Over the last couple of years, I have been lucky enough to listen to some of the best and most expensive speakers available in Australia, namely the Steinway Lingdorff at Audioconnexion and the Focal Grand Utopia EM at Len Wallis Audio, both worth around a quarter of a million dollars.
Four Grand Utopias have been sold in Australia alone so far!
This time around, Len invited me to listen to his newest arrival: the huge Acapella Sphaeron Excalibur, this one worth a tad under half a million dollars, and you really need a barn around them to do them justice...
So, even though Len and his team (Charles in particular...) have taken great care in setting these monsters up and pairing them with the best equipment, the room is certainly not large enough to develop their full potential.
Having said that, I spent a few hours with my favourite music both on vinyl and on CD and prepared myself to be amazed, and amazed I was!
Can I start by listing the equipment driving these very unusual speakers:
Michell Orbe turntable, Rega arm modified by Michell with Dynavector cartridge
Meridian CD player used as transport only, and Electrocompaniet D/A converter
Musical Fidelity PRIMO pure Class A tube preamp (Primo, zero feedback, pure Class A, triode, fully balanced preamp. Superlative sounding, beautifully built, beautifully designed, extremely reliable. - quote from MF website....)
Krell Evolution 400 mono amp (The Evolution 400e amplifier is the smallest monaural amplifier in the Evolution Series. With a robust 400 watt output into 8 Ohms, this baby brother delivers plenty of punch - quote from Krell website...)
Now, what about the speakers themselves?
Well, for starters, although they are not a full range (as in one driver) system, they are very efficient at 100db/w/m, and thanks to four 15" (38 cms) drivers and a plasma tweeter, they are indeed very wide band, probably from 40 Hz to 50kHz in a "normal" size room, and certainly capable of going lower in frequency if you add the barn around them. The manufacturer recommends a room size of 40m2 (400sft) as a minimum.
interestingly enough, although there is enormous potential for bass, these speakers never seem to over do it - instead the respone is very tight and well contolled.
At the other end of the spectrum, the plasma tweeter is extremely accurate and extends way beyond anything I have listened to, and still is mellifluous.
It is supposed to work from 5khz to 50kHz.
My guess is that if you are a professional drummer, you should be able to recognise the brand of drums used in any given good recording.
Now, what about the two horns? well they are spherical in shape (as the sails of the Sydney Opera House, btw...) and Acapella are claiming credit for their invention back in the late 70s...
Although, the manufacturer does not share much about their frequency range, one can assume they use the same as in their Triolon speaker which only difference is in the size of the subwoofer.
The frequencies below 170Hz are handled by four 15-inch drivers in each woofer tower. Each pair of woofers is in a separate sealed enclosure. Each woofer tower is composed of two of these enclosures. The enclosures are extremely rigid, heavy and well damped with felt, bitumen and lead. The bass towers are finished in a piano black high gloss. The sound from 170Hz up to 50,000Hz emanates as a spherical wave front. Frequencies from 170Hz to 700Hz are handled by the 30.5-inch horn which loads a 12-inch driver; those from 700Hz to 5000Hz, the 18.5-inch horn, and frequencies above 5000Hz is handled by
the plasma tweeter.
How does it sounds?
The first impression is of life, and of being enveloped by music, immersed in the performance. Quite a feast!
However, after listening to various types of music, both on vinyl and CD, there are some resonances in the horns that can muddle the sound, specially on voices.
Also, at times, the instruments seem to "travel" from one driver to the next depending on the range in which they are played, and that can be quite annoying at time.
But what they never fail to achieve is to involve you into the performance, particularly on live recordings like Bill Evans trio recorded in Paris in the 70s or my reference record, Alchemy live from Dire Straits.
You find yourself tapping your feet or wanting to clap your hands!
This in itself is what I crave for in any speakers, and these ones certainly qualify.
Do you need to spend that sort of money on a pair of speakers to get there, not to mention the ancilary equipment? Well, I am not sure.
I was certainly impressed, but probably not sold...Your own impressions are welcome!
So, if you are in Sydney, go and visit Len wallis Audio in Lane Cove: it is certainly worth your while!
To celebrate Bastille Day, I have open up a new page on our blog, just for you!
It is a forum where you are welcome to communicate with each other about everything audio, vintage and French, preferably...
Obviously, we will be monitoring your conversations, and hopefully, your topics will inspire a few posts on our blog.
So fire away, give us your stories about your first or current system, the music you like, the best shows you have visited, a particular product you would like more information about and we will all contribute to make this blog the reference in English on all French Vintage Hifi things and people!
