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Dagogo/2009 Aaudio Imports Visit

Constantine Soo


Acapella Triolon Excalibur 2009

As with most other industries, the high-end audio industry fell victim to the economic downturn. The preceding 18 months have witnessed all importers impacted by the recession, as some of them reprioritize their product lineups, while some others changed product lineups altogether. It has thus become a far more common, though no less daunting sight, to see brands changing hands from one distributor to the other during this period. If there is a silver lining in all this industrial upheaval, it is the necessity for manufacturers and distributors to look at their business model, reassess the suitability of their partnerships realistically, and form new partnerships that are much more sustainable for survival in the long term.

Aaudio Imports of Parker, Colorado has also undergone changes on lines to import. The core brands at Aaudio Imports, such as Acapella, Einstein and Lindemann, are now joined by Bergmann turntables from Denmark, Tidal speakers from Germany and Ypsilon Electronics from Greece. After having spent the months following my 2008 visit to Aaudio Imports with other speakers, I returned again to the Acapella Triolon Excalibur at Brian Ackerman’s Parker, Colorado residence, headquarters of Aaudio Imports.

This time I brought my favorite pop music from the 80s, among other audiophile selections, burned onto my laptop’s hard-drive originally via Apple® iTunes® at 16-bit/48kHz setting, and then compiled onto custom CDs. The sonics were superior decidedly than that from the original CDs; but the TE put forth such space and separations as to render other speakers mere average. Dan Fogelberg’s guitar in “Longer” attained the most hypnotic effect in the continuous flow. I’ll save more of that for later. Meanwhile, Brian set up a system based on the Raidho C1.0 mini-monitors, with Lindeman 820S SACD player, 830 preamplifier and 850 power amplifier.

Raidho C1.0

The force and scale of a full-range Acapella High Violon IV or the Triolon Excalibur is not easily replicated by most other full-range systems by virtue of the extremely dense-sounding ion-tweeter. Yet, there was serious sonics from a pair of the Raidho C1 Ayra mini-monitors inside an adjacent listening room measuring 12 feet long, 10 feet wide and 7.5 feet high. A carefully set up system, as demonstrated by the one in this room, is capable of thunderous and fast bottom-end, and a balanced, very nicely integrated top-to-bottom coherency. For the setup, the speakers were positioned 2.5 feet from the front wall, the listening chair 6 feet away, with an additional 1.5 feet of space between the ears and the back wall.

Such was a nearfield listening experience as augmented by a very musical and refined solid-state system by Lindeman of Germany, in a meticulously treated listening room. The soundfield created by this system was comparatively more constrained and closed-in than that of the larger system, but the spatial scale was nearly identical, and the dynamic output of the system was considerably more easily obtained due to the less demanding amplification output required to drive the speaker into producing a room-filling sound. Putting aside the absolute superiority of the $64,000 full-range Acapella over the $17,000 Raidho in a medium to large room, the Raidho conjured up a soundfield of width and spaciousness at my listening position that can be compared very favorably even against that by the Acapella, with a soundstage depth even more holographic than the Acapella. If you are a New Yorker or San Franciscan condo-dweller where living quarters is at a premium, the Raidho will give you first-class audio experience nonetheless.

Because of the closer wall proximity to both the speakers and the listener, acoustic treatment was a primary element in the sonic makeup. On the other hand, tube electronics would not be my first choice for such a room size, for the heat generated would make staying in the room more claustrophobic. A reference system of electronics is mandatory in driving the Raidho, of course.

If you have a large room and a level of intimacy remains a criteria that you crave, then the $64,500 Acapella High Violon IV loudspeaker in Brian’s main room, set up on the opposite wall to the Triolon Excalibur, would be peerless, especially as driven by the Einstein OTL monoblock amplifiers. The High Violon MK IV was alternately fed signals from Einstein’s tube CD player “The Source”, as well as the solid-state Lindeman 820S SACD player that Dagogo senior reviewer Ed Momkus wrote about. In terms of sheer resolution, only the $29,000 Ypsilon DAC 100 surpasses the Lindeman. The Einstein, on the other hand, did form beautiful synergy with the Einstein preamp and OTL monoblocks in driving the Acapella. There were moments when I would not give up the resolution for anything, the Einstein CD player’s very alluring warmth notwithstanding. But then I have to also acknowledge the fact that the Einstein would make more variety of music sound more fluidic via the Acapella.

Acapella High Violon Mk IV

Einstein audio system Einstein The Source CD player

Acapella High Violon MK IV closeupWith the Einstein tube CD player, the Acapella was a little warmer and smoother. With the Lindeman, if one listens predominantly to symphonic music, it would make for one of the most complimentary digital front-end. Symphonic passages were simply in full form via the Lindeman 820S.

