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Aspen Acoustics Lagrange L5 MKII ribbon dipole speaker system

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This is a side of the industry that some audiophiles could learn to respect. I am not interested in sinking businesses due to publicizing my preferences. My opinion is not infallible, and should a business be threatened because I am not crazy over a product? In order to get the most out of my time in system building, and to positively call attention to what I consider superior products, I write reviews of previously known products, or ones that I demo. Keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to complain about all reviews being positive. Scott was investing important time and energy with no guarantee that an article would follow. His confidence in his design and execution was not misplaced.

In order to not be seen as hypocritical, I point out that currently I am making public statements about amplifiers, and I am discussing such things as returning to a manufacturer the amps that were used as my reference, and pulling back from reviewing certain classes of amps. That is a general conclusion and not directed at any one manufacturer. I could simply be quiet publicly about it, but I wish to give guidance and inform the community in regard to what I see as larger trends that I believe will impact purchasing decisions and the residual value of components. Some in the industry and community might be upset by these decisions. As I often say in regard to potentially strong differences of opinion, if you disagree, so be it. Please do not bother to engage me in argument about these things; I am not interested in debating my principles of reviewing.


A visit and a review

The months passed and eventually Scott arrived at my home with the L5 MkII. It took very little listening to realize that this not only was a review-worthy speaker but that it would be a pleasure to use. As he had to leave the next day, and I do not subscribe to waiting around for purportedly huge, big gains to happen magically through simple use of components, I suggested we listen and tune the speakers immediately. Note that this process would have been slowed down somewhat had he not needed to be back on the road the next day. We made several adjustments to the speakers, including sloping the front baffle of the larger cabinet forward, a trick I have used with many speakers, including the King Sound King III electrostatic speakers and the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition Speakers. The front baffles of the L5 MkII are built with a 7-degree backward tilt, and as we listened, I suspected that there was more midrange presence to be gained if the ceramic Accuton midrange driver was more on axis to the ears. Another advantage of having the tweeter and the midrange/bass in two separate towers is the potential to change the baffle slope of either one. Over the review period I found I enjoyed leaving the tweeter tower in place with its 7-degree slope, which aids in the sense of expansiveness of the soundstage, and bringing forward the mid/bass tower. That preference did not change throughout the review period. Scott took note, and in the forthcoming Lagrange L1, the new flagship model which I am slated to review, a revision of the baffle slopes has been built into the tower for the bass and midrange drivers, while a double ribbon tweeter retains its own tower with 7-degree slope. As well, the towers have heavy adjustable spikes, but in my room, these sink into the carpeting quite a bit, so I place leather or a thinner piece of wood under the spikes to elevate appropriately.

Scott was one of those “good enough” cable guys— you know, the practical kind who does not see much evidence of the efficacy of aftermarket or expensive cables — until his visit to my home. He felt that modeling the speaker, correct choice of drivers and capacitors, and a tweeter with neodymium versus ceramic magnets made the wiring used in the inductor for the tweeter or the RCA interconnect cable from preamp output to the L5 MkII’s active subwoofer negligible. In the initial setup Scott had supplied an older 3m AudioQuest interconnect. As we listened, I thought that a bit more refinement could be achieved with the subwoofer, so I suggested we replace his interconnect with the 3m Iconolcast by Belden RCA interconnect that I had in conjunction with that cable review for use with the Legacy Audio XTREME XD Subwoofers. He was skeptical, but only for a few minutes; once hooked up to his speakers, we heard the sound of the subwoofer change significantly. I knew it absolutely in a few seconds; the bass was more taut, solid, rich and punchy. From these observations Scott took home two more tips: he would look into outfitting the L1 with 10 AWG internal wiring for the drivers, and he would use higher quality and heavier gauge wiring for the coil dedicated to the tweeter. As it turned out, I’m wrapping up this article a few weeks before the delivery of the L1, and I just learned that Scott doubled Mogami cable in this speaker to achieve a 9 AWG. Now we’re talking serious internal cabling!

