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AXPONA 2014: Preconceived Notions, Sadurni Acoustics and Merrill Audio

DSC00685 I kinda let the cat out of the bag with the pre-show teaser, but you have to admit, pairing 110dB horn speakers with kilowatt Class-D amplification is something of a head-scratcher. Seriously. Who does that? It clearly violates half a dozen audiophile rules and in doing so, sets itself up as a roadside tragedy in the making. "There's no way this can end well," read about a million or so thought-bubbles percolating around AXPONA. Well, guess what. Not only did it not suck, it was pretty incredible to boot. The fact that the $12,000/pair Merrill Audio Veritas amplifiers, with their fancy Ncore modules, are devastatingly quiet has never been more obvious. Noise? What noise? Oh, you meant noise floor? Right, right! Yes ... yeah, still nada. Zippo. Zilch. All that was on offer here was explosive, throttle your brainstem dynamics. Grab your seat belts, ladies, we's goin' fer a riiiide. 

Sadurni Acoustics $40k Staccato Horn System, shown here in candy apple red and complimentary brass, is one of the very rare instances of an audio product actually looking like what it costs. “$40k for a loudspeaker,” you squeak in mock horror. “That’s absurd! There’s absolutely no way that … Oh. Oh, wow. Yeah. Okay, yeah I get it. A BMW or this, you say? Yeah, fine. I can see that.”

Yes, they’re big. Yes, they’re well turned out. And yes, they’re blazing fast. But if you’re the kinda fella that’s playing in this zone, the horn-trio-plus-sub system here actually looks like something that costs an arm and a leg, so your guests aren’t likely to be snickering behind your back. Ha ha, well, okay, fine — you’re an audiophile, so yes, they’re already snickering behind your back, but at least it won’t be about this. And like I said, that kinda thing is rare.

The sound was very clean, and not exactly what I was used to from a horn system. Colorations, while there, were expected and not detracting. Bass was potent, highs where airy and the detail was remarkable. The room’s length allowed the drivers to knit, presenting a coherent sound stage. I spent a lot of time looking for flaws, and aside from a distinct lack of glowing filaments trapped in bottles, there wasn’t a lot to pick apart. This took an absurdly long time to sink in, however. I blame brain damage.

But I’ll confess, with International Phonograph‘s Jonathan Horwich running master tape from a vintage Sony analog machine, I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to the system. Jonathan does really great work (tapes are $150 each, and his catalog, while not extensive, merits exploration — wish I had a tape machine!), and I will confess again that I was completely taken aback by the realism I heard.

I was most definitely not expecting this.

Merrill Wattasinghe explained that he was just as surprised. There is something to the old SET-plus-horn “thing”, he opined. Absolutely justified. But when he swapped in his amps, he (and everyone else, he said) heard rather clearly that the speakers were just able to do more.

Why would that be? He shrugged a little. Sure, 110dB is sensitive, but transient demand and such mean that a speaker isn’t always just loafing along. When a speaker needs juice, it asks and if the amp isn’t up to the task, sound quality suffers. Just because it’s a horn doesn’t mean that any old amp can deliver the power needed to feed the speaker and keep that sound jumping. No, 1,200 watts probably isn’t exactly necessary, but maybe more-than-10 is. In the end, it was a matter of “Why not?”

At this point, he was all grins. Why not indeed?

This combo definitely wins my admiration. Very nice work.

Other gear:

  • Pre-amplifier: Divinitive XR by Miracle Audio — $5,100.
  • DAC: Meitner MA-1 — $7,500
  • Signal Cables: ANAP by Merrill Audio — starting at $1,149/pair
  • Power Cords: HE MkIII by Waveform Fidelity — $529 each

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Merrill Wattasinghe with his new entry-level Thor amplifiers ($4k/pair)

8 Comments on AXPONA 2014: Preconceived Notions, Sadurni Acoustics and Merrill Audio

  1. Less the low “WAF”, they were to die for for the immediciay and natural sound. Visited the room all three days and it kust kept getting better each visit!

  2. Merrill is such a great guy, he went out of his way and contacted me when I was having trouble with the 400W DIY ncore modules, he gave me advice and guidance on getting my amps going. If I was ever in the market for high power class D amps I would look no further than Merrill Audio.

  3. I’m sure this system was great. But I’d kill for that tape machine with a nice software collection. It reminds me of the Studer 1/2 inch 30ips stereo mastering deck at Different Fur Trading Company, where studio co-owner upstairs-resident Dr. Patrick Gleeson tutored me in (analog) synthesizer programming. I also shared work space with John Curl back in the day, who modded Dave Wilson’s old Ampex deck.

    However much you might prefer phono over Red Book, a great magnetic tape deck makes the best phono sound mediocre or worse. Yes, tape hisses as it traverses the head, but no phono pops nor static noise, oodles more “density,” no hint of audible feedback, no arcing angle distortion, no record warp and resulting distortion. Really, the comparisons are absurd, as is the tape’s audible performance advantage.

    I imagine Stereophile’s phono expert Michael Fremer is familiar with tape’s advantage over phono, but don’t hold your breath waiting for him to admit it.

  4. They didn’t need the length of the room to ‘knit’, those three horns sounded like one sitting right in front of them. Good job Jorge. Very nice sounding system. Inspirational . . .

    Greg

  5. Gavin Hadley // April 29, 2014 at 7:41 PM //

    Regardless of how those big ole sousaphonish behemoths sound, I’d be shopping for a new wife if I had a millwright move them into “her” house. I love my music but there’s a limit..

    • Gavin Hadley // April 29, 2014 at 7:43 PM //

      ..and what’s with the little piece of wedding cake sitting atop the little jet engine?

      • The “Wedding Cake” is a little bit of a tweak to reduce reflections. It is made of special NASA material that was developed by their scientists with over 25 years of R&D. It is extremely expensive and does a great job absorbing the reflections right off the top.

        Should you like a piece, you could look up your local packing company and ask them for some packing sponge. Slice with a box cutter and place around your tweeters.

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