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Aspen Acoustics Grand Aspen speakers Review, Part 2 – conclusion

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The 8-channel advantage

The Grand Aspen can be taken into territory that to my ear has been reserved for much pricier speakers through use of eight channels of amplification. In my experience every passive speaker benefits from extension of clean power in the form of monoblock amplifiers, passive bi-amping, or dedicated amps for drivers in a passive speaker as in the Grand Aspen. However, dedicating amp channels to drivers in a passive speaker requires use of attenuation for each driver, which has been provided in the design of the Grand Aspen.

Some active speakers take advantage of that principle by matching not only an amp to the entire speaker, but particular amps (or channels) to specific drivers. The Grand Aspen is not active in the classic sense, but it benefits from the additional amplifier channels as though it were. The provision of passive attenuators for all but the Accuton midrange, the output of which is controlled by the preamp, pushes the speaker into less charted territory, passive but with capacity to adjust the output, and consequently, relative tonality of each driver.

Recognize that inclusion of more channels of amplification, interconnects, and speaker cables for the associated drivers may add substantially to the cost of the system. A person seeking to improve performance at a price point could try a pair of 4-channel lower end HiFi amplifiers, perhaps class D, and budget cables. No one can tell you whether such a scheme would be preferable to seeking a bespoke or claimed statement speaker driven by a high quality two channel amplifier. Then again, perhaps Scott would tell you. I encouraged him to give the 8-channel setup a try, so he purchased a second Balanced Audio Technology tube amplifier, converted both units to stereo operation, and implemented bi-wiring to achieve the required channels. In doing so he found an entirely higher level of performance. He enthused it was the best sound he had ever achieved. There is now evidence from system building that the 8-channel method works well for solid state and tube systems.

I am blessed to continue use of the reviewed Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifiers, which together offer 8 channels driving 600wpc into 8 Ohms and 1,000wpc into 4 Ohms. The quality of sound from these eight channels and the Iconoclast Cabling in conjunction with the Grand Aspen is beyond other passive speakers compared. The average impedance specification of the Grand Aspen is 5Ohms, so I suspect these speakers are being driven at better than 3,000wpc per side. Does a high-power specification mean all parameters of sound quality will improve or that it will be holistically superior? No, it does not, just as a lower power specification does not mean superior sound. The quality of parts inside the amp, the designer’s ability, matching of the speaker to the amp, and the quality of the system assembled including all cabling (yes, power cords, too) all influence the outcome. I like the fact that some newer class D amps like the i.V4 Ultra sport both high power and high current. The i.V4 Ultra lured me away from class A, lass A/B, and tube amps, until some radical development in those other classes of amps develops. That is not to claim the i.V4 Ultra is the best class D amp on the planet. I plan on comparing it to other newer class D amps over time.

Overall, more channels dedicated to drivers means better macrodynamics, which means livelier sound. Dr. Frankenstein shouted, “It’s alive,” and the Grand Aspen with all that power is more alive than I dared to hope. If you are spooked by the complexity of the 8 channels of amplification, each speaker tower, bass and treble, can accommodate Aspen Acoustic’s included binding post jumpers, thus reducing the complexity of the system to four channels of amplification and two sets of speaker cables, the setup Scott used. No one can tell you whether you would prefer the Grand Aspen run more traditionally with four channels of higher pedigree amplification and cabling powering the speaker in a bi-wired setup. At a bare minimum, a stereo amp and two sets of shotgun cables can be used. I suspect overall it would be the most performance inhibiting, like Honda putting turbo on a 1.5L engine.


Big soft dome versus big ribbon

In a different system experiment, one that showed the benefit of alternative system configurations, I had fun seeing how close to a larger ATC or PMC active speaker I could come by using four channels of the i.V4 Ultra amps on the passive Wharfedale Opus 2-M2 Monitors, which have 8” woofers and 3” soft dome midrange drivers similar to the upper end of the PMC and ATC speaker lines. To give it the best result, I blended with them the Perlisten D212 subwoofers. For an extra boost, I set the amps on stands next to the back of the speakers and used the Iconoclast jumper cables as speaker cables, doubling them up as I had with the King III. This combination was as pleasurable as larger floor standing speakers previously reviewed such as the Tannoy Glenair, Salk Sound SS 9.5, Ohm Acoustics F5, BMC PureVOX, and other sub $20K speakers. Most sub/monitor setups I would not choose over larger floor standers, but this combination I would. The thought has trickled through my mind that in a space-constrained retirement home it might do the job competently. Please note that it took technically refined and costly subwoofers to achieve this result. You should not think you will get near this result with a pair of economical subwoofers and bargain basement monitors. It was no slouch system, yet when it was moved out and the Grand Aspen inserted and tuned up, the Wharfedale speaker in comparison seemed small and anemic. The only aspect of performance where there was comparable sound quality was in the LF, as would be expected due to the Perlisten subwoofer.

