Recently I had the opportunity to visit Brian Ackerman of Aaudio Imports at his place in Parker Colorado. It was a very enjoyable afternoon to say the least; Fred Crowder’s “Boys in Toyland” tag could not be more accurate!
Our fearless leader, Constantine Soo, did a very in-depth look at Brian’s operation, so I will not take up space regurgitating the info when you can find it here http://www.dagogo.com/View-Article.asp?hArticle=326. In Constantine’s six-day visit he gives you the specs and in-depth details that I could not even begin to address with just a few hours of listening.
I will just share a few brief impressions of the sound that I experienced while in the comfort of Brian’s hospitality.
I had heard things about Brian’s place and was very curious to experience it for myself. I only wish I had planned for more time but the visit was somewhat last-minute and I was pressed to get back to Vegas a bit sooner than I had wanted.
Brian imports some of the finest electronics and speakers on the planet. His main showroom contains a system that borders on approximately $ 1 million in retail value if you add in all accessories, room treatment and the work on the wiring and all associated installed electronic materials purpose-built into the house and dedicated to the area that contains the listening rooms. The idea of listening to a one-million-dollar system is a bit mindboggling even for the hardcore audiophile, let alone the average consumer. One thing is for certain: Once you listen to a system like this, you never, and I mean never forget it even though you will try! Why will you try? Simple! If you don’t, nothing is ever good enough afterwards. I had a very long drive back to Las Vegas to mull over the experience.
Upon arriving at Brian’s I was given the grand tour of the whole place, including some of the purpose-built features when he had the house/audio showroom built, such as audio specific wiring, junction boxes, etc. He showed me his inventory system, how he managed the business and even his 1996 Colnago C40 bike, a bike I also owned and have regretted letting go of ever since selling it in 2001. After a complete tour we went to get some lunch and to discuss the audio business in general and why Brian decided to operate out of a home in a little town outside Denver (not too far from where I lived in Denver, actually). This is a growing phenomenon in the industry. More and more people from dealers to distributors are operating out of home-based facilities. This particular trend is something I will address in a separate article down the road. For now, I was just totally focused on the sound I was about to hear!
When we got back I was itching to hear the Acapella Triolon Excalibur speakers. I have only heard them at shows and that is never the best environment to hear something as astonishing as these speakers truly are. Let me say I was certainly not disappointed!
Brian’s place is spectacular and his showroom is perhaps one of the best I have ever sat in. $50k or so of Golden Acoustics room tuning devices can tend to do that for you. Then when you throw in about a bazillion dollars worth of audiophilia, well what’s not to love? The Golden Acoustics room tuning devices, while certainly not cheap, are rather effective as proven in Brian’s room. Since it is a basement with lower ceilings and a load bearing support in the middle of the room, there is some real opportunity for odd sound nodes and room reflections. The Golden Acoustics traps tamed the room exceptionally well. The system relies on computer modeling of a room and then Golden Acoustics builds a package designed specifically for your room. Nice touch indeed and rather effective.
The first system I listened to was the smaller, warm up system. (Yes, there is some sarcasm there as this system will, most likely, blow away most of the high-end systems in existence out there in the world today.) System one was composed of a set of Acapella High Violon speakers driven by an Einstein hybrid stereo amp, fronted by a Lindemann 820 SACD player and Lindeman 830S pre-amp. Cabling was Stage III interconnects and Acapella speaker cable. As reported by Ed Momkus in his review and Constantine Soo in his Spotlight article, the Lindemann products are simply stunning in their performance. At $22,300 for the 820S SACD/CD player with an outboard analogue power supply, this digital front-end has a spectacular delivery. It is helped along, no doubt, by the built -in analog preamp section. The detail this system was able to produce was as good as I have heard and certainly justified the price.
If you have not seen Acapella speakers, you are missing out. From a visual standpoint there are few, if any speakers that can really capture my imagination. Most are a takeoff of the old rectangular-box design. Nothing wrong with that at all, especially if they are well engineered and they sound great, except that they can get a bit boring to look at after a while. Well, there is zero chance of that happening with the Acapella brand speakers; pictures do no justice whatsoever to these speakers. With the exception of the entry-level Fidelio model, these are anything but your ordinary-plain-vanilla speaker boxes. There certainly are box elements in the makeup of Acapella speakers but they are anything but ordinary, especially when you get up in the range.
One of the first things I noticed was a total lack of any indication that I was listening to a horn speaker. Horns are notorious for sounding like…… well, like horns! The characteristic often associated with many horn speakers from the past, besides generally very high sensitivity, is a sort of “honking” delivery. In part I think this could always be attributed to not only the inherent difference in the structure of the driver but also the old horn speakers with rare exception, never seemed to integrate the sound of the horn driver with other dynamic drivers in the same unit. There always seemed to me to be two distinctly different types of sounds emanating from the same box and never truly in sync with each other. This was not a sound l was particularly fond of. The Acapella, like some of its horn loaded rivals, has solved this problem and the problem of integration of the various drivers has essentially gone away. The sound was immediately captivating and thoroughly engaging. The bottom-end was tight, percussive and tuneful. Drum hits were lightning fast with plenty of weight and slam and never bloated. The horn provided some astonishing midrange clarity that was also silky smooth, and rendered vocals with a sense of air and proper weight. This particular horn midrange produced the full breath of vocals as though you were very close to the singer.