After Scott left and the review began in earnest, the line in the sand between manufacturer and reviewer was drawn and my more critical assessment began.  Recalling that I had said in order to achieve bass like a panel one does not use a forward firing dynamic driver, Scott went to a dramatically different solution: a side firing, slot-loaded active subwoofer with twin 10” woofers in a push-pull, or oppositional, configuration using a 250Wpc Dayton class A/B plate amplifier. This was a good move in both achieving a less forward-directed energy source for the bass, and keeping the quality of the bass higher than if a low-cost class D amp would have been used. However, see my article about the Legacy Audio i.V4 Ultra Amplifier and how the latest class D amp modules are a new ball game. I will discuss the performance of the L5 MkII subwoofer design shortly.

There are several aspects of these speakers’ design and build that impress me, from the cabinet work, all of which Scott does himself, to the selection of quality drivers, and the extent of handmade parts, including the hand-wound transformer coils in the crossover and the tweeter ribbons. The transformers are simply coils of wire that Scott measured and wound to the appropriate spec, then utilized in the manner that one would normally find a manufactured transformer. The advantage of a thicker cable used in the transformer is especially beneficial to the ribbon driver. The appearance of the coil is amateur, but the sound quality is not. The degree of refinement is such that I wonder what benefit might occur if handmade transformers were used in the crossovers of production speakers.

The star of the show as regards this eye-catching design is not the world class Accuton midrange but the homemade 34” tweeters! How on earth did Scott accomplish that? Who else is building tall ribbons literally from scratch, cutting metal mesh strips, coating them, creating an appropriate neodymium magnet array, and assembling along with a hand built crossover into a tweeter tower that is like a piece of furniture? Probably no one; maybe some guy in Europe or Asia somewhere, but this is atypical. They speak of Renaissance men, who have skills in many disciplines, and Scott is that sort of man. He shares, “As a physics teacher I was able to spend some of my summers working for Custom Microwave in Longmont, Colorado. This small company makes sophisticated microwave communication hardware for Ball Aerospace and other aerospace companies. . . I learned the necessary techniques for electroplating and electroforming. Without these skills it would be very difficult to make the dipole ribbons I use in the Lagrange speakers.”

To give the reader a sense of the degree to which Scott wishes for his speakers to be perfect, and for the user to have no complaints, he built a second set of tweeters for the pair of L5 MkII under review. Scott had not yet built the jig for the ribbons — he had been laying them out by hand, and consequently they both had a degree of curvature to them. The first one was ever so slightly angled, but the second one more noticeably. As we were setting up the speakers, he said that even though the curve should not make a discernible difference in performance, I have not found any cause to fault them, he would make a replacement set should I wish to buy the speakers after the review. That struck me as a fair offer, and true to his word, several weeks after returning to his home, he notified me that the replacement pair of tweeters, this time built with the jig, were ready and would be brought along with the L1 Speakers. In addition, even though he did not have to, he upgraded the crossover for the new ribbons with better caps and wiring. This is a man who will work to please the customer! It was also evidence confirming that he wishes to have his product correct in every respect. It confirmed that he does not make hollow promises.

I have used products with slight blemishes previously in review only when they were not to have influenced the sound quality. It doesn’t bother me to have a slight blemish in a product if it helps the manufacturer avoid pulling out an A stock item. There was no pressure on Scott to redo the tweeters other than his own displeasure with them. The fact that he committed to it and accomplished it precisely as promised reinforces my confidence in his abilities to attain his goals. That bodes well for future customers. Most manufacturers are conscientious about such things, but some just do not follow through, for whatever reasons. I believe this incident adds some confidence in the face of realities of buying from a craft manufacturer that will be discussed below. Scott knew he would be needing that jig —the L1 uses a double tweeter array for each channel!

Aspen Acoustics L1

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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