If I were to sum up my experience of the Acora SRB it would be that it has reminded me of the Joy of the Novice.
Can you remember the first time you had an emotional reaction to a hi-fi system? I can. The Police, Synchronicity II, Vandersteen Model 3’s, McCormack DNA 0.5. It’s a curious condition of the audiophile that we attribute this experience as much to the gear as we do to the music, but the truth is that hearing a recording portrayed with the bandwidth and dynamic scale of a great stereo system is a singular way to experience sound. In the beginning, everything is so impressive that we can’t help but be moved.
Words and Photos by Grover Neville
Unfortunately, it’s rare that we experience those moments of musical euphoria once we get engrossed in the hobby. As we hear more and become harder to impress, our initial excitement fades as well, trading in the high of musical experience for the abstract: what preamplifier will best match my phono stage and amp? Which speakers will best suit my room and recordings? What can I tweak in my digital setup to get it a little smoother in the high end?
At the core of these questions we may tell ourselves we’re seeking to recapture that high of the first great hi-fi listen that got us addicted, but is that really the truth? I sometimes suspect that the pursuit of details tickles the analytical muscles of the ear more than the emotional response.
On the one hand, I think that anxiety over technical details, the desire to know why and how something works is part of what makes any hobby fun–cars, watches, fountain pens, you name it. But there are undeniable moments when a system or component like the Acora SRB speakers ($15,000/pair) recaptures the Joy of the Novice, that special feeling that you’ve just been initiated into something most people don’t know about. It’s moments like this that allow us to step back from the how it works and have an emotional reaction to music again.
Joy of the Novice
I felt the Joy of the Novice with Dave McNair’s incredible Acora SRC-2 set-up, and now having lived with the SRBs myself, I get to live it every day. I’ve been listening seriously to hi-fi for over thirteen years, and no component or system I have yet heard has brought be the Joy of the Novice repeatedly, every day, every listening session. The Acora SRB has.
On the first listen, I heard a speaker which melted away my conceptions of flat frequency response, dynamic capability, speed or other characteristics, and which I felt put me in my place. This is what music is supposed to sound like, was what the Acora SRBs seemed to say. It was not the experience of a clearer window. Rather, it was as if I had been listening to music through boomboxes my entire life and now I was hearing a proper stereo system. I tend to shy away from audiophile cliches when I can, but the Acoras really do bring me back to being a novice and they have convinced me that there is more to learn, more to hear and more to know about sound.
The Acora SRB Sound
After overcoming the addictive feeling of being immersed in the recording, some characteristics of the Acora SRB begin to emerge after an extended listen. The speakers are incredibly unfussy about placement, though they do reward careful adjustments. They sound astonishing even thrown haphazardly in the room, throwing an enormous soundstage that even in poor rooms seems to wrap around your head, enveloping you and reaching from floor to ceiling.
It also becomes apparent that these speakers are exceptionally fast and have low distortion. Sound is presented with a complete absence of identifiable coloration or harshness, something I’ve never heard before, even in extremely high-end setups. It is also presented with a speed that exceeds any dynamic speaker I’ve personally heard before, sounding almost like a Quad electrostatic, though with the more precise instrument placement typical of dynamic drivers. Throughout the frequency range and soundstage I can find essentially no fault, though in a larger room than mine I can see wanting one of the larger SRC models simply to fill the space better. This again, is something I’ve never heard before.
By now it should be apparent just how impressed I am by the Acora SRB speakers, however my one caveat for them is also their greatest strength: they focus my attention completely on music. While these are tremendously transparent and will tell you everything you could want to know about recordings, preamplifiers, phono stages, amps and other component changes, they also make me care less and less about all of that the more I listen to them. I just want to enjoy the glorious clarity and dynamic flow of music through them, to hell with amps and DACs and the lot. The Joy of the Novice exceeds my technical curiosity with these speakers, which are unlike any other I’ve heard.
Final Thoughts on the Acora SRB
This Joy of the Novice experience I found in living with the Acora SRB speakers is potentially a weakness for the gear-obsessed audiophile who actually likes swapping gear and enjoys hypothesizing like some kind of auditory pharmacist about what combination of electronic elements might fuse to produce a new, even more addictive sonic substance. These speakers have returned me to believing that there is an endgame for an audiophile, and not merely flavors. Their flavor is the flavor of music, their tune is now playing. For the very first time, a speaker has taught me about something more than how it compares to other speakers, it has actually changed my perspective on music, listening and what a speaker can be or should do.
Listening with Acora SRB speakers, I retire my expert’s hat—I like The Joy of the Novice better.