Acoustic Zen

Unique Transmission-Line speakers from California
"Music No Compromise"

Acoustic Zen Technologies was founded by legendary cable design engineer Robert Lee. It is a research-oriented cable and loudspeaker product development company.

The aim from the company's outset was to explore acoustical behavior and the sonic transmission of live music in order to make innovative cable and loudspeaker designs that build upon recent advances in materials research and manufacturing. The genius of Robert Lee outstanding true reference loudspeaker that's within the reach of the majority of audiophiles.

CES - Las Vegas High-End Audio Show 2013 Awarded: 
Jimmy Award for Insane Performance by Audio Beats
Jimmy Award for Sane Pricing by Audio Beats
Best Sound (cost no object) by The Absolute Sound
SPEAKER DESIGN:
Mr. Lee's custom design of underhung voice coil drivers means that it has a very short voice coil in a large magnetic field gap. The voice coils are very narrow and always move in a linear manner within a magnetic field regardless of excursion - unlike traditional long voice coil moving in a short magnetic gaps where the voice coil moves beyond the control of the magnet. The only other speakers in the world that combine underhung voice coils with ribbon tweeters sell for US$80,000!
 
Incredibly beautiful choices of Italian finishes including prize wood veneers at no extra cost. Photos do not do justice to the looks of these speakers!
 
Perfect as a two channel system. Also, an available matching set of surround speakers, center channel, and subwoofer can complete a reference multi-channel music & home theater syst
CABLE DESIGN:

For the finest loudspeakers and cables. Acoustic Zen manufactures world class loudspeakers that are beautiful looking and wonderful sounding. They offer the best performance for price in high performance audio. Acoustic Zen's flagship speaker, the Maestro, offers equivalent sound to US$100,000+ loudspeakers at a fraction of their cost. Likewise, Acoustic Zen's cables offer some of the best price for performance in the audio industry. 

Robert Lee, who is a metallurgist, uses pure silver and copper that has been processed in such a way as to eliminate the formation of crystals and impurities so that there is only one crystal per 150 meters of cable compared to 6,000 crystals per meter common to some other high-end cables. Lee claims, “This difference is significant and absolutely improves electron transmission resulting in clarity and smoothness of sound.” Robert, who is an accomplished pianist and violinist, brings his musical knowledge to bear as well in his judgment of the results.

Designed by audio legend Robert Lee, pioneer in continuous crystal cable design, and former chief designer at Harmonic Technologies - now offers his latest & greatest reference designs in interconnects, Single Crystal" cables. Acoustic Zen has long been a leader in producing audio cables using "single crystal" UP-OCC Copper & Silver developed by Professor Ohno of the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan. UP-OCC copper is at least 99.99998% pure, and has an average crystal size of 125 meters (410 feet)! Compare this to the average crystal size of Oxygen Free Copper, which is .02 meters (3/4"). UP-OCC copper and silver are considered the ultimate in copper and silver conductior technology today.

Acoustic Zen cables use multi-stranded conductors to eliminate electromagnetic interference. To reduce phase shift and frequency distortion, capacitance is kept very low by using Teflon, polyethylene foam and air as the dielectric and controlling the distance between a pair of wires. Also, Constant Air-Twisting technology contributes to the low capacitance. To keep inductance very low, attention is directed toward correct conductor sizes and distances and twists of pairs of conductors.

Amazing linearity & near perfect phase alignment are just a couple of the scientific reasons these speakers sing so incredibly. Robert Lee's exclusive advanced underhung driver for ultra-low distortion & round ribbon tweeter design make the Acoustoic Zen loudspeakers value unique in all the world.

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Featured

AZ06 SF CRES
NZ$ 37,995.00 (incl. GST)
The incredible Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers, Full Range, tight realistic sounding 20hz bass, 90db efficiency, tube friendly design-run great on 20 watt 845 tube SET's, and excellent on high power...
Design: 3 way TRANSMISSION LINE Tweeter:   1x” custom Horn loaded RIBBON Midrange:...
Reviews May 2015: 
AZ09 SW ALLEGRO
NZ$ 6,250.00 (incl. GST)
The Allegro is a unique, transmition-line bottom ported subwoofer featuring dual 10" drivers in a hexagonal enclosure and a built-in 1000W Class-T amplifier. Adjustable gain, low-pass filter, and...

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Floor Standing

AZ04 SF ADAGIO
NZ$ 9,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The genius of Robert Lee is at it again. An outstanding true reference loudspeaker that's within the reach of the majority of audiophiles.    Amazing linearity & near perfect phase...
Adagio are two-way loudspeakers using transmission line loading. They sport two 6,5'' mid- lowrange...
Adagio - a no-nonsense affordable high-end loudspeakers for the rest of us Overture
Floor Standing
AZ06 SF CRES
NZ$ 37,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The incredible Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers, Full Range, tight realistic sounding 20hz bass, 90db efficiency, tube friendly design-run great on 20 watt 845 tube SET's, and excellent on high power...
Design: 3 way TRANSMISSION LINE Tweeter:   1x” custom Horn loaded RIBBON Midrange:...
Reviews May 2015: 
Floor Standing
AZ06 SF CRES OB
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 20,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 37,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 17,000.00 (incl. GST)
The incredible Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers, Full Range, tight realistic sounding 20hz bass, 90db efficiency, tube friendly design-run great on 20 watt 845 tube SET's, and excellent on high power...
Design: 3 way TRANSMISSION LINE Tweeter:   1x” custom Horn loaded RIBBON Midrange:...
Reviews May 2015: 
Floor Standing
AZ08 SF MAESTRO
NZ$ 79,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
At last year's T.H.E. show I was sitting in the courtyard of the St. Tropez eating lunch, when I suddenly heard someone playing a live drum set in one of the surrounding rooms. I've played the drums...
Can you break it down in some more detail?   With a short voice coil in a long magnetic gap...
Floor Standing

Sub Woofers

AZ09 SW ALLEGRO
NZ$ 6,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Allegro is a unique, transmition-line bottom ported subwoofer featuring dual 10" drivers in a hexagonal enclosure and a built-in 1000W Class-T amplifier. Adjustable gain, low-pass filter, and...
Sub Woofers

Reviews

I think you might very well fall in love with these speakers.
Brian Kahn

Overall, this speaker system was at ease with both micro and macro-dynamics. Details did not get lost in busy mixes, instruments and voices sounded natural and unforced. 

The Adagio speakers are made by Acoustic Zen, a company known in audiophile circles as the makers of premium audio cables. The Adagio series of speakers is Acoustic Zen's smallest and least expensive line of speakers. There are two versions of the Acoustic Zen Adagio, the standard Adagio and the Adagio, Jr. The speakers are very similar, with the standard version being a floor standing speaker and the Adagio, Jr. being a large stand mounted design. The Adagio retails for a competitive price range that has many good speaker choices to choose from. For a speaker to survive in this category it needs to be very good.
 
The Adagio samples I received were finished in a furniture grade burled walnut finish and measured 48 inches tall, 13 inches deep and nine inches wide. They weigh 78 pounds each. The Adagio's driver array consists of a pair of six and one-half inch cones vertically flanking a one and one-half inch circular ribbon tweeter in a classic D'Appolito array. The mid-woofers are mounted on baffles which increase the effective thickness of the MDF cabinet to approximately two inches while helping to time and phase align the drivers. The bottom of the Adagio's front panel features a large port for the transmission line. Frequency response is 30Hz to 25kHz, with a sensitivity of 89 dB/1Watt/1meter. The MDF cabinets feature curved side panels and a narrower rear panel. This design is said to reduce internal reflections. 
 
The custom made six and one-half inch midrange-woofers feature ceramic impregnated fabric cones and feature an "under hung" design. This same basic design is used by many other high end speaker manufacturers including Wilson and THIEL. This design has a short voice coil that moves in a long magnetic gap. This design is capable of reducing distortion by up to 95%. Robert Lee, the chief engineer of Acoustic Zen designed the one and one-half inch circular ribbon tweeter which is made from an extremely thin layer of kapton. Robert Lee states that kapton remains thermally stable so as to minimize distortion and maximize linearity no matter how much power is being used. The Adagio's feature a single set of binding posts as the internal wiring is Acoustic Zen's own Satori cabling which is of higher quality than the cable most would use for bi-wiring these speakers.
 
The frequency extension, at both ends of the spectrum, and the performance levels at these extremes was quite good. The ribbon tweeter struck the careful balance of detail and presence without being irritating and the bass was surprisingly solid and deep for the modest size of the drivers and cabinet.
 
High Points
• The cabinets are solid and their aesthetics are of furniture grade quality. They look simply fantastic.
• The drivers feature advanced designs and are custom made for Acoustic Zen. 
• The Adagio's are capable of deep and solid low frequency reproduction despite their relatively small size.

The Adagios would be well matched with tube electronics from the likes of Conrad Johnson, Audio Research and or Cary

• I found the Acoustic Zen Adagios to take dozens and dozens of hours to break-in thus getting to their full potential. I recommend running a CD for hours while you are gone.

• I found the Acoustic Zen Adagios to take dozens and dozens of hours to break-in thus getting to their full potential. I recommend running a CD for hours while you are gone.

 

Conclusion
I was surprised by the Adagio's level of performance at their price. When I first saw these modestly sized, fairly traditional looking speakers I was not expecting them to be able to perform to the level that they have achieved. 
Acoustic Zen has managed to balance the ribbon tweeter to bring out the nuanced highs that provide for detail and a sense of airiness while keeping the ribbon properly damped to prevent any harshness or ringing. No easy feat. The woofers also performed beyond expectations providing deep and solid bass. Overall, this speaker system was at ease with both micro and macro-dynamics. Details did not get lost in busy mixes, instruments and voices sounded natural and unforced. I think you might very well fall in love with these speakers.
the Adagios are damn easy to listen to. Everything is where it should be, you have a true foundation in bass and you don't have to put on a radiation suit and sunglasses to listen to them for hours on end.
Chip Stern
The Acoustic Zen Adagios do indeed fulfill their claim of reduced transducer colorations and distortions. I found I could drive the daylights out of these babies without suffering the cumulative effect of glare. Right out of the box, the thing that impressed me the most was their clarity, coherence, lack of coloration, musical detail and bass extension. Once I broke them in, bass quality became even more impressive - tremendous dynamics, solid impact, tight and tuneful. They stop on a dime and are quick, really quick, with no overhang or lingering overtones or lugubrious colorations to queer the deal.
 

Adagio - a no-nonsense affordable high-end loudspeakers for the rest of us

Overture
"Wow Chip, have you heard the new Tumescent Technologies floorstanding loudspeakers with a multi-driver array of Teflon-impregnated drivers sourced from Priapic Prestidigitators of Denmark, an eight-foot high molded Kevlar enclosure and an internal pair of 15-inch subwoofers in an Isobaric configuration outfitted with 50 pound magnets, cast titanium voice coils and a full four inches of computer-controlled excursion that can induce involuntary lower intestinal movements down to 3Hz, +/- 0.5dB? I mean, damn, talk about frequency extension, dude. Those speakers go down like a Las Vegas hooker."
Very impressive indeed. I must confess though that I'd be far more impressed if my listening room was configured along the lines of the Sistine Chapel and I had a half a million dollars to spare. If money (and weight) are no object and you can build the enclosure (enclosures?) as large as you'd like, why shouldn't an audio designer be able to make a full-frequency speaker capable of wringing every last ounce of bass extension from the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony?

However, for those of us residing on Planet Earth, our budgets and acoustic spaces dictate a different sense of priorities, analogous in some ways to the old saw about how the girls that you go out with are not the girl you ultimately marry. Which should in no way preclude our enjoyment of something as awe-inspiring as the Wilson Audio X-2 Alexandria nor take away an iota of credit from their designer and his team for their breathtaking achievement in a no-compromise speaker design. However, unless you enjoy an intimate relationship with the proprietor of Rumpelstiltzkin Audio and the old man is willing to accept your first-born child in trade... well, c'est la vie.
So while our ongoing fascination with state of the art systems proceeds unabated, the real challenge in loudspeaker design remains, as always, to create a high-performance/high value product that delivers an authentic immersion experience. That is to say, it delivers the spirit and reality of live music, true musical timbres and a convincing sense of dynamics within an identifiable acoustic space. At something resembling an affordable price. In a sensibly apportioned cabinet that maximizes the performance of the system's transducers without frightening your wife and kids.
Such is the acoustical and aesthetic splendor of Acoustic Zen audio designer Robert Lee's finest achievement - a loudspeaker design for the rest of us. His Acoustic Zen Adagios, by any measuring stick you care to reference, rank among the finest price/performance offerings in contemporary high end audio. Period.
Bold words to be sure. But not without serious substantiation as we shall see. Already well before I first heard the Adagios, reports filtered back to me of people walking out of auditions as if they'd seen the burning bush and heard his master's voice. I count among these several people I know and whose ears I trust, as well as total strangers who just happened upon the Acoustic Zen suite at the 2006 Las Vegas CES Show. Independent of any formal affirmation by un critico più importante (repeat after me: in nomine de bassopatri, de phillemidrangi, y treblejurno de criticus sancti) and based simply upon enthusiastic word of mouth, they and others managed to delay my own encounter with these loudspeakers by several months until the mid-summer of 2006. Dealers and consumers had been buying out Acoustic Zen's entire initial run of Adagios [and subsequent ones it seems; more than 400 pairs have already been sold - Ed.]. As I endeavored to put this review to bed, several readers wrote me who'd already purchased a pair of Adagios and simply wanted my benediction. Or who, while ready, willing and able to make a purchase, awaited my personal Amen and aural encyclical. Bless you, my children. Cough.
Now that's enthusiasm. 
Cough. Yes, the buzz preceding the arrival of my Adagio audition samples was truly impressive. Still, this word of mouth did not completely take me by surprise. Some years back I was visiting my daughter in San Diego. I dropped in on Robert Lee at Acoustic Zen where I auditioned a number of his cables. Subsequently in his home, I heard some of his other audio designs, including a smooth, dynamic sounding, pure Class A 100pwc Mosfet-based power amp and a pair of small, elegant, stand-mounted loudspeakers which -- as I recall -- featured a horizontally mounted 5-incher with adjacent bass reflex port. The loudspeakers were very musical and sounded enormous yet my interests in obtaining audition samples were rebuffed. They did not represent a final production model. Robert felt he could take this basic design much farther.
Given this background, I nevertheless wasn't quite prepared for the actual experience of the Zen Adagios, either straight out of the box, after a month-long burn-in or during the home stretch of this review as I awaited the arrival of a true high-powered amp. The Adagios make you step back to contemplate anew what principles are really important and enduring in speaker design even as they signify a breakthrough in basic high-end audio performance values. Having now listened to the Adagios for a few months with some high-quality if modestly endowed amps, I am finally ready to weigh in with my conclusive impressions.
I Enthuse, Therefore I Am
I am painfully aware that such unbridled enthusiasm as my Overture alludes to raises the neck hairs of some audiophiles who have been burned time and time again by the bend-over-Beethoven bombast that may pass for reviews on some websites. Been there, done that. I can readily understand how such cynicism derives.
Many of us are unduly impressed by the gear itself, let alone by price points well beyond our reach. Somewhere along the line, the received wisdom amongst audiophiles is that the more expensive the gear, the more soul went into it, hence a surer proof of our own elevated sensibilities, i.e. incontrovertibly better. Such bold pronouncements are bound to turn off the uninitiated or elicit a standard beg-off: "I could never hear the difference." Which roughly transposed from English into TruSpeak means "I'm deathly afraid that I would hear a difference and thus might be compelled to pay for it (and send my wife screaming into litigation)."
Anyway, having acknowledged that this review is a rave, is likely to proceed as a rave and most probably will end as one, let me cut to the chase. Having put the Adagios through their paces, I found very little to grouse about. In fact, when I find myself referencing speakers I like just as much or maybe even more, they are invariably more expensive and more specialized, such as the diminutive yet musically awe-inspiring Dynaudio Confidence C1 mini monitors or the latest iteration of the Vandersteen 5A, a thoughtfully conceived, brilliantly executed full-frequency floorstander with an integral subwoofer (and its kid sister, the Vandersteen Quattro). Those are both simply superb in their honest musical presentation of real-world dynamics, the natural tonalities of actual acoustic and electric instruments and a palpable sense of an authentic acoustic event.
Now it's worth pointing out that the small bookshelf-sized, mastering-quality two-way C1s (when festooned to their integral stands) come in at around $6500/pr while the large, multi-driver 5As (with special external crossovers for their tunable subwoofer section) rock the boat at around $15,400. So am I saying that the Acoustic Zen Adagios are better speakers? No - but with system synergy and relativity ... everything's relative.
When I am listening to the Zen Adagios in my reference system, I smile contently. In terms of their lack of audible distortions or colorations, sheer coherence and resolution, absolute clarity and timbral detail, dynamics, rhythm and pacing, frequency extension, spatial veracity and ambient cues, the Adagios hold their own with some of the best speakers I've ever heard. This includes my longtime reference standard, the comparably priced Joseph Audio RM25si Signature MKII.
Let's put it this way. The Acoustic Zen Adagios deliver extraordinary proportions of the audio verity one has come to expect from the best small and large loudspeakers - and not just at their relatively modest price point. In many cases, they stack up proudly against speakers selling for two to three times their price.
Are there better speakers? At generally higher price points, surely - and at much higher ones. However, at around $6000 or under, the Adagios can hold their own with anything. And to these ears, in terms of certain heretofore overlooked performance values, they in fact represent something of a new standard 
Not well but low hung
Right out of the box, the Acoustic Zens' fit'n'finish is pretty damn impressive. Available in a choice of wood veneers, the standard Adagio comes with a sumptuous, wine-red translucent finish that allows the grain of the wood to peek through. My sample came in a richly faceted burl maple veneer that encompassed the entire cabinet from front to back, polished to jewel-like perfection with a glistening clear coat that adds great depth and detail to the wood grain. It reminded me of some pearly white opals I've seen with speckled flashes of color. Everyone who saw the cabinet freaked over the finish and seemed compelled to touch it. This reverence reminded me of when I first encountered the Sonus Faber Amati Homage in an earlier iteration of Rabbi Michael Fremer's aural tabernacle. With their tapered cabinet shape, lute-style stave construction and superb finish, they reminded me of an Egyptian sarcophagus - more like marble than wood. As alluring as the gently tapered curves and contours of the Adagio's cabinetry are, gradually narrowing from front to back, they exist not merely for aesthetic effect but are designed to reduce cabinet diffractions. A flared front-mounted port on the bottom is the termination of the transmission line.
Robert Lee's robust internal wiring (his proprietary 10-gauge zero-crystal copper Satori), solid cabinet construction, time-aligned D'Appolito configuration, transmission line loading and system tuning all reflect his desire to provide the flattest, most stable phase and impedance curves, the easiest possible load for an amplifier and the deepest, tightest, most tuneful bass. To accomplish these goals, the most important of Robert's design considerations was to reduce driver distortions.
To that end, Lee built and designed his own 1.5" circular ribbon tweeter and sourced out his concept for a pair of 6.5" bass drivers featuring ceramic-impregnated fabric cones designed to cross to the tweeter at 3000Hz. I can attest to the remarkable clarity, detail and coherence these drivers convey because I was able to consistently drive the Adagios to volume levels which in the past might have induced considerable glare and fatigue. These drivers are very fast, very nimble and very extended without being bloomy or boomy, edgy or bright. They produce honest bass, a lovely layered midrange and smooth, natural highs that do not impart any sonic glare or unnatural sheen. At the risk of repeating ourselves (much of this is also covered in the sidebar interview), to Mr. Lee the most significant aspect of his Adagios is their use of both a ribbon tweeter and underhung drivers in such a relatively cost-effective high-end design.
Yes, not unlike your author, the Adagios feature underhung drivers. Cough. Go on now, we have already anticipated your mental flights of fancy and to that end built in any number of snickering whimsical allusions, metaphors and Blazing Saddles references. To paraphrase Robert Lee from our interview: What's the point of reducing amplifier distortion to subatomic level if the transducers in your loudspeaker system are putting out levels of distortion peaking anywhere from 5 to 20%? Lee's use of underhung drivers is based on solid theoretical principles and offers a palpable musical upside. Yet you would be hard pressed to find underhung drivers and a ribbon tweeter employed together in any but the most advanced, expensive designs.
No less a loudspeaker legend than Jim Thiel employs underhung drivers in his own critically acclaimed loudspeakers - though it would seem that the notion of referring to them as underhung makes an old school engineer blush. In his own literature, Thiel references their deployment as short-coil/long gap technology. Fair enough. (In the interest of completeness, I should point out that Thiel markets a very well-received 3-way, the Thiel CS2.4, which features an eight-inch underhung driver with a metal cone coupled to a passive radiator and a coincident tweeter/midrange driver array that retails for $4200/pr and is definitely worth an audition.)
Meanwhile the folks at Wisdom Audio, who produce some remarkable high-end loudspeakers of their own, have no such compunction. A round of underhung drivers for the house, barkeep.
In perusing both their websites, I found some technical explanations of this technology that articulate the advantages far better than I ever could. I've taken the liberty of quoting from both the Thiel Audio and Wisdom Audio websites as follows.
First, from the Wisdom Audio web site:
The underhung driver allows the amplifier to see a constant impedance load instead of a constantly changing impedance load associated with overhung drivers. Distortion is lowered tremendously and a tight, visceral response occurs simultaneously along with less effort for the lower frequency demands placed upon the driver. Piston extension and travel capabilities are increased dramatically while increasing control. The cone weight can be increased allowing the use of stiffer composites...
Furthermore...
Since the magnetic force on the coil is constant and completely symmetrical... there is a constant relationship between applied coil current and generated force...because the voice coil is always surrounded by the same amount of metal and magnetic flux density, the electrical impedance is also independent of position and cannot produce distortions by this mechanism. Very good thermal coupling of the voice coil to the top plate, which always surrounds it, contributes to high power handling and low compression.
Finally, from an article by Kathy Gornik on the Thiel website:
The driver's voice coil, which is attached to the diaphragm, is positioned inside a magnetic airspace (called a gap) created by the fixed structure of the driver's motor system. This fixed structure, comprised of a magnet, steel top and back plates, and a center pole piece, creates a magnetic field around the voice coil. When power from an amplifier is applied to the voice coil, motion of the diaphragm/voice coil assembly is generated due to the interaction of the voice coil's electrical current with the magnetic field. This motion of the driver's moving system is what creates the sound we hear.
A typical driver will have a magnetic airspace for the coil that is somewhat shorter than the voice coil itself (a short gap). By allowing a longer voice coil to overhang a magnetic airspace that is shorter than the voice coil, the voice coil can move a given distance and still have some portion of itself inside the magnetic airspace. This avoids excessive distortion while the coil is moving; however the results are not fully satisfactory because magnetic leakage exists both in front of and behind the magnetic airspace. Depending upon the position of the coil within the air space as it moves, interaction with this magnetic field leakage produces significant distortion (usually up to about 20% before the coil leaves the air space).
Jim Thiel's solution has been to develop the short coil/long gap technology. In this system, the thick, multi-layered voice coil is as short as it can possibly be in length. The magnetic air space of the gap is made much longer than the coil. When demanding high power conditions are applied to the voice coil, it is able to move very far in either direction without any of the coil ever leaving the full strength of the magnetic air space or interacting with the magnetic leakage.
This approach requires magnets and magnet-system parts that are several times as large and expensive as those found in conventional driver systems, but the startling results are a ten times (order of magnitude) reduction in driver distortion, even under the most demanding of conditions. Thiel's short coil/long gap driver technology is heard by the listener as cleaner, clearer sound reproduction that does not disappoint for ease, naturalness and effortlessness.
So there you have it from multiple credible sources: significantly lower distortion, a constant impedance, greater driver excursion potential and control, increased low frequency extension and the option of employing denser cone materials. The musical payoff should thus be a cleaner, less fatiguing, more natural sound; less strain on your amplifier; a decrease in cone anomalies; enhanced driver excursion with a more instantaneous response to transients; the ability to employ stiffer cone materials such as the Adagio's dense ceramic-impregnated fabric cone that make for a quicker, more nimble driver low in colorations and distortions that can react quickly and stop on a dime to minimize bass overhang.
Likewise for the rationale behind Lee's circular ribbon tweeter. He deploys a nearly weightless transducer that is exceptionally smooth, fast and clean, richly detailed and not at all bright. Given the 3000Hz crossover point (representing the very upper reaches of the piano's upper register), the Adagio's tweeter is not so much dealing with the fundamental frequencies or the leading edge of transients but is more fully occupied with the accurate reproduction of complex harmonics and the overtone content of music (which nevertheless can have a profound impact on the subjective performance of the low-frequency drivers). Thus we can discern the reasoning behind Lee's use of a steeper 18db/octave crossover wherein he endeavors to tweak the phase to make things as flat as possible. Anyway, that's more or less how I understand it.
Soundings
I have already communicated my rapt enthusiasm for these loudspeakers. Let me detour into the nature of the current reference system to make my following sonic observations on the Adagios more relevant. For the past year and a half, I have done without my customary muscle amps. After an extended conjugal visit, I returned the 500-watt McCormack DNA-500 with more than a tinge of regret. For a while, I had a bridged pair of Butler Audio TDB-2250 in house, which were then needed at the NYC show and never returned.
Since last summer, my primary reference amps were more modestly endowed integrateds: a 70wpc transistor Simaudio i-5 and a 28wpc tubed Mesa Tigris. The i-5 has been superseded by a Simaudio i-5.3 and thus went back before the Adagios arrived. Nevertheless, the Adagio proved to be very efficient and an easy load for the Tigris integrated configured in 2/3 pentode mode (featuring two 6V6 running in pentode and four EL-84 running in triode through a common output transformer) with 4dB of NFB. The majority of my speaker break-in time and formative listening with the Adagios were taken with the Tigris. With more modestly endowed speakers such as the Epos ELS3, Alon Lil' Rascals, Meadowlark Swallow, Linn Tukan and Joseph RM7si Signature MKII, the Tigris worked like a charm. While the Adagios proved a fine match at moderate to slightly pushed levels, at the dynamic volumes I'm accustomed to listening to music and driving my system, it couldn't quite handle some of the more extreme audio gauntlets I made it walk. Thus the leading edge of some transients didn't quite come off all that cleanly and while the amp strained to control the bass, the top end could at times get a little grainy. So the Tigris was the weak link in this particular signal chain. But in a smaller room and listened to at something other than the full-throttle Vlad the Impaler concert levels I often favor, the Tigris would prove a more than adequate amp for the Adagios. Designer Randall Smith has his Tigris teamed with a pair of Meadowlark Kestrels - easy to drive, full of flava.