Another trait of older horn speakers was their deliver of sparkling, exceptionally clear and oftentimes very shrill high frequencies. For the Acapella and its ion tweeter, no such shrill effect exists. This particular tweeter technology delivers extremely smooth highs and I got absolutely no sense of harsh edges or grain. To quote the manufacturer, “The ion tweeter used today is the fastest high frequency transmission system in the world. It is operating without any mass and the upper range of the high frequencies can only be limited by the manufacturer himself. Bandwidth normally is adjusted to approximately 40 KHz. This extraordinary bandwidth is providing an extremely precise reproduction of any kind of music. Even in the lowest frequencies you can feel exact modulation of the overtones. Fine adjustments to the ion tweeter and the midrange horn unit can be made in order to adapt the loudspeaker to every acoustical environment.”
While listening to The Stimulators’ “New Year’s Eve on the Waterfront”, the chimes on the intro resonate almost like gently breaking glass. The delivery was incredibly natural in the sound. The leading edge transients were spot-on and the decay was lacking any sense of the artificiality and just seemed to fade away at the different rates you would expect different sized chimes to do. Overall, this system would satisfy even the most hardcore audiophile for a very, very long time. I found the Violon ultra-satisfying, and during the listening session I found myself trying to figure out how I could pass a $68,200 set of speakers past Paula and wind up with a pair in my home. This is saying something because directly behind me were the Triolon Excaliburs which had been calling to me like a siren on the open seas. During the audition of the Violons, they did such a great job of talking me into the music, that I almost forgot the Triolons. Just almost! Almost is only good in hand grenades and horseshoes as they say, and alas the Triolons began to call to me again.
Turning my attention to the big system was a very deeply anticipated event. At the final moment I became extremely anxious. “What if they are so good that I cannot live without them?” “What if they don’t sound as good as I think they will?” “What if they sound like crap?” Well not to worry dear boy. Nope, you worried for absolutely nothing. Listening to the $197,300 Acapella Triolon Excaliburs is like being on the front row, in front of David Gilmour, as Pink Floyd launches into “Comfortably Numb”! Suddenly you are having your hair blown back by the sheer volume of air that the speakers are moving.
Triolon Excalibur (left channel)
I really began to look at this setup as I was having my facial skin move back across the bone structure of my skull as though I was taking a ride in a rocket sled. What a fabulous looking setup. Aside from the absolutely gorgeous Triolon Excalibur speakers, I was facing a quad of Einstein Final Cut MK 60 633C monoblock amps. These amps are OTL type and produce 60 watts per channel. Driving the Triolon’s 4 ohm impedance allowed the speakers to really breathe. With the Einstein “The Source” balanced tube CD player pushing through the Einstein “The Tube” MkII preamp, the sound was simply glorious. The sense of scale and sheer output was like nothing I have experienced before. Certainly nothing I can consciously remember!
Unfortunately, Brian did not have a turntable on hand but we really enjoyed some fine tunes through the CD input. One particular track that jumped out at me was Marc Cohen’s “Perfect Love” from his self titled CD. This song is, how do I put this, intimate. Yes that’s it. The song is primarily two guitars driving the background music for marc’s vocals. Marc’s singing style on this track is a bit reminiscent of Mark Knopfler in style but the delivery and the richness of the tune immediately captures your attention, and you become aware that this is not Mark Knopfler at all. Singing background on the song is James Taylor. The song has a good deal of intricate finger picking technique going on behind the beautifully done vocal harmonies. I immediately noticed that I could not only hear each of the strings being picked but I could also hear the sound of flesh against string. Jeff Beck quit using a plastic pick years ago and has used the flesh of his fingers almost exclusively since because he noted that there was a distinctly different sound when flesh hits the strings. It is not often that I hear that very subtle difference and certainly not with the degree of detail I was hearing on the Acapella/Einstein setup!
The vocals came across in a relaxed and unstrained way. It was as if both performers were sitting in the room with us just casually playing. The high frequencies were delivered with the same crispness and transparent detail as the Violons, only it seemed that it was on a larger scale despite the fact that the tweeters were the same.
On a bit more aggressive music, the Triolons were able to develop and fill the room with some strong sound pressure levels. Not the kind that loads up and kicks you in the teeth, but a delivery more intended to make the music a part of you and not just directed towards you. Feel, as much as hear – but in a very balanced way.
At this point it is important to note that $50k worth of Golden Acoustic room treatment. You supply Golden with the measurements of your room along with door locations, windows, pillars and anything else in the room that may be interacting with the music. Golden Acoustics then designs a system of room treatment panels to optimize your room through a complex computer modeling program. Suffice it to say that it works and it is expensive. The panels are certainly visible but they are paint matched to the room and they work so well you begin to not really notice them. I would imagine that Brian’s room would yank the absolute best out of any system or by default demonstrate any flaws or problems that might be present. Couple this with the extreme lengths that Brian went to installing audio specific electrical wiring, grounding and junction boxes, I cannot imagine a better room to spend a day or a few years in just listening to music, coming out only to bathe, eat and perhaps exercise a bit and back to the room. If Howard Hughes were alive today he would still be a hermit, but he most likely would be listening in a room just like this.
Overall the experience was way too short and too intoxicating to take it all in a matter of a few hours. I plan to return at some point and spend a full day listening to this system again, and hopefully when there is a vinyl rig available. I have now had the bar raised for me and there is a new reference to measure against. If you ever have the chance to visit Brian and listen to his system, take it and never look back! You will be forever changed by it. Now, how can I get a million dollars without ending up in an 8X8 cell with someone who wants to make me his girlfriend?
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