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Aspen Acoustics Grand Aspen speakers Review, Part 2 – conclusion

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Also read: Part 1


The range of hybrid speaker products

For many years I asked Bruce Thigpen of Eminent Technology to make a bigger, more capable version of the LFT-8B, which would have been a terrific affordable solution for persons seeking a bigger slice of hybrid sound. Prior to reviewing I had owned the Vandersteen 2C followed by the Magnepan 1.6QR. I thought it would be great to have a speaker with a mix of those transducers’ attributes. The Eminent Technology LFT-8, which I wrote about the conversion in the field from the A version to the B version, captured what I saw as the best performance characteristics of both, and I was pulled toward ownership of it. The Eminent hybrid was my first, and I have been drawn toward hybrid speakers ever since. As I listen to the Grand Aspen, it strikes me that apart from having two towers per channel, this design is not foreign to what Eminent Technology might have produced, albeit likely with magnetic planar midrange and tweeter drivers. There is magic in the dynamic/dipole hybrid design when it is well done.

I heard the largest MartinLogan hybrid, the Neolith, at a show a few years ago, but for the price my initial impression was that it wasn’t particularly nuanced. That may have been partly due to the use of MacIntosh electronics and aggressive demo music that may have occluded a more refined character. It is difficult to make a hard, final determination of a speaker’s capabilities apart from use in one’s room. A demo either weakens or reinforces the desire to have an in-home session, but it is insufficient to make a final judgment of the speaker unless preferences preclude it as desirable. Those preferences should be discussed rather than the speaker being labeled as poor.

How, then can I discuss knowledgeably the Grand Aspen’s performance in an absolute sense in comparison to the Neolith if I haven’t had the latter speaker in my home? I cannot, and neither could anyone else. One can discuss the impact of specifications and the listening impressions and can even speculate about comparison as I sometimes do. But such should not be taken as a head-to-head comparison. Readers of reviews get into trouble when they hold a writer’s listening impressions as equivalent to direct comparisons. I make generalized comments about where I think the Grand Aspen would fall in terms of comparative sound between it and larger, more costly speakers; from my extended experience in the industry, I believe my generalizations are correct. Readers will determine whether they agree. It is tempting to give the performance nod to the Grand Aspen simply because the Neolith sports a $119K price tag, however, proper assessment of a speaker’s absolute performance is not relative to the price until one becomes a buyer. When discussing performance, I attempt to ignore price until such time as the speaker is to be considered as a good or poor value. If value is the predominant criteria by which a speaker’s performance is judged, then the assessment of performance is likely skewed in favor of the speaker considered the better value.

Revelatory experience

As I sit in front of the Grand Aspen, I struggle to process the reality of the situation. Scott made the ribbon drivers from scratch. I have used the Accuton driver previously and thought I knew its limits. I have used and heard demos of many fine panel speakers, the most recognized from Sound Lab and Magnepan. I have my King Sound King III electrostatic speakers and the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition dynamic/ribbon hybrid speakers sitting in the other room. What do I hear? I hear a cleaner, more robust, tonally richer midrange and treble from the Grand Aspen than these others. The performance is simply better, and not by a little bit. The ribbon drivers surpass the performance of panel and hybrid speakers in the same price range that have mass-fabricated drivers.Evidently, Scott makes a superior ribbon driver by hand in his garage that plays with more panache than some mass-produced ones. The conclusion is striking, that mass producing drivers does not assure superior sound quality!

I would not take my last comment to read that all craft and DIY speaker drivers are superior to all mass-produced drivers. One must simply compare to know. In my quest for SOTA sound, my willingness to take a risk, to invest in an unknown designer and builder is paying dividends. I have spent a reasonable amount of time at shows and dealers in front of upper end offerings from JM Labs, Wilson, Magnepan, Vivid, Tidal (note that these are not hybrid speakers) — name a dozen other prestigious brands’ big boy speakers in quarter to half million-dollar systems—and the overwhelming impression I have regarding the Grand Aspen is that it would not be out of place beside them. It may not outperform them, but neither would it be embarrassed by them.

I have reached that assessment after only one iteration on the system, biwiring the tweeter and midrange ribbons. I worked with the PureAudioProject Quintet15, Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition, and King Sound King III relentlessly to improve them, and they have not reached this level of realism. I have heard them with the same amps and source, the Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra and the Small Green Computer sonicTransporter with the COS D1 DAC +Pre-Amplifier. They have also been assessed with the same cables I now use as my reference, Iconoclast Cable’s top interconnects and speaker cables.

Years ago, it spun my audiophile world around to discover that the way to a superior system is not through break in but through aggressive changes made to a system in experimentation to find the best combination of gear. It spins my head around now to experience that a speaker made by a high school physics teacher, with home-made drivers and crossovers, is outperforming these other late model ribbon and dipole designs! If you doubt it simply because I am a reviewer or you cannot conceive of such a result, feel free to buy a popular, high value speaker. Rub your wallet every time you listen, and you will be happy.