It was when the Rogue M150 monoblocks arrived for an upcoming PFO review that I finally felt like I could bet the ranch on what I was hearing from the Adagios. These monoblocks -- which derive more from the circuit topology and technical advances of the imposing 200 lbs Rogue Zeus than from the M120 monoblocks which they supersede -- are KT88-based tube amps with an uncommon amount of elegance and sheer drive, putting out an honest 100 watts (and then some) in triode and 150 watts in Ultralinear. Without jumping the gun too much, let's just say -- in NYC's finest cabbie speak no less -- that these amps are an eight-balled motherfucker and that running them even in triode mode was more than adequate to help the Adagios reach their full sonic potential tonally, spectrally and viscerally. 

While the Adagios were most assuredly not designed to give you a lap dance (the transition from the upper bass to the lower midrange is about as smooth and seamless as you are likely to hear); and while there are certainly more punchy speakers out there - when I got the Rogue M150s into my system, I was disabused of any notions that the Adagios were somehow light in the loafers in terms of sheer low-end wallop. Team the Adagios with an amp that has some balls (in this case, eight), and you should be able to drive these speakers as hard as you want without inducing grain, audible distortions or enervating fatigue. I cannot recall experiencing that with any other amp/loudspeaker combos I ever had in my listening room (although I can recall coming pretty close with the Rogue Magnum 99, the McCormack DNA500 and a pair of Joseph RM25si MKIIs). This speaks not only to the unimpeachable quality of the Rogue M150 as reference amps but also to Robert Lee's stated goals of minimizing driver distortions. These babies are about as clean as you can get.
At the heart of my system sits the VTL 5.5 linestage preamplifier. It's my old standby (I also employ a Rogue Audio Magnum 99 which is excellent too in its own way). While the 5.5 doesn't wear its tubiness on its sleeve, it offers all of the detail, harmonic richness, depth of field and midrange layering one would expect from a great tube preamp but does so without the sappy bloom or muted top end that makes some suck preamps sound more MyFi than HiFi. Having lent this preamp out to some better-heeled audiophiles than myself, I can report back that it took on preamps costing five times as much without breaking a sweat.

Which brings us to the centerpiece of my signal chain and one of the greatest audio achievements of the past 25 years - the Linn Unidisk 1.1 universal player. It represents an absolute standard of front end resolution, a component that's reliably awe-inspiring yet supremely musical in a manner that never calls attention to itself. So exalted in fact is the Linn1.1's playback that I found myself turning to other digital and analog sources during the audition process just to discount its overwhelming, indisputable authority. These included the tubed Njoe Tjoeb 4000, the California Audio Labs CL-20, a Marantz PMD430 stereo cassette recorder and a Rega Research P25 turntable outfitted with a Rega Research RB600 tonearm and the superb low output Grado Statement Master tweaked with a Ringmat 330 through a Rogue Stealth phono preamp. I also referenced a set of superb headphones with the Mesa Tigris, the accurate andnon-fatiguing Grado RS1.
By any standard, this a fine reference system. 

Conclusion

A pretty girl smiles at us. We smile back. Oh, joy. Still, it seems as though an even prettier girl is invariably only a step or two steps behind, applying makeup, exhorting enthusiasm, boasting newer more refined technologies and better components. Damn, makes me want to roll some tubes. Hubba hubba.
 
When I jump up and down and exhort readers to audition these speakers, you may thus be forgiven for seeking out a draught or two of fresh air and reality. 
 
In attempting to convey a sense of those things a piece of gear does well, it is important to convey the relative trade-offs, possible faux pas and potential limitations. Especially with speakers. No other component in the audio chain is as room-dependent or subjectively pleasing as a transducer system. Okay, enough relativity.
 
The Acoustic Zen Adagios do indeed fulfill their claim of reduced transducer colorations and distortions. I found I could drive the daylights out of these babies without suffering the cumulative effect of glare. Right out of the box, the thing that impressed me the most was their clarity, coherence, lack of coloration, musical detail and bass extension. Once I broke them in, bass quality became even more impressive - tremendous dynamics, solid impact, tight and tuneful. They stop on a dime and are quick, really quick, with no overhang or lingering overtones or lugubrious colorations to queer the deal.
 
A warmly voiced pair of speakers then with no smoke and mirrors but honest bass down to 30Hz. No bloat, no overhang, no swampy colors obscuring the transition into the midrange yet no lack of round, profound bump and bounce. And that ribbon tweeter is something else - dry, clear, quick and uncolored. Incredible detail but not bright. In fact, given its high crossover point at 3K, some listeners used to a more aggressive top end might find the treble response somewhat subtle. Again, the overall voicing of the speaker is on the warm side. Given Robert Lee's insistence on removing speaker colorations and distortions, one trade-off was to sacrifice a bit of punch for true, tight, tuneful bass and a smooth, natural transition from the bass to the mids. As with any great speaker, the midrange is the glory of these Adagios.
 
Let's take a really state-of-the-art Jazz combo such as the soon to be released Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian [Nonesuch]. Tracked on ProTools and mixed down to ½" tape, producer Lee Townsend has once again overseen a stunning sonic depiction of the modern Jazz experience in a beautiful sounding acoustic space, Studio A at Avatar in NYC. The band evokes the best aspects of Americana, the Bill Evans Trios and the Monk Quartets. The Adagios' image specificity, timbral veracity and point-source characteristics made for a pretty impressive disappearing act. They are warmly voiced but convey that warmth as a mellow relaxed quality. Each instrumental image is beautifully depicted in its own acoustic space yet organically connected. A wealth of small details bespeak the nature of this trio's fourth collaborator - the room itself. Ron Carter's bass, a universe unto itself in terms not only of his physical presence but of the incredible complexity of his sound, is rendered in a manner the bassist himself might find pleasing. The woody details and reach are utterly convincing as are the harmonic details and image illumination and the acoustic bass' focus and immediacy in the mix.
 
As a drummer who has heard Motian live on many an occasion, I am on a first-name basis with Paul's 22" Paiste Formula 602 Dark Ride, his old riveted 20" Zildjian from the Bill Evans-Scott LaFaro days and those Gretsch drums with his fat, warmly tuned 20" bass drum and that barking wooden snare. The Adagios depict the immediacy of the initial strike as well as the fullness and rise time of the bass drum, the crack of his snare, the rich mix of overtones between batter head strike and snare-side rattle and buzz and the metallic splendor of his cymbals from the fundamentals on up. There is nothing zippy or italicized about the top end, which makes cymbals sound like white noise on some loudspeakers. The broad left-right dimensionality of Frisell's stereo guitar -- rendered dry or with full digital ambience -- is hypnotically persuasive as an actual acoustic event. The Adagios bring it back alive and put you in the room. The midrange resolution is really breathtaking. You get a sense of completeness about Frisell's sound that is all-enveloping.
 
Moving on, a reader told me at one point in an e-mail that a TAS lady reviewer had done a short, enthusiastic review of the Adagios, confessed to listening to classical music in the main and that she felt the Adagios fell short in terms of rock and roll. Not having read the review, I cannot comment save to ask, where is it written in stone that a speaker good for acoustic music would be somewhat lacking for rock or fun or electric jazz or hard blues? Given how effortlessly the Adagios handled symphonic music, chamber music and vocals, I decided to put this theorem to the test late one evening. I pulled out a selection of powerhouse recordings, both digital and analog, stereo and mono, featuring the likes of Edgar Varese, Andy Summers, Howard Roberts, Miles Davis' working band from December of 1970 (at the Cellar Door in Washington D.C.) and even some live-to-two-track cassette recordings (the latest thing, kids - and it's analog!) I'd made that afternoon of my band: drums & cymbals, Fender bass and a Korg Triton Studio 88.
 
The Adagios could pressurize a 14' x 20' room quite nicely without benefit of massive amplification but when I used better, more powerful amplification, the Adagios' relative lack of punch was not much of an issue (though the leading edge of transients did indeed pale somewhat compared to some designs). The Adagios give you plenty of clean honest output down to around 30Hz. That's pretty much the bottom B above A of the piano. When employing better amps like the Rogues, you get more punch, presence and immediacy but I could definitely imagine a subwoofer taking care of business below 60-80Hz or thereabouts. Presently, this speaker sacrifices some expansiveness in the three-dimensional sense to get better bass extension and midrange clarity. 
  
The accuracy of the bass reproduction was particularly striking on the title tune of Andy Summers' Green Chimneys: The Music Of Thelonious Monk [RCA], a high-output, audiophile-quality electric Jazz recording. On many playback systems, the immensity of the amplified upright bass could be overpowering but on the Adagios, it was cleanly focused with no loss of roundness or scale, no diminution of low-end pop. Better yet, the spacious ambient quality of Summers' stereo guitar, the tonal qualities and dynamic rises and falls of Peter Erskine's cymbals and drum kit were beautifully portrayed. On guitarist Howard Roberts' out-of-print LP Antelope Freeway [Impulse! AS-9207], the Adagio effortlessly fleshed out a variety of complex, circa 1970-1971 Record Plant stereo mixes (state of the art for that time), featuring wildly distorted and clean sources as well as a variety of goofy sound effects. When a motorcycle raced from left to right across the stereo field, the Adagios tracked the leading edge of the transient and the roar of the engine with stupefying veracity. On another out-of-print recording, The Varese Record [Finnadar SR 9018], an amazing 1950 mono recording of the composer's urban-industrial percussion masterpiece "Ionisation" (recorded under Varese's supervision), the Adagio again made sense of a swelter of clean and funky images. I was particularly impressed by how clean and believable its portrayal of the bass drum's low end roar and gong-like radiation was - a clearly delineated sonic universe unto itself.
  
On Miles Davis: The Cellar Door Sessions 1970 [Columbia/Legacy], not only did the Adagio accurately portray the acoustic reality of this nightclub performance with a perfect balance of large and small details, it was unnerving how well each instrument was fleshed out amidst the ambience of the room. I'd hear Keith Jarrett's keyboard or Miles' electrified trumpet emit some nasty distortions to get paranoid that maybe I had knee-capped the tweeter when from another portal in the soundstage came one of Airto's percussion instruments as clean as a whistle, its fundamentals and overtones blissfully intact. Oh doctor! For one evening, I was transported back to the music of my youth, right there at a table a few rows back and I forgot all about the presence of a sound system. I wanted to buy Miles a drink who might've bitch-slapped me for my impudence. I was driving the system very hard, so hard it occurred to me that I wasn't hearing the soundstage crumble like a dry cracker. Finally, in listening to a Sunday rehearsal's cassette playback of my trio's rehearsal, I was struck by the honest portrayal of my room's spatial dimension and a degree of detail in the bass drum and the cymbals that one would generally only experience from the drum stool itself. Maybe there is something to Robert's obsession with these underhung drivers?
 
Last Rites
To reiterate, while the image specificity of the Adagios is super and the soundstaging quite wide, it might prove a little reticent and laid back for some folks - a bit shallow in the absolute sense. But you can push the Adagios so hard that one's sense of soundstaging opens up by degrees.
 
While this speaker essentially portrays a fairly flat neutral soundscape, it nevertheless reflects Robert Lee's subjective sensibility, a violinist by training. His is a "voiced speaker" as most would be at this price point. Lee's subjective judgments are serenely musical and his tradeoffs work for my experience of live music and what I enjoy in the way of full-range and two-way systems.
 
The depth of field seems more fleshed out on the Josephs, perhaps a factor of their comparably brighter, snappier voicing what with those metal cones. Too, their bass perspective is a little more forward than the Adagios'. Clearly, Robert Lee chose to emphasize focus and linearity over boom. Still, with little loss of roundness or bounce, his babies really boogie quite nicely. They are warm and transparent, non-fatiguing and richly detailed. Those looking for ultimate punch or greater depth of field might wish to broaden their search but on many levels, these speakers are so harmonically correct and uncolored, and depict such clearly defined images across a broadly balanced, transparent soundstage that they surely rate a serious audition. Best of all, because the relationship between these underhung drivers and the amplification is so constant; because the Adagios present such an easy load to drive; they sound superb at low volumes yet you can push the piss out of them without dropping a bass bomb on your immediate neighbors or removing most of the skin on your scalp.
 
So, we have honest bass, linearity, timbral accuracy, a lack of colorations and distortions, a glorious midrange, a lightning-quick top end and the ability to fully pressurize a room and produce convincing concert levels in an average size space in a handsome speaker cabinet that is only four feet high and weighs in at a reasonable 78 pounds.
 
Finally, with their fit & finish, solid tuneful bass and sweetly laid back perspective, they will not scare the wife or those listeners for whom high end audio can sometimes represent too much of a good thing. No, the Adagios are damn easy to listen to. Everything is where it should be, you have a true foundation in bass and you don't have to put on a radiation suit and sunglasses to listen to them for hours on end.
  
Coda
As I was putting the finishing touches on this review, a reader e-mail allowed as how Robert Lee, like any other audiophile, was not content to let the grass grow under his feet. According, "...I just wanted to let you know that as of last week, all new models have the slightly tapered baffle... Robert figured out a way to make the already great bass even better... it has a little more focus... it is now locked in at the expense of 2-3% in soundstage..."
 
Color me nonplussed. Cough. I can't comment in any way as to any changes or purported improvements save to say that if you encounter the speakers we have just evaluated in a retail establishment, I would not hesitate to drop down the drachmas if you like what you hear.

The Adagios represent a considerable bargain when you take into account the expense behind producing underhung drivers, a transmission line design and a high-end furniture finish that would be at home in any major showroom. This is one fantastic loudspeak

The Adagios’ high resolution capabilities, neutral presentation, and exceptional imaging, will reward the most discriminating audiophile with true high-end performance that is usually only experienced, for save the most expensive designs. The Adagio’s sweet and balanced sound will appease many and should definitely be auditioned to hear how wonderfully music is reproduced. I was so amazed by the performance of the Adagios that I didn’t hesitate to nominate them with a Most Wanted Component Award. This is one fantastic loudspeaker that comes strongly recommended.

Mastering new territory
For many years, Acoustic Zen Technologies’ cable designer extraordinaire Robert Lee, has been manufacturing reference quality speaker cables, power cords and interconnects at prices that don’t hover above the stratosphere. His design goals have been to produce state-of-the-art products while keeping retail costs to a minimum. So when I learned that he was introducing a new loudspeaker at this past CES, I was intrigued to say the least.
 
The speaker is called the Adagio, a two-way transmission line loudspeaker featuring the classic D’Appolito driver configuration which sandwiches a 1 5/8” circular ribbon tweeter between two 6½” woofers. The woofers are mounted in separate baffles that sit out about an inch from the tweeter for time alignment. This configuration has been popular among speaker builders for some time and with good reason. It helps to create a more stable and rock solid image within the soundstage, which is exactly where the Adagio shines. 
 
The Design
There are a number of ways to manufacture traditional box style speakers such as ported, bass reflex, infinite baffle and acoustic suspension, but transmission line designs can have significant benefits in the lower frequencies. Unlike a tweeter, a midrange/woofer driver generates sound from the front and the back of the driver. If the rear wave is left untreated it can contaminate the sound. Other than absorption, another solution is to create a way for the unwanted sound waves to escape the cabinet. In transmission line loudspeakers a tunnel is connected to the back of the driver to allow the rear wave to exit at the same time as the signal is coming out of the front of the loudspeaker. This passageway helps to reduce colorations and is a clever way to reinforce the front wave with the rear wave. As a result transmission lines have exceptional low frequency control and enhanced dynamics. Historically this type of loudspeaker enclosure has been more complex to design.
 
The Adagio’s are a fairly easy load to drive with a nominal impedance of 6ohms and a sensitivity rating of 89 dB. Frequency response is 30 Hz – 25 kHz +3 dB with a third order Linkwitz/ Riley crossover. The crossover point occurs at 3 kHz. Each speaker weighs 78 pounds, is 48 inches tall, 9 inches wide in front and 13 inches deep. Towards the back they taper off to a little less than five inches to help alleviate standing waves. The Adagios use a single set of binding posts,  and come in two color options, figured maple or mappa burl. The figured maple is stained a gorgeous Ferrari Red but more on that later. 
 
The Drivers 
When Mr. Lee decided to design the Adagio’s his main concern was to select drivers that he felt would have the least amount of distortion. Instead of using the traditional dome tweeter he decided on a more linear driver, a 1 5/8 inch circular ribbon. It is a proprietary design that is hand assembled at the factory in San Diego, California. Each ribbon driver is shielded in the rear and protected in the front by a black aluminum faceplate. The ultra thin ribbon membrane is very light and has very good power handling capabilities. Ribbons are extremely fast because they have less moving mass than domes and the lighter weight helps to reduce excess ringing. Measurements can’t tell you what a speaker sounds like but on the test bed they revealed some impressive results. The ribbon tweeters have a completely flat phase and impedance curve.
 
To compliment the speed and low distortion characteristics of his tweeter, Mr. Lee decided to develop his own woofers. The custom designed woofer uses an underhung voice coil that is lower in distortion compared to the overhung voice coil found in the majority of loudspeaker designs.
 
An overhung driver has a long voice coil in a short magnetic gap and the under hung type uses a short voice coil in a long magnetic gap. Short coils dramatically reduce harmonic and transient distortion because they have complete control within the magnetic field. 
 
In an underhung setup the voice coil operates inside the boundaries of the edges of the magnet. On the other hand, the voice coil in an overhung driver will not only vibrate within the gap between the magnets but also extend beyond the end of the magnets. When the voice coil functions inside and outside the strength of the magnetic field it produces more distortion. Although underhung drivers are more expensive to produce, because of larger magnets, they are lower in distortion then their aforementioned counterparts. 
 
