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Aspen Acoustics Grand Aspen speakers Review, Part 1 of 2

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I value full disclosure such that there are no hidden agendas, which might manipulate others. As such, I will share about my involvement with the design of the Grand Aspen. Skeptical readers may distrust my involvement, thinking I obtained this pair of speakers for free or that they are on permanent loan to me. Not so; I likely paid more than you paid for your speakers, especially if you are a budget audiophile. I did so with the awareness that if I ever sold them the resale value would be quite low because Aspen Acoustics is an unknown company. If that changes over time, and I hope that it does because I am convinced Scott Kindt deserves to have his reputation rise in the industry, it won’t save me from deteriorating resale because I am in early with a model that is scheduled to be replaced by one that is manufactured with tighter tolerances. I will explain that in a bit.

My disclosure about this speaker is so full that it may cause discomforting facts to surface. Do not expect that if you buy from a cottage industry component or speaker maker that you will recover a substantial amount of your purchase price. Your value is the price paid relative to the product and the satisfaction of ownership and use. The more obscure the company is, the less you can expect to recover when you sell. The fact is that the slew of average performing, but quite popular, products usually garnish the highest resale value. I try not to delude myself into thinking that I will recover most, or even a significant portion, of my money simply because the product performs better than many popular mass-produced speakers. I understand a lower level Magnepan or Vandersteen speaker would be resold at a higher percentage of its original cost than the Grand Aspen, even though in comparison of sound quality to the Grand Aspen they are not as deserving. Marketing largely dictates resale value in this hobby, and purchasers of more idiosyncratic products need to accept that reality.

Audiophiles are famously biased toward their favored brands and potentially distrusting of reviewers, countering reviewer’s claims. Even if I showed them the list of speakers that the Grand Aspen outperforms, many would doubt it due to brand bias and inability to compare performance specifications directly. I can relate to that; I would struggle if presented a similar scenario. Other audiophiles have a need to consider whatever they buy to be a giant killer, which usually necessitates it being a bargain. Similarly, when resale value is a top priority, popularity of the design becomes of paramount importance. As a former starry-eyed owner of those popular speakers, Vandersteen and Magnepan, with much needed experience I concluded that popular designs get you, in absolute, not relative terms, average performance, which skews upward at the top of the line. A great value in the middle of the line means unexceptional sound quality relative to the sea of speaker offerings. No one can disparage the sound quality for the price. It’s the sound quality as compared to other speakers on the performance spectrum that is unimpressive. If resale value is not among the highest considerations when purchasing such a speaker, the performance relative to the entire spectrum of transducers available typically falls short of the claims made for the speaker.

The other side of the coin is that I am in early and am getting the sound of this speaker at a sizable discount to what it would cost were it built by a larger shop with some work outsourced and several employees to pay. Instantly the craft shop price would perhaps double out of necessity of running a growing business. No owner’s review is completely untouched by bias, but if I see the conditions under which I may be biased, I am in a better position to attempt suppressing it. I will try not to overstate the good qualities of the Grand Aspen, and I will attempt to reveal the shortcomings so that you will appreciate the skillful product Scott has made but not misconstrue it as faultless.


Not really his fault

The Grand Aspen is an astonishingly good sounding speaker, but it also would benefit in several ways by improved build conditions that an expanded business could bring. Scott’s intent is that after he retires from teaching high school physics at the end of the 2022-23 school year, he will focus on his speaker business. Now he is literally a one-man operation; he models and tests his designs, sources and tests materials and parts, builds and finishes the cabinets, assembles the speakers and at this point has made three 17-hour round trips to my home! It is an understatement to say that Scott is driven to make a great speaker and make his customers happy. I want Scott to succeed. I also wanted my pair of Grand Aspens to have significantly better finishing on the joints than the prototype pair of Capella that came before. Since he was going to build me a production model for no additional cost and was on a shoestring budget, I gifted him a compound miter saw — he was building speakers without one! I was investing in a better outcome for my future speaker. He has requested nothing of me, and I have not gifted Scott Kindt anything else, nor invested in his company. This review is not quid pro quo. I owe Scott nothing and when this set of Grand Aspen speakers was delivered, he said I did not have to write anything about them. I chose to write this review out of admiration for his speaker and its performance. (And did you ever! –pub.)

