Publisher Profile

Aspen Acoustics Lagrange L5 MKII ribbon dipole speaker system

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Hidden away in the folds of the Rocky Mountains is a tiny speaker company called Aspen Acoustics. It’s a one-garage affair with one person as three employees: Scott Kindt as owner and CEO, Scott Kindt as Head of Sales, and Scott Kindt in fabrication and assembly. It is a fledgling speaker company, as Scott has never shown his speakers at a public event, nor taken out an ad in a HiFi periodical, nor mass produced his product. You have heard of craft breweries? Aspen Acoustics is a craft speaker shop with an ambitious and capable man at the helm. As will be seen, Scott knows what he is doing when it comes to speaker design, and he has the drive and skills to make it work. How do I know? I am a customer —not initially, but halfway through this review. As I familiarize you with Aspen Acoustics, I will share what turned me from a curious onlooker into an owner.

I am always on the prowl for something different, a new build, concept or means to reach ineffable sound. Several months ago, as I flitted between online systems at an audio website, I spied a rather unusual speaker system named the Lagrange L5. It was surprising in terms of the driver set, with a prominent 6.5” Accuton ceramic mid-bass driver and a disproportionately sized ribbon tweeter. My mind reeled, “Whoa! Now that’s different!” The woodwork of the cabinet was unadorned but clean, and the drivers seemed top quality; it was not the work of a hack. I have been in the game long enough to know that it had potential to sound very good, despite the unusual appearance. Seeing the Accuton mid-bass, the same driver that is in the Vapor Audio Joule White Speakers I owned at the time, and the tall ribbon tower, I fancied the speaker, if it had a decent crossover, to have excellent resolution and generous soundstage scale. I chose to contact the owner to inquire.

Scott responded promptly to my call, and with some incredulity. He had been making speakers for 15 years, had sold some to friends, and had even taken one or two designs to a local HiFi establishment to seek input from the proprietor. That in itself is a lovely aspect of the story, and I hope it cheers the reader’s heart as it does mine to see the cordiality and helpfulness of the dealer toward a local designer. The dealer was impressed, as were the friends; people told Scott to start showing off his designs. So he did, placing the images and system description only two hours before I spied it!

Scott and I are both Christians who do not believe in luck. We are educated enough in science and understand philosophy, such that the concept of luck, a facet of many world religions and some theories of Origins, has little appeal to us. In the real-world, luck is a nonevent, but probability is critical. Casinos believe in probability, but they want you to believe in fortune. Investors know which one wins. Scott and I are the sort of persons who hold to the principle that everything happens for a reason. Scott’s God-given knowledge, developed skills, and boldness to promote his designs, and my experience in reviewing and owning many different genres of speakers met in a wonderful convergence! You can call it luck; I will call it inevitable.

Scott’s speaker making initially found inspiration in following Tony Gee, specifically his website, and The Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Vance Dickason. As he made his own traditional designs, Scott realized that his goal of simulating the sound of an Apogee speaker would not be possible without a ribbon tweeter. He decided to make them! For most people this would be a fool’s errand. However, Scott had worked in the space industry assembling satellite parts, so his technical experience and knowledge of assembly methods for tight tolerance parts exceeds most. He is also a glutton for punishment, seemingly pushing himself in any endeavor. The man is the antitheses of lazy, which is an important point for anyone considering a purchase.

Aside from our personal tastes in music and general habitus in audiophilia, Scott and I discussed his other passion, astrophotography. I recommend the curious visit his website to see his fine work. Scott shared that his vision was to produce a speaker that captured the characteristics of the fabled Apogee ribbon speakers, but with the energy and dynamics of a box speaker. This became a topic of extended conversation not only because of the notoriety of the Apogee brand, but because I was familiar with them; I had owned a pair of Apogee Caliper speakers. I knew the sound characteristics that he was after, and could see that he was still clinging to much of the standard dynamic speaker design principles. As the discussion was informal and no review had been established, I consulted him on his design. From my experience with panel and dynamic speakers, I could see that the forward firing woofer was going to produce a strong sense of location of the bass, which is not a characteristic of panel speakers. I also felt the ribbon tower affixed to the primary cabinet was not optimum. I shared my thoughts that he should seek an alternative bass design so as to get rid of the point source bass driver, and establish an independent ribbon tower to eliminate issues with vibrations of the mid/bass cabinet, and for both vertical and horizontal baffle adjustment of the tweeter relative to the main cabinet. It also would allow for powering the tweeter directly from a dedicated amp channel.

Scott shared how fiendishly difficult it had been to make a final determination of which capacitors would be used to blend the tweeters to the Accuton midrange drivers. One set would cause a bit more output and make the tweeters sound hotter, while another set might make them seem recessed and without enough sparkle. Scott worried that with different combinations of gear the tweeter may take on too much or too little presence. I suggested he consider putting an attenuator in line to allow for personalized contouring of the ribbon output to the rest of the speaker. I was able to convince him that this was far superior in overall contouring of the speakers than the slight loss due to the insertion of the attenuator. I charged him $1,000 for all of my consultation. I jest, but it does make me wonder if I should do some formal consulting. That would take me out of the reviewer’s chair and put me into a different role in the industry.