The cone portion of the driver is manufactured from fabric and coated on both sides with a ceramic composite. It is a very light driver connected to a rigid rubber surround. Mr. Lee has been making this type of driver since 1995 and has tweaked them over the years until he decided that last year they were ready for prime time. But just because a designer uses expensive parts doesn’t mean that it’s going to sound better than a speaker with lesser quality components. Crossover and cabinet design are just as important. But judging from the quality of the drivers he is certainly off to a great a start.
 
Package Complete
The nerve center behind any loudspeaker is its crossover; the Adagios use an 18db Linkwitz/Riley design. The resistors are non-inductive, the inductors air core, and the caps are special order. It’s mounted directly behind the ribbon tweeter and the internal wiring is of course, Acoustic Zen. 
 
The cabinetry is furniture grade and the finish on both, the figured maple and mappa burl, is highlighted with a high gloss lacquer. Aesthetically they’ll make an excellent addition to any listening room and if you can place them in the vicinity of a window that receives the early morning sun, visually you’ll be in for a special treat. After admiring the craftsmanship for an extended amount of time, I plugged them in the system.
 
La Dolcé Vita
I used a number of sources for amplification, the NuForce Ref Nine’s and the Red Dragon Audio Leviathan’s. The Ref Nine’s have received an enthusiastic reception from the audiophile community but for review purposes I used the Red Dragons. Preamp duties were primarily handled by the Modwright SWL 9.0SE. There’s not a lot to be said about this excellent piece that hasn’t already been mentioned but a review is forthcoming. Source components were the Original CD-2008 Mk II and Esoteric SZ-1 CD players with the SZ-1 handling most of the work. All of the electronics plus the speakers were connected with Acoustic Zen cabling. 
 
After I had a chance to put some hours on the Adagio’s, I’d say about two hundred or so, I began to takes notes. There were a number of positive attributes that I found immediately appealing about the Adagio’s. The first was how easy the Adagio’s seemed to disappear and how collectively each area of the musical spectrum seemed to sparkle. Soundstage height and width varied on the equipment used with the gradient curve starting at very good and ending at excellent. The Adagios produced a great three-dimensional image and from the listeners vantage point it was easy to hear into the stage. There was excellent air around the performers and what I liked most about the presentation was that each performer wasn’t overly etched in a constricted area of space but instead extended effortlessly beyond the front of the speakers. 
 
Also to their credit the Adagio’s, from top to bottom, conveyed a uniformed musical presentation. One of the strengths of Mr. Lee’s cables is their open and airy portrayal of high frequency information, abundance of low level detail, and accurate retrieval of bass information. Listening to his loudspeakers it’s obvious that “the apple didn’t fall to far from the tree.”
 
Ribbon tweeters have always been noted for their exceptional clarity in the upper frequencies but sometimes they can dominate the presentation because of their overall speed and transparency. Partnered with Mr. Lee’s proprietary woofers, the ceramic coated low frequency drivers did not falter in keeping up with the tweeters and it was fairly easy to enjoy the music for hours on end. Listening to high frequency information was a real treat with the cymbals exhibiting plenty of pizzazz without a trace of hardness. But the most intriguing feature about the Adagios was the bass. This was one of the better bass performances that I had heard on any loudspeaker. It sounded as close to live music as I’ve heard.
 
A recording that always appears in Craigy G’s CD library is Elaine Elias’, Dreamer [Bluebird/ Arista records]. This is one of my favorite recordings for its soulful and romantic renditions of some American ballads and great Bossa Nova tunes. This is the singer/pianists’ first “all English” CD and she is accompanied by a full orchestra. On track number two, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” the sound coming from the Adagio’s was very natural and genuine with Elias’ voice coming through with clear, concise articulation. An accomplished pianist with the ability to play with a formidable melodic style, the Adagio’s allowed her to convey her rich harmonic message from both the mike and the ivories. All of this was superbly executed while they also defined the true-to-life sound of brushes painting the skins of the drums and highlighting the tantalizing sounds of massed strings in the background.
 
Moving over to what I like to call “real” soul music, Donnie McClurkin is an international Gospel artist that may not have performed with Sam and Dave, yet can still be considered a “Soul man.” On track number five, “Didn’t You Know” on his CD, Live in London and more… [Verity records], there was no doubt the effect that the Adagios had on his throaty vocals was amazing. Hearing this inspirational song brought out the compassion and the emotion that gave me goose bumps not just for the content but also because of the transducer that was used for the delivery. The Adagios unveiled the strength, and dynamic contrast and the musical nuances that make this track one of my favorites and is a motivational song that reassures me that I am not alone in this world. This disc is also recorded with an orchestra in the background and again the Adagios showed off their light airy nature and clear separation of individual instruments.
 
On Nnenna Freelon’s Soul Call [Concord Jazz], “Let It Be” was rendered as though the presentation in my listening room was an extension of the studio. The Adagios captured the smallest of details including the echo from the recording studio. Once again Mr. Lee’s speakers did an excellent job of letting the sound come right into the room with her voice demonstrating plenty of impact and personal presence. The Adagios allow you to hear her wonderful phrasing and shows off her many talents and skills. Bass is strong and well defined with a touch of bloom in contrast to what I’ve heard with other speaker manufactures. I’ve heard this track and the one before it, which also has a full bass line on numerous occasions and this is among the best presentation I’ve heard. The Adagios had excellent low end control which was reminiscent of how I hear the bass played in a live jazz band. This is one of the benefits in using transmission line designs because the bass is tight and natural sounding. Having listened to countless discs, time and time again, each track after each track, it was apparent that the Adagios’ strong suits are in the areas of balance and musicality.
 
Conclusion
To say that I was impressed with the Adagios would be an understatement. I thoroughly enjoyed them and Mr. Lee has made a successful migration into the world of loudspeaker design. The Adagio’s will appeal to both the music lover and the most ardent home decorating aficionado who cherishes playback equipment that has a stunning visual effect. From the beginning, Mr. Lee’s intent was to design a loudspeaker that sounds great, looks great and most importantly, is priced so that most audiophiles can afford them. But then that shouldn’t come as a surprise because Mr. Lee’s cables are excellent value products that can go toe-to-toe with the best.
 
The Adagios represent a considerable bargain when you take into account the expense behind producing underhung drivers, a transmission line design and a high-end furniture finish that would be at home in any major showroom. 
 
So after a few months of intimate exposure I can say with supreme confidence that Mr. Lee has exceeded his original expectations both aesthetically and musically and has another special product on his hands. The Adagios’ high resolution capabilities, neutral presentation, and exceptional imaging, will reward the most discriminating audiophile with true high-end performance that is usually only experienced, for save the most expensive designs. The Adagio’s sweet and balanced sound will appease many and should definitely be auditioned to hear how wonderfully music is reproduced. I was so amazed by the performance of the Adagios that I didn’t hesitate to nominate them with a Most Wanted Component Award. This is one fantastic loudspeaker that comes strongly recommended.
the Adagios unthreaded them all, with the kind of purity that makes you gasp. And without losing the orchestral roar, through which, in a good hall and on really, really good speakers, the subtle accents whisper their soft wonders.
Sally Reynolds

In a nice touch, the Adagios are tolerant if not completely forgiving of badly recorded music 

They played magnificently with the Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated amp. I turned them up louder than I normally do and heard no distortion from that exercise. They played well with the MF X-150 integrated, though like most good speakers, they appreciate power. And they are reputed to like single- ended triode amps, too.

My soap-box speech begins with a reminder that all designed (as opposed to formula) audio equipment is a dance of compromises, and any unit’s strengths and weaknesses are the product of the designer’s sonic priorities and skills. Speakers are relatively easy to characterize in this arena, because we can usually identify their traits more readily than those of other system components. I enjoy listening and then picking out the areas of magic and comparing them to places where I want more. That’s called “easy reviewing.”
 
Rarely, though, a speaker comes along that baffles me. What is its nature? Where did the designer put energy and resources? The performance of such speakers is so balanced and smooth and seems so accurate across the frequency range, I find myself working to find faults. And have to stop myself. Reviewers also need balance, between picking apart a performance and keeping a sense of the whole.
 
The Acoustic Zen Adagios are such an enigma. At their very reasobnable price point, they should present music satisfyingly. But in fact they do a great deal more. The quality of this sound bespeaks a much higher price. They are also beautiful—my review pair is a bright red, burled wood veneer with a piano finish. But the sound is the number-one surprise. These speakers are so good they’re difficult to write about. They make wonderful music. It is nearly impossible to pick though the parts.
 
But to try: Their specifics strength is clarity across the frequency range (spec’d at 30Hz–30kHz, with impedance and phase measuring nearly flat from about 100Hz to 1kHz). The designs of their drivers are unusual: mid/bass drivers, housed in transmission-line enclosures, feature under-hung voice coils (the voice coil is short and does not leave the magnetic field even during long excursions), while tweeters sport a modified circular ribbon that broadens the “sweet spot.” These may well contribute not only to the overall clarity, but to seamless crossovers points; tonal and timbral accuracy; sparkle and sweet detail in the highs; depth and detail in lows; richness and nuance in midrange; and a soundstage that is satisfyingly wide, deep, and high, and does not collapse when you move out of the sweet spot. These virtues are heard throughout The Silk Road Ensemble’s Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon [Sony], short pieces written by a variety of Eastern composers, from the Steppes of Russia to the Middle East to Asia and India. They have subtlety and drama and a bit of strangeness, which comes from instruments that are unfamiliar. Yo- Yo Ma plays the Morin Khuur, a Mongolian “horse” fiddle (a square wooden box with a horse’s head at the top of the neck), as well as his cello. You can hear the instrumental timbres clearly in this recording, and the strange strings, sometimes played open for eerie effect, are as engrossing as Scheherazade’s tales.
 
Throughout, the Adagios played loud passages without distortion and without overloading the room or my ears. Soft passages were beautifully subtle and clear, no single nuance buried by the louder sounds. No frequency range emerged from the smooth musical fabric to assert dominance, not even with increased volume. The decay of even the sometimes odd high notes was clear and lingering, without protruding into the overall fabric of the music or disturbing the sense of being curled up at the story-teller’s feet.
 
All this illustrates my difficulty: How do you describe the sound of purity? I put on an eerie cut, “The Wood Nymph” from Sweet Sunny North [Shanachie], in which the high plucked notes on the hardanger fiddle and the high vibrato of the ghost’s voice (Wood Nymphs in Norse mythology were not the “nice” sprites of our cleaned-up fairytales) make a duet that dances with the hairs on your neck. These speakers were as adept at presenting the late-night pulses of the far North as they were with the mysteries of the Far East.
 
But finally, in this piece, I got a break. I heard a soft, far-off wolf howl (instrumentally produced) that I’d never picked up before. My joy at listening to new speakers is, as I’ve often said, that I hear new things in familiar recordings, which in itself often helps me zero in on the details of a speaker’s character.
 
Here, the wolf gave me a clue to the Adagios. I listened to the passage over and over. I listened to the details, shutting my brain to the overall music; I listened to the whole, with the new information woven in. And finally I caught hold of what I think is happening. The Adagios are so free of distortion that sounds usually lost in “noise”—soft sounds that get masked all too easily—were coming through across the entire frequency range. In other speakers, there is often an enviable clarity in a certain range but it’s not matched by other ranges. A virtue, as it were, is pointing out a failing, or to be more exact, the point of compromise. But this is not so with the Adagios. The nuances I heard were across the whole musical spectrum. Elsewhere in this Norse recording, there is also a soft, deep thunder on drums that a powerful female vocalist usually overwhelms. Not now. And the harmonics of all the instruments on both these recordings were so clear and so mesmerizing I had to listen again and again.
 
I pulled out my hard-test recordings: Gamelan pieces, choral ensembles, orchestral complexities. And the Adagios unthreaded them all, with the kind of purity that makes you gasp. And without losing the orchestral roar, through which, in a good hall and on really, really good speakers, the subtle accents whisper their soft wonders.
 
On good studio vocal recordings, the Adagios put the singer in the room, breath, spit, and timbre. A doublebass (emphatically not a cello) in a Schubert sonata made my body vibrate with its rich, deep power, and the rasping vocal quality, like a wonderful singer whose pure voice has thickened and deepened with feeling and fatigue, made my own throat ache with the power of song [Basso Cantante; Gary Karr and Harmon Lewis, Lemur Music].
 
In a nice touch, the Adagios are tolerant if not completely forgiving of badly recorded music (sopranos too closely miked still sound metallic); you can listen to your entire collection without wanting to throw away your 1980s CDs. And on finely recorded albums, of course, they are superb. They present all the goodies with clarity, grace, and excitement. They handle full orchestras better than any speakers I have had in my house.
 
They played magnificently with the Musical Fidelity kW500 integrated amp. I turned them up louder than I normally do and heard no distortion from that exercise. They played well with the MF X-150 integrated, though like most good speakers, they appreciate power. And they are reputed to like single- ended triode amps, too.
 
So my question is: What don’t they do well?
 
They don’t do the 16Hz organ pedal note. Nor are they supposed to. They go cleanly into the 30Hz region and then taper off gently as the music descends below that point. Since this was so smooth, I didn’t feel the need of a subwoofer, but you may want one if you listen to opera, full organ recordings, and complex bass-heavy rock. Acoustic Zen offers a sub, and a center channel, neither of which I’ve heard.
 
And that, Dear Reader, is all I can find to carp about after three weeks of listening. They took 100 hours of breakin, which is a drag, but you forget that once it’s past (and they are not unpleasant to listen to in the process). They weigh a ton, and that’s a real drag if you’re a reviewer. But if you aren’t, you can just set them up once and forget about them. The manual, incidentally, goes into glorious detail on good setup.
 
In the long term, the Adagio Jr. has what it takes for an extended relationship with an awful lot of music lovers. If that's not remarkable in today's market, I don't know what is
John Potis

Speaking of focus, here the little Adagio is outstanding in yet another understated way. Images emerge in highly delineated and focused ways with no ambiguity. 

There was no unnatural spotlighting of individual performers on stage and though plenty detailed to separate out different voices in the chorus, that chorus remained what it is - a cluster of stacked voices. When required, the Jr. Adagios can go wall to wall with an image that is wide and tall with good depth (the addition of a subwoofer caused the Adagio's to completely melt the front wall of my room away) and they maintain the same degree of focus anywhere upon that stage.

Its bass performance makes it one of the best I've heard in this class. 

One of the more highly accoladed speakers in recent years has been the Acoustic Zen Adagio reviewed, among other writers and publications, by Chip Stern for 6moons who fell hard for their considerable charms. I'd talked to Chip many times and at considerable length about the Adagios. I'd heard so much about them over the course of the last year and a half, I almost felt as though I'd already lived with the speakers. For almost as long, Chip's been nudging me to get my hands on their little brethren, the Adagio Jr. It wasn't until I finally got them into my room and playing music that I truly understood why. In at least one respect -- possibly two -- these are groundbreaking loudspeakers.
 
Speaker design isn't a new wrinkle for cable house Acoustic Zen. Actually, the Adagio and Adagio Jr. loudspeakers have been coming for about 10 years. It was that long ago, with Acoustic Zen a very small fledgling company still, that Robert Lee first started designing the speakers he wanted to bring to market. Their design came spontaneously as Lee saw them both as players in the expanding multichannel market. He also reasoned that the purchase of a pair of either the Seniors or Juniors would allow further expansion into multichannel at a later time. Hence it was of paramount importance that both speakers be cut from absolutely the same cloth. The two speakers must sound the same, with the only difference being bass extension. Unfortunately, building and moving large speakers is back-breaking work. A serious back injury forced Lee to sideline the entire project. Eventually Acoustic Zen housed enough employees for Lee to delve back into speaker design, delegating the heavy lifting to employees. To the delight of many who had already heard his designs, it was now time to enter the already overcrowded speaker market.
  
The Adagio Jr. falls at the upper end of what I consider the sweet spot of the stand-mounted speaker price/performance curve. While they are designed for stand-mounted use, there's nothing mini about the Adagio Jr. - or its performance. The Juniors stand 23 inches tall. When perched upon Acoustic Zen's stands, they tower 49" in the listening room, making them the tallest stand-mount speaker I've ever used. At 9" wide by 13" deep and 38lbs each, it'll take two hands to handle these whoppers. My review pair came in a gorgeous Burled Walnut veneer with a suitable satin finish. Acoustic Zen mounts their mid/woofers on satin black bezels which, to these eyes, blend beautifully with the dark Walnut cabinet for a rather unique appearance. Aesthetically, the Adagio Jr. avoids looking just like any other box speaker while it avoids garish glitz to boot. It's just large and unique enough to make a statement but it doesn't dominate the room or call undue attention to itself. Fit and finish are first class as well and even the woofer covers are finished in a fine weave cloth.
 
The matching stands raise the Adagio Jr. 26" off the floor and the top plate dimensions match those of the speakers - 9" x 13". The bottom plinth equipped with adjustable spikes measures 11.5 inches wide by almost 15.5 inches deep. With an electric screwdriver, the user will have the 5-piece stands assembled in a matter of mere minutes. They're solid and nicely finished in black satin. My only reservation was aesthetics. I wondered why the top plinth couldn't have been shaped to exactly match the curved sides of the Adagio Jr. And since the speakers stand 49 inches tall -- tall for a stand-mount -- I wondered why Acoustic Zen didn't follow the example of a speaker like the Merlin VSM, a two-way monitor mounted in a tallish box, the bottom half of which serves nothing more than to lift the speaker off the floor. My flawed assumption was that these stands were priced between $500 and $600 a pair. I reasoned that the money could have been better spent on a sand-fillable enclosure. When I realized that the stands were an exceedingly low-profit $250 concession to the buyer to become an extremely cost-effective solution to the challenge of bringing to customers a less costly alternative to the larger Adagio that would deliver the lion's share of its performance, these stands suddenly made a ton of sense. I was impressed by Acoustic Zen's commitment to servicing their customers. If you're wondering why my thoughts   
ran in the direction of making a floorstander out of a stand-mount, you'll understand if you've already heard them. If not, I'll get to that momentarily.
  
The Jr. Adagio's cabinet is constructed of 1-inch MDF. Its tapered and curved cheeks are said to reduce internal standing waves and also redirect the rear wave of the drivers to minimize their direct reflections back through the cones. The Jr. Adagio sports a single pair of binding posts and the rest of the accoutrements are said to be identical to the larger and more expensive Adagio: same 6.5 -inch mid/woofers constructed from a fabric layer sandwiched between two skins of ceramic doping; same 1.8" circular ribbon tweeter with a shielded 3.5-oz high-flux, highly temperature-resistant magnet structure. The ribbon's diaphragm is said to be of less mass than the air in front of it, implying it's unusually responsive to the input signal and won't ring as a metal dome nor store energy.
   
While the ribbon tweeter may be what catches most people's eyes, much of the success of the Jr. Adagio will be owed to the unique and proprietary woofers manufactured in Germany for Acoustic Zen and only Acoustic Zen. Robert Lee didn't invent the underhung motor assembly, with several other notable companies such as Thiel and Wilson Audio    
having championed them for years. Yet Acoustic Zen does have their own take on the subject, with drivers of their own design. Basically (no reason for eyes to glaze over on such an important yet simple concept), the voice coil is what propels the driver's diaphragm. It's a wire-wound bobbin at the 'throat' of the cone that moves positively or negatively (back and forth) in reaction to an alternating signal being applied to a magnetic field. Generally, a long voice coil moves through a fairly short magnetic gap. The coil ends routinely move outside the control envelope of the magnetic flux field. This can mean distortion. An underhung motor assembly places a shorter coil inside a longer magnetic field. Regardless of excursion, the coil will never move outside the magnetic gap's control force. The result is said to be less THD, greater transient speed, reduced overall bass distortion and increased detail.
 
As a two-way speaker, the 3-driver Jr. Adagio utilizes two 6.5-inch mid/woofers with 2.5-inch underhung 7-ounce rare earth Neodymium motor assemblies in a midrange-tweeter-midrange arrangement also referred to as a D'Appolito array. The woofers are mounted to the aforementioned bezels, creating physical time alignment as well as a thicker wave launch foundation due to the combined 1.5-inch stack of enclosure baffle plus added bezel.
 
Nominal impedance is said to be 6 ohms and sensitivity is 89dB at one watt, one meter - all in all, not that difficult to drive. The crossover hands over to the ribbon tweeter at 3kHz with a 3rd-order 18dB/octave slope. Acoustic Zen rates the Adagio Jr. as having a frequency response of 35Hz -25kHz ±3dB and a power handling of between 50 and 200 watts.
 
The only difference between the Adagio and the Adagio Jr. is the cabinet and bass loading then. While the larger Adagio runs a transmission line to maximize efficiency and bass extension, the smaller Adagio Jr. gets by with a simpler rear port system.
  
Fresh out of their shipping cartons, the Junior Adagios are impressive. Robert Lee suggests how they won't come   
into their own for 100 hours but even factory fresh, these speakers need apologize for nothing. Lee promised to expedite a horn-type lens to attach to the speaker's face around the tweeter. It'll lift tweeter output by about 0.3dB. That doesn't   
sound like much but a single decibel of tweeter lift can spell disaster with coherence and musicality. I'm quite taken already by the sweet treble balance. So many speakers with ribbon tweeters have a tendency for showy treble that turns into hardness and fatigue over time. This most certainly is not the case with the Jr. Adagios. Time will tell if the forthcoming mini lift is for me or not but hey, options are always good to have. In larger, more opulently furnished rooms with greater HF absorption, this boost could be a welcome addition.
 
One area where the Adagio Jr. seems to be breaking new ground is in the bass. With true bass extension to 35Hz, the Adagio Jr. competes with a lot of larger floorstanders and on paper at least, wins. In my room, these speakers are already delivering bass performance that will make the addition of a subwoofer not only an option but, depending on your listening habits, perhaps a hard-to-justify extravagance. Many stand-mounted speakers sound big because of a huge soundstage. These Acoustic Zen monitors sound like big speakers, period. They generate deep, propulsive bass that is both generously textured and detailed. With two Genesis Advanced Technologies G928 subwoofers in-house for review, it seems like sacrilege to even consider adding them to the Juniors. This is so not what I expected. With the Juniors and the right kind of music and SPLs, things can combine for a cardiac massage. Which leads me to another thing these speakers can do exceptionally well - play loud.
 