You can read in the previous Aspen Acoustics review how I informally consulted Scott about some changes that have continued in the Capella and the Grand Aspen. The two fundamental changes were the creation of separate mid/bass and tweeter towers, and use of passive attenuators to allow full flexibility in speaker tuning and integration into the system. When his work on the Grand Aspen began, Scott told me early on that the design would change somewhat. Other than discussion of the bass driver, I did not have involvement in the final design. I was shocked when he notified me upon completion of my pair of Grand Aspens that he had changed the speaker substantially, making an enormous 2” wide midrange ribbon and adding an Aurum Cantus aero striction super tweeter! I was expecting a mildly tweaked pair of Capella Speakers with better cabinets; instead, the Grand Aspen is wholly superior and is in a different class of performance than the former. Scott’s vision is to recreate the sonic signature of the largest of classic Apogee speakers, the Apogee Grands. There is more than a nod to the name of that venerated speaker in play here.

Scott’s speaker specifications are unadorned, but do not dismiss it for that reason. Most speakers I encounter come with a nifty manual complete with many specs. Scott has not yet published an Owner’s Manual, and I suspect it will be done by the time he pivots to full time speaker making. I could line up many nifty manuals alongside visually flawless speakers, but it would not make those other speakers outperform the Grand Aspen. This is a case where if you were to judge all those other speakers by the cover, you would be wrong. That is, you would be wrong to judge them as superior to the Grand Aspen simply because they have a nicely printed Owner’s Manual and appear flawless.


Unvarnished assessment of the pros/cons of this build

Supply chain issues have touched many manufacturers, and Aspen Acoustics is no exception. Scott waited about a year for the intended 11” Eton bass driver to ship. It never did, but in the process, he kept reworking the design and came up with what I consider a better solution. Since the 11” woofer was unavailable, he employed a 12” Aurum Cantus driver because its specs were similar, and it was available. I opined to Scott at the time he updated me that he was using the Aurum Cantus driver that I might prefer it, and in this application, I do! Performance-wise the 12” bass driver nestles between the large midrange ribbon and the 12” oppositional active subwoofer. The subwoofer is in the Grand Aspen’s lower cabinet, has generously sized side-slot loading, and is powered by the 500wpc Dayton Audio SPA500 500W Subwoofer Plate Amplifier, a class A/B design. The plate amp has level and frequency cutoff controls, and in addition has controls for an adjustable emphasis region that can be set for frequency and output. I appreciate the standby mode that turns the amp on with a line level signal. The plate amp gives the Grand Aspen some LF shaping capabilities to better integrate the speaker to the room. To fully utilize the plate amp the owner should place a Y cable on each speaker’s RCA line level cable bringing the signal to the amp’s inputs so as to use both the left and right inputs, which will make available the full 500 watts. Owners of subwoofers and larger speakers with integral subwoofers should consult the owner’s manual to see if both inputs are needed to maximize performance. I first learned about that in conjunction with the Legacy Audio XTREME XD subwoofers, and it applies also to the Grand Aspen’s plate amplifier.

The power and precision of the bass shaping through the Dayton amp is not on the level of the Perlisten D212s subwoofer, which features astoundingly powerful push-pull driver configuration, software remote-controlled room correction, and highly refined frequency cutoff and trim (individual sub output) settings. However, the D212s at the time of review cost $14K per pair, almost the price of the complete Grand Aspen. I consider my other speakers to be legitimately high performance when used with the Perlisten D212s subwoofers, but in my listening sessions the Grand Aspens perform better from mid-bass upward.


Literally hand-built

The Grand Aspen is not a mass-produced speaker and as such has variances associated with a hand-built item. While the sheets of veneer for the cabinet have been milled, they do not have a glass-smooth finish. Consequently, if one orders a semi-gloss finish as is on my pair, the minute contour of the wood is exaggerated by the sheen. The Capella speakers had a satin finish, which hid the surface variations better. Those slight deviations from a perfectly smooth surface are discerned when a bright, more focused light ,such as from a sconce or sunlight, strikes the speakers at a certain angle. When I use the sconces in my room the unevenness is seen, but when I use the can lights it disappears. This is a result of Scott not having higher-end woodworking machinery, but rather building and finishing the speakers with more basic tools. I am impressed with how precise his work is; the curvature of the top cabinet as it moves from the 12” bass driver to the 6” Accuton was done by hand with a belt sander!

