What’s wrong with hitting the ground running? I bring this up because I’ve been spending the last couple of months with the Acora Acoustics SRB monitors (website), the little two-ways with the granite enclosures, and I’ve had more than one person make a comment about the lavish praise bestowed by Part-Time Audiophile on this relatively new Canadian manufacturer over the last few months.
It’s true that our Dave McNair reviewed the flagship Acora Acoustics SRC-2 loudspeakers and he awarded it our elusive and rare Summit Award. That was only the third time in our history that we’ve done that. Can we ever say a high-end audio product, especially a loudspeaker, attains perfection? Are we risking our necks saying this about a $37,000 pair of loudspeakers from a relative newcomer when there are quite a few six-figure transducers out there from companies that have been doing this for quite a while?
More importantly, what does this have to do with the Acora Acoustics SRB I’m currently reviewing?
First of all, I’m a firm believer that specific comparisons in high-end audio are close to useless. You have to look at each component on its own, and what it brings to the table and, ultimately, whether or not it represents some sort of value or investment to its potential owner. Just the other day I fielded a reader’s comment about why I didn’t compare the sound of the LFD NCSE Mk. 3 integrated amplifier (which, coincidentally, was a superb match with the Acora Acoustics SRB) with other amps in its price range. If I can’t match them side by side, in the same room, and with the same exact system, why bother?
In other words, I don’t want to think about the SRC-2 while I’m talking about the SRB, nor do I want to discuss the SRB in the context of all the two-ways that have marched through my listening room over the last few years. Dave McNair and I do have similar tastes in gear, but not exactly. I don’t want to make assumptions.
Still, I keep thinking about Dave McNair and Eric Franklin Shook hanging out and listening to those SRC-2s at Dave’s house in North Carolina and wondering “how can it get better than this?” That’s a powerful image, one we audiophiles dream of—the endpoint to all this madness, pure satisfaction. Will this two-way monitor lover feel the same way about the Acora Acoustics SRB? I can’t wait to find out.
Acora Acoustics SRB
If you’ve read my show reports about the last couple of Acora Acoustic exhibit rooms, you probably know that I’ve listened to both the SRC-1 and the SRB and I was impressed with them both. I was surprised, however, to find that I enjoyed these speakers for completely different reasons. While the more expensive SRC-1s definitely sounded bigger and offered a more substantial musical presentation, the little SRBs got me choked up and ready to bawl my eyes out on more than one occasion. “These are the ones I want to review,” I proclaimed.
I’ve never heard the pair of SRC-2s that Dave reviewed in his house, with his system. I’ve only heard the Acora Acoustics flagship once before, and that was the first time I walked into one of their exhibit rooms a couple of years ago. I would have driven down to Dave’s to hear them, especially after the Summit Award was decided upon, but silly me—I moved across the country instead. (Plus, you know, Covid.) I don’t know what kind of reaction I’d have. I just know that I loved the SRBs from the first moment I heard them. I knew these were going to be serious contenders.
The Acora Acoustics SRB, on paper, looks like a fairly conventional two-way monitor. It features a 5.5” “sandwich” paper cone mid/bass and a beryllium dome tweeter. It’s a bass reflex design, with a very small port in the back of the enclosure. It has an efficiency of 86 dB, with an impedance of 8 ohms. The frequency response is 43Hz-35KhZ, which sounds perfectly reasonable considering its dimensions of 11 x 9 x 13. I will point out that when you stand next to the SRB on the SRS, that 5.5” driver looks awfully small. You don’t necessarily feel that when you look at the larger driver on the two SRC models.
It seems, at first glance, that the Acora Acoustics SRB performs at the level that it does because of those granite enclosures. That’s perfectly understandable, but we’ve heard granite speakers before. They’ve come and gone. Valerio Cora does use a specially-treated granite that is machined on the premises, however, which is probably one reason why we should take another look. Cutting stone is just as much his vocation as designing speakers. He knows his way around a black hunk of stone and it shows in the perfect fit and finish.
None of that amazing sound would occur if it wasn’t for using excellent drivers with hand-built custom crossovers. It all has to work together as a perfectly tuned whole. That’s what speaker manufacturers such as Wilson and Magico and especially Von Schweikert have learned over the years—a cabinet that takes itself out of the acoustical equation will allow the drivers and the crossovers to reach their true design objectives.
Valerio Cora captures this concept perfectly when he says this, on his website:
“We believe you will hear many things you simply hadn’t before. What you won’t hear is the enclosure. Acora Acoustics loudspeakers are constructed using hand crafted specially treated granite enclosures. The rigidity of granite far exceeds that of traditional particle board or wood enclosures. One of the benefits of this is as the SRB’s drivers move to push air/create sound, the enclosure isn’t absorbing this energy and dulling or smearing the sound. Another benefit of the Acora enclosure is it does not need internal bracing to ‘stiffen’ the enclosure. This means that internal cross bracing is not required. This means no additional reflections inside the enclosure that will vibrate the low frequency driver.”
