Acoustic Zen master Robert Lee, whose quiet, humble presence and terrific-sounding speakers are a mainstay of the major stereo shows, almost didn’t attend the 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest
Worn out from the exhibit circuit and company duties, Lee was seriously considering sitting this one out until he got a call from John Dormandy of Voss Audio, inviting him to provide a pair of speakers to power some new electronics.
It proved beneficial for both men and their enterprises, as the Acoustic Zen-Voss pairing turned out to produce some of the best sound of the show.
Lee was displaying his Crescendo II ($22,000 a pair), a tweaked version of his well-regarded floorstander, while Voss provided the Auquus UltraClassA/B ST amplifier ($54,000) and class-A Liquus UltraClass line stage ($44,000). Rounding out the rig was an Aesthetix Romulus Eclipse CD player ($14,000) and a Jena Labs Model 2 AC filtering unit ($2,000).
The Auquus is a 150 watt-per-channel MOSFET amp that offers extremely wide bandwidth, Dormandy said.
“We designed it to capture the harmonic richness of tubes, but with the speed and harmonic purity of solid-state,” he told me.
The Liquus, meanwhile, features lithium-ion battery power and a bandwidth capability similar to the Auquus.
Voss was incorporated in June after five years of research and development. Next up is a phono stage, Dormandy said.
RMAF coverage courtesy of Noble Audio: https://nobleaudio.com/
Acoustic Zen’s Crescendo was looking great, as usual, in its high-gloss rosewood finish (as good as you can get in this price range). The speaker is a three-way, full-range model that incorporates two 5-inch midrange drivers, two 8-inch woofers and a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter — all in a transmission-line design. The upper half of the Crescendo uses a D’Appolito configuration for the mids and tweeter, while the bottom of the floor-standing tower employs “underhung” voice coils for its ceramic-coated woofers.
I’ve heard the Crescendos driven by a variety of tube and solid-state gear, and their reproduction is consistently great. It was the same at RMAF in Denver.
The Voss gear, especially, seemed to bring out the sound-staging and imaging attributes of Lee’s design. His speakers already have some of the flattest frequency-response plots in the business, and combined with the wide bandwidth and extremely low noise floor of the electronics, you could follow notes as they dissipated practically into infinity.
This could be heard on several tracks I played (well, more than several, as Lee and Dormandy were very patient hosts), including Steely Dan’s “My Rival” and the Pretenders’ “Nothing Maker.” Sibilants were almost nonexistent, while bass and drums had both impact and depth.
The Zen-Voss rig could do the blues, too. The B.B. King-Eric Clapton version of “The Thrill Is Gone” was, to put it mildly, thrilling. And perhaps the most astounding song I tried was an ancient field recording of Junior Kimbrough accompanying himself on “Meet Me in the City,” a yearning plea to a lover howled over some of the most hypnotic, syncopated guitar-playing ever recorded. On this spare track, which is part of an obscure British compilation called The Honky-Tonk Demos, I heard for the first time what sounded like Kimbrough tapping his foot on the beat.
I could have stayed the rest of the afternoon — and Lee and Dormandy probably would have let me — but, alas, I had a long list of rooms to report on for Part-Time Audiophile. It was nice, though, to have my moment of Zen.