In the olden days, Stereo Review used to run articles on how to purchase speakers. One piece of sage advice was to be wary of products that seemed to stand out. Speakers sounding completely remarkable -- usually because they did something the others in the store didn't -- might wear on your nerves once you got them home. All that treble energy for example that spelled detail, space and air in the showroom could mean screech, sizzle and fatigue in the long term. It was good advice.
 
For the better part of last year, Jeff Day has been writing his Music Lovers series of reviews. While I question the premise that there should be a separate category of equipment designated for music lovers -- I doubt anybody reading this is not a music lover -- I may concede there's a sound that attracts inexperienced buyers in the showroom. I think they gravitate toward that sound because they think it will enhance the enjoyment of their music. And there's no shame in that. What I don't think they realize is how balance is key. It is only when the scales tip too far in one direction or another that a speaker becomes supernatural in some area of performance. By definition, supernatural isn't natural. An obvious example is a speaker that has tons more bass than everything else on the shelf. It may sound great in the store on cursory examination and with your carefully chosen demo disc but when you get it home, suddenly all your music collection has pounding bass and subtlety drained out with the bath water and took tonality with it. The speaker doesn't really have great bass, it's uneven and unnatural bass and soon you'll find that you stop listening to a good portion of your collection because it no longer sounds good.
 
In my experience, supernatural detail is sometimes a product of a similar imbalance. Be it an aberration in the frequency response such as a bump in the upper midrange or a depression in the lower midrange/upper bass that makes the midrange seem more highly prominent, such tailoring will make some speakers seem more detailed than the rest. You may eventually find though that a lot of these speakers don't have any meat on their bones. They sound fast and agile but the music lacks body and warmth, with nothing to savor left on the palate. They'll produce every technical detail in the recording -- even artifacts of the recording process better left on the disc -- but they won't communicate the soul of the music. This is what some people call a clinical speaker. Others call it sterile. I call it an engineering marvel and completely a-musical. My old JMlab Mini Utopias were just such a speaker. I sold them to a friend and I borrow them back from time to time. Within a few bars of the first CD I play, I usually think I made a huge mistake to ever sell 'em. By the end of the song, I remember why. They sounded spectacular but made no music and were completely uninvolving. But boy did they measure well.
  
Then there are products such as Silverline speakers. Alan Yun's speakers are remarkable for their musicality. He has been tuning his speakers by ear for years, flat response be damned. Alan tunes in a dip in the midrange,  
usually between 2 and 5kHz. This gives his speakers a very laid-back mellow quality that a great many music lovers fall in love with. These speakers have musicality and soul but are not the most highly detailed transducers and their measured frequency response sometimes looks abysmal.
 
Some speakers sound remarkable due to their highly detailed nature and they throw a huge and highly illuminated soundstage. This is because they are designed with a rising treble that may or may not irritate after a while. It often depends on how well behaved the tweeter is. So it is within that context that I pronounce the Acoustic Zen Adagio Jr. one of the most unremarkable speakers I've ever used. Won't that make some excellent advertising copy for Acoustic Zen! I can see it now: "Unremarkable!" - 6moons.com. Well, perhaps not. But it's true. It's also what makes this review a bit of a challenge. How to talk about a thoroughly unremarkable speaker without damning it with faint praise? I suppose the first thing I could do is to state unequivocally that I could easily live with the Adagio Jr. While it's not perfect, its omissions are slight and perfectly commensurate with its class. There's nothing that will inspire long-term regret. It's an extremely well-built speaker with extremely solid performance. To be sure, balanced would be an accurate term to sum up performance and personality. Indeed the Adagio Jr. is an extremely balanced performer, which is one of the reasons it's so unremarkable. It's not long on flash or sizzle. It won't blow your mind in any one area but it won't let you down in any either. In fact, it's very long on bang for the buck.
 
The Adagio Jr. is an utterly neutral speaker. It's neither forward nor excessively laid-back though it does have a decidedly mellow presentation. It has lots of music-serving warmth, bass and body down as low as it goes, though it's no deep bass hero. Down to 35Hz or so, it's also quite punchy. The antithesis of thin and threadbare, it's an unusually fulsome speaker with loads of color and texture. Up top, it's actually highly resolved -- you won't want for detail -- but extremely sweet and at first blush, it may seem to sacrifice detail in the name of musicality and listening ease. But that's only at first blush. It won't impress with the largest or most airy of soundstages either but it never sounds constricted or closed in. If all this makes it sound I'm equivocating, you'll understand my dilemma. It could seem I am though I'm not. With most performance criteria, the Adagio Jr. rides right down the center of the road. In no single area is it the best I've ever heard but it has no glaring faults either. If I had to point at its greatest strengths, it'd have to be the overall balance of virtues and the forgiving personality.
 
The Junior's midrange is as good a place to start as any because, well - it's really good. It has the kind of transparency that won't impress at first because some may confuse transparency with openness and air. That's not the case here. Junior is transparent in that it's extremely low in coloration. Male and female vocals sound clean and clear and come across with appropriate body and correct timbre. Brass instruments sound natural, too, with neither too much sizzle nor any undue rounding of edges. Electric and acoustic guitars sound equally natural with no added thickening or thinning. But that doesn't mean that it sounds like every other great speaker in its class. It doesn't. As compared to the excellent Usher Be-718, the Adagio Jr. will appeal to a different listener. I hesitate to call the Usher more 'hifi' sounding because I don't hear it that way at all. I'm very fond of that speaker. Yet sitting next to the Adagio Jr.s, it could well sound that way. The Usher is the more incisive performer and does communicate transparency and an energetic quality in a way the Jr. doesn't. In that respect the Usher exhibits a little more personality whereas the Adagio Jr. allows the focus to remain on the music rather than showing off its own virtues.
 
Speaking of focus, here the little Adagio is outstanding in yet another understated way. Images emerge in highly delineated and focused ways with no ambiguity. However, they never seem etched in space. Image focus is extremely good but never supernaturally so. I used the Adagios from Peter Gabriel's Up CD [Geffen 06949 33882 4] which was large, in my face and hugely focused to Carl Orff's Carmina Burana [RCA 9026 61673 2] which was huge, distant upon a stage and every bit as amorphous as you'd expect from live music. There was no unnatural spotlighting of individual performers on stage and though plenty detailed to separate out different voices in the chorus, that chorus remained what it is - a cluster of stacked voices. When required, the Jr. Adagios can go wall to wall with an image that is wide and tall with good depth (the addition of a subwoofer caused the Adagio's to completely melt the front wall of my room away) and they maintain the same degree of focus anywhere upon that stage.
 
Treble performance was a bit of a surprise. It seems to me that most speakers with a round ribbon tweeter similar to that of the Adagio Jr. generally make treble a focal point. They are notable for their highly detailed top end, their big and airy soundstage and too often tend to speak a little louder than I'd like through the treble. Some of them can sound a little hyperactive there, others downright hard and etched. Not the little Adagio. You'll have to listen attentively to hear what this tweeter is all about because it blends so well as to never call attention. Prolonged listening proves it to be remarkable for its smoothness and fatigue-free balance. It's the kind of balance that emphasizes the body, warmth and resonance of a 12-string guitar rather than the pick's string attacks. The focus will be closer to the standard 'G' string than its mate an octave higher. In all my time with Jr., I can't recall a time when I heard it screech or squawk. If anything, it's balanced on the forgiving side of the hard center line of neutrality.
  
I mentioned in the intro the wave-guide lenses Acoustic Zen sent along, said to provide about a third of a dB of lift to the tweeter while increasing treble dispersion and cutting down diffraction. Lift turned out to be the perfect term to describe their effect. The sound of the acoustic guitars on "Mother" from Pink Floyd's The Wall [Columbia C2K 36183] was ever so slightly altered and elevated in the mix for slightly more prominence in the upper registers. The same was true for the high-hat strikes on "The Happiest Days of Our Lives". They were just a little more there. I suppose this may be of value in a larger room with over-stuffed treble-absorptive furniture but in my room and while seated in the sweet spot, I preferred the speakers without the wave guides, finding treble energy perfectly acceptable and a little more natural. The difference is quite subtle but may be worthwhile in other rooms. Robert Lee says that they are available free of charge to customers wanting to try them. You need only need contact Acoustic Zen and pay shipping. If you decide to give them a shot, I suggest a good cleaning of the speaker's face before applying them. They attach with a double-sided adhesive and likely due to the fact that I didn't clean the speaker surface, mine kept falling off.

Okay, so the Adagio Jr. isn't completely without the means to make a listener sit up and take notice. Its bass performance makes it one of the best I've heard in this class. While these speakers are stand mounts, they are no mini monitors. They're fairly large actually and sound it. They have a full bass with lots of weight and warmth and a completely satisfying sense of detail and pitch. I spent a great deal of time listening to various Pink Floyd CDs and various bass-rich classical soundtracks such as Danny Elfman's original Batman score [Warner 9 25977-2] and James Horner's soundtrack to Braveheart [London 448 295-2]. The little Adagios always sounded full, competent and satisfying.
 
I also used the Adagio Jr.s extensively throughout my evaluation of the Genesis Advanced Technologies G-928 subwoofers and found them to blend exceptionally well. This is largely due to how their bass response is quite natural and once supported by the subwoofers, created natural continuity. Two, as far down as the little Adagio's extend, they are extremely potent and there was no sag when the subs handed off. There was no obvious weakening of the bass or obvious textural changes as are likely when transitioning from a subwoofer to a speaker with less capable drivers that really can't properly carry the burden at the point of hand-off.
 
The Adagio Jr.s do take a while to break in. You'll hear them slip in and out of their different phases and just when you're sure they've finished changing, they'll drag you through some more growing pains. Be patient. They'll eventually settle down. One of the ways you can tell is when the soundstage finally expands to lifelike proportions. Only once the speakers were broken in was I fully satisfied with their soundstage. While it generally had decent depth and height, the soundstage never expanded much beyond the speakers in the lateral plane. Neither did the speakers ever pull the best disappearing act. But one day finally, things changed fairly drastically and the left and right sides of the stage moved outward and filled in the rear corners of the room. They still don't quite vanish as my much more expensive speakers do but they are quite good in this department, too.
  
I just received for review the much smaller Genesis Advanced Technologies 7.1p (petite) loudspeakers and they put into perspective one other very important aspect of the Jr. Adagio. Junior may be the smallest speaker in the Acoustic Zen line but it's no mini. It belongs into the maxi monitor class and produces a sound that's anything but diminutive. The junior Adagios produce a big and solid presentation rich with density and color. These speakers have gravitas that gives the music an almost tangible presence. What sets them apart is that they lend an almost visual appeal to the music. Lesser speakers (most of the competition) produce a big and airy presentation that one sees right through. Consider the difference of presentations with a front projection video projector while the room lights are on and off. Lights on and you see the picture projected upon the white screen washed out. Turn the lights off and colors deepen, blacks get blacker and detail and depth are enhanced. You no longer see the white screen behind the image. The image becomes all you see. It's the same way with a speaker like the junior Adagio. Your front wall disappears and is replaced by the soundstage and music. The image before    
 you is so dense, you feel as though you could almost reach out and touch it.  
  
Conclusion
 
The Acoustic Zen Adagio Jr. loudspeakers are sophisticated transducers designed for the sophisticated listener looking to be enthralled by the music rather than being impressed by the equipment. Most impressed by the Jr.s will be the listeners who think that most other high-end speakers are too bright and forward. Almost completely self-effacing and always subservient to the music, the Adagio Jr.s do a better job of getting out of the way than any I can think of in their class. So free of self flavor are they that the best way to get a handle on their personality is in direct comparison to the competition. There are speakers that produce a larger and more dramatic soundstage.  
 
Most are more in your face and few if any will match the sweet fatigue-free treble and upper midrange of this speaker. At 89dB, I doubt many will choose low-powered SET amplifiers (at least not without an active crossover and a really good subwoofer), but I can't think of another genre of amplifiers I wouldn't try as long as the amps were fairly neutral. If you're already using solid-state amplification and find your sound a little thin and cold, these could be the speakers for you. Particularly in the dark Burled Walnut of the review samples, they are gorgeous to look at and lifting their considerable mass off their stands has you appreciate how solidly they are made. All in all, there is a lot of speaker here for the money and a lot of speaker to love. I can't recommend an audition of the Acoustic Zen Adagio Jr. more highly.
 
Unremarkable then? Well, only at first blush. In the long term, the Adagio Jr. has what it takes for an extended relationship with an awful lot of music lovers. If that's not remarkable in today's market, I don't know what is
On my first audition of the ADAGIOs, I had that sure fire verification so rare and welcome. I sat down, hit “play’ and did not want to get up and do anything else. Blocks of time elapsed. I was enchanted.
Jim Merod

This preview report is meant (i) to disburden me of the nearly mind-boggled state these speakers have caused; and (ii) to open the door for others to discover an extraordinary musical sweetness and power unrivaled at this price point.  I’d strongly urge anyone to give the Acoustic Zen ADAGIO speakers serious attention. These are not subtle speakers if, by “subtle,” one means that you must listen for days or weeks on end to “get” their refined sonic message.  Bam !  You hear the strengths of these speakers right away.  

I first met Acoustic Zen’s ROBERT LEE a decade ago. He had founded a different company, now on its own, and solicited my interest in “all things sonic,” since he knew I was a recording engineer.  Robert Lee is an affable, brilliant man who adores beautiful music.  He is to high-end audio cables what Chopin is to classical music.
 
I soon discovered that Lee had once designed several remarkable speakers.  Of course, I thought of him as a first-rate cable designer, one of the great ones.  I had no idea his audio engineering ability included speaker craftsmanship . .  a knowledge brought fully to the fore on the day I visited his southern California home.  There, 
in beautifully rendered wood finish, a pair of large three-way beasts stood on guard, as if to warn unworthy visitors of their slumbering power.
 
When I heard how refined and forceful, how utterly musical, Robert Lee’s old edition speakers truly were (vintage 1980 or so), I urged him to give his speaker talent another go.  He demurred. A lot of work, he averred.  So many speakers, the field was crowded.
 
I’m delighted to say that Lee has overcome such unwarranted caution and thrown his zeal and talent into a classic “under hung” three-way speaker, THE ADAGIO, as well as a set of earth-rattling subwoofers. About the later more at some future moment, but about “The Adagio” design, there’s plenty to savor here and now.
 
First, when you see these speakers you may be startled at their grace and aesthetic appeal.  They come in a gorgeous amber red wood and in a eye-popping birds eye blond finish.  Any room is enhanced by the sculptural quality of these nearly chest-high speakers.
 
Second, the Adagios are flat from 30 hZ to more than 20 KhZ.  You hear their accuracy on any well-made recording that you’re familiar with.  My initial encounter was mediated by a new “live” recording I’d just burned to 24/96 DVD and to 14/44.1 CD.  The reproduction these speakers gave my recordings was jaw-dropping.
 
Third, Robert Lee has put a ridiculously modest price on a sonic instrument that, in other production hands, would be three or four times higher (or higher).  Right now, it is not out of the question to suggest with full credulity that Acoustic Zen’s ADAGIO speaker is the most under-priced high-end audio value I can name.
 
This preview report is meant (i) to disburden me of the nearly mind-boggled state these speakers have caused; and (ii) to open the door for others to discover an extraordinary musical sweetness and power unrivaled at this price point.  I’d strongly urge anyone to give the Acoustic Zen ADAGIO speakers serious attention. These are not subtle speakers if, by “subtle,” one means that you must listen for days or weeks on end to “get” their refined sonic message.  Bam !  You hear the strengths of these speakers right away.  
 
On my first audition of the ADAGIOs, I had that sure fire verification so rare and welcome.  I sat down, hit “play’ and did not want to get up and do anything else.  Blocks of time elapsed.  I was enchanted. 
 
I only wanted to stay in my acoustic sweet spot and hear music I’d recently recorded.  In fact, I dug my way further into place so that even Acoustic Zen’s famous “Guido” (the bouncer from hell never to be crossed in any way) found it difficult to lodge me from my blissful listening place.  In truth, I appealed to the friendly, never to be under-estimated Robert Lee so that my visit to his inner sanctum might last as long as my schedule allowed.
 
Consider this preview, therefore, a warning.  Unless you audition these speakers – really give them a chance to startle you as thoroughly as they startled me (the Audio Curmudgeon) – you may discover someday that your wallet is lighter than your heavy, quite possibly broken music-loving heart.
Adagio will surely stay on one of the top positions in my private list of favorite loudspeakers.
Marek Dyba

The most important advantages are natural sound, flat frequency response, great, natural sounding bass thanks to transmission line loading, disappearing from the listening room and three dimensional, precise soundstage. And this fantastic ability to play music, to extract it even from these far-from-perfect recordings is something that is quite unforgettable. These are also ones of the very few loudspeakers that don't introduce any coloration to the sound, that offer great WAF and can be driven with tube amplifier in spite of not to high sensitivity. No doubts that if one day I want to spend 20 t pln or even more to buy loudspeakers Adagio will be on my short list.

I guess most of us if asked suddenly „what is Acoustic Zen” would answer „cables” as this Californian company is usually associated with audio cables only. That's how they started and not everybody realize that company's products range has already expanded. Some years ago Robert Lee – chief designer of AZ started to build also loudspeakers. Today the range includes one model of stand-mounted speakers, three models of floor-standing ones and a subwoofer. If you try, as I did, to search the Internet for information regarding these loudspeakers you will find out that there was some positive fuss about Acoustic Zen entering the market and challenging other more famous „loudspeakers” brands. This information plus construction type (transmission line loading) made me very curious so when I got a chance to review one of the models I accepted immediately. To be honest I expected a lot from Adagio's cause I really like TL speakers. Adagio are the smallest floor-standing speakers in AZ range – two-way, transmission line design. TL is not so commonly used nowadays as it once was. Now manufacturers prefer easier solution – bas-reflex, which is very regretful in my opinion. Fortunately not all of them do so – Polish company called Sound&Line entered the market couple of years ago with some models with TL and they clearly proved that if well designed TL is a magnificent solution. Just very briefly about TL design – drivers (especially midrange and woofers) create sound waves not only in front of them but also in the back. Transmission line is (in very simple words) a tunnel that leads the back sound wave from the driver to the port in lower end of the front panel of the cabinet (sometimes to the bottom). The idea is to use this back wave to create more sound where in standard design one have to do everything possible to damp it to avoid distortions and coloration to the sound. The key issue is time alignment of both sound waves – the one person listening is getting directly from the front of the driver and the one coming from the tunnel but if one manages to deal with it the reward should be great. The use of a transmission line greatly increases low-frequency extension and minimizes the impedance peaks. 
 
It's worth mentioning that Acoustic Zen has quite new Distributor - company Pro-Mal, that takes the job very seriously and that's why anybody can have his listening sessions with cables and loudspeakers from this American manufacturer. Using TL design usually means that such loudspeakers need a lot of current from amplifier. Which makes it impossible to drive them with some low-watt amp like my own SET from ArtAudio. Luckily I had at the time some devices at my disposal including a integrated power amp. And even though it is the least expensive device from this manufacturer offering „only” 50W per channel it can make every single Watt count. AZ distributor had some doubts about this amp driving Adagio but fortunately this time he wasn't right. For me personally it was not the most convenient moment for the test as I was in the middle of the process of some changes in my system. 
 
If you take a look at Adagios you might think these are 2,5 way loudspeakers with two 6,5'' woofers and a tweeter placed between them. But Mr Lee is a fan of a classic D'Appolito-style array with both 6,5'' speakers wired in parallel to handle the frequency range from 30 Hz up to 3 kHz. This particular configuration should allow greater bass extension and larger sweet spot. The height of these loudspeakers is quite significant and the shape quite specific – wider in the front and then narrowing down to the back. Of course there is an idea behind that shape – it should prevent standing waves from appearing. After unpacking them from carton boxes you need first to mount plinths with spikes to them. There is only one set of speaker's binding posts which eliminates any attempts of bi-wiring or bi-amping, although such configuration of speakers seems to crave for driving this round ribbon tweeter with nice SET amp, and both woofers with powerful solid state. But according to the designer Adagio are so well tuned and also cabled with a really good wire (AZ Santori) that any such attempts would most likely rather ruin the sound instead of improving it. Well – its each designers right to have his ideas, believes etc and we can criticize only if the final result isn't good enough – so lets wait for the listening sessions.
 
One more thing – well I can see some of your faces when I start the sentence with „my wife ...”, but what the hell. I'm not mentioning my wife to tell you how much she liked the sound but to tell you about magnificent WAF Adagio posses. To be more specific I heard my Dear Wife couple of times saying: „what a beautiful loudspeakers” and „these could stay in this room”. And trust me – she is not impressed easily. When I was dying (because of absolutely outstanding sound) knowing that Prince V2 by Hansen Audio (= would have to leave after the test, she was happy that these „ugly Cylons” would finally leave (probably not all of you are fans of „Battlestar Galactica” so I should explain that in this series Cylons were AIs that wiped out entire human race, except for something like 50 thousand refuges running away throughout Universe for couple of seasons). Just to make a long story short – if you give Adagio a try and love the sound you should not have to worry about your wife's acceptance. And if you are this kind of folks who always try to find some flaws in the finish of every product give it a try with products of Acoustic Zen – you will find nothing to complain about – the finish is simply perfect.
 