I can hear the objection now, “There’s no way a passive speaker like the Grand Aspen can have performance like an ATC or PMC active speaker.” You’re wrong, and a large part of the reason is because multiple powerful channels on individual drivers acts like a lock in a canal that raises the entire speaker to a higher level, one that passive speakers normally never reach. Consider, then, that the Grand Aspen has cleaner sounding ribbon drivers than the higher production drivers of the other dipole and hybrid speakers I use. It has a built-in subwoofer to give it LF extension that is beyond all but the largest tower speakers. It has flexibility in adjusting the output of specific drivers affecting their interaction as if one were using an active x-over. Finally, it has capability for the drivers to be driven individually like some active speakers. That is a set of advantages that even claimed statement and bespoke passive speakers might struggle to match. It means the Grand Aspen would likely outperform your favorite conventionally designed passive dynamic floor standing speaker or larger dipole or hybrid speaker. I do not make that statement as fact, but as conjecture based on experience and comparison with similar sizable and well-regarded passive speakers.


More listening

For all the multiples of drivers per channel (two 1” ribbon tweeters; 2” ribbon and 6” Accuton ceramic midrange drivers; 12” Aurum Cantus woofer, and Aspen Acoustics’ oppositional active subwoofer) the Grand Aspen is surprisingly coherent, seamless. Except for the somewhat binary nature of the midrange drivers, which can also be addressed through adjusting the output of the 2” ribbon driver, the speaker does not sing with forked tongue. It doesn’t multiply wave launches, like the King III’s seven bass panels or the Whisper’s four mid-bass drivers, to fool the listener into sensing something larger is happening. The scale, impact, tone, and resolution, along with any degree of warmth one wishes, I hear as authentic, true to life sound.

I am digging into Metropole Orchest recordings and finding a variety of collaborations worthy for personal enjoyment and system testing. The studio session albums are particularly pretty and well recorded. I spent a fair bit of time listening to “Everything Must Change” from the Metropole Studio Session: Dutch Soul Jam. The quiet male vocals in a larger venue combined with the size and complexity of the orchestra showed the pedigree of the Grand Aspen. Paul van Kessel brings wonder with a hint of resignation as he sings of the immutable nature of change. I zeroed in on the piano and strings in the opening 30 seconds. The piano was grounded, full bodied, weighty as it should sound. The strings floated, collectively as one, as they should. At 3:50 the trombone solo begins, supported by a smattering of kick drum, piano and a few strings and crescendos at 4:38 as the rest of the orchestra joins in again. It is all in the right place, not only spatially and temporally, but emotionally. I am struck by the simplicity and power of the piece, as well as by how gracefully the Grand Aspen recreates it.

Indeed, everything must change, especially if I don’t care for the presentation of a particular audio system. I will change it until it is perceptually right. There is always a better result, a more perfect sound. On this recording and so many others the Grand Aspen sounds oh, so close to perfect. There is, however, that outlier maneuver I could make. I have been using the Perlisten D212s subwoofers not only with the Wharfedale monitors but also with the Trio15 and King III. I typically run the Legacy Whisper’s eight 15” woofers tri-amped, so it is like the Grand Aspen as regards capacity to pressurize the room and generally overwhelm without strain at higher listening levels.

The LF made by the subwoofer of the Grand Aspen contains less costly drivers and has less perfect performance than the Perlisten subs. There is no glaring issue and apart from direct comparison to the Perlisten subs there is not a sense of shortcoming. But the Perlisten subs are sui generis, a different critter altogether. As a finishing maneuver, I could “swap” subwoofers for the Grand Aspen by putting the respective RCA subwoofer leads and power cords onto the D212s pair that sit permanently in the front corners. They can be perfectly blended to the rest of the Grand Aspen due to their onboard computer and full suite of room correction settings. Any complimentary adjustments I wish to make on the Grand Aspen are made possible by the presence of the passive attenuators. Likely by the time you read this I will have done that setup. I have a hunch the result will be superior to what I have done previously for this review.

Is that a problem for Scott or Aspen Acoustics? Am I stealthily pointing out a problem with the subwoofer’s performance? No, not in the least. It is flattering to the Grand Aspen that I turn to a pair of hot new smart subwoofers in a bid to extend the speaker’s performance. If the Grand Aspen wasn’t all that, I wouldn’t bother. That’s what it takes in my listening room, a pair of $14K smart subs, to get the last bit of performance from them. Scott is to be congratulated for creating a transducer that requires statement subwoofers to push its performance to the limit.