Scott immediately took to my observations. Following that exchange during the phone call, I offered that I would be quite interested in reviewing the speaker with the revised changes, and Scott agreed. Consequently, the reviewed speaker with the changes is called the Lagrange L5 MkII. Technically, as my consultation on the design of the speaker occurred prior to the review arrangements, I would not have to disclose my involvement in the changes. However, I think readers deserve to know all important aspects of reviews, and it shows that this article has integrity. There will be cynical readers who default to the conclusion that I did this only to have a speaker given to me. In order to silence audio conspiracy theorists, I purchased the speaker. It was not given to me.

Stop to consider the potentials involved, both positive and negative. I had no idea what this speaker would sound like, as I had never heard one of Scott’s designs. Scott would be driving the speaker a touch over 1,000 miles to my home; that is a 28+ hour round trip. Why not ship? This would be the only extant L5 MkII, and anyone who knows the shipping industry is aware that if it absolutely must not get damaged, it must be taken there personally. I did the same on a smaller scale, driving two 12-hour round trips to Minnesota to get the drivers refurbished on a vintage pair of Ohm Walsh Model F. There is no way I would risk destruction of those drivers by shipping them. Scott seems to like driving. I see some of my father’s entrepreneurial spirit in him, a charging, accomplishing spirit, but also an explorer who likes to cover ground. My father used to fall into a semi-zombie state when he drove long distance. I remember as a child looking into the rear-view mirror and seeing his eyes, like slits, blinking slowly. My mother would glance anxiously at him and poke him occasionally, “PAUL, WAKE UP!” The older I get, the more I accept the droning engine, the numbing passing of the miles. If one accepts the necessity, driving can be a relaxing thing —as long as you’re not trying to speed, which ratchets up the stress. I appreciate any manufacturer who travels hours to bring a review product. It shows intent on their part to make it happen.

I cautioned him that I would vet the speaker first in demo before committing to an article, because I was not going to spend my time on an inferior speaker, and I did not intend to destroy a small manufacturer with a review seen globally if his early effort fell short. I have done enough reviews of ok but not scintillating products that I simply do not care to spend any more time on them. Reviewers can damn small enterprises with one article, and they need to be sensitive to the disproportionate power they possess over the welfare of a company. One component maker lamented to me that among several very positive reviews, a single one gone sideways due to what he felt was malfeasance on the part of the reviewer was a sticking point in the minds of many potential customers. They had no idea of the issues the manufacturer had to endure as a result of the reviewer and magazine not following the manufacturer’s advice in preparation and setup of the product. As another manufacturer of a preamp, who had brought it for me to hear, said out of the blue as we were listening, “If you don’t like it, I’m not going to give it to you to review.” I was taken aback by the comment. Is that collusion? Is it the evil industry? No, it’s self-preservation, as he said were I to have a negative disposition, “My family is on the street. I’m literally wiped out.” As it turned out, he was not able to leave the unit and never did send another.

11 Responses to Aspen Acoustics Lagrange L5 MKII ribbon dipole speaker system

  1. Mike DeBoard says:

    Your belief in an invisible man in the sky who kills his son for three days and continues to hide like a coward has nothing to do with speaker design. Please leave the fables out of your reviews.

    • Dave P (BSc, MSc, PhD) says:

      What he said.

      The ‘reviewer’ can have his voice heard on audio matters without bringing mention of imagined entities into it. I feel the same way when I read a Clive Barker novel, who has to spoil his incredible way with written terror by lacing each story with oodles of his preferred sexuality. We may be tolerant of differing beliefs and sexualities, but that doesn’t give you license to stuff them into everything you present to the world, promulgation-on-the-sly. Indeed, I imagine your average patriarchal fundamentalist would take some exception to your trivialisation of his belief system by bringing it into an op-ed piece on the sound of a speaker box about witch no more than a-few-100 people in a world of thousands-of-millions care tuppence about.

      To be a scientist is to think about the world through the lens of reason, and to do so Always in All things. The notion that one can be “…educated enough in science” to suspend their reason and critical faculties when is suits is as laughably medieval as it is depressing to hear in the second millennium.

      If I was an audio manufacturer, the co-deist Mr. Kindt notwithstanding, I would think twice about submitting my product to a reviewer and a website that is content to turn-off its readership for the sake of needless indulgence of the reviewer’s fundamentalist beliefs.

      But, I shall take yours and your sponsor’s advice, as suggested, and hereafter ignore anything I see on any audio site with the name “Doug Schneider” at the head of it, “Dagogo” likewise.

  2. Mike,
    God’s Peace to you,

    If you wish to be fair, give grief to all those who import the religion of Naturalism into their articles.

    If you don’t like my faith, don’t read my articles. I certainly will not stop discussing it because of those who can’t tolerate contrary worldviews.