SOUND
Recordings used during listening sessions: 
•Kate Bush, Hounds of love, Capitol, B000002U9E, CD. 
•Midnight Blue, Inner City Blues, Wildchild, 09352, CD. 
•Leonid Kogan, Beethoven Violin Concerto, Mozart Violin Concerto No.5, Testament; SBT -1228, CD. 
•Ewa Uryga, This music touches my soul, NOTE CDN1, CD. 
•Patricia Barber, Companion, Blue Note/Premonition; 7243 5 22963 2 3, CD. 
•Otis Taylor, Double V, Telarc; CD-83601, CD. 
•AC/DC, Live, SONY; SONLP90553, CD. 
•Bill Bourne, Lester Quitzau, Madagascar Slim, Tri-Continental, T&M 016, CD. 
At first you need to get used to the sound of Acoustic Zens. At least I had to mostly due to the lack of any elements of the sound that would attract my attention immediately which happened recently when I listened to fabulous Hoerning Hybrid Aristoteles (amazing midrange delivered by Lowther and top-end from company's own tweeter), or from my own horn speakers that were recently coupled with very nice Fostex horn tweeters – T900A. But Adagio don't impress at the beginning unless the placing is wrong – than you might get some boomy bass that might be „impressive”. This tells you that placement of Acoustic Zen speakers plays an important role – they need some space behind them but also at both sides. I'm afraid they won't fit small rooms where they couldn't get enough open space around them. Just to be clear – challenging placement of loudspeakers is not their flaw! I mentioned it just to make you think about it when you give them a try – don't judge their sound until you have found proper place for them. When you finally find the best placement you will find the sonic result well worth you efforts. What you can expect in the low-frequency range should be more natural, colorful than anything you ever heard from bass-reflex which at first glimpse might be more spectacular but surely less natural. Let me give you a small heads up – the longer you listen to Adagio the more you will like them – I'm absolutely confident of that.
 
As a reviewer I have a chance to listen to a lot of different audio equipment. But the bigger my experience becomes the more I realize that for me personally the most important expectation towards audio device is that it should play music, not sounds, and that it plays it in an enjoyable way. 
 
Quite often it means that it shouldn't be super-neutral, super-precise, hipper-transparent but it rather should be capable of hiding some flaws or maybe exposing the best parts, elements of the sound in such a way that flaws don't matter any more even though they are still present. Such an approach came from poor quality of many recordings we may find in the stores nowadays. Surely some audiophile labels still offer us fantastic sounding recordings but many don't care about sound quality – they sell lots of recordings of fabulous performances of great musicians and vocalists but with poor sound quality. Listening to these recordings will hurt our audiophile's ears unless our system can do something about it. Adagio loudspeakers (luckily in my humble opinion) don't have super-analytical skills that would draw each flaw of the recording to the surface. And even though I would still call them neutral sounding they are capable of putting in the spotlight the biggest strengths of the recording and keeping out of this spotlight the flaws. Such an approach lead me again to the recordings of lovely Kate Bush (yes, same recordings I „rediscovered” in my collection during a review of TRI TRV-845SE, and these surely can't be called „audiophile recordings”. There is one amazing strength of Kate Bush records – her voice. Adagio presented this vocal in an extraordinary way – sensual, emotional, her fantastic phrasing expressing many different emotions was show in very real, palpable way. All that despite poorly sounding instruments backing her up. Trumpet is one of the instruments that are difficult to present in a natural way. I've heard it too many times too soft, dull where in reality is usually sounds very vivid, sharp, vibrant – it's a brass instrument after all. So to check how Acoustic Zens will handle trumpet I played … no, not great Miles but Wilson Pickett on Midnight Blue *Inner city blues*. A great choice I must say (yes, I'm a modest guy) – first of all fantastic, very enjoyable music, secondly vibrant, sharp, vivid trumpet – just pure music to my ears. Of course this recording is not only about trumpet, to be honest its not about trumpet at all – so I had a chance to listen also to other instruments like drums for example. Great attack, proper weight to each strike at any drum or cymbal, I could simply „see” and feel each of these strikes. There were also fantastic, vibrant cymbals with great control – short, „damped” strikes were really short and faded away in a second if that was the intention of a musician. You can add to that this sensual but rough very bluesy vocal of Selena McDay – oh boy! Adagio presented this voice in a way that raised hair on my neck! Acoustic Zen's loudspeakers fed from Audio Research devices were able also to present extremely well the atmosphere of the small music club filled with cigaret's smoke – the presentation was so realistic, that it effortlessly painted the picture of this club in front of my closed eyes. The system disappeared from my room leaving very orderly planned soundstage with many layers, fantastic feel of the ambiance of the room and precisely placed phantom images. Well – that's how I love my favorite music cooked and served! 
 
I was supposed to finish listening session with this particular CD but … there was one piece called *Heartbreak*, with lots of drive in it and Adagio were capable of delivering presentation at almost realistic volume level, like during live concert. But I was amazed not only by dynamics but also by the „class” they delivered it with – all the sounds presented in orderly fashion, with great transparency and fantastic PRAT. I almost started to sing with the band. No worries – it stayed in „almost” phase as I realized that the patience of my neighbors was surely not unlimited. But since the system delivered such a dynamic piece so well I digged out great live rock'n'roll concert of famous Australian group AC/DC - *LIVE*. Surely again it was not an audiophile recording but as for rock concert sound quality was much better than expected. When you start to play this record and the system is capable of delivering all this incredible energy, keeping the pace with artists and do it with enough resolution so that you can hear each guitar separately, understand most of the words all you can do it to let your hair get loose (assuming you still have some), take of your shirt and than just enjoy the wildest party of your life. If you do that you can also skip next 3 visits in the gym – you don't need them anymore. Yes – Adagio driven by „just” 50W tube amplifier did the job better than fine – they did fantastic job! This statement should give all those who claim that tube amp can't play such music a lot to think about. Acoustic Zen's transmission line Adagio with Audio Research VSi60 definitely can rock your world!
 
I couldn't miss the opportunity to listen to some more female vocals and both Patricia Barber from *Companion*, and Ewa Uryga from *This music touches my soul* were presented in very natural way. Tonality and texture of both voices brilliantly captured on these recordings as well as how they use their vocal skills, play with them sounded absolutely convincing,. Even not the most natural way of pronunciation of Ms Uryga (I mean you can tell that English is not her native language) was on one hand clearly shown but on the other it was done in such a way that did not decrease the pleasure of listening to her. I really loved the bass playing in Ain't misbehavi'n – timbre, tone differentiation, the „wood” that was equally present in creating the sounds as the strings. I couldn't also find anything wrong with the sound of Patricia Barber's Hammonds – they sounded exactly as I expected them to sound like.
 
Since Adagios already proved that they could play even these not to well recorded pieces I decided to listen to Beethoven's and Mozart's Violin Concertos performed by one the all time best violinists - Leonid Kogan. These were recorded in Paris in 1957 and reissued couple of years ago by Testament label. Another imperfect recording but absolutely amazing performance if only our system can focus on the performance and not technical flaws. Acoustic Zen loudspeakers did a marvelous job – I'm not pretending to be some violin expert, but just as from any music and any instrument I expect also from violin to offer enjoyable, natural sound, with this beautiful timbre that makes my heart smile or cry depending on the music. Adagio presented soloist clearly in front of the orchestra, letting him to lead or to follow it. Loudspeakers themselves easily disappear from our room living us only with Leonid and the great orchestra, and the wonderful, thrilling musical experience... .
 
My first personal encounter with Robert Lee's loudspeakers was very enjoyable – if I ever have a chance to listen to bigger brothers of Adagio I will take it immediately (well with one condition – only if I don't have to carry them on my own back to my apartment). Even if I don't get such a chance Adagio will surely stay on one of the top positions in my private list of favorite loudspeakers. The most important advantages are natural sound, flat frequency response, great, natural sounding bass thanks to transmission line loading, disappearing from the listening room and three dimensional, precise soundstage. And this fantastic ability to play music, to extract it even from these far-from-perfect recordings is something that is quite unforgettable. These are also ones of the very few loudspeakers that don't introduce any coloration to the sound, that offer great WAF and can be driven with tube amplifier in spite of not to high sensitivity. No doubts that if one day I want to spend 20 t pln or even more to buy loudspeakers Adagio will be on my short list.
 
DESCRIPTION
 
Adagio are two-way loudspeakers using transmission line loading. They sport two 6,5'' mid- lowrange drivers and a 1,5'' round ribbon tweeter placed between them – classic D'Appolito array. Two 6,5'' drivers are manufactured in Germany strictly according to Acoustic Zen's requirements. Their cones are covered with ceramic coating to increase their stiffness. Drivers are equipped with underhung voice coils and Neodymium magnets – a short voice coil in a long magnetic gap allows to eliminates most of the distortions and coloration. They handle the frequency range from 30 Hz to 3 kHz. Tweeter is made in the house and its a round ribbon one. Designers employed a symmetrical 18dB/octave 3rd-order high and low pass crossover. Its job is to cut-off woofers almost immediately at 3 kHz. The enclosure is made of MDF – sides of the cabinet are 1'' (around 2,54 cm) thick, and the front almost 2'' (5 cm). The shape of the cabinet was designed to subtract significantly back waves and standing waves. There is an additional plinth with adjustable spikes that is screwed down to the bottom of the cabinet. Transmission line port is located in the lower part of the front panel. In the back panel there are single high quality speaker binding posts. 
 
Should the Acoustic Zen Crescendo be your last speaker?
Acoustic Zen paper on their unique Crescendo

The world of high-end loudspeakers can be a maddening and sometimes rocky place to traverse. Many audiophiles continuously search for a speaker that will satisfy their needs only to continuously discover that over time, a speaker may become fatiguing, uninteresting, or simply intolerable to listen to. Unfortunately, this can also come with a heavy price tag, even up to the six figure range. So, what if you could find a loudspeaker that actually fulfilled the high-end promise of smooth, full range frequency response, time and phase alignment that creates superb images in space, with vanishingly low distortion and gorgeous finishes all at a price that is within the reach of most music lovers? Your speaker is here today!

The Acoustic Zen Crescendo is being received at shows around the country, on dealer floors, and in our customers’ homes by audiophiles, reviewers and pundits with incredible acclaim. But, how do we get such exceptional sound quality in the first place? The answer is in a design that utilizes solid technologies and techniques that serve the musical waveform first and foremost. Let’s face it, there are lots of high quality loudspeaker designs in the high-end, so what exactly makes the Crescendo different from the rest of that packed landscape? 
 
First and foremost, the Crescendo was designed for music and with real, live music as the reference. The reality is that most audiophiles and music lovers spend time with their systems listening to music, not thunderstorms or train whistles. Musical signals are highly complex and reproducing them effectively is not necessarily as easy as it may seem. But, with properly utilized technology, design principals and exhaustive testing it is possible to create a transducer that is faithful to the musical signal. The Crescendo accomplishes full range response along with low distortion, dynamic impact, coherence, efficiency, and truthful imaging.
 
The drivers utilized in a quality speaker design are its heart and most important component. To ensure a solid foundation we have consistently utilized “under-hung” driver technology in our designs. The principal of the under-hung driver is that the voice-coil is narrower than most conventional drivers’ voice-coil and essentially never leaves the magnetic gap of the motor assembly. Basically, the voice-coil is shorter than the magnet’s gap or “under-hung”. The vast majority of speakers utilize the opposite or “over-hung” drivers where the voice coil easily travels beyond the magnetic gap of the magnet assembly because it is longer than the magnet’s actual gap. Think about when you were back in junior-high science; remember playing with magnets? Specifically, the demonstration where you took a bar magnet and placed it under a sheet of white paper and sprinkled some iron filings on top of the paper. When the filings were in close proximity to the magnet, they were more orderly and you could make out the magnetic lines of flux and the further away from the magnet the iron filings were the more disorderly they became. The principal of an under-hung driver is much the same. Since the driver’s coil is always inside of the magnetic gap of the speaker’s motor assembly, it’s under the influence of the magnet across its entire range and it’s response has less distortion, kind of like the bar magnet experiment. With over-hung drivers, the coil travels beyond the magnetic gap and causes distortion in its movements, much like the iron filings that are too far away from the influence of a magnet. The advantage to the under-hung driver is vastly lower distortion since the coil is always under the influence of the magnetic gap and how it is influenced by the incoming signal voltage. That being the case, why don’t more manufacturers utilize under-hung driver technology to achieve lower distortion designs? Well, there are a couple of reasons; one is expense and the other is that over-hung drivers are easier to work with. Essentially, with a conventional, over-hung driver the tolerances and materials do not have to be as rigid and any anomalies in the response and distortion properties can usually be ameliorated with crossover tweaks and cabinet construction techniques. With under-hung drivers, the expense is greater and the need for very careful matching of components and materials is critical, but the outcome more than compensates for the diligence required in their use. That’s why the Crescendo’s mid-bass and bass drivers are all under-hung designs to gain the lowest possible levels of distortion and pass the benefits to the listener. 
 
As you look at the front of the Crescendo, you will see that the upper drivers are in a D’Appolito MTM configuration. This allows the best possible recreation of the original waveform and eliminates the “lobing” effect common with other configurations. The advantage to this is that the audio signal will reach the listener in proper phase and time relationships with no smearing due to the signal interactions inherent in conventional designs.
             
Two five inch mid/bass drivers that employ a unique magnesium alloy impregnated paper cone material flank a horn loaded ribbon tweeter specifically designed and manufactured for the Crescendo. This MTM array asures smooth frequency response with proper phase and time relationships intact and the ribbon tweeter is implemented to provide extended, open, and non-fatiguing response. An aluminum ribbon covers 95% of the vibrating area of the tweeter membrane. This unique feature provides a purely resistive impedance which means a friendly load for the amplifier and simplifies crossover design.  The vibrating element is almost completely weightless compared to traditional dome type tweeters. This affords immediate and precise high-end response to transients in the musical signal and reveals the dynamics of instruments with high frequency specrtral content like no other. It has an essentially linear phase response which provides time coherent reproduction resulting in accurate frequency  response, rhythmic drive and outstanding imaging capability. Our tweeter is quick, without distortion  and without ringing. Many modern “audiophile” speakers seem to have tilted up or bright treble response which lends a bit of excitement to the sound, but long term causes listener fatigue and dissatisfaction with the overall tonal balance of the speaker. The Crescendo’s mid to high end response is natural, non-fatiguing and remains faithful to the source. 
 
To convey deep bass with resolution and authority, dual eight inch, ceramic coated, underhung drivers are transmission line loaded to extend response to a true 20 Hz. A properly tuned and damped transmission line has the ability to extend bass response without making it “lumpy” or creating a “one-note” characteristic. The Crescendo’s exceptional bass response is due to its unique ability to utilize this loading technique to not only give tuneful, taut and deep bass response, but bass response that is in phase at the listening position to complement the proper time and phase relationships inherit in the rest of the design. The musical outcome is startling and can be immediately discerned with fast, coherent and powerful bass that lays a musical foundation for the music. Have a look at the frequency response sweep to the left and you’ll see that the Cescendo’s effective response is extremely linear and coherent across the audio passband with less than 3db of deviation from frequency to frequency, even at the acoutical crossover point between the transmission line port and the other drivers. Transmission line loading is not the easiest to implement, but it eliminates the “chuffing” and potential phase anomolies of ported designs and the power inneficiencies of acoustic suspension style cabinets. While our bass loading design is more complicated and more costly than most, it affords the truest response to the music, and that makes the extra work to implement it worthwhile.
 
Proper phase relationships are vitally important to speaker performance and its ability to reproduce a uniform, and musically correct output. Think of this example; If you held a few marbles in your hand that were uniform in weight and size, and dropped them to the floor with the intent of them all hitting at once to produce a single “crack”, they would actually all hit at different times and effectively “smear” the sounds your ear perceives since the sounds from the marbles would be striking the floor at different times and all react in different ways in the environment. They would hit the floor “out of phase” with each other. Now, let’s take those same marbles and drop them so that they all hit the floor uniformly and in perfect unison. If that is achieved, you will hear one coherent sound. They are now, “in phase”. This is a very simplistic example, but the end results are what’s important to understand; multiple incoherent sounds that smear what you want to acheive, or one uniform sound. Now, all speakers have some level of deviation in phase as amplitude and frequency change. This also affects the speakers load presented to the amplifier, but the ideal is to get the waveform to launch “in phase” with the signal at the input terminals and to keep from “smearing” that signal. We invite you to do some investigation of competitive products phase response and amplitude curves to see the surprising differences in some designs (some of which are in the upper echelon of high-end speakers in terms of their acceptance and their price!) In the Crescendo, that musical waveform is always produced in phase with the electrical input to the speaker with very little deviation and with a very stable impedance. The result is an output that is true to the input signal and simply outperforms others in terms of sheer musicality, listenability, coherence and accuracy.
 
The Crescendo employs a crossover network that is so highly refined in controlling the balance of the drivers that it yields a nominal efficiency of 90dB SPL @ 1 meter. The overall design keeps the impedance of the speaker a nominal 6 ohms with no drastic shifts in phase and an easy load for almost any quality amplifier across the audio spectrum. So, while it will certainly respond to and fully complement powerful solid state amplifiers, it will also respond just as well with lower powered vacuum tube designs or high quality integrated amps. This is accomplished while maintaining unparalleled phase and time alignment, smooth frequency response and the lowest possible levels of distortion from the ultra-linear, under-hung driver design. The importance of both proper phase response and smooth impedance cannot be stressed enough; either one, improperly handled, can be the downfall of many competing loudspeaker designs. The Crescendo, however endeavors to ensure that both are high priorities. Proper phase relationships throughout the design ensure that music reaches you intact, as a whole, as it was intended. An impedance that stays smooth and with no wild swings across the frequency spectrum means your amplifier doesn’t have to struggle to reproduce the full spectrum of sound that you expect. Couple these with the ultra low distortion and linearity of the Crescendo’s drivers and you have a transducer that transcends all of the science, all of the engineering and all of the technology that we’ve put into it. The Crescendo will respond to what it’s driven with and consistently provide a musical experience like none other. Smooth response across the entire musical spectrum. Bass fundamentals that are deep, truthful, taut, and underpin the music as they should. Dynamics, truth of timbre, and imaging that are real and uncolored with an overall sound that is true to the source and non-fatiguing. 
All of this comes at a price that you may not believe. Most would expect a loudspeker with this level of refinement and technology to cost well into the five figure range, well above twenty, thirty, even forty thousand dollars. Instead, the Crescendo gives all of this performance for only $16,000. Many music lovers and audiophiles have already discovered the tremedous value of the Crescendo and replaced competing designs with price tags well beyond its own price. Most comment that they have searched for years for a loudspeaker with the musical performance of the Crescendo only to be disappointed time after time. The Crescendo has become a “final purchase” for many listeners. You may ask how we’re able to sell this level of quality and execution at this kind of a price, especially in light of the competition in the audio world. Let’s just say that we believe in selling a great product that can improve people’s enjoyment of music and movies at a price that is honest and in line with that product’s intrinsic value, not in line with hype, cachet or marketing spin.    
 
Now, if all the Crescendo did was give you highly refined engineering and great sound, its cost would still be amazing. But on top of all this, you also get an unparalleled level of fit and finish and some of the most beautiful cabinet works in the industry. People marvel at the quality of finishes on the Crescendo with its real wood veneers and deep, multi-coat clear finish. The Crescendo will look as good in your home as it sounds and comes in a number of finish choices to complement your décor. We ensure that the Crescendo is as beautiful to behold as it is to listen to! 
  
Does all of this technology and engineering deliver the goods? Considering our own testing and the comments of numerous reviewers and discerning audiophiles, the answer to that is a resounding, “Yes, and then some!!!”. The Crescendo’s design goal of faithfully reproducing the musical event has been completely realized. Musical integrity is kept intact with less distortion and greater fidelity across the audio passband than with most competing designs. The Crescendo creates a magnificent image with weight, authority, dynamics, warmth and coherence. And, unlike most of the current full range, high-end loudspeaker designs on the market which command enormous prices, the Crescendo is priced at an incredibly rational level. There are lots of Crescendo owners out there that have found that to be true and are commenting that the Crescendo is the loudspeaker that has ended their quest for the best in musical reprooduction, even after spending thousands more over the years on competing designs. The Crescendo is the obvious choice for the music lover looking for the ultimate in performance and value and could very well be your last loudspeaker. Don’t believe us? Here’s a few comments from around the audio press….
 
“…offering more than a small taste of ne plus ultra performance: finely drawn treble, meaty midrange, taut, deep bass, and surprising large-scale dynamics.” 
.....The Audio Beat,  T.H.E. Newport 2012 Report
 
“…The sound was exceedingly warm and inviting… when music was played at optimal levels, the sound was lovely.” 
.....Jason Victor Serinus, Stereophile, T.H.E. Show Newport 2012
 
“… one of the show’s best sounds despite the price disparity between the Crescendo and the other best of show contenders.” 
.....Robert Harley, The Absolute Sound, T.H.E. Show Newport 2012“…
 
The sound was simply spellbinding. I can't recall hearing imaging this good on any system using conventional speakers for less than US$100,000” 
.....Sound Stage, CES 2012 Report
 
“…This is the gear we take home to our long-suffering families and loved ones and they finally say, ‘Wow. I get it now.’ ” 
.....Confessions of a Part Time Audiophile, Newport 2012
 
“The resulting sound was breathtakingly natural. It flowed with ease and grace, pouring out the best sound I have heard at any audio show—and I have been to plenty.” 
.....John Broskie, Tube CAD Journal, RMAF 2012 Report
 
“The Crescendois eminently musical and supremely well-integrated from top to bottom and is currently my favorite box speaker under $30k. Make no mistake about it: The Crescendo is a fantasticvalue at its asking price. An enthusiastic five-star recommendation! 
.....Dick Olsher, The Absolute Sound, January, 2013
The Return of the Transmission Line - the Crescendo is a fantastic value at its asking price...an enthusiastic five-star recommendation!
Dick Olsher

Acoustic Zen’s Robert Lee has crafted a magnificent transmission-line speaker, truly a perfectionist labor of love. The Crescendo is eminently musical and supremely well-integrated from top to bottom. It certainly pushed of all my emotional buttons and is currently my favorite box speaker under US$30k. Make no mistake about it:

When A. R. Bailey unveiled his novel “non-resonant loudspeaker enclosure” in 1965, commonly referred to today as a classic transmission line (TL), he took direct aim at the popular bass-reflex speaker design. Bailey’s measurements and listening tests highlighted the poor transient response of a bass-reflex enclosure. Such an enclosure is clearly resonant, even if tuned for a maximally flat response, due to its reliance on a Helmholtz resonator to invert the phase of the woofer’s back wave. The problem, as Bailey saw it, was that when an impulse stopped the bass-reflex port would continue to radiate for many milliseconds. His solution for tight and natural bass response was an acoustic line loosely packed with long- fiber wool. The TL became a hot topic for DIY experimentation throughout the 70s and 80s and was commercially available from several companies, most notably IMF and Fried in the U.S. For commercial reasons, the TL never displaced the bass- reflex enclosure since, for a given bass cutoff frequency, the TL consumes a much larger volume and is more costly to construct. And while designing a bass-reflex enclosure for a given woofer is pretty much a cookbook process in this day and age of Thiele- Small parameters, up until very recently there wasn’t sufficiently reliable TL design software available. In fact, Bailey in his seminal articles only described the overall design principles and failed to specify a process for matching a TL to a given woofer. Today, a TL is a rare bird in a forest of bass-reflex designs. It has been ages since a commercial TL visited my listening room; as I recall, it was one of Bud Fried’s designs circa the mid-80s. And so I was really looking forward to the transmission-line-loaded $16,000 Crescendo, especially in view of its stellar performance at past audio shows since its introduction at CES 2006.
 