I don’t want the listening to stop

A sign of the high pedigree of the Grand Aspen is that over time I do not tire of listening to it. I am typically restless regarding systems, causing me to build a new one approximately every three weeks. Having several speakers assuages the boredom that sets in as novelty gives way to familiarity, which gives way to contempt. I do not have true contempt, but I do tire of not hearing other aspects of great speaker systems. I have heard many different genres of speakers, so after a while I know that I could be hearing a different presentation just as enjoyable. Working with many speakers assuages the frustration that it is not possible to have it all in terms of parameters of performance. Swapping speakers regularly shows how even excellent speakers excel at only several of those parameters. Line source speakers do scale well, but not coherence. Dipole speakers do detail, but not presence. Full range and concentric speakers image wonderfully, but they tend to lack scale. On it goes, with each technology offering only a large slice, not the entire performance pie. Consequently, I keep building systems.

You might think that it is merely the newness of the Grand Aspen that keeps me riveted to it. Not likely. Readers of my reviews know I do not let convention dictate my methods, and besides building many systems efficiently to arrive at a best sound, I also do not spend several weeks to months on my first listen with a speaker under review. Usually, it stays in the rig no more than three weeks following a few days of aggressive optimization. Why? Because it will be compared in every respect to the other fine speakers available to me. I will not go from memory but run ongoing comparisons to hear its strengths and weaknesses in comparison. After working through about three other speakers, I rotate it back into the room and, starting with the current reference setup, attempt to better it with a mix of different gear. Or the process goes for as many rounds as it takes to have deep understanding of the speaker. It is a very thorough process that pushes the review speaker closer to its theoretical limits and provides nearer term comparisons. Normally, the Grand Aspen would have been moved out in less than a month, but its extraordinary performance is earning it extra listening time.

Perhaps it is the novelty of the quasi-triangular soundstage of the Grand Aspen that keeps me riveted. But as aforesaid, that effect is less with the newer design. No, it’s sheer rightness, beauty and balance that chases away the impulse to swap speakers.

I have often been asked which speakers I would keep if I could keep only one set. I normally answer, “The pair that is playing,” but not in this instance. If it was a case of speaker triage, I would keep the Grand Aspen. It’s simply the most correct sounding, the only one with nearly all the parameters by which I judge sound quality present at a high level.

The combination of the Wharfedale Opus 2-M2 Monitors and the Perlisten D212s subwoofers is gratifying in terms of fullness and presence from about 15Hz through the mid-bass. Without a direct comparison, it seems the 3” soft dome tweeter is resplendent. However, in comparison to the larger midrange ribbon of the Grand Aspen, it is fairly choked and much less revealing of the performance in the midrange. I use female vocals such as Sara Evans’s “Long Way Down” and Diana Krall’s “Superstar” to reveal much about the quality and technology of each speaker. When Diana reaches the end of each line, “… and oh, so far away… it sounds so sweet and clear,” the notes on which she sings the words “away” and “clear” become bulbous with the driver interaction with the cabinet. It also happened with the Perlisten S7t Tower, which makes me consider it to be an artifact of a dynamic speaker, a cabinet contribution which is not easily eliminated. Using a dipole such as the King III, the bulbous nature of the vocal is eliminated, but so is much of the warmth. The Grand Aspen gets it right on all counts: the warmth, the correct note without extra contribution from a cabinet, and even more nuance.

Every system carries a certain capacity to render a live performance as sounding real, but the variation in that capacity between systems is striking. Sitting down in front of a rig, especially an unfamiliar one, may be an exhilarating experience. Several aspects of the system may induce a feeling that the sound is closer to live music than previously heard. The only way to know particularly how well a pair of speakers renders music in a lifelike fashion is through comparison to other speakers. The mix of attributes shifts with each speaker, one having better presence and more dense images (i.e., dynamic or hybrid dynamic), while another has less focused images and perhaps more scale (i.e., dipole or hybrid dipole). Information retrieval is an absolute necessity for a system to fool the ears into thinking they are hearing live music. I aver that there is no such thing as too much resolution in an audio system. To that end, the Grand Aspen is in the top two or three speaker systems I have ever used when it comes to resolution, and it is so from the bass through the entirety of the frequency spectrum.