The High Violon IV features the same model Ion TW 1S ion tweeter module as the $198k TE, now in its MK II iteration. The power of the ion tweeter lies not merely in its output capability but of the astonishing comprehensiveness of it. There simply isn’t any tweeter design I’ve heard that can generate so much information at its level of density and uniformity. Ask a conventional dome tweeter to do the same and you will want to cover your ears. Neither can conventional tweeters approach the greatness of the ion tweeter in speed and ease.

Whereas other adjustable tweeters are usually set at the “neutral” 12 o’clock position, the Ion TW 1 S is factory-set at around 7:30, 7am being the lowest setting, and 6pm being the maximum. Unlike conventional tweeter system designs, the Ion TW 1S with its custom tube amplification stage, does not become progressively convoluted at higher volumes, a behavior exhibited by others consistently. The higher you set it to output, the higher the degree of transparency and details. In a matter of increased outputs, dimensionality of instruments and spatiality of venue all become more and more realistic. While the maximum output level at 6 is available on the dial, I thought even an 8am setting was already excessive for the room I was in, and it was a large room. The kind of airiness and resolution of the midrange to top-end was a marvel to behold and an experience to cherish.

I do confess that during this visit, I set the ion tweeter output of the High Violon IV a little higher, but did not tamper with the Triolon Excalibur’s tweeter setting. For purely objective perspective, I found the minutely increased tweeter level on the High Violon IV most constructive towards a more spacious and oxygen-rich experience. As for the TE, because of the exponentially more delicate balance of driver outputs between the tweeters, lower midrange horn, upper midrange horn and the tower of a quadruplet of woofers, it would be very inconsiderate for me as a guest to play with the setting. No?

If, for the first exposure to the ion tweeter, you find it objectionable to have such high output a level, you must then hear it at a lower level until you feel comfortable. Once you have arrived at your comfort level, proceed to raise the level gradually, and I doubt you’ll be able to tear yourself away from it. Most important of all, did I mention the Ion TW 1S is driven internally by tube?!

Adding to the alluring performance of the ion tweeter is its physical placement at ear level. For a tweeter that generates a far more tremendous amount of aural content than dome tweeters, the fact that it is also situated at such level as to radiates at ear level is plainly commendable. But I have withheld the biggest of news from you until now: The Ion TW 1S was operating near the minimal output level, via its adjustable output control at the back of the module.

The High Violon IV’s ion tweeter makes the speaker one of the most desirable reference speaker systems around, and it is the most affordable model in Acapella’s lineup that is equipped with an ion tweeter. Owners of this least expensive Acapella loudspeaker with the Ion TW 1S module are known to be most entrenched in its sound and not prone to persuasion from other makes. It is true at least to my ears that nothing in the current high-end audio industry can match the midrange weightlessness and hence sonic purity of the ion tweeter.

The infatuation with Acapella speaker systems as evidenced in some of these owners’ outright vocal proclamation of a fervent love and pride of ownership, can be understood easily. For I have also had the privilege of a pseudo ownership experience, after having been flown to the Aaudio Imports headquarters for extended, 6-day listening session each in the course of 3 years.

The last aspect of my visit beckons investigation into the notion of Ypsilon’s $90,000 SET 100 hybrid monoblock amplifiers, which I reviewed in Dagogo’s July Issue, driving the Triolon Excalibur. Although I had only listened to the TE at Brian’s place five days in a row for two years, the impression was unforgettable, and was reinforced every time they were demonstrated at CES and RMAF. This time, it was accompanied by the entire Ypsilon lineup, from the CDT-100 CD transport, the DAC-100 to the VPS 100 active/passive preamplifier, complimenting the SET 100.

Acapella Triolon Excalibur

Ypsilon audio system

Ypsilon SET 100

The sound was so energized via the Acapella with such drive that it conjured up the spontaneity of a live concert. Tonally, the Acapella excelled at imparting finely defined characteristic of individual instruments onto even the busiest of stages. The overall effect was a musicality and realism that makes the Triolon Excalibur the most perfect speaker to me. Until the day comes when I can afford a house in the San Francisco Bay Area the size of Brian’s or Dagogo reviewer Fred Crowder’s, these memories of my annual pilgrimage to the Aaudio Imports headquarters will remain as the high points in my work as a reviewer. But this isn’t the end.

Since Brian took on the Tidal loudspeaker line, he has sold quite a few pairs already, including three pairs of the company’s $180,000 Sunray. There has to be a reason for these expensive speakers to sell so well the moment Brian begins to import them. I intend to find out the next time I visit him.

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