Acapella cables. The result was awesome. Total integration of the different drivers. The speakers completely disappear with only the music event left in their place.
All the usual words seem useless in describing the performance of these speakers. Sound-staging and imaging are the finest I have experienced in over 40 years. Tone and pitch are superb. If there is a flaw, I have not found it.
Lee Island Audio, Sanibel, FL.
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