    Douglas Schroeder

    • As Christian philosopher and theologian Ronald Nash summarizes:

      Nature is a self-explanatory system. Any and every thing that happens within the natural order must, at least in principle, be explainable in terms of other elements of the natural order. It is never necessary to seek the explanation for any event within nature in something beyond the natural order.

  3. Constantine Soo says:

    Dagogo supports civil expression of contradictory opinions. If you want your voice to be heard, then allow others the same privilege.

  4. Lash says:

    You lost me at “Christians”.

  5. Constantine Soo says:

    Dagogo is about the audio hobby, and our reviewers may draw parallels from their personal beliefs and experiences to illustrate a point. Reviewers with fervent conviction in their worldviews often utilize those varying disciplines and beliefs for illustration of certain points in their Reviews. There are Dagogo readers with equally passionate stance of opposing viewpoints submitting countering comments. The absence of comments by readers neutral and sympathetic to the reviewer’s stances only serves to underline the urgency of the antagonistic sentiments, and Dagogo Review Comments Section is not the right place for accusations and condemnations.

    Dagogo allows its reviewers judicious use of varying principles, including and not limited to Creationism and Darwinism, in illustrating points in their Reviews. Readers are welcome to submit comments in discussion of products reviewed but challenges to the reviewer’s personal beliefs will be excluded. Readers interested in religious debates are advised to participate in theology-centric, appropriate forums.

  6. Dan C. says:

    Audio reviewers who spill a lot of ink over speculation and conjecture about a competing design that they have not auditioned other than reviewing design specifications risk having their audience skip over those musings. The intended audience here are interested in real life impressions. They want to know whether they can assess the reviewer’s percipient impressions in a sensible way to consider next steps, such as a personal audition of the reviewed product.

  7. Ian says:

    Speaking of faith , you are asking us to believe that an amateur, working on a part time basis in his garage and presumably with very limited testing equipment, has produced one of the best speakers in the world? Contrast that with say the Harman Group that has put vast sums of money at the disposal of the likes of Toole and Olive to research what makes a speaker sound good and to then implement those findings. It is possible of course that this speaker is as good as you say, but most rational audiophiles who know a modicum amount about speaker design theory are going to want to see a full set of “spinorama” measurements before accepting such a contention. To give one example to illustrate my point, do you understand why its important for a tweeter and a midrange driver to be as physically close as possible? Have you seen how far apart they are on this speaker due to the twin tower design! So, my advice to Mr Kindt is to send his speakers to Erin so that he can measure them on his Klippel machine. That will tell us whether your subjective impressions are more than delusions. No doubt you will say that is unnecessary because that would after all be applying a scientific approach to the subject.

    • Dagogo welcomes discussion on relevant topics to continue as long as it is carried on with civility and no personal insult. Corporations with considerable funds and resources are able to develop new technologies and improve upon the manufacturing process, resulting in a lower entry price points for the consumers in many cases. However, there are respectable and superior designs coming out of garage-operated manufacturers as well. The key takeaway is not whether a business is conducted in a garage or expensive corporate industrial parks but who is doing it.

      Last not least, measurements and theories of the design of a speaker are just as important as how it sounds, and Doug has heard it.

  8. Ian,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I believe Apple computers began in a garage. There are many successful businesses in audiophilia that began in a home. I do not consider a large factory a criteria for a successful speaker design.

    I enjoy discovering aspects of audio that are overlooked due to convention, because it avoids numbing repetition, as evidenced by the myriad of similar tower speakers for sale.

    I have now entertained six seasoned audiophiles in the room to hear the flagship Lagrange L1 preproduction speaker, and all were impressed by the design and execution, as well as the sound quality. Not a one of them mentioned anything amiss with the tweeters. There are, of course, various designs where ribbon tweeters are separate from the mid/bass driver(s), too. Scott had in mind to recreate the sonic signature of an Apogee speaker, and in several respects he has done so, as a former owner of Apogee Caliper Speakers.

    I do not believe I called the Lagrange L5 MkII, “one of the best speakers in the world”, as you say, but certainly better than the range of mass-produced floor standing speakers of similar size and cost that I have reviewed. I did say it is a unique sound signature that in some respects is better than that of standard towers. The Lagrange L1 prototype now in my room (BTW, it is so good, I bought it) is a big step up from the L5 MkII, in coherence, too, which would be expected.

    There are some very unusual designs in the industry, as I would presume you to be aware. Each has its idiosyncrasies. I have owned several genres of speakers, and not a one of them is perfect. I can pick apart problems with all of them. If a person wished, they could condemn any of them for one aspect of design. I prefer to look at a speaker holistically and see what the uniqueness of the design offers the audiophile. Measurements are important, just not available to the public in this instance.

    Yes, a physics teacher who read prolifically books by Toole and others, who modeled the speaker on computer, and has the tight tolerance parts knowledge and skills to make his own ribbons, made these speakers – with premium parts, I might add. I do comparisons of products, and the best product wins. It’s my way of doing things.

    I am not interested in a debate on this topic. If you feel I have overstated my case, when you hear the speakers, you can decide for yourself.

    Douglas Schroeder

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