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Newport 2014: Acapella blows its big, blue horns

DSC_0432 hiresnewportlogoforwebI had one personal goal for this show: torturing people with a big band played at full volume. If you heard Count Basie's C.B. Express blaring out of a room, that probably meant that my wife and I were in there shouting "TURN THE KNOB FARTHER TO THE RIGHT!" If that kind of blaring bombast is your goal, Acapella is going to be your first stop. Nothing -- nothing! -- handles the top end of a horn section like Acapella's ion tweeter.

The rest of their speaker isn’t too shabby, either. The enormous, $100k Atlas was almost literally shoehorned in under the ductwork in an Atrium room that was too small, too leaky, and just too unsuited to the beast with the giant blue horns. I demoed it from the front and center position, which put my ears something less than six feet away from the tweeter. Herman Winters happily loaded my cd into an EMM Labs disc spinner, though, and gave the big knob on his $100k LaMusica integrated amplifier a spin toward the stupid side.

Did I mention that this room was far too small for the speakers? So many of the problems that causes just go away when you sit ridiculously close. The six foot towers — which loom impressively at that distance — turn out to be remarkably cohesive. Not totally so, of course, but the ability to localize the drivers was only a small drawback compared to the pain of sitting in the second row’s boomspot.

Sadly, the electronics weren’t dealing as well with Friday morning warmup issues as I could have hoped. The presentation — forceful, musical, and clear — was interrupted by random attacks of graininess and thinness. These seemed to have nothing to do with the music at all, appearing at random during the six-minute song. The rest of the performance was exactly what I’ve come to expect and covet from Acapella system. It had an exhilarating sense of musical completeness. It never once seemed to stutter when asked to hammer through stupid levels of sound pressure. While none of the drivers ever quite manage to live up to the impossible standard set by the tweeter, the overall balance was excellent.

If there’s an obvious flaw, it’s that the reasonable Acapella systems (this $200k system is an example of a reasonable Acapella system) sometimes give short shrift to that last smidgen of the emotional expressiveness present on a recording. That was the case here, where the iron fisted amplifier and bass array left some of the rhythmic playfulness behind in favor of spotlighting the band’s unstoppable momentum. That’s not a bad trade to make.

Not a bad trade at all, really.

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