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High End 2015: Tune Audio, ModWright, VPI, Skogrand

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HE15_Logo_GB_01Panagiotis covered a fascinating room featuring some wild speakers from Tune Audio at Munich last year and at some point along that trajectory, become pals with Manolis Proestakis. That’s probably why he took a bow and left the room to me this year. I kinda wish he didn’t — he’s vastly more familiar with the speakers than I — but I’m also kinda glad he did. Because at €32,000, these speakers may well have been the best-value on offer in Munich.

I know. €32,000 is an enormous pile of money for anything, much less loudspeakers that so thoroughly violate the traditional notion of “shared space”. I get that. But. And yet … And … yeah. I’m sticking with my assessment.

Why?

Because! For whatever reason — and there are many — horns are not cheap. Sure, you can get something horn-like. Something with a single driver and a back-loaded horn, or a big two/three-way with a horn-loaded tweeter, or a big bass-reflex cabinet with a trumpet attached, or any of the near-limitless variations on that particular theme. But a real, horny-horn-hornerstein? Something with real honest-to-goodness horns for each driver? Yeah. That’s tough. Interestingly, you can find any number of horn loudspeakers just like this here at High End where the design approach really (and small-output tubes to match). Apparently, they seem to have way more fans today here in Europe than they ever have in the USA. Which is sad.

Because! For whatever reason — and there are many — “real” (full?) horns “do something” that is apparently absurdly difficult to do. Something that I find … enthralling. Something I’m finding it very difficult to live without. That thing? Dynamics. It’s really … fun.

Hee hee! (Sorry, did I just say that out loud?)

At 109dB sensitivity, the Anima is a 3-way triple-horn array. That is, each of the “ways” in the 3-way design is handled by a separate, discrete horn. As I mentioned, that’s unusual. There’s a little bitty “proprietary epoxy” horn sitting a near the top of the array featuring a 1″ compression tweeter. The monster Baltic-birch middle-horn hides a 5″ mid range driver. The “cabinet” of the speaker is actually the bass horn (also Baltic birch), hoisting a 15″ woofer some 5+ feet into the air and firing it directly at the floor. Taken as a whole, this is a very clever package seemingly optimizing space, and given how flipping massive the horns have to be to be effective, it’s actually quite compact. No, really. Google “basshorn” if you’re curious as to how big horns-for-bass-reproduction routinely get.

A horn speaker — any horn speaker — that can do 40Hz without a cheat (like a powered subwoofer) is also unusual. The Anima, the top of the line offering from Tune Audio, can. Tune Audio also offers a big granite plinth to set the down-firing speaker on — something I’d recommend if you plan to set them up on carpet, as I suspect that this will firm up the bottom-end, too.

There is a separate sub available (physics can only do so much), for those inclined to take the performance down to 23Hz ( … and that would be me). The rooms here at High End were absolutely catastrophic when it came to bass frequencies, so it wasn’t a surprise to see a pair of Tune’s new slender-column subs, the €6k (each) Kion subwoofer, flanking the big Animas. I called it “insurance”, but the listeners just seemed to think of it as “awesome”. We were all correct.

The Anima is a big speaker. That’s undeniable. It’s also undeniably a speaker and one that makes little apologies for it in its looks, much less its overall size. Me? I think it is absolute striking, imposing, in a way that just screams holy-cow. I love it. Damn shame it’s not available here in the States (at least, not yet).

With a speaker that size, much less a horn array, you should expect them to need some room in order to really strut their stuff. Tune Audio recommends a least 2m between them, and at least 3m between them and you, for the sound to fully bloom. The room here at Munich was very big, which I’m sure was great, but I know my listening room is nowhere near this big. For me, or folks like me, I was told that the tweeter and mid-range horns can be tilted in order to improve frequency response at a less-than-ideal seating position. Yes, I can tell when I’m being targeted. Temptress!

I should also mention that the  Anima is a time-aligned and time-coherent speaker that can blow your doors off with less than a watt of amplification. Which brings me to the next most impressive thing in this room. What was driving the 109dB speakers was not some weird or new or vintage or experimental ModWright flea-powered tube amp. Nope. Rather, this was Dan’s “regular” over-achieving KWA150SE ($8995 US), a solid state power amp. Tubes didn’t come into the chain until the preamplifier, with Dan’s matching LS 36.5 DM preamp ($9995 US).

Which makes it worth taking a second to give a slow, appreciative, wolf-whistle. That is one sexy bitch, that amp. I’m betting that at no point during any of my 5 different stops through this room were the speakers sucking down more than a single watt, but with that much on tap, I kept thinking that we were completely able to do some horribly traumatic things to individuals 1/4 of a mile away. Power! Bwahahaha ….

But seriously, the sound coming out of these speakers was fulsome and ballsy, big swings in play, but the word I wrote and circled in my notebook was ‘eloquent’, with the music slipping in and out of the blackest backgrounds … I just could not believe how good the pairing was here. Horns … with a high-output Class A/B amplifier. And I was digging it. Huh! Not what I would have expected … and yes, I was expecting tubes or at the very least small-output, über-niche, blessed-by-Himalayan-virgins Class-A electronics.

That whooshing sound? My “audiophile expectations” evaporating.

I have to credit more than a little of the sound to the newest ModWright components, specifically the new phono preamp, the PH150 ($7900 US), here paired with the also-new, also-delicious, oh-so-very-black VPI Prime turntable ($4k, with 3-D printed tonearm). That phono pre is, if I’m recalling correctly, the newest out of Dan Wright’s growing stable of gear. Up to 72dB of gain, the pre features pairs of tubes — two 6C45, two 6922 — along with Lundahl step-up transformers. Variable impedance loading, with on-the-fly adjustments for resistance, capacitance and gain, the phono pre includes a mono switch, as well as RCA and XLR outputs. There’s an outboard PSU (solid-state), and big chunky knobs on the front for all the customization, as well as the laser-cut top and soft-blue LED spillage for those late night sexy-time playback. I really want one of these guys to play with, can you tell?

All cabling came from Knut Skogrand. Skogrand Cables offer high-performance power and signal cabling, and all come wrapped up in sheaths every bit as sexy-looking as their price points would dictate. Stitched silk? Yeah. This is the good stuff — who needs boring black-cased wire? Bah!

Last but not least — that VPI turntable is a new-ish offering. I “discovered” the Prime late last year, and in the intervening time, the table has been gaining serious momentum ( … you see what I did there?). The design falls neatly between the big HRX table and the smaller Aries/Scout line, representing a big deviation from the “Classic” turntable designs of recent years. For my taste, I think the new ultra-dense plinth/thick aluminum platter/massive outboard motor design is just electrifying in its immediacy and musicality, and with that 3-D printed tonearm included for the price, I’m throwing the flag and saying that Prime is the “steal” in the current VPI lineup.

All-in-all, a very satisfying room. Preconceptions = blown.

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About Scot Hull (991 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.