There are two essential things you need to know about a transmission-line speaker. First, it is a quarter-wave resonator. Sound energy, which is reflected from the open end of the pipe, sets up multiple standing waves. As with any pipe open at only one end, its fundamental resonant frequency has a wavelength equal to four times its physical length, which is to say that the longest sine wave that fits into the pipe is four times as long as the pipe. That means that the lowest frequency such a pipe can be energized by corresponds to c/4L where c is the speed of sound and L is the length of the pipe. An example from the musical instrument world would be the clarinet. Its physical length is about two feet, but the clarinet can produce a note whose fundamental wavelength is about eight feet long, which corresponds to a frequency of 140Hz or C# below middle C. Of course, there are higher-order pipe resonances at odd multiples of the fundamental, which give the clarinet its distinctive timbre. In a transmission-line speaker, these are largely damped out by stuffing the line with absorbent material
 
The second thing to recognize is that the transmission line acts as a delay line with respect to the backwave of the woofer. Since the backwave is 180 degrees out of phase relative to the front wave, the line needs to be sufficiently long to minimize destructive cancellation down to a specified bass frequency. Only at frequencies where the effective line length is equal to or greater than a half wavelength does the line output reinforce the woofer’s front radiation. Short lines simply can’t provide any deep bass augmentation. The Crescendo’s physical line length is about 9 feet, which is effectively stretched by the frictional effects of the stuffing material, a mix of poly-fil micro-beads and cotton fibers, to an apparent length of 13 feet. This means that while the line’s output is extended to 20Hz, it only adds constructively to the woofer’s front radiation down to a frequency of about 40Hz.
 
Most classic TL designs take advantage of the fact that the fundamental pipe resonance creates a pressure maximum at the closed end of the pipe, and of course, a pressure minimum (nearly atmospheric) at the open end. The line length is then chosen to match the line’s fundamental resonant frequency to the woofer’s free-air resonance in order to dampen the woofer’s excursion at resonance. The Crescendo woofer’s free-air resonant frequency happens to be 25Hz, and is consequently well damped by the fundamental TL resonance which is around 20Hz.
 
The Crescendo is a three-way, five-driver design. The TL is energized by a pair of 8-inch woofers which feature coated paper cones and underhung voice coils. Although far less common than the overhung voice coil, its advantages are reduced moving mass, lower inductance, and a more linear motor strength over its excursion range, which translates into lower distortion. On the downside, an underhung design is costlier to manufacture, but that is hardly an important consideration in the context of high-end audio. The two 5-inch midrange drivers and tweeter are arranged vertically in a D’Appolito configuration in order to maximize response uniformity in the vertical plane. The tweeter is a quasi-ribbon design with an aluminum coating over Kapton and incorporates neodymium magnets and horn loading. The woofers are crossed over at about 250Hz using a second-order low-pass network. The mids also use coated paper cones and underhung voice coils. The tweeter is rolled in around 2.1kHz and is well protected against over-excursion by a third-order (18dB/octave) high-pass network. All internal wiring is said to be 10-gauge single-crystal copper.
 
My measurements highlighted what in my book could only be described as an extremely successful design. The in-room frequency response was exceptionally uniform on axis, not only in the nearfield, but also at the listening seat. Bass response was flat nearfield (at about 4 feet) to about 50Hz with a strong contribution from the transmission line port (but several dB less in level) in the 40 to 50Hz range. With room gain, response flatness was extended to about 40Hz at the listening seat. The minimum impedance was about 4 ohms, but the impedance magnitude and phase were quite uniform over the speaker’s entire bandwidth, the impedance magnitude only varying within a factor of two. That’s a far cry from the impedance variations of a typical bass-reflex loudspeaker, which can exceed an order of magnitude. And that makes the Crescendo very accommodating of high-source-impedance amplifiers, as it intrinsically minimizes amplifier-speaker load interactions. Zero-feedback, single-ended triode (SET) amplifiers can be safely used without impacting tonal neutrality.
 
While I expected the pairing of the Crescendo with the Triode Corporation M845SE SET monoblocks to be compatible, I was genuinely surprised by the extent to which it turned out to be a match made in audio heaven. My first listen during CES 2012 (with all Triode Corporation tube electronics) impressed me mightily, so I was pleased that Twin Audio-Video’s Santy Oropel, the Triode Corporation distributor, joined Acoustic Zen’s Robert Lee in delivering and setting up that exact system in my listening room. Just when I thought that the SET genre had been exhausted in terms of plausible design variations, the M845SE proved me wrong. The output stage consists of a pair of parallel-connected 845 (or 211) directly heated triodes, driven by another 845 via an interstage transformer. I tried both output stage configurations and clearly preferred the sound of the 845 as being more vivid harmonically, better focused, and more dynamic. I experimented with speaker toe-in angle and preferred to intersect the tweeter axes in front of the listening seat in order to obtain the widest sweet spot and soundstage lateral extension.
 
While I usually leave any discussion of bass performance toward the end of a review, preferring to start with the midrange, there’s a compelling reason to reverse that order in the case of the Crescendo. To confess, it became painfully obvious that I had been living in a state of perpetual sin listening to bass reproduction all of these years through bass-reflex loudspeakers. The Crescendo made that crystal clear as it recalibrated my expectations in the bass range. The attack and decay of an impulsive input signal such as a kettledrum strike is stretched in time by a phase-inverter speaker because a resonator takes time to build up and then decay the signal. It’s a well-known psychoacoustical fact, and a critical performance factor, that our ears interpret transient signals primarily in the time domain. A classic experiment involves reversing the signal’s attack and decay by playing a transient backwards in time. The result is total auditory confusion. As a consequence, it’s fair to say that a bass-reflex speaker reproduces an impulsive signal in slow motion. It may not matter as much with organ music, which lacks crisp attack and decay, but as the Crescendo made clear, even when driven by the M845SE, tympanic strikes on a properly loaded transmission line are peerless in terms of control and definition. What the Crescendo lacked in ultimate bass extension it made up for with superlative time-domain performance.
 
The transition from the bass to the midrange was seamless and without any audible discontinuity. The Crescendo maintained realistic tonal weight while doing justice to the power range of an orchestra. In these respects it performed with greater conviction than the similarly priced MartinLogan Summit X electrostatic hybrid, which tends to sound leaner through the upper bass. Of course, the Crescendo lacked the midrange transparency and textural delicacy of the Summit X, but it wasn’t that far behind. It was also adept at re-creating a persuasive spatial impression with excellent depth, width, and nicely focused image outlines. However, my personal preference is for a dipole midrange, which I find, at least in my listening room, to provide an enhanced spatial impression and a more immersive you-are-there experience.
 
In speaker land, what separates the men from the boys is typically how well a tweeter is integrated with a mid or woofer. It’s often not so much about the choice of tweeter as it is about selection of an optimal crossover frequency and a sufficiently steep high-pass network to adequately protect a tweeter from over-excursion. For me the sonic kiss of death is a tweeter whose distortion spectrum rises with signal level. In my many years of audio reviewing, I’ve endured so many ruthless-sounding tweeters that I’ve developed an extreme sensitivity, an allergic reaction if you will, to any upper- midrange and treble harshness, grit, or gratuitous brightness. I’m happy to report that the Crescendo’s ribbon tweeter is a winner, capable of reproducing sweet and refined harmonic textures with convincing transient finesse. Its level of purity gives full scope to violin overtones and female voice even when driven to loud playback levels. The treble is so well integrated with the corpus of the midrange that I found it hard to believe that it was actually crossed over in the upper midrange around 2kHz.
 
The overall tonal balance was quite neutral sounding, and did not display an inherent bias. Of course, the balance could easily be tilted toward midrange warmth by a tube front end or overly tubey power amp. But to its credit, this is a speaker that allows the end user to make those sorts of editorial decisions. The Crescendo was just as comfortable with solid-state amplification, though it was at its microdynamic best, able to plumb the emotional depth of a recording, when partnered by the M845SE monoblocks. However, the macrodynamic range was best served by a higher-power amplifier such as the Bob Carver Cherry 180. This was a partnership that made it possible for the Crescendo to live up to its name. Orchestral crescendi were scaled effortlessly without compression or distortion. In fact, the Crescendo brought out the best in the Cherry 180. The resultant soundstage was transparent, dimensional, and bubbling with kinetic energy—the essential ingredients for a goosebump- producing experience. It’s fair to say that the Carver amplifier with its pentode-connected output stage and a 1.7-ohm source impedance benefitted from the Crescendo’s uniform impedance magnitude and associated linear phase. Pentode amps in general welcome a resistive load, but unfortunately most real-world loads are inductive and/or capacitive in nature. As a consequence, pentode amps are difficult to match successfully. The Crescendo comes about as close to being an ideal resistive load as one can expect from a box speaker. It’s the sort of dream load every pentode amp would appreciate.
 
Acoustic Zen’s Robert Lee has crafted a magnificent transmission-line speaker, truly a perfectionist labor of love. The Crescendo is eminently musical and supremely well-integrated from top to bottom. It certainly pushed of all my emotional buttons and is currently my favorite box speaker under $30k. Make no mistake about it: The Crescendo is a fantastic value at its asking price. An enthusiastic five-star recommendation!
,,,,,,,, these speakers are for music lovers,
HiFier

Essentially, the Crescendo speakers are full-range Adagio speakers, which were already pretty full-range but were not enough for people with larger rooms or who listen to a lot of classical music and want the lower octaves to sound realistic. The Crescendo has a greater ease of presentation and a bigger, fuller sound. 

We are back from CES sorting large amps based on their micro-dynamic capability »Acoustic Zen Crescendo and Tri at Wherein we go into more detail about the sound at this year’s CES.
 
First, Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen knows how to set up a room at a show. He knows what kind of sound he is after, and if the amp he was supplied is not doing what he wants, he will put it on static display and use something else that gets the job done.
 
What this means is that 1) you can go to their room at a show and be pretty certain it is not going to suck. In fact, it will likely be quite good sounding [we’ll go into what good sounding means in this context below], and 2) that the amps he is using are amps YOU can use with these Acoustic Zen speakers and be pretty sure that it is going to also sound good.
 
Yes, this is indeed extremely rare. By far most rooms (99% or so), even ones we give best of shows to, either A) sound good because they got lucky and the unfamiliar amp from a manufacturer who was the first to agree to share costs of the room JUST HAPPENED to sound good with the speaker manufacturer who was the first to agree to pay some of the room costs or B), the quality of one of the components, or the speakers, is so good that even with mismatched components the room still sounds pretty good.
 
Acoustic Zen has paired with Red Dragon, Edge, Response Audio and Tri. 
 
Essentially, the Crescendo speakers are full-range Adagio speakers, which were already pretty full-range but were not enough for people with larger rooms or who listen to a lot of classical music and want the lower octaves to sound realistic. The Crescendo has a greater ease of presentation and a bigger, fuller sound. 
 
Which I think is the point of these speakers. 
 
First, most speakers in this price range suck. They are a joke. Few attempt to do full range and those that do usually suck more.
 
Let’s talk about the ones that do not suck for a minute.
 
We have the Marten Miles III and Kharma 3.1C. More detail, more transparency, more audiophile, but no where near the authority or frequency range.
 
The Soundlab A1 has the frequency range, but not the authority unless you really out a mofo amp on it, but if you want a electrostatic then you are probably not reading this post anyway.
 
You got the Wilson Sophia [not the range or sense of ease], Avalon… not sure which one [not the authority or range], Audio Note [if you have corners available. If you do then this might be a possibility, with careful attention to setup]. Let’s see… what else? 
 
Most people who come here to demo these speakers, to tell you the truth, have just come from auditioning the B&W, Definition, and JM Lab/Focal. They have just been fed tipped up midrange hell and musical slurry. They are rarely audiophiles and we have so little time to demonstrate to them that they are on the road to ‘audio hell’ [when they see $350K speakers, they think we have already arrived at audio nutsville  ]. The Acoustic Zen are audiophile-grade speakers, whereas the others are not [sorry]. Which takes us to the next section.
 
These speakers have what I think of as 2 distinct sounds - depending on the amp driving them. With a Red Dragon amp, or little Kharma amp, these are very dynamic, fairly quick sounding speakers. With Edge amps and tube amps, these are more…tube-like, a little more harmonic and continuous. With BAT amps you can achieve the middle ground - more or less.
 
We’ve found people greatly prefer either one or the other with these speakers (whereas we do not, we like both flavors of sound).
 
I think these speakers are for music lovers, not quite so much into the sophisticated sound gymnastics as some audiophiles are [guilty as charged, love those crazy subtle details and intricacies!] , and want a audiophile-grade full-range speaker for an audiophile-grade 2-way speaker price.
Stereo Times w/ Crescendo at CES 2011

A larger pair of Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeakers were on demo again but this time in the Edge Electronics room.  They somewhat surprised me with their natural tone and excellent sense of ease.

This wasn't the first time I remarked on their excellence but this was the first time I heard the Crescendos with their grills attached. Nevertheless, I didn't detect any lack of transparency or a decrease in treble energy. if anything, the sound was actually sweeter and tad more relaxed.

The Edge NL series stereo amplifier (US$17,500), and G2 preamp (US$6k) made the Crescendos sing during my extended stay here. Hats off to this very musical and synergistic combination.

why did it take so long?........the Acoustic Zen Crescendos are alluringly seductive
Jim Merod

 if the sky's limitless horizon is the only permanent background for thought and knowledge, then speakers as refined and bold as the Crescendos are demonic companions for knowledge and thought… with a feeling enhanced by the exotic perfection of the sky's endless reach.  (Excuse me?)

Why did it take so long?
 
I'm a fussy audio listener. I'm incorrigible, a pain in the derriere when the topic—and, more important, the moment—is all about sound quality. Or its partial appearance... you know what I mean here.
 
How many times have you sat in your "sweet spot," right smack in the middle of Audio Nirvana, and whatever "nirvana" means to you right then… perhaps like that time long ago when you were peeking through Jane Smiley's bedroom curtain from your twelve year old perch on her plum tree. Oh, sure, the adorable Jane was right there before your libidinous youthful gaze. She was, alas, amazingly disrobing and you were actually there to watch the whole hilarious festivity: her sprightly young breasts, your hungry eyes; her blithe insouciance, your anxious hopefulness.
 
All that, but no cigar, bozo! You put yourself in that lofty sweet zone only to discover that, well Jane inexplicably kept her back to her partly open window while her curtains wafted far too flappingly wide. Your tenuous grip on your fragile perch was flat out uncomfortable. So the whole idea, which made sense when you put it together, collapsed once our slippery seat gave you nothing of hers.
 
That's pretty much the way it is across the vaunted glory years of "The Age of High-End Hi-Rez Audio Perfection." Gumba. 
 
Here we are, dig? Where do we go from here?
 
First, a question. Why else do so many "audiophiles" swap out components and cables endlessly in search of "more"... more audio glory; more musical enchantment; more erotic, amorous lyrical titillations? 
 
Answer. Because their audio "sweet spot", ain't so sweet. Listen up, Flap-jack. You know all this as much as I do and, still, you suffer onward seeking some micro-boosted sonic advantage that will take the sting out of your aching audio-hungry soul. You reposition your speakers. More toe in. No, less toe in! Or you relocate everything and then add baffles because, surely, these final adjustments are going to do it once and for all.
 
But no "final" placement or set up arrives. Your search for audio nirvana continues unabated. Some of you, frankly, get pissed and junk the whole damn hobby. I know that for a fact because I've had two innocent, earnest pals who did just that. And I've had dealers confess their good luck, tinged with sadness, when some bloke staggers in on a Saturday (always a Saturday, it seems) and dumps a carload of gear on the showroom floor. Bargain basement day for "Dave's Fine Stereo" or "Perfect Sound Forever"... a bleak defeat for Alonzo who only wanted a musical retreat from secular pressures and the Little 
 
Lady's nagging encouragement for them to play Gin Rummy with Joe and Tarina Boffo down the street. 
 
Baling out, you ask yourself why it took so long to give up. You cash your feeble check, giving you back roughly 22.5% of what you invested on audio equipment... and take solace that the futile search for musical heaven is now buried without recourse. Goom-bye Krell mono-blocks. Sayonara Thiel thing-a-may-jigs. Hasta la vista all that Audio Quest spaghetti. The money extracted from the bale out is just about enough to repaint your 1979 Ford truck... a better investment, you think, after all the teasing agony.
 
Why not take your time?
 
Of course there's the radical alternative sitting right before you. Who said you ought to rush this inevitably incremental business of getting (making; crafting; nudging) great sound into your private realm?
 
Dorko, you need a "radical" alternative to (a) buying and swapping, then moving, selling, and hauling ever new gear only to (b) give up in frustration. Is that possible?
 
Sure it is, Slap Happy! Why not calm down awhile? How about putting your musical craving on idle and just learn what the hell is going on with ONE piece of gear. Only one… okay?
 
How about doing your due diligence (which comes in several forms of empirical and theoretical investigation)? Read the critics and reviewers you trust, no doubt for inadequate reasons; then borrow an amplifier, for example, that you think just might be a contender for your heart.
 
Next, listen to all sorts of sounds, musical genres, and dynamic textures. Get a feel for this piece of gear's characteristic audio footprint. Scope out, if possible, its quirks and virtues. I'm not kidding. I'm not making up this game of calibrated patience. It works.
 
But there's a trick to this subversive guerrilla war approach, you see. In order to "know" (experimentally, via the work of evidence gathering), you have to take notes on what you hear and what you listen to, at what volume levels, with what ancillary gear in tandem.
 
You begin there. Then what do you do?
 
Hint: you change one piece of accompanying equipment in your system. ONE. Only one and you want to choose which one component and which specific make and model of that replacement component you might gain insight into—say, your amplifier (are you with me here?).
 
Probably you're getting the point. There are virtually only two ways anyone lands a truly fantastic, mind-boggling, soul-shattering, heart-warming, erotically musical engine of sound reproduction: you get lucky on your first or second try at putting together a top to bottom system; or, like quantum-gravity research physicists everywhere, you isolate your potentially successful choices on purely theoretical grounds and then relentlessly trudge ahead with small increment as experiments in component matching—always keeping in front of you those crucial notes that are clear, detailed and reliably able to prevent you from repeating unneeded steps redundantly, all the while you enjoy (actually feel in control of) the process of scoping out how pieces of gear mix and match and miss but sometimes (every now and then) lock in together.
 
How about emulating Van Gough?
 
I mean that. Good ol' Vincent never had a Little Lady who tempted him to madness nagging his ass toward the Boffos' bloody Gin Rummy nonsense. Vincent Van Gogh was willing to drive himself nuts without any help. And that's your best option if you really want to put together a sound system that will constantly put you in a front row seat at La Scala or the Village Vanguard,
 
Seriously. Think about it. How else can you ever assemble the sort of audio world that is adequate to your musical lust unless you stalk its creation, piece by careful piece, just the way (at eighteen or twenty) you stalked Jane Smiley's alluring beauty once you'd both grown up…
 
You didn't climb any dumb ol' plum tree looking for a quick glimpse. You made sure (i) not to blow it with Jane by being rash; (ii) you mapped out a plan of engagement; (iii) you carried out your strategy without doubt or deviation; (iv) you suffered, therefore "savored," every moment of stealthy courtship; and (v) when you'd reached the inside realm that defined the object of your approach, you had your parts in order and your mojo working. Wink-wink.
 
It's the same damn thing with audio, Herkimer! You can't count on luck. Only rely on savvy, patience, evidence gathering, deliberate listening (experimentation along with note taking), thus executing your own perverse curiosity like a crazy man—like Van Gogh, who insisted that the object of his artistic love was to "consume" the French rural landscape.
 
Don't you get it? This audio beauty stuff, searching for "nirvana" or whatever, is much like the physicist's precise experimental research and the artist's crazed fulfillment of focused irrationality. No one ever proved that musical enjoyment at its highest and deepest incarnations is a sane event. Or normal. Or "productive" of anything but the fulfillment of your animal and angelic spirits brought together much like Nietzsche, in his youth, proposed Apollo's sunny rationality as the exact supplement for Dionysus's drunken inspiration.
 
If you want the whole sonic magilla, you gotta commit yourself to the research, Dumbo ! Both that and your final victory are devoted to the same culminating fulfillment: musical explosions of infinitely subtle mini-gradations of transparent bliss (or something like that—you decide how you want to cash in on your real "sweet spot," not the youthful one when you almost busted your head falling off the plum limb.
 
All that is prologue.
 
…to this: Robert Lee's finest creation, the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers. How could such acutely luscious sonic joy cost so little (NZ$24,795/pr)? Let's explore their bedrock realty.
 
Before we speculate on the bargain price of such high-performance behemoths, let's sort through concrete reasons these speakers are magical additions to a system patiently (sometimes not so patiently) evolving, again and again over nearly a quarter century, in the right direction; a system at moments lurching sideway but, for the most—when I finally "got it" (see above sections)—inching toward "real sound exactly representing live musical stages"—delivering music as it was made in live time and space, which has almost always been my asymptotic sonic Holy Grail. Damn near an impossible attainment, but not utterly, completely out of reach. I've approached that elusive reach several times only to diminish my approach by precisely the sort of arrogant or over-eager gear swaps castigated above.
 