Bruce Hornsby’s album Solo Concerts presents his singing with solo piano on tracks such as “Mandolin Rain.” Whereas his voice can strengthen and be collected toward the center as heard through the PureAudioProject Trio15 10” Coaxial, or be expanded to cover the gap between the panels of the King III, or be given more weight and ease to the low end with the Whisper DSW Clarity Edition, none of them reach the level of sheer resolution of the Grand Aspen. Consequently, inflection in his voice, particular cadences of the piano, and decay of notes are more noticeable. The nature of the venue is in play more so with the Grand Aspen than these others. Rock Candy Funk Party’s live recording is thick with closely set performers and the crowd nearby. Hornsby’s concert goers recede into a bigger gap between him and them. In each instance I am placed in a seemingly ideal location to take in the performance, while the crowd does its thing either nearby me or beyond.

I normally assess the interplay of the upper midrange and the tweeter performance with alto singers. Lately I have found Jordan Smith, a tenor who would be worth your time hearing. He strikes me as having a “once in a generation” voice, and he has refined it to be as pure and smooth as a fine wine. He may sing pop music but he does so in svelte fashion like Harry Connick Jr.

Two performances by Smith showcase his enviable talent, “Halo (The Voice Performance,” and “Beautiful.” The recording from The Voice is inferior technically but it reveals his abilities no less than the studio recording. Jordan has the gift of seemingly effortless extended upper range and he has masterful control. While his music is a delight to hear on any fine system, in comparison to the other speakers here the Grand Aspen pulls forth from the recordings more of Smith’s breathing, the emphasis varying with each note, his trailing off and terminating his lines. I cannot say it enough, the large midrange ribbon at the same time illuminates, warms, and reveals more activity in the vocals than I am used to hearing. As Smith winds up to reach his highest notes, the hand off between the sets of ribbon drivers is smooth. There is no piercing, no pricking as Smith belts out the lyrics at the top of his range before slipping down again. I may hear such things from the finer systems at shows, but not typically in review systems.



My guess is that most readers will connect that name to the movie character Rocky Balboa. Not many speakers carry a reputation like the Apogee Grand. Legendary ones seem larger than life, like the mythical Rocky Balboa. As with Sylvester Stallone’s character, they want to take on the world and win. It’s not reality. In a truer comparison, the unknown Grand Aspen speaker system, like the young, hungry boxer Leon Spinks, is not polished as it steps into the ring with much more cultured products. But it will control the fight, so to speak, as regards quality of the sound.

Awards, not belts, are handed out in the audiophile community for products that are winners. If Aspen Acoustics continues to progress, I predict it will garnish its share of awards. It doesn’t have to be “the best,” only better than most. In my use it is holistically better than the other speakers referenced. Attempting to retain my reviewer objectivity, I cannot help but be impressed at Scott’s effort. Hearing the Grand Aspen is a beautiful audiophile experience but hearing it at its best is sublime. It is a grand speaker, one with sound quality that the bespoke and statement speaker companies would envy.



Associated Components:

Source: Salk Audio StreamPlayer Generation III with Roon interface

Streaming Music Service: Tidal

DAC:  Eastern Electric Minimax DSD DAC Supreme with Burson, DexaNewClassD and Sparkos Labs Discrete Opamp Upgrade; Exogal Comet DAC and upgrade power supply

Preamp: TEO Audio Liquid Preamplifier; Cambridge Audio 840E

Amps: First Watt J2 (two); Exogal Ion (PowerDAC); Benchmark Media AHB2 (two); Belles ARIA Mono Blocks

Integrated: Redgum Audio Articulata

Speakers:  Legacy Audio V Speaker System; Kings Audio Kingsound King III; Legacy Audio DSW Clarity Edition; Kings Audio King Tower omnidirectional; PureAudioProject Trio15 (Voxativ and Horn 1 versions); Aspen Acoustics Grand Aspen

Subwoofers: Legacy Audio XTREME HD (2)

IC’s: TEO Liquid Splash-Rs and Splash-Rc; TEO Liquid Standard MkII; Clarity Cable Organic RCA/XLR; Snake River Audio Signature Series Interconnects; Silent Source “The Music Reference”

Speaker Cables: TEO  Cable Standard Speaker; Clarity Cable Organic Speaker; Snake River Audio Signature Series Speaker Cables; Silent Source “The Music Reference”

Digital Cables: Clarity Cable Organic Digital; Snake River Audio Boomslang; Silent Source “The Music Reference”

USB: Verastarr Nemesis; Clarity Organic

Power Cables: Verastarr Grand Illusion; Clarity Cable Vortex; MIT Oracle ZIII; Xindak PF-Gold; Snake River Audio Signature Series; Silent Source “The Music Reference”

Power Conditioning: Wireworld Matrix Power Cord Extender; Tice Audio Solo


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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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