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A Visit to the Home of the Infamous Encinitas Jim

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The Software

Involved comparisons of equipment, or for that matter optimization, almost always necessitate repeated listening to familiar tracts to discern often subtle differences. In this particular instance, several CD’s were repeatedly used for comparative listening. Each was useful in focusing on a different performance aspect. For instance, the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat (RCA Living Stereo), particularly the third movement which contains repeated triangle strikes as well as the piano, was quite telling with respect to the initial transient of the triangle as well as the decay and the complexity of the harmonic envelope of the piano. It was also easier to hear the infrequent mistakes made by Rubinstein with some equipment than with others. The Keb’ Mo’ (Suitcase, Epic Red Label, produced by Jake Purser) was excellent for bass slam and dynamics, the Dubois (Les Sept Paroles du Christ, Fidelio Audio FACD 008) for the ability to separate a voice from a massed choir. These pieces were supplemented by a variety of others, particularly as the repetition got tedious.

Marten Momento speakers

Marten Momento speakers

Listening Sessions

While listening extended over a period of three days, the Acapella integrated amp and cabling were only available for the first two days as they had been brought by the manufacturer for debut at the California Audio Show. Consequently there was some pressure initially to compare the Acapella amp against the Marten and EAR amps on both the Triolons and the Momentos and later to optimize each speaker with the EAR and Marten amps. The Acapella amp allows bypassing its internal preamp section so that an external preamp can be used, in this case the EAR 912. This process yielded some valuable insights. It was relatively easy to hear differences on systems at this level. We were further aided by the arrival on Wednesday of Dan Meinwald the importer of the EAR, Jorma and Marten gear, who has a particularly well developed ear and an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz. The following comments should not be considered to be a review but more initial listening impressions.

Day 1: The Acapella System (including the Acapella amp) was generally more musical than the all-Marten system, certainly more tonally accurate in the midrange. The Marten system had better leading edge and more slam but at the expense of some thinness in the midrange and an emphasis of higher frequencies. It also favored leading edge to decay of notes. Voices were nicely handled on both. The Acapella’s were almost ideal for classical music and jazz, doing a superb job with larger orchestral works. The Martens were stronger on what Jim referred to as “club” music where leading edge and slam are more important. The Liszt was particularly instructive. On the Martens, the piano was somewhat oversized and triangles were thin. On the Acapella’s, the triangles had more body and were more prominent and their decay was longer with more harmonic complexity. Substitution of Jorma Origo power cords for Prime on the Marten amps significantly improved the decay of the triangles and resulted in a more realistically sized piano. The HRS amp stands clearly improved the sound of both the Marten and Acapella amps.

Day 2: On the first day we had used Jorma Prime speaker wire and interconnects on both systems Hermann Winters of Acapella provided Acapella speaker wire (bi-wire) and one pair of balanced interconnects to connect the source to his amp. On Day 2, we substituted these for the Jorma on the Acapella amp. As might have been predicted, there were significant synergies in using the Acapella wire on their amp and speakers. Likewise, the Acapella amp was clearly and by a significant margin, the best choice with their speakers. One real lesson from the listening was that synergies do exist between certain products. The Marten amps preferred the Origo power cord but otherwise preferred the Prime. The EMM Labs XDS1 sounded best with the Nordost Odin power cord. The Acapella amp clearly preferred the Acapella speaker wire. The EAR electronics and Marten speakers clearly preferred the Jorma cabling.

Day 3: On the third day, Dan Meinwald showed up and proceeded to spend the next ten hours tweaking various aspects of the system. Unfortunately, the Acapella amp was gone but we were able to listen to the Marten and EAR amps. Let me start by saying that the EAR electronics are possibly the most cost effective devices that I have encountered. This is particularly true of the 890 amps when they are used in bridged mode. They are a match made in heaven when used with Marten speakers and Jorma cabling. Early on Dan pointed out that that the Marten speakers needed to be toed in another half inch and he was right. Likewise, he played with the mix of Origo and Prime cables which we had used. While the Prime speaker wire and interconnect were always the right answer, the Origo power cord was occasionally better with a particular piece of equipment. An all-Prime set up could sometimes sound too lush and ripe. In those instances, judicious substitution of an Origo power cord was a perfect solution. Again, the key here was synergy. Certain combinations work. While my prejudice would have been to use the bridged 890’s on both speakers, Dan preferred the Marten amps on the Acapella’s. Dan would also have preferred the Momentos over the Triolons, but that would not have been my choice. We ended Day 3 at a local Thai restaurant which all things considered was a pretty good end to a great day.

Acapella Integrated Amp

Acapella Integrated Amp

Acapella Integrated Amp top view

Acapella Integrated Amp

Final Thoughts

It is highly unusual for one person to have two world class systems set up in such a way that you can easily switch software from one to the other as was the case here. It was a unique opportunity to make comparisons. Synergy was certainly the theme of the week. Certain combinations worked better than others. Previously, I would not have said that. For instance, I had in the past discounted the Acapella wire products, preferring the Jorma Prime. Now, I would temper that judgment, particularly with Acapella’s amplifier. With respect to my journey to find an ideal amp for my Triolons, I feel pretty confident that I have finally found an optimal solution. With respect to advice, if I were constructing a real world system, I would definitely look at the EAR electronics, the Jorma Unity cables and the Marten Django speakers. For a cost is no object system, the Acapella speakers with their wire and amplifier are hard to beat.


Also read A Second Visit to the Home of The Infamous Encinitas Jim.

2 Responses to A Visit to the Home of the Infamous Encinitas Jim

  1. Jack Roberts says:

    I was so impressed last year at the California Audio Show by the sound of the Acapella speakers with the Acapella amp. I thought it was the best I had ever hear a pair of Acapella speakers sound.

  2. Brian Walsh says:

    A good read. I should go see Jim again and revisit my setup and alignments.

    Small correction. The turntable is a Kuzma Stabi XL4.

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