Over the years, our bespoke medium driver has been modified and upgraded and as a result, the later versions are more durable than the original ones.
The main difference is in the suspension: originally we had a foam suspension, supposedly more linear in the midrange.
However, we changed later for a inverted rolled rubber, more linear in the bass, and with very little audible difference (if any...) in the midrange.
I have come across recently two pairs equipped with the foam suspension, and the photos speak for themselves...
If you are in possession of such a pair, don't dispair!
Our friends at www.audiovintage.fr have found three potential repairers in Europe.
I am publishing the corresponding links here:
http://www.public-adress.fr/th-prod-205 ... rleur.html
http://www.reparationhaut-parleur.com/p ... itures.htm
In The Netherlands:
http://www.speakerrepairshop.com/index. ... 15&lang=EN
We will have soon some feedback from the owner of a pair who is using this company to repair his. Stay tuned!If you are in France, I would be tempted to use the official Audax repairer, but obviously, I have not try any of them, so you are on your own, I'm afraid!
I have not had a chance to review this popular system in details so far, as I could not find one to photograph.
Thanks to the power of the Internet, I have now found this system scattered between Belgium and Switzerland, and made another discovery - more on this later...
I had approached my good client Pierre Breart at Audioconseil in Uccle, the posh suburb of Brussels, where he has been operating for quite some time, bringing the pleasure of good music reproduction to a lucky and loyal clientele. He was my second best dealer, and share with me a passion for good food and wine, obviously sprinkled with good music!
I was hoping he would be able to access some of my products from of his past clients...and he found something of a rarity, a lone exemplar of an ACTIVE central subwoofer.
My guess is that we would have designed this just for him, as I do not recall selling many.
By co-incidence, a reader in Switzerland got in touch with me to find out more about a pair of ACTIVE SATs! Lucky day...
The SATs in their active version were invented for my German distributor, and ended up being quite a success there, and also in Norway, where my distributor, Martin Viktorin, ended up selling over a hundred pairs to the National Norvegian Radio.
As a further twist in the story, the amplifier was designed by a very good and astute dealer we had in Strasbourg.
His original design sounded sublime, but didn't pass the German inspection, as it was internally wired as a valve amplifier would be - so, in short, it looked quite messy inside, but the resulting sound was outstanding, primarily because of the perfect grounding of the circuit, reducing noise floor and IMD distortion to an absolute minimum. Unfortunately, I have no photos left of this product, and would very much like to find one pair to review.
So, I had to fight with my dealer, to get him to change his design to be more professionally made - at least on the surface...
Being the purist he was, he refused, and reluctantly gave me the circuit diagram for me to produce an "industrial" version myself - here is the result:
Very neat and tidy, easy to build, install and service, but auditively a shadow of the original...
Don't get me wrong, it still work extremely well and I quote my contact in Switzerland here:
"although I didn't position the speakers too precisely, voices were nailed spot in
the middle of the speakers - amazing! With certain music the speakers actually
did what I love about a good speaker: disappeared! There was music - not sound!"
And these speakers are in fairly bad condition, having their foam suspension starting to desintegrate and fed but an iMac...
Now, let's have a look at the subwoofer.
This is actually one sample equipped with the best driver we ever used a double coil Cabasse 21 cm, (single coil in this active version, and a black membrane), specially made for us, and very expensive. It is the ancestor of what is used in the Sphere now, and it works wonders - specially when only using the lower two octaves (30-120Hz).
Using the driver downfiring against a known surface and a fixed distance gives a very linear bass response indeed (+/- 1db over that range)
Using an integrated amplifier helps adjust the levels betweem satelites and subwoofer. The very low cut off frequency ensures that it is difficult to hear the position of the subwoofer.
This active TRITON system would make a very good sub/rear channels add-on to the front channels of a 5.1 home theater system. I might soon be able to report on the results...
Below are a few photos of this unique product, courtesy of Audioconseil
Finally some more images of the SATs active, courtesy of my reader in Switzerland:
I have finally had a chance to find a review of this system in its passive version in "La Revue du Son".
It seems like there is a previous review of the active version. I would be grateful if somebody could find a copy for me. Merci d'avance.
You will have to sharpen your French (and your eyes...as the scan is not very good...) but at least everybody will be able to read the measurement results.
To be noted are the very linear impedance and phase curves, the very good transient response and a very flat amplitude response both on axis and at 30deg
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.