What are these Crescendo speakers doing that is so "magical" you ask?
 
They get out of the way: they are essentially invisible to the forceful delicacy of sonic textures and dynamics. You get the slam and nuance of a live recording in three-dimensional space as if that space is three-dimensionally present right before your somewhat amazed witness;
 
The Crescendos are full-range, top to bottom, blockbusters that are astoundingly flat right at 20Hz and tip-toeing up to (and quite literally past) 20kHz;
 
The integration of each driver in this three-way transmission line "under hung" system is spooky: very few speakers, at any price, achieve the sonic coherence so effortlessly delivered here;
 
Ease of amplification is an index to the Crescendos' music-friendly affinity: at 90dB efficient, they can be driven to awe-inspiring sound pressure levels that do not break up or show evidence of distortion… a puzzle, in some very real sense, because—while the better the amp driving these big speakers, the better sonic results obtained—one can throw fairly inexpensive, undistinguished amps at them and discover remarkable musical output that, in my experience outflanks ANY speaker I have heard over a sustained listening period;
 
All of these virtues (and mysteries) notwithstanding, the sound stage mapped by the Crescendos appears as an innate, organic extension of the microphone techniques employed: to wit, a two mic Ortofon arrangement, well placed, accomplishes a sense of nearly infinite right to left (left-right) openness… as if, without phase cancellation of any sort, the recording simply delivers itself with a 180 degree sweep and directness that, rendered on speakers with such accuracy, feels very much like a surround sound presentation from only two boxes—a grand illusion, in fact "an illusion," but exactly the sonic and musical/staging illusion every recording engineer with an ounce of devotion to the ideal of "real music in real space" lives to create;
 
Monitor-grade acoustic accuracy is, in its own right, a "holy grail" ideal sought by recording engineers of varying kinds; but the rub, with such an ideal, has been the traditional use of single driver monitors in many (many) studios—sonic iteration that has been both degraded by inferior technology and essentially a "dual mono" signal delivery that vastly compromises what the ears laying tracks down in a studio (such as, for example, "Mad Hatter," Chick Corea's former studio). That noted, I will assert here that Robert Lee's Crescendo speakers are that rare thing: a full-range, musically engaging, soul-embracing signal delivery system without obvious warts or constraints that, simultaneously, offers monitor-grade, pristine acoustic accuracy {note: I await the next behemoth speaker able to match this counter-intuitive result};
 
Foot-patting, heart-throbbing musical joy: that is the balls-to-the-wall ultimate achievement of these speakers… they are thoroughly alluring when you listen to the Guarneri Quartet playing late Beethoven string quartets just as they are shockingly immediate when Duke Ellington's classic 1956 Newport concert locks into "Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue." Paul Gonzalves takes more than a dozen gate-banging solos on tenor sax and the blonde woman in the front row of Peabody Park cranks into dancing high gear. You can feel why George Wein, the concert director, was on the verge on stopping action on stage. Thousands of screaming, roaring fans with libidinous mojo makes a startling force. You hear every bumping groan and ferocious stomp as if time ran backward and Newport's crazed mob as well as the Duke's throbbing big band sat right in front of you;
 
Low level sonic detail that escapes notice by veiled speaker performance stands up clear and proud through the Crescendos' affinity for replicating each whispered moment of sound, speech and music.
 
These speakers strapped into a home theater set up, flanking a large screen television (say @ 73" Mitsubishi), recreate the most hellacious, ass-kicking sonic booms, hisses, and floor-rattling thuds and whomps I have ever heard outside a public movie venue. You think your home theater set up is pretty good, I imagine. Terrific. Now challenge yourself and put these heavyweight blasting boxes in place. Then fasten your seat belt. Bruce Willis movies love these speakers. The new Barbara Streisand concert in Las Vegas on Blue Ray disc will blow you away: great camera work; excellent large scale audio recording work. You are there in the audience. Only better. Period.
 
While few will care as my (nutcase) self cares, the Crescendos reveal details of recording work that lesser speakers simply cannot divulge. An east coast recording partner sent me a disc with recent recordings he'd done. On the initial audition, I was sure that he had used Schoeps mics. I called to ask if that was accurate. Affirmative. My point is simple. Crescendos tell the sonic truth. The down side here, of course, is that—if you are playing well worn vinyl a great deal or have fallen in love with terrific music recorded with inferior gear or techniques—you'll "enjoy" your old favorites through the Crescendos with newfound appreciation for well-recorded albums.
 
Price tricks and treats: Happy Halloween!
 
I confess that I do not understand how Acoustic Zen arrived at the ridiculously low price point of $14,000/pair for speakers that are not only literally "world class" but that hold their own (and possibly, in some reproduction areas, surpass) very good and very, very expensive speakers—such as Dali's impressive "Megaline" speakers and MBL's 101.ii brilliantly sculptured speakers.
 
Wes Phillips at Stereophile once remarked that the test of a great speaker may well be if you find that once it resides in your listening world, you cannot (or do not want to) "live without it." I'll conclude the first part of this two part review by agreeing with Wes' aesthetic outlook, wondering simultaneously how Robert Lee's gang at Acoustic Zen is able to deliver the Crescendos at retail for $14,000. My best speculation is that someone is giving them a break on costs that do not translate into inferior materials or construction/build. Or, perhaps, they have calculated the lousy economic context for audio survival at present and accept less in return in order to compete against a veritable glut of high-end speakers on the audiophile market. If that is the case, then the Crescendo speaker represents not only a genuine bargain for discerning audio buyers, but something close to charity on the part of Robert and Benton Lee, two cheerful brothers whose generous and optimistic outlooks help to define the best of a bad time for audiophile reality.
 
I do not want to proceed further without these speakers. And so stay they will, exactly where they now reside: at the heart of my listening and mastering universe… a place where simple pleasure often is second to the hard work of evaluating gear, including scrupulous assessment of my own recordings. I do not want to live without the Crescendos and so I won't. But in some way, at once irritating and doubtless inevitable, I find that I cannot proceed apace without them since they've solved so many logistical audio problems for me over the last four months of constant use and evaluation. 
 
And yet I'm nagged by this elemental existential question: why did it take so long? Why did I have to wait into my ferocious and cranky geriatric-hood to snag a pair of 'take no prisoners' music reproduction savants? Do you think it's been fun hauling heavy speaker boxes in and out for twenty-plus years? Do you want to copy my bad habits? I wouldn't think so. Thus, I suggest you forget my example and perhaps my recommendation, too, and just do it your own way with elegant savvy waiting for the long odds of sheer good luck to land in your lap.
 
Yet again… the Acoustic Zen Crescendos are alluringly seductive and, in a world where you could (if you were able to) pop a quarter million dollars down for a pair of fancy speakers that may or may not have soul or magic, you're better off checking out these Rolls Royce boxes in their various gorgeous wood finishes. I hate to be right about this because it may put your butt in the musical sweet spot more often and then your Little Lady will be unhappy. You might also put on a few pounds because Balvenie tastes so much better with great sound, especially right before you want it. Then you'll be cranky.
 
As a momentary "final word" before I soon write the second part of this report, I'll note merely this: if the sky's limitless horizon is the only permanent background for thought and knowledge, then speakers as refined and bold as the Crescendos are demonic companions for knowledge and thought… with a feeling enhanced by the exotic perfection of the sky's endless reach. 
Chip Stern of 6Moons Interview with Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen
Chip Stern
Between the two drivers, is one handling low frequencies and the other both midrange and bass as in a 2.5 way design?
 
No. It is a true D'Appolito-style array. Both 6.5" drivers are wired in parallel and handle 30Hz to 3000Hz. This style design employs two low-frequency drivers with a tweeter in the center. Such a configuration creates a larger sweet spot. It gives you greater low-frequency extension along with two-way coherence.
 
Tell me about your woofers. How does an underhung driver differ from a well-hung driver?
 
Underhung means that it has a very short voice coil in a large magnetic field gap. The drivers are top grade and so are the magnets. The voice coils are very narrow and always move in a linear manner within a magnetic field regardless of excursion. Additionally, a traditional long voice coil moving in a short magnetic gap presents a high variable impedance to the amplifier.
 
Can you break it down in some more detail?
 
With a short voice coil in a long magnetic gap, as the music signal flows through the voice coil, the coil and the cone moving together produce the sound wave. A long magnetic gap structure offers a much wider linear magnetic flux density, alternately pushing and pulling the short voice coil back and forth. Since the magnetic force on the coil is constant and completely symmetrical with the motion of the piston assembly, the result is a sound wave with extremely low distortion and coloration, allowing it to respond much faster to a transient signal and to stop faster after the drive signal has ceased.
 
Compare that with the large signal behavior of high-excursion overhung transducers. Because the coil extends beyond the control of the magnetic flux field, it causes very high harmonic and transient distortion that can reach 5 - 20% whereas the underhung driver maxes out at 1%. Because of the very complex magnetic structure and complications involved in voice coil placement and fabrication, the underhung voice coil is difficult and expensive to fabricate.


What are the speaker cones made of?

 
They use a ceramic-impregnated fabric in the center with ceramic coating on either side to form a sandwich. These drivers are custom built for Acoustic Zen to my specifications. The ceramic coating makes for a strong, dense, rigid surface area that will not break up nor produce a lot of ringing. The cone is very stiff and light and as a result, very fast. It responds immediately to a signal and returns to its original position very quickly. This minimizes frequency overhang, colorations and distortions.
 
Why a Neodymium magnet?
 
An underhung driver's voice coil requires an extremely strong magnetic field. If you are using traditional magnets, the size and weight of the motor would be excessive. Neodymium allows us to maximize magnetic coverage while controlling weight and size.
 
Why did you choose a ribbon tweeter and how does your circular design differ from other approaches?
 
I don't want to get too technical here. My circular ribbon tweeter design, unlike a traditional dome or cone tweeter, presents a purely resistive impedance that's completely linear in the audio range. It also has an essentially linear phase response, which contributes to an immediate and precise response to any transients in a complicated music signal. This dramatically reduces distortion and coloration.
 
I am using the thinnest diaphragm possible, a 0.01 millimeter Kapton diaphragm. That's just about weightless, with a 95% covered aluminum circle of conductors across the entire vibrating area positioned between super strong Neodymium magnets. Some people use metal ribbons which can result in very harsh HF response. Kapton is not only extremely light, it is also heat resistant, hence the thermal behavior of the voice coil will not translate into audible distortions. My tweeter's larger circular membrane not only provides much higher power handling and a wider frequency response, it also eliminates the offsets between horizontal and vertical dispersion that are common with narrow ribbons.
 
What kind of crossover are you using?
 
We employ a symmetrical 18dB/octave 3rd-order high and low pass.
 
Some people believe that a simpler crossover gives greater sonic purity - that the more complex the crossover, the less natural the sound.
 
A 1st-order network would have been impossible in this system because of the overlap of frequencies. You have to use a very complicated audio circuit to filter down the frequencies that will cause issues with both impedance curves and distortion. Because our crossover point at 3000Hz is fairly high, we don't want the tweeter to handle midrange frequencies or vice versa. We want the woofers to cut off almost immediately. Because of the kind of speed and accuracy we wanted to achieve in the low frequencies, a 6.5" driver offered the best balance of linearity, frequency extension and speed. Larger drivers would cause other problems when paired with a 1.5" circular ribbon tweeter.
 
What was your thinking in terms of the shape of the cabinet where it gradually narrows toward the back?
 
The shape of the cabinet and the reduced size of the acoustic chamber/line subtract by almost 90% the back waves, standing waves and other distortions reflecting back to the drivers. The shape of the cabinet and the time-aligned vertical driver array reduce driver diffractions while providing a good acoustic center which improves soundstaging.
 
The sides of the cabinet are 1" MDF while the mid/woofer front baffles add up to a total of nearly 2" depth. Between the baffle and the cabinet face, there is an additional layer of decoupling damping material to absorb driver motion.
Tell me about the transmission line.
 
The use of a transmission line greatly increases low-frequency extension and minimizes the impedance peaks we see in ported alignments.
 
Why only one set of speaker terminals?
 
I am using our Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cabling for hookup wire which is 10 AWG/6N zero crystal copper. That is far better cabling than most people have going from their amplifier to their speaker. I really do not want for people to alter these relationships. I have already fine-tuned the frequency response and tweaked all phase adjustments. If somebody employs a bi-wire setup, it could alter the overall balance so I prefer a very simple, direct connection.
 
If you have unlimited funds and unlimited size, you can make your loudspeaker do anything you want. Then you can end up with a Wilson Audio Alexandria, which was pretty bloody awe-inspiring when I heard it in a tuned room at Innovative Audio in New York. But why the hell shouldn't it be? It costs $125,000/pr, weighs several hundred pounds and is taller than Wilt Chamberlain. There are no practical limitations. I found that your speaker had some of the best attributes of a good two-way and a floorstander. Still, at its $4,300 price, there have to be some compromises. What were the relative trade-offs you had to address? The Adagio does more things well than most speakers I've heard at its price yet naturally, it won't have the frequency extension of a Vandersteen Quattro with its built-in subwoofer. Nor does it have the immense soundstage and ambience retrieval of the Dynaudio Confidence C1. However, both are more specialized speakers and both are significantly more expensive.
 
That is a good point and I would like to say this. There are thousands of speaker manufacturers worldwide but so far I have identified less that ten who employ underhung drivers. I think that underhung drivers are the best solution to reduce harmonic distortion in the bass. No one ever talks about the huge amounts of THD in the low frequencies, especially when you are playing things loud. Most drivers create from 10-12% THD when you listen at over 10 watts. If you are listening to 10 watts through your speaker system, you get 5% harmonic distortion. So what are you listening to? When people design amplifiers, they rate them at 0.05% harmonic distortion. Meanwhile even at modest volume levels, your low-frequency drivers put out 5% or greater harmonic distortion so nobody can listen at even low levels and achieve true purity with low distortion, never mind concert levels.
 
That's why I selected to use both the underhung driver and a ribbon tweeter of my own design. The advantage of ribbon tweeters is their low distortion. The drivers in the Adagios result in what I believe to be the lowest distortion loudspeaker system in the world - at any price. People are so concerned over distortion figures in their amplifiers and CD players and would never dream of accepting the levels of distortion their speakers routinely put out. Most audiophiles remain unaware of this simple truth.
 
Even when speaker makers achieve good phase coherence, they are still using high distortion drivers for low frequencies that impact the quality of the signal. When listeners hear the resolution and low distortion achievable by underhung drivers, I predict many other manufacturers will follow suit and employ them. It's like the use of single crystal copper which Acoustic Zen helped popularize in cables. Now many manufacturers employ single crystal copper and silver.
 
The only company doing something like I am doing now (using ribbon tweeters and underhung drivers) is Wisdom Audio. And their top-line speakers are far more expensive. Thiel has been at the forefront in this arena but they feature a different style of tweeter/midrange. So the Adagio is really a very unique loudspeaker product. At only four feet high, it is a very good speaker for the average rooms most people actually have. Unless you use a very, very large room, the Adagio should be just right for most real-world listening environments. People have been taught that they should get a really large speaker that has the potential to excite plenty of reflections from wall to wall; to excite bass frequencies and room nodes; to produce all manner of colorations and frequency cancellations. Not the Adagio. It is perfect for 15-20 foot rooms.
 
Without neighbors getting most of the bass [laughter]. Obviously, there are speakers that will do certain things better, yes?
 
I am already working on a subwoofer that will match the Adagios perfectly, handle all frequencies below 60Hz and go down cleanly to 18Hz. I think the only thing the Adagios cannot do is give you that punch and pressure and power below 30Hz. Yet you can still hear the bass clearly all the way to the bottom of the piano and when the low frequencies stop, the drivers stop instantaneously. There is a minimum of uncontrolled motion and overhang. That is another advantage of underhung woofers.
 
Your bass drivers do stop on a dime, with no discernible overhang. And the tweeter is not bright at all.
 
Other things that are very important to me as a designer are the phase and impedance curves. I think those are far more important than ultimate SPLs. You want those curves to be as flat as possible so you don't place a terrible strain on the amplifier. My phase curve is essentially flat from 10Hz to 40kHz. And the nominal impedance of the Adagios is 5 ohms. It is most flat from 100Hz to 10kHz, almost a straight line keeping within that 5 ohm impedance. You don't have different frequencies displaying wildly fluctuating impedances. Impedance is like resistance. So if different frequencies display different levels of resistance, the amplifier reacts and distortion is the result. As audio designers, we must reduce distortions wherever we find it to make the experience of listening to music more involving. That is the ultimate goal.
 
..........Chip Stern and Robert Lee 
I heard its most distinctive feature in the context of that majestic sound of Turre’s blown seashells: clarity, coherency and an uncolored litheness of presentation.
Nelson Brill - Stereo Times
AT BLACKWATER POND 
By Mary Oliver
"At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled after a night of rain. 
I dip my cupped hands. I drink a long time. It tastes like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold into my body, waking the bones. I hear them deep inside me, whispering oh what is that beautiful thing that just happened"?
On the day that I received the Adagio Jr.’s (the newest loudspeaker creation from Acoustic Zen’s maestro, Robert Lee), I had just returned from hearing trombonist Steve Turre at Scullers Jazz Club here in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Turre announced at the start of his show that, “I still like to swing!” and swing he did, accompanied by his talented quartet as he led the charge. Turre concluded the eclectic evening of blues and ballads with the title track from his excellent new recording, Keep Searching [High Note Records 7159]. On this cut, Turre turns to blowing a collection of sea shells that are lined up on a table in front of him. Turre played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk in his youth and credits Kirk with encouraging him to bring the ancient art of shell blowing into his repertoire. Turre’s shell collection includes triton shells and conch shells, varying from a tiny shell (with a practical register of only a fifth) to a huge conch, originating from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Turre takes each shell in turn, clasping them in a different position and moving his hands in and out of their curved interiors to gain different pitches and sounds. He also runs his hands over these shells for percussive effects. The end result is a beautiful combination of majesty and grace created by Turre’s piercing short blasts or long, languid sustains on these shell instruments. 
 
Clarity of Form 
Appropriately shell shocked (pun intended) from hearing Turre’s performance at Scullers, I headed home to see how the Adagio Jr.’s would handle a recording of Turre’s unique shell blowing and how close it compared to hearing him perform live. While I was waiting for the Adagio Jr.’s to break in (like most loudspeakers, they need at least 100 hours to show their true form), I pondered their design and workmanship. The Adagio Jr.’s are a two-way, rear-ported, stand-mounted speaker. They share all of the vital design elements of their larger sibling, the floor standing Adagio, which was so well liked by many Stereo Times writers, including Craig Fitzpatrick who wrote a glowing review in these pages back in August of last year. 
 
The Adagio Jr.’s are designed around two 6 ½” woofers (composed of a ceramic coated fabric cone) and a 2 ½” under-hung (short voice coil/long magnetic gap) voice coil linear motor system, shielded with a 7 oz. Neodymium magnet. Just as with the larger Adagio, sandwiched between the woofers is a 1 5/8” round ribbon tweeter, shielded in a high temperature resistant magnet structure. The Adagio Jr. is rated at a sensitivity of 89 dB and utilizes the same Linkwitz/Riley crossovers found in the Adagio. I refer readers to Craig’s thorough review of the Adagios for a discussion of the design and technology inherent in both of these loudspeakers, including Robert Lee’s unique use of the under-hung, short voice coil linear system. 
 
My pair of Adagio Jr.’s arrived in two well constructed boxes; one containing the speakers and the other containing the artful and easy to assemble stands for the speakers. Robert Lee had warned me that there would be a delay in shipment until the finish of these newest speakers was done to his liking, and the Adagio Jr. pair that I received (in piano black finish) was gleaming and very attractive. I did notice a slight roughing of the finish near the back port, but nothing that would detract from its overall fine crafted appearance. Each Adagio Jr. weighs in at 38 lbs, easy to maneuver and place in a small to medium sized room. I found they sounded best slightly toed in and just a few feet from side and back walls. This made for a nice intimate listening experience, with a triangle formed about six feet away from my listening position in my small office space (14’x 9’). I also auditioned the Adagio Jr.’s in a medium sized room (20’ x 16’) and found they could still nicely fill this space, with the added bonus of more precision (particularly in the bass region) when able to breathe more from side and back walls. Using Stillpoints Universal Resonance Dampers to isolate the speakers from their stands was beneficial in gaining even more dynamic precision and clarity to their overall presentation. A final note on accompanying electronics: the Adagio Jr.’s relished power. Companioned with the wonderful solid state integrated amplifier, the model 15.2 (2 x 180 watts RMS 8 Ohms) from the French company, Mimetism, the Adagio Jr.’s strutted their sonic virtues beautifully. The Mimetism 15.2 is a dynamic, suave integrated amplifier, combining excellent dynamic presence, continuousness and a tonal balance that really invites the listener in. William Andrea, the talent behind such classic designs as the Vecteur L 4.2 CD player is the designer of the 15.2 and I think he is on to something special with this integrated amp, fully controlled by digital functions. I plan a review of the 15.2 shortly, if I can pull myself away from its aura long enough. 
 
I should also note that at the conclusion of my audition period with the Adagio Jr.’s, a tweeter unit on one of the speakers began to malfunction and eventually closed down entirely. This gave me the opportunity to test the customer service at Acoustic Zen. A telephone call to Acoustic Zen put me in touch with Robert Lee and his accommodating staff. I was offered a replacement speaker to be shipped immediately, or the option of Robert walking me through a quick diagnosis and possible repair over the phone. Upon the speaker’s return, Robert reported that a minor soldering repair was all that was needed and surmised that some damage in shipping had originally occurred which eventually had caused a part of the tweeter unit to disengage slightly in this one speaker. Whatever the cause may have been, it was good to know that Acoustic Zen has excellent customer service and clearly stands behind the workmanship of their products.
 