Acora Acoustics SRS Stands
Let’s address the 800-pound granite gorilla in the room. Yes, $5000 is a lot for a pair of stands. I’m not sure I’ve seen, much less used, more expensive speaker stands than this. I know that you can buy a very thrilling pair of floor-standing speakers for 5K. I also know that if you’re already spending $15,000 on a pair of two-way monitors, you may readily spend another $5,000 to improve the performance, even if it’s incremental. And, finally, you can also look at the stands as a future upgrade if you’re looking to get into the Acora Acoustics SRB as cheaply as you can. You know, buy the Ferrari now, get the awesome racing tires later.
I’m going to say, for a variety of reasons, that the Acora Acoustics SRS stands should not be considered optional. First of all, the Acora Acoustics SRB is a block of granite. It weighs close to 60 pounds, which is not the heaviest monitor I’ve ever carried in my arms but close. The SRB is so tiny, though, and that makes the heft surprising (but not unmanageable, since it’s pretty easy to lift them up and onto the SRS after you apply the included Blu-tack).
If you put the Acora Acoustics SRB on another stand, it might be too much to ask of that stand. First of all, it’s gonna be really, really top-heavy, and one good bump is going to send the SRB crashing through your suspended flooring and down into your basement. If you want to use spiked stands, the SRBs are going to slowly drive those spikes deep into the floor.
That’s where the granite SRS comes to the rescue. First of all, each SRS is much heavier than the SRB, so there’s incredible stability to this now 160 lb. transducer. A good bump won’t knock it over–you’ll crumple up and fall to the ground before the SRS and SRB do.
Is the SRS absolutely necessary to bring the SRB to its full potential? Absolutely. Against my better judgment I placed the Acora Acoustics SRB on other, more common stands and the deep bass just wasn’t as tight and well-defined. I think the imaging might have blurred just a tiny bit, too. At the same time, I placed other small speakers including the Marten Oscar Duos and the Brigadier Audio BA-2s on the SRS, and I heard that same positive impact to imaging and low frequencies. If you have $5000 to spend on stands for your favorite high-performance monitor, the SRS would probably be a spectacular choice. Heck, I’d even put an old pair of LS3/5as on them just to see what would happen. You never know, right?
There’s one more thing to consider with the Acora Acoustics stands. The SRS stands come in two versions, the SRS-G (granite) and the SRS-M (metal). The M is just half the price, so it’s possible to get into this combo at a $2500 savings. I didn’t get a chance to compare them, but Director of Sales and Marketing, Scott Sefton, went into more depth on the differences for me:
“The SRS-Gs you have are constructed of 6 main pieces (footer/top plate/2 vertical pieces of granite that are affixed to a metal upright and the metal back plate). The SRS-Ms have the same metal skeleton (sans vertical granite pieces) the same back plate, and the same top plate. Its footer is smaller because the added 2cm thick granite on the SRS-G needs a larger one. If you look at the back of the SRS-G, you will see the metal vertical upright. If you were to imagine the vertical granite pieces being removed and the footer reduced in size, that would be an SRS-M. In listening tests the SRS-G does offer more enhancements over even the SRS-M.“More mass/more rigidity contribute to better sound. Having the baffle not absorb some of the drivers’ energy is great but if the stand they are on absorb some, then you’re losing some of the benefit of the granite.”
Visually, the Acora Acoustics SRS stands are exciting and full of dynamic angles and sharp corners. Together, the SRS and the SRB makes a strong, distinctive silhouette in a darkened listening room, or near an open window.
The Acora Acoustics SRB came in right after the Volti Audio Razz, and I can’t image two more different speakers. I found it interesting, however, that the SRB likes the same slightly atypical (for me) positioning in the room as the Razz—as far apart as you can get them, with little or no toe-in. In both cases, the soundstage truly locks in and becomes a satisfying and purposeful whole. You’ll notice it snapping into focus.
Even though the SRB and SRS combo weighs as much as an average adult male, I found it easy to make those small adjustments in position since the SRS aren’t spiked. There’s a rounded bolt on the bottom of the footer that mates with the ground—it will scratch up your floor if you push them around willy-nilly, but if you lift every so gently the entire structure will glide smoothly. Again, Scott Sefton explains the purpose behind this:
“Thank you for pointing out the nylon tipped acorn nuts we put on. These are meant to make it easier to position, as you also noted. Once you find the spot, the idea is to remove them to get a better coupling to the floor. Another note: the SRS-G is heavier than the SRB, the SRS-M is not.”
The Acora Acoustics SRB spent its stay with a variety of amplification and embraced it all: two Bryston 4B power amps (one the new Cubed version and the other a restored unit from the first generation), the Pureaudio Duo2 power amp and the LFD NCSE Mk. 3 and Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum S2 integrated amps. We’re talking everything from 25wpc pure Class A to 400wpc of sheer SS juice, and not once did the SRBs show any sign of strain, discomfort or general malaise.
As I mentioned above, my finest moments with the Acora Acoustics SRB loudspeakers were, by a slim margin, with the LFD. I enjoyed the sound of this combo on so many levels, both products are superb at delivering emotional content in a relaxing, almost Zen-like manner.
