I’m not sure anyone exhibiting this weekend demonstrated the sheer FUN of high end audio quite so thoroughly as Hermann Winters of Acapella. Every time I walked by his room, there was something new to draw me in with a grin on my face — and there was Mr. Winters, grinning back like a mad bastard.
This was prime real estate for drawing an audience, too, just off the main lobby and next to the bar. ZZ Top’s “Tube Snake Boogie” yanked me in on the way to the elevators. Alan Toussaint enticed me away from my beer. Tori Amos called to me on the way to my morning coffee. “Hang on just a sec,” I’d say to Mal. “I think I need to hear this.”
I was clearly not the only one the room had such an effect on. Given the number of times I watched passersby screech to a halt when a new song came on and almost dash into the room, it’s no wonder Mr. Winters was smiling. Even the hotel staff noticed and enjoyed it; the woman I bought coffee from at the stand in the hall remarked that she’d thought there was a live drum kit in the room, it sounded so much like her son practicing his drumming.
Shown by dealer Loggie Audio, the Acapella Atlas speakers ($99,000) are imposing and, truth be told, faintly ridiculous-looking. They feature gigantic blue spherical horns, and stand taller than most grown men. Bass is provided in the rectangular housing, and the TW1 ion tweeter sparkles just beneath that bright blue horn. I insist upon describing these speakers as having “TWEETERS MADE OF FIRE” to anyone who will listen, because how badass is that?
Amplification was provided by the Acapella LaMusica integrated amplifier ($99,400), which is a hybrid amp utilizing E182CC tubes and featuring silver wire in the signal path and independent balanced outputs. There is an optional phono stage add on available ($19,000), as well as a balanced 600 Ohm input ($4,180) and balanced preamp output ($7,880). In this case, Einstein’s The Source II CD Player provided the music. Cabling was provided by Acapella, and the pleasantly understated equipment stand was Core Plykraft ($1,775).
This was the first time I had heard the Atlas speakers, and I found them stunning. When opportunity presented itself, I asked to play “Oh, Lady Be Good!”, the first track on Count Basie and the Kansas City 7. The track opens with the Count’s delicate touch on the piano, soon accompanied by Sonny Payne on drums and Eddie Jones softly laying down the rhythm on upright bass. Gradually the horns come in, and the song builds in complexity and dynamic swings. The Atlases handled this without even blinking, providing hugely realistic sound. When that track ended, I was ready to call it good, but Mr. Winters insisted that we listen to the next track on the album (I believe his exact words were, “I’m sorry, I can’t let you have this back yet”). Twist my arm?
The second track, “Secrets,” is a favorite of mine because it features Frank Wess on flute — my instrument of choice back in my band geek days. I can honestly say I’ve never heard a flute reproduced so well on a stereo system; it really was almost like Wess was in the room.
Over my weekend of repeated listening, I did discover that these speakers are not without their quirks. At one point I sat down to listen to Tori Amos sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and I was disconcerted to find that it sounded as though Tori’s head was about four feet wide — an effect that I eventually concluded was due to the close microphone placement on that particular live recording, because I didn’t notice this effect with other vocal tracks. I suspect that this system might be unforgiving of poorly recorded tracks in general, although I had no complaints regarding ZZ Top — those fellas sounded appropriately sized. Make of that what you will.
This room is the kind of thing that I end up describing to my friends just to impress upon them how weird and glorious this hobby can be: “I listened to Queen on TWEETERS MADE OF FIRE!” I love it, unabashedly, even though I can’t even imagine having a house large enough to fit these things in, let alone shelling out the cash. I mean, seriously, that would eat up how much of my Powerball winnings? But a girl can dream. And in the meantime, I think Hermann Winters will let me sit down and grin like a maniac with him any time we happen to run into each other.