Clarity of Vision
Placing the Adagio Jr.’s into my small office system, I heard its most distinctive feature in the context of that majestic sound of Turre’s blown seashells: clarity, coherency and an uncolored litheness of presentation. The image of crystal clear water running through ones hands (as Mary Oliver so beautifully portrays in her poem, At Blackwater Pond) best describes the sonic presentation of this speaker. The tone of Turre’s shell blowing from Keep Searching was ever so light and quick, revealing all of the inner details of his breath and the micro dynamics of this unique horn’s sound. There was a lack of coloration, a transparency and a liquid feel to the flowing sounds. Placing my reference Harbeth Super HL5’s into the system produced the best comparison to the Adagio Jr.’s on this simple example of Turre’s shell blowing. In contrast to the Adagio Jr.’s, the Harbeth produced a slightly slower, less transient quick presentation, with less of a see through quality. The Harbeth presented a warmer picture, a more rotund and more substantial image, a little less focused and quick, but with more resonance and after-glow to the long, majestic calls of the conch shell. 
 
The Adagio Jr.’s exquisite way with clarity, continuousness and coherence was highlighted in listening to all kinds of acoustic string music, from the verve and quickness of young Julia Fisher’s violin to Michael Hedges’ fluid acoustic guitar. It brought a sense of lightness, quickness and uncolored dynamic joy to these acoustic recordings.  For example, when Julia Fisher takes flight on any of her virtuoso solos in Mozart’s early Violin Concertos recorded with Yakov Kreizberg and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra (Pentatone SACD 5186094), the music was captured by the Adagio Jr.’s with great sparkle and sweetness up top, capturing a lot of the air surrounding the soloist that this Pentatone recording offers. Soundstage was not as wide or deep as I remember hearing with the larger Adagios, but it was still very satisfying in both depth and width in my small listening room. In a larger room, the soundstage increased even further in depth and width, with surprising fullness and realism. Importantly, I felt that the Adagio Jr.’s produced an even more coherent picture from top to bottom than most monitor designs I have heard, in addition to their larger sibling, the Adagios. No one frequency dominated the beautifully continuous presentation of Fisher exchanging Mozart’s playful melodies with the larger orchestra. Fischer’s timbres were natural and lacked any glare up top. In comparison to the Harbeth Super HL5, the Adagio Jr. clearly went for a sonic signature of quickness, clarity and emphasis on technique and string, while the Harbeth provided more of a sense of the body of Fischer’s instrument and those of the orchestra, with a bit more tonal coloration and weight all around. With its stunning coherence and liquid clarity, the Adagio Jr. seemed to raise another curtain between listener and musical event, so that instrumental timbres and dynamics were able to be explored more fully.
 
However, string sections playing behind Fischer sounded a bit leaner in number and individual substance with the Adagio Jr. as compared to the more rotund and full Harbeth presentation. This same contrast in presentations was heard on other well recorded concertos, like the dramatic Carl Maria Von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto, performed by clarinetist Thea King with the London Symphony Orchestra [Hyperion 66088]. The Adagio Jr.’s highlighted the crispness of King’s virtuoso solos, the quick, taut lines of the strings behind her and delivering the great dynamic swings of this lyrical piece. In contrast, the Harbeth wanted me to hear more of the substance and weight of King’s instrument, less fragility and more woody, breathy character. With the Harbeth, the strings behind the soloist were more completely drawn out, their wooden bodies more substantial, textured and a bit more natural in heft and numbers than with the Adagio Jr. This comparison highlighted what I heard as Acoustic Zen’s sonic priorities in offering the Adagio line with its unique under hung short voice coil design: hitting the mark on clarity, seamlessness and uncolored transparency throughout the musical spectrum and offering a clear, liquid lens into the musical action. 
 
If you like the swinging snap, crackle and pop of old time swing, grab a copy of Reference Recording’s newest recording of The Hot Club of San Francisco, in their Yerba Buena Bounce [Reference Recordings 109] and put on the closing number, “Jam: Some of These Days.” With the Adagio Jr.’s leading the way, the whole fabric of this rollicking number came to life, with its jaunty, quick acoustic guitars, sweet violin lines and the vocals of Paul Mehling clear and deep. The clarinet of Bill Carter slid melodically while Clint Baker’s trombone was smooth and pure. Again, I was struck with the lack of coloration or distortion with the Adagio Jr.’s, the liquidity and free flowing transparency that they brought to this funfest. On the other side of the emotional spectrum was the deep, brooding blues of “Blue Prelude,” starkly performed by Patricia Barber and bassist Michael Arnopol on their beautifully recorded disc, Live A Fortnight In France [Blue Note 7243]. The Adagio Jr.’s literally strutted their best stuff on this number: beautiful continuousness from top to bottom, from Barber’s high held vocal to her plunging piano chords, and a smooth, pungent delivery of Arnopol’s dynamic bass lines. Even at low volume, plucks and rolls were distinct, piano chords sharp and without any glassy overlay and micro dynamics were able to be newly mined through the Adagio Jr.’s clear, liquid lens. 
 
Going from Barber’s intimate duet blues to those big, bad Blues machines like that provided by John Hammond on his scorching disc, Wicked Grin [Pointblank Records7243], the Adagio Jr.’s kept the pace quick and agile, separating musicians on the stage with a clarity that was exceptional. On Hammond’s “Heart attack and Vine” the big roars of Stephen Hodges’ drums and Larry Taylor’s bass can at times muddy the gritty vocals of Hammond. Not here though, as the Adagio Jr.’s kept everything separated, with no dominant frequency pushing either Hammond’s vocals or Tom Wait’s snarling guitar to the far corner. The bass of the Adagio Jr.’s was surprisingly deep for its size, just as Craig had marveled in his review of the larger Adagios. I did hear a touch of uncontrolled bass bloom and boom on some other rock recordings with the Adagio Jr.’s in my small listening space. Some of this certainly could have been created from the room itself. Such uncontrolled bass boom was less apparent in my medium sized room where the speakers had more room to breath from their surrounding walls. Apart from these distractions, the mixture of very satisfying bass, combined with the Adagio Jr.’s special way with continuousness from top to bottom, opened up a clear window to observe the interplay between bass players and their ensembles. For example, don’t miss the new recording from bassist Brian Bromberg, entitled Downright, Upright [Artistry Music 7012]. “Cantaloupe Island” opens this eclectic recording with lots of tropical fanfare and quick melodic lines exchanged between Bromberg and his rocking ensemble. The Adagio Jr.’s propelled this music forward, pinpointing all players on the stage and offering their clear vision of a quick, agile feel to the proceedings. Everything from Bromberg’s gripping, taut bass to rapid piano runs and sax clouts was heard with precision, clarity and a flowi
CES mini review - At Your Peril: A Glimpse.......I'll be back!
Jim Merod

One thing leading to others, I leaned hard. Word was out that CES would sport the full debut of Acoustic Zen's new top-of-the-line Crescendo speakers—a revamped working set, not the mock up not-quite-ready-for-prime-time pair seen at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Show. I wanted a preview audition.

I can be pushy. I don't want to be. My mom raised me to be a nice kid, but sometimes (let's face it) you have to lean on a door to get it open.
 
A week ago I called the Acoustic Zen dudes in fire-ravaged Rancho Bernardo, not far from my hilltop enclave in northern San Diego county. I asked if they'd dodged the fury of firestorms that swept across this region. They had. Barely. Close is good in both horseshoes and fire-avoidance.
 
One thing leading to others, I leaned hard. Word was out that CES would sport the full debut of Acoustic Zen's new top-of-the-line Crescendo speakers—a revamped working set, not the mock up not-quite-ready-for-prime-time pair seen at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Show. I wanted a preview audition.
 
Granted. Within two hours I sat my fanny in a comfortable seat dead middle of the impressive Crescendo multi-driver "under hung" designed speakers ...I was immediately off and roaring with 'oohs' and 'wows' to spare. This was a rip-roaring "whup it up" experience, I'll assure you.
 
The Crescendos are big, an elaboration of Acoustic Zen's award-winning Adagio speakers—a three-way design featuring two eight inch "under hung" woofers with a long magnetic gap and a short voice coil. Their midrange is comprised of two five inch "under hung" drivers. The system is completed by a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter that opens an enormous sense of ambient space.
 
At 125 pounds, each speaker is truly a behemoth. These speakers are rated at a modest 86dB (20Hz to 30kHz), but Robert Lee is furiously working, in preparation for Las Vegas in early January, to improve their sensitivity. The 90-plus minutes I spent with them, listening to my own recordings, convinced me that the Crescendos do not need much tweaking or refining at all. They are more than "impressive." I was deeply surprised by their sonic accuracy and micro-resolution.
 
I was also physically slammed by their bass response, quick and full and tonally complex. Most of all, the stage that the Crescendos establishes is as true-to-life as any I've ever encountered ...in fact, I suspect that their sense of three-dimensionality and of ambient depth, height, and width outperforms any other speaker (at any cost) I've heard.
 
SP Technology's Continuum speaker system (with its vaunted "wave guide") is a true audio champion, capable of throwing a huge and utterly convincing stage ...placing an auditor in a spooky "you are there" listening position. But the Crescendos appear to match or top that in one very specific sense that's utterly beguiling. They surround you front to back, side to side, with near "surround sound" vividness generated from a single stereo pair. The feeling of being-at-the-location where music was recorded is awesome and delightful as well as bloody hard to comprehend. Part of my initial listening was devoted to an attempt to deconstruct—to analyze and make literal acoustic sense—of these speakers' other worldly disappearance.
 
You Might Be "There" (Stay Tuned)
 
If Robert Lee improves the Crescendos, as he seems hell bent on doing, I'd suggest that an already hard to believe listening experience may become ....orgasmic? Stupidly real and therefore mind-numbingly silly? I do not know how to anticipate these speakers with further resolution, delicacy, relaxation and musical verisimilitude. I want to hear them, if that's the case. Yep, I sure do! But, I'll terminate my brief preview of this $12,000 speaker system—my underlining one critical term in my somewhat staggered witness. RELAXATION. 
 
Audio relaxation. Musical relaxation. 
 
The Crecendos may offer the most relaxed presentation of fully-dynamic musical acoustics I've yet dwelt with (alas, at present, too brief, in truth). Thus, I've now begun a small personal mission to check this audio phenomenon further. I love what I heard. I was nearly overwhelmed by the effortless "reality" of the Crescendo's musical presentation ...music I recorded and had never previously heard recreated (re-presented) so accurately and with utterly convincing analog spatial relaxation.
 
I'll begin my increased scrutiny in Las Vegas at CES. I'll haunt Acoustic Zen's fire-salvaged showroom and warehouse once again.
 
I'll not let this haunting and haunted experience of "returning to the scene" of my own boisterous recording mayhem without added surveillance, more precise inspection—the full thrust of pushy critical interrogations.
 
I'll be back!
You owe it to yourself to add the Acoustic Zen cables to the list of cables you plan to audition. They may provide the near perfect compliment to your system.
Lewis Lanese
Conclusion
Smoothness, clarity, detail, deep and dynamic bass, rich midrange, extended treble and a wide and deep stereo stage – all of the elements one strives for in a system came through. 
I honestly don’t believe that I could have come to that conclusion without the near perfect synergy between the Acoustic Zen cables and the rest of the system. The Acoustic Zen are now my reference cables! 
 
Evaluating interconnects, speaker cables and the like is surely one of the most difficult tasks a reviewer has to face. Many years ago, when I was a budding audiophile, the prospect of connecting up my equipment was “a no-brainer”. Back in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, for example, I owned a Garrard Turntable, SME 3009 pick-up arm, Decca stereo cartridge (called the Head), and Quad preamp, amps and electrostatic speakers. I purchased some lamp cord at the local hardware store to connect the Quad Series II tube amps to the Quad Electrostatic Speakers. Usually the manufacturers of the source components provided the necessary interconnects. The life of an audiophile was simple until later when I learned that the capacitance, inductance and resistance of cables could adversely affect the sound of the system.
 
There are no perfect cables
 
In a STEREO TIMES review I did several years ago, I wrote, “I have no doubts about certain interconnects working better than other interconnects with particular electronics or certain speaker cables being a better marriage with particular speakers. The question of inductance, impedance and capacitance is foremost in matching components for the best performance e.g. speaker cable with a very high impedance could alter the frequency response of a speaker whose input impedance is very low when the output [i.e. source] impedance of a given amplifier is very high (not unusual with some tube amps).”
 
Generally the capacitance, inductance and resistance of cables should be as low as possible. Robert Lee, owner and design engineer of Acoustic Zen Technologies notes:
 
“There are no perfect cables out on the market today… The amplitudes and the phase relationships of voltages and current in a cable are dependent on a combination of the value of resistance, the series inductive reactance, and the parallel capacitive reactance. Such intricate parameters of cable design often result in signal loss, signal distortion and phase shifts in frequency.”
 
I met Lee about five years ago at the CES in Las Vegas. He and Jim Wang started a company called Harmonic Technology. I spent some time talking to Robert and was very impressed with his knowledge of metallurgy and the application that went into the design of his cables. The cables he and Jim sent me for review were a revelation. Since then, Robert Lee left Harmonic Technology to start his own company and to pursue his research in “…the refinement and constitution of metals…” that has led to the design of his latest Zero Crystal wires and cables. 
 
Cable Design
 
Robert Lee, who is a metallurgist, uses pure silver and copper that has been processed in such a way as to eliminate the formation of crystals and impurities so that there is only one crystal per 150 meters of cable compared to 6,000 crystals per meter common to some other high-end cables. Lee claims, “This difference is significant and absolutely improves electron transmission resulting in clarity and smoothness of sound.” Robert, who is an accomplished pianist and violinist, brings his musical knowledge to bear as well in his judgment of the results.
 
Acoustic Zen cables use multi-stranded conductors to eliminate electromagnetic interference. To reduce phase shift and frequency distortion, capacitance is kept very low by using Teflon, polyethylene foam and air as the dielectric and controlling the distance between a pair of wires. Also, Constant Air-Twisting technology contributes to the low capacitance. To keep inductance very low, attention is directed toward correct conductor sizes and distances and twists of pairs of conductors.
 
Until lately, most of my equipment was single-ended design except the Ayon Audio 52-B Reference Mono blocks which provide both single-ended, RCA and balanced, XLR inputs. Since the Croft Dual Mono Preamp has only single-ended inputs and outputs, in all of my previous reviews I have used single-ended interconnects. Recently, however, this changed. 
 
In my last review (June 2004) for STEREO TIMES, I evaluated the TEAC Esoteric P-70 CD Transport and D-70 D/A Converter. TEAC recommends balanced interconnects in the setup although single-ended interconnects may be used. Since the D-70 has its own digital volume control, the Esoteric provides direct connection to the mono blocks bypassing the line stage. Moreover, Musical Surroundings provided me with the Aesthetix Calypso Line Stage for audition. The Calypso has both single-ended and XLR inputs and outputs. At $14,000 for the P-70/D-70, I opted to follow TEAC’s cable recommendation to provide a thorough evaluation.
 
Acoustic Zen provided me with the following cables for the review:
 
MC/2 Zero Crystal Silver Digital Reference - 2 XLR balanced 110 ohm cables for AES-3 digital connections.
Silver Bytes Zero Crystal Digital Reference – 75 ohm Coaxial BNC terminated cable.
Zero Crystal Silver Reference II – 2-3 1/2 meter XLR balanced interconnect cables.
Zero Crystal Silver Reference II – 2-10 meter XLR balanced interconnect cables.
Double Barrel 6N Zero Crystal Copper: 10 AWG High Pass; 8 AWG Low Pass – 3 1/2 meter (bi-wire) speaker cable.
 
Listening Experience
 
I used Purist Audio Design’s CD, System Enhancer, to break in the cables although excessively long burn-in doesn’t seem to be significant with Robert Lee’s latest products. Dan Dzuban, in his ST Acoustic Zen review nearly two years ago, commented on the long burn-in time required. I attribute the difference in his experience to the earlier Zen products. After 40 hours, I began to listen in earnest. 
 
“I have never heard such a wide and deep stereo stage from my system! And for the first time in all the years listening to my system, the speakers completely disappeared…. I don’t expect to hear a superior CD combination in the near future.” This is how I concluded my comments on the Esoteric. Most of my CD evaluation was with the D-70 connected directly to the monoblocks with the shorter XLR interconnects. Yes Robert, you are right – there is an exceptional clarity and smoothness of sound. But what changes would occur with the 10-meter interconnects?
 
Despite some very careful listening, I was unable to detect any difference whether I used the long or short cables. This was born out when I placed the Calypso line stage between the D-70 and the amps. The Aesthetics added a slight heft to the mid-bass but this was the case with either set of cables. 
 
I was not disappointed when I switched to vinyl and fm. The Aesthetix Calypso was connected to the amps with the 10-meter cables. Although the stereo stage was not quite as wide and deep as that from the Esoteric, the speakers did disappear. 
 
Conclusion
 
Smoothness, clarity, detail, deep and dynamic bass, rich midrange, extended treble and a wide and deep stereo stage – all of the elements one strives for in a system came through. 
I honestly don’t believe that I could have come to that conclusion without the near perfect synergy between the Acoustic Zen cables and the rest of the system. The Acoustic Zen are now my reference cables! 
 
Acoustic Zen has a whole range of cable and prices to fit your finances. You owe it to yourself to add the Acoustic Zen cables to the list of cables you plan to audition. They may provide the near perfect compliment to your system.
I now regard Acoustic Zen's cables as an unimpeachable standard for my own recording work. If these wires were priced at the top, among the most expensive interconnects, I would not be at all surprised. They are not.
Jim Merod

I trust Acoustic Zen's cables. They have all the sonic fundamentals right: accurate tonality, spectral extension, dynamic range, coherence within (among) sonic registers, textural delicacy, ambient openness, and that hard to define quality that I'll call musical pace. 

The bottom line is this. While Acoustic Zen's pure silver cable has an almost magical ability to reproduce the smallest (most evanescent) sonic details I've ever heard, I'm not certain which of these two remarkable interconnects I prefer. Each is relaxed and deeply revealing. They are both musically seductive.

"Robert Lee's work with Harmonic Tech brought superior cables into the market at a real-world price point. After I read Lee's 1998 'white paper' outlining his cable design philosophy, I asked him about the possibilities of "stretching the sonic envelope of cable design" further yet -- beyond anything available on the market."
 
As a recording and mastering engineer, I can attest to the importance of careful cable selection in the creation of recorded music. One of the surprising facts of studio recording operations is the prevalence of mid-grade and, often, inferior cables. One finds long runs of low-end cables strung between expensive pieces of gear throughout otherwise high-tech recording real estate.
 
When state-of-the-art-mixing consoles are cabled with less than transparent patches, microphone cables, and monitor feeds, the sonic result will fall short. Significant degrees of clarity and timbral delicacy that any musician, recordist, or audiophile music lover should seek will never appear. Such lack or sonic absence is often not detected since you cannot know what you are missing if you've never heard it in the first place. The result, in one phrase, will be at best a compromised success. At the opening of a new century, a new series of advanced cable designs is set to enter the field of audiophile musical operations: ACOUSTIC ZEN TECHNOLOGIES, Ltd.
 
The "Acoustic Zen" line is the culmination of years of cable and sonic research by Robert Lee, the ground-breaking cable design engineer who spearheaded the use of single-crystal copper wire configurations at Harmonic Technology. In addition to his more than two decades of high-profile cable research work, Lee has long been known for his elegant amplifier circuit designs and for his limited-edition production of extremely musical, high-resolution speakers that are champions at sound stage reproduction.
 
Lee now brings thirty-plus years of research and development experience to the creation of an innovative line of analogue and digital interconnects, speaker wire, and power cords. Acoustic Zen's "ultra high-resolution cables" use exotic pure grades of silver and copper wire. Lee calls the material that he is working with "zero crystal" because each run of copper and silver wire in his new cables is drawn from a continuous metal crystal that reaches more than one hundred and twenty-five meters in length. Lee has found that the inherent structural integrity of such materials, free of impurities, creates maximum signal coherence with the fewest dispersion artifacts.
 
I have had several engaging conversations with Robert Lee about cable design over the course of the past two years. When Lee designed and directed the emergence of Harmonic Technology's line of cables, I reviewed his design work. Lee's understanding of the behavior of transmitted musical signals is based upon literally thousands of hours of critical listening and several hundred signal delivery configurations.
 
Lee has created Acoustic Zen cables so that they can be refined to maximize performance in individual sound systems. Lee calls this feature of his new line of cables "precise fine tuning." He explains that his soon to be published "Acoustic Zen Design Philosophy" document will describe this additional feature.
 
When I reviewed Harmonic Tech cables in 1998, I found them to be a good value. Their power cords are fine performers, too, almost up to the level of dynamic integrity as the remarkable (and still little known) Silverline power cords. I am now awaiting delivery of Harmonic's new power cord, brought forth after Lee's departure from that company, since I will soon look closely at the current state of power cords, including Robert Lee's new design for Acoustic Zen and cords from Vans Evers, Kimber, Shunyata, Stealth, and ESP, among others.
 
Robert Lee's work with Harmonic Tech brought superior cables into the market at a real-world price point. After I read Lee's 1998 "white paper" outlining his cable design philosophy, I asked him about the possibilities of "stretching the sonic envelope of cable design" further yet -- beyond anything available on the market.
 
Lee's characteristic humor and modesty serve him well, but I had to push a bit to get a detailed response. He suggested, somewhat obliquely, that "research can always advance our knowledge in every field of sound delivery." Pressed further, his affable good humor came to the fore. A cable designer's mind, he told me, "is restless day and night. I never stop trying new things. I want all the sound [that] we hear at live concerts to be caught by microphones when you record. In addition, I want all that sound in its whole power to be reproduced through my cables. I don't want any compromise."
 
Lee laughs as he tells you things such as this. He was, on that occasion, teasing someone he knew to be devoted to live recording work. But he was kidding on the square. I was pleased, therefore, when he called to tell me of his new company. I asked if I could review his new cables and he delivered several pairs of Acoustic Zen zero crystal "Silver Reference" cables, two pairs of "Matrix Reference," one of his big, new power cords, and a one meter digital cable. Two more power cords arrived later. I began the long work of critical listening.
 
There is nothing that immediately meets the eye to distinguish Acoustic Zen cables from many others on the market. They are handsome and serious looking pieces