5 Responses to Aspen Acoustics Grand Aspen speakers Review, Part 2 – conclusion

  1. Allen Edelstein says:

    Just a detail which has nothing to do with your comments on the Grand Aspen performance. But looking at the photos the mid range and tweeters do not look like ribbon drivers(I know the designer calls them ribbons). But both drivers look like they are supported on all 4 sides and that makes them planars, not ribbons. And the two types of drivers don’t work the same. If I’m incorrect I do apologize but I see planars called ribbons too often.

  2. Allen,
    God’s Peace,

    I discussed your question with Scott Kindt, and while there is some variance on what people call a ribbon versus planar driver, Scott feels there are enough characteristics of his driver to consider it a ribbon. It is attached at the top and bottom, not four sides. It is positioned between rows of magnets. It does have a “backing” (Scott’s term) to support the ribbon. He said he could make the ribbons without that backing element, but they would be vulnerable to tearing and not have the same durability. He pointed out what many of us know, that Magenpan blurs this distinction somewhat by calling their driver a quasi-ribbon. Yet, they are mounted on all four sides to my knowledge.

    Imo, Scott’s drivers have some elements of a ribbon and some elements of a planar driver. He is sticking with the description of them as “dipole ribbons”, and I do not see an airtight argument for saying they are not.

    My response is not intended to cause a battle over nomenclature of driver technology, but to add to respond to the comment and add manufacturer input.

    Douglas Schroeder

  3. irenee Grand says:

    I can understand how you feel about this speaker. I have an old pair of Eminent Technology LFT 3 from back 1987 and I have done many modifications as cabinetry, crossover and cabling and it is so interesting how I haven’t heard other speakers do better in the you are there sensation (Focal, Dynaudio, MBL etc…

  4. Irene Grand,
    God’s Peace to you,

    Ah, a true Eminent Tech fan! I also have a vintage set of LFT VI that I have paired with some smaller Hsu Subwoofers which are nice but the combo falls well short of the Grand Aspen. It is a curious thing how well Scott achieved his goal of recreating the sound of a big Apogee speaker using a hybrid design. The large 4″ ribbon does a great job of opening up the speaker like E.T.s and other dipole designs.

    I find it interesting how different characteristics of radically different speakers elicit that “you are there” experience with listeners. Some must have coherence, and others massive bass/LF, while others love the scale of dipoles. I think they’re all legit but none perfect.

    Douglas Schroeder

  5. God’s Peace to the community,

    I am motivated to offer an unsolicited update and impressions of the experimental system I proposed in the article, that of using the Perlisten subwoofers with the Grand Aspen.

    My latest experiment was to try the Perlisten D212s Subwoofers with the Grand Aspen Speakers. That necessitated leaving the internal subs silent and sending the line level signal to the Perlisten subs. That is not to be taken as a negative comment on the GA’s internal subs, which are excellent. The Perlisten subs are smart subs with room correction and have been tuned to my room.

    The results are impressive! I am using all 8 channels of the Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra amplifiers (2 units with 4 channels, the maximum number of channels in the Ultra version of the amp is four), so the combined Wattage for the system including the powered subs is conservatively 10,800 Watts. The speakers have an immediacy I have not heard previously from dipoles I have used, and this setup has exceptional resolution and extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum. The dynamics are high efficiency/horn-like, but with the generosity in sound stage similar to a dipole. I love the particular combination of characteristics of this system, and it is one of the most perfect combinations of equipment I have assembled. Listening across a very wide spectrum of musical genres, the only adjustment I make to the system is a +/- .5dB output adjustment of the Perlisten subs. Older recordings which are light on the low end take the extra .5 dB, while the newer recordings get dialed back .5 dB. The subs have so much capacity to pressurize the room that I have to operate them between -6 dB and -6/5 dB.

    The system:
    Small Green Computer sonicTransporter
    Signature Rendu SE with systemOptique
    Clarity Cable Supernatural USB
    COS Engineering D1 DAC + Pre-Amplifier
    Full loom of Iconoclast Cables, using 2 pair XLR IC, 2 pair RCA IC, and 4 pair of speaker cables, and Iconoclast’s Belden PCs
    Grand Aspen Speakers
    Perlisten D212s Subs with Iconoclast’s RCA 3m interconnect and Belden’s PCs

    There is an irony in the hybrid setup incorporating two products which are dissimilar in terms of their development. The Perlisten subs are from industry veterans with extensive capital at their disposal. The Grand Aspen Speakers are the work of one man working in obscurity. I don’t recall having such a radical disparity in a system, yet I rank this system as easily in the top 3 I have ever built. I hesitate to name it absolutely the best ever, for fear of inappropriately downgrading other fine equipment that involved other components, cables, etc. and so did not allow for a direct comparison.

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