I don’t normally like to put on my thinking cap when evaluating gear. Usually the rule is, it’s no good if it doesn’t sweep me away and allow me to forget myself like Colonel Kurtz strolling leisurely in the jungle with his people. But I found that the Acora Acoustics SRB monitors forced me to confront the finer differences between my ultimate objectives when it comes to achieving good sound.
You see, I’ve gotten to the point where my check-off list is mostly centered around one item: the ability to sound warm and human and relaxing while delivering all the detail and information in the recording. My favorite gear seems to possess at least this one compound trait, and I tend to look for it when I’m listening. If it ain’t there, I’m considering it a shortcoming and I’m moving on. Most of the so-called “good stuff” does this. It’s not magic, just good engineering and attention to all of the details that can affect the results.
In fact, I felt a little disappointed when that was my first impression of the Acora Acoustics SRB because I wanted to say something else about them, something no one has ever said before. The SRBs met my expectations, of course, but my ability to describe the sound in a more unique and interesting way came up short. Yup, they’re just this side of warm, right where I like it. Yup, I’m hearing scads of previously unheard details and nuances. Here’s what I thought during those first moments: I gotta stop talking about those two specific things, even if they seem to be the most important to me as an audiophile at this point in time. Can’t I switch it up?
Over time, I started wondering about the Acora Acoustics SRB and its ability to evoke those vivid emotional reactions. That’s the warmth, right? That’s the feeling of nestling in front of your system on a cold winter day, drinking Stumptown coffee from morning until night and falling in love with your favorite music all over again. That’s a warm feeling, right?
Once the SRBs settled in, I considered the sound to be slightly more complex than that. It was no longer about the combination of warmth/musicality and detail, but the very idea that all of those details are more reassuring when they’re delivered with such accuracy. That’s the humanity I so often mention during reviews, that sublime sense of human beings interacting with inanimate objects and producing wonderful sounds. There’s motion, there’s direction and there’s the human in front of me, doing talented things, putting a smile on my face.
Is this completely different from the premium two-way monitors I’ve heard before? I’m not sure, but I’ve noticed this new wrinkle for the first time with the Acora Acoustics SRB. Warmth and detail may be symbiotic.
If you’re going to charge this kind of money for a small two-way, it’s better reach deep into the bass, right? I have to admit that the 43Hz spec seems much higher than I thought it would be—usually 40 Hz is my lower threshold for choosing a small speaker over a big speaker. That said, I really enjoyed the deep bass performance of the SRBs. In ultimate terms there existed a slight lack of meatiness in the mid to upper bass I’ve heard in the most over-achieving of small monitors, but it’s an honest compromise that’s quickly forgotten once you hear all the information your ears are receiving.
One particular recording that I’ve been obsessing over in recent weeks, Kane Mathis’ Geminus, seemed tailor-made for the Acora Acoustics SRB’s ability to bring forth layer after layer of information in a stunningly cohesive way. Mathis is a master of the oud and the Mandinka kora, and he places these exotic string instruments in an almost standard jazz trio setting. The further you can listen into this recording, the more you’ll realize that this isn’t about jazz—it’s about sheer hypnotic momentum cast by sounds unheard of, as Shelly Manne once posited. The SRBs opened the door into that room and gave a thorough tour once inside. Did I mention he’s driving that Ferrari with the killer racing tires?
The SRBs let me know all that, and more.
Over time, I gravitated toward my reference LPs, especially some of my most beloved reissues and remasters such as Julie London’s Satin in a Latin Mood, Nina Simone’s Little Girl Blue and Billie Holiday’s Songs for Distingue Lovers. These softer, warmer recordings were drawn forward slightly so you could poke around and find new textures and hues within the music. At the same time, the enormous soundstage of the SRB let you see those classic performances in a larger context, past the musicians, down the halls and out into those streets from long ago.
These were the days, getting through a lone blast of winter in my new digs, listening to the pure vibrance of these recordings as they were presented by a thoughtful but thorough companion—the Acora Acoustics SRB monitors atop the SRS stands. Bravo, Valerio Cora.
First of all, it’s important to state that the Acora Acoustics SRB, just like any of the superb products and technologies from this Canadian company, was carefully thought out over a long period time. Scott Sefton dispelled the notion that Acora is a newcomer, saying “While Acora Acoustics Corporation is only a few years old, Acora Acoustics has been around since the ‘90s and the product you have been listening to has been in development for a very long time.”
The Acora Acoustics SRB monitor, perched atop the massive SRS stands, has been an affair to remember. This company is indeed the real thing. I’ve talked to Valerio Cora and his wife and business partner Sheree at several audio shows, and I talked to Valerio on the phone during the course of this review. These are people who know what they’re doing in terms of design and execution, but they are also warm and friendly people who understand why we do this, why we make loudspeakers out of stone and why we pay prices most people think are insane just to get a little closer to our music.
These are people who might cry a little when they play something for you. You can hear it. You can hear all of that love and emotion in the Acora Acoustics SRB. Highly recommended.