Given such rudimentary production conditions, the work is quite good. Such variances will be eliminated when cabinet production is outsourced. Also, the joints of the cabinet, while well done, are not as precise as if made by a professional. For those who insist on perfectionist construction, and the expected price increase, this speaker system is not yet for you. I am going to keep an eye on Aspen Acoustics and the plan to change production protocols because at some point I want the higher production version that not only sounds like a $100K statement product but has a complimentary build. I anticipate that it will cost me more to get there, but the aesthetics of the experience are important to me. If the aesthetics are a distant second in importance, then you should be speaking to Scott now, before the company retools for higher production. Keep in mind, however, that if he gets swamped with orders, the wait time might be quite long even to the point of extending well into next year and a transition to changed production. Consider that this is a small company with intent to grow, so the overarching conditions of your order may be situationally influenced. Having said that, Scott is one of the most reliable persons I have met in the industry and I do not think he would cavalierly change an audiophile’s order, but would discuss and find agreement as to progress toward fulfillment should the company’s growth come into play.

Given his record of hitting targets that he has set in the two years that I have known him, I believe Scott will be successful in his plan to have a professional cabinet maker turn out his designs. Given his talent in building crossovers and drivers, it is a thankless task for him to be building the cabinets. When Scott can devote his energies in a more focused fashion to Aspen Acoustics, it would be wonderful if an angel investor or potential partner could help the company take off.

The cabinets are robust with ¾” MDF on the sides and back, heavy internal bracing, and internal coating with a polymer. The front is ½” MDF covered by ¾” solid hardwood. The speaker has two modules; the top contains the woofer and 6” ceramic driver, and the bottom holds the subwoofer. They are joined by hardware accessed by removal of the 12” Aurum Cantus woofer. As production methods improve, I suspect that drivers will not need to be removed in the field to join the top and bottom modules. The black wood band between the two modules is a nice aesthetic improvement over the Capella.

Scott has very limited local supply of hardwoods, so at this time a mirror image L/R front baffle is not to be expected. He describes his work as crafting speakers, which is an accurate term to describe the process. Because of the natural color variance between lots of wood coming to his supplier, the color can vary significantly. Scott tries to find workarounds for potential mismatches in coloration when matching the tweeter towers to the bass/midrange towers. He was able to bring the tweeter towers much closer to a perfect match by putting the raw cherry veneer in the Colorado sunlight to darken it. That cannot be done with all woods, but he attempts to address such aesthetic considerations. These fit and finish challenges should also be moderated with outsourcing of the cabinets. The aesthetics associated with the build process is the harshest criticism that can be leveled at the Grand Aspen.The Grand Aspen someday will have breathtaking appearance, but it already has breathtaking performance.


Pluses and minuses of this craft build

There are other considerations about the Grand Aspen that merit mentioning. As you peruse the list below it should become evident to you whether you have tolerance for a unique design that is currently humble, but well built, one that comes from a small shop. While obviously not as refined as production models from well-known makers, it has more refined sound quality. You may find it impossible for any design that is not mass produced to have sound quality that exceeds a great number of $30K audio shop offerings. You will have to trust me on that point; either you will or will not.

Anyone who desires to purchase a craft speaker from a small shop needs to be aware of the pros and cons. Though they may differ somewhat from other brands and models, here are the quibbles and bonuses of the Grand Aspen in its current iteration:


  • Tweeter and woofer towers not of equal height, an aesthetic consideration
  • Joints at corners are not machine finished
  • Semi-gloss finish reveals variances in surface
  • Grill for the 12” Aurum Cantus driver is handmade, material not machine fitted, and consequently the corners of the fabric are not perfectly tight
  • Spikes for the tweeter tower are smallish, could be more robust
  • Owner’s Manual and some specifications not available at time of review



  • Excellent quality binding posts with generous spacing for spades
  • Quality, thick hardwood veneer
  • Solid cabinet construction
  • 12” woofer’s grill magnetically attached to cabinet (changed after delivery of my pair)
  • Inclusion of subwoofer and super tweeter for true full range performance
  • Madisound Subwoofer Plate amp is full featured class A/B but economical
  • All drivers operate within optimum range for less distortion
  • Larger drivers with higher surface area result in ease, unstrained performance
  • Overbuilt, handmade, minimalist crossovers with high quality capacitors
  • Attenuators allow adjustment of individual driver output
  • Capacity to be driven by 8 channels of amplification

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