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Vancouver 2015: Element Acoustics presents Acapella

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by Rafe Arnott

Vancouver-Audio-Show-CustomSome hi-fi gear just looks the business.

You know what I mean?

The Focal Grande Utopia loudspeaker, the Da Vinci Gold AAS-Gabriel turntable, the Kondo Ongaku integrated amplifier and to me, the Acapella Violon MK VI speakers.

It is the Acapellas that were hogging the Tier 3 room that Element Acoustics had set up in Vancouver for the 2015 Hi fi show here.

I walked in with Element owner Edward Ku and I have to admit he was grinning ear-to-ear as much as I was.

If the massive three-way speakers and its arresting deep-red lacquered horn-loaded midrange driver don’t get you low whistling to yourself, then the ion charged-particle tweeters firing up surely will grab your attention.

Right. Effing. Now.

From the manufacturer:

“Our ion treble speakers actually are the fastest treble transmission system throughout the world. As it works without mobile mass its high-end frequency amplification cut-off only depends on the limitations set by the sellers. The ion tweeter speaker is designed for frequencies up to about 40 kHz. This extraordinary width of the frequency band makes it possible to play out every kind of music precisely.”

So, do you follow?

Neither do I exactly, other than that after conferring with Edward I gathered there is no “physical” tweeter diaphragm, rather, an arc of charged particles manipulates the air at those upper frequencies.

The really cool thing is turning on the speakers and hearing/watching the low rumble/rush of air when the tweeters actually light up.

I swear to God, they light; like a gas stove top turning on. They look like little Arc Reactors, a la, Iron Man. And oh man do those tweeters ever sound good. Crazy good. The highs from the Acapellas were visceral.

Now that’s not a word I’ve ever used to described treble or high frequencies. Lower-mids and bass? Yes, I’ve used the word ‘visceral’ for those. But not ever for highs.

The Ion tweeter produced incredibly life-like highs that had bite and texture and body and weight. It’s nuts. It sounds amazingly, spooky-real. Look-around-the-room real.

I’m not super familiar with horn speaker designs, other than people constantly talking about that “horn sound” and cupping their hands around their mouths and making honking noises like demented geese in an effort to convey what the hell it is they’re actually talking about. I just want say that I take anything anybody says to me with a grain of salt if I don’t have a personal point of reference or firsthand experience with what’s under discussion, so when the hand-cupping honkers talk horns I usually nod and keep my thoughts to myself until I’ve got something to actually say that is based near hands-on.

So it was that I listened with a completely open mind to the Acapellas and their beautiful big midrange horn. (Not really, I half-expected shouty. Complete opposite).

We spun Ella Fitzgerald Lady Time and her sweet, syrupy yet slightly raspy voice bit right into my ears.

There she was in the room with me.

I know, I know, people say that line all the freaking time describing speakers.

But I’m not kidding. It was downright eerie. Trust me.

These speakers are a three-way design and are fast and cohesive from top to bottom and I’m going to say very sensitive/transparent to whatever you put upstream from them because they just seemed to offer nowhere for any sound to hide.

Every nuance of performance from the LPs I listened to (Dead Can Dance, Into the Labryinth, Mobile Fidelity 2xLP in particular), was laid bare and was so tangible in the room you felt like you could reach out and pluck notes coming off the instruments out of the air.

With a Brinkman Bardo turntable and Fidelity Research tonearm fitted with a Dynavector XV-S1 taking care of the source, I have to give some (okay, at least half) of the credit to this amazingly silent and punchy analog rig.

I’ve heard the Bardo only once before but was impressed with its big, fat sound stage and dead quiet, black backgrounds, and only being familiar with the Dynavector DV 20x2L, I can say the XV-S1 added exponentially to everything great about the 20x2L. Clicks and pops were pushed to almost laughable anonymity in the background of every recording and dynamics, tone, timbre and sparkle along with a fat, meaty and bouncy bass makes this the Dynavector to save up for.

Amplification was deftly handled by an Air Tight ATM 1S. This 36w EL-34 power-tube based beauty had no problem pushing the big Acapellas to crazy volumes that no one sane should ever listen to music to. (I thank Edward’s staff for letting me keep sneaking the volume dial up until my hair was standing on end).

The ATM 1S (S for Special) produced a huge, effortless 3D sound stage with the amp providing a deep insight into the musicality of every song I played. This was apparent (in my mind, and way of processing music) because no two songs ever sounded the same.

This a somewhat colored amp with loads of texture and richness in tonal reproduction, but I love amps like that. It’s a little amp, but don’t let its diminutive size fool you because it’s a workhorse that dug out every piece of individuality and soul that there was to mine from each recorded performance.

Just incredible when you think about how ruthlessly revealing the Violon’s are: there’s no room for a harsh or bright, muddy or bass-shy performance from an amplifier. Everything is laid bare and if there’s a weakness in your reproduction chain the Violons will point to it, jump up and down and shout about it.

To sum up this room, and in particular the Acapellas, I’m going to take quote from one of my favorite films of all time; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… “It is sooo choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

Gear

  • Speakers: Acapella Violon MK VI: $56,000 CAN
  • CD player: Meridian 808 V5: $27,000 CAN
  • Music Server: Meridian Control 15: $9,250 CAN
  • TT: Brinkman Bardo: $8,250 CAN
  • Tonearm: Fidelity Research FR-64S: Price unavailable
  • Cartridge: Dynavextor XV-1S: $5,950 CAN
  • Phono stage: Aesthetix Rhea Signature: $9,250 CAN
  • Amplifier: Air Tight ATM-1S: $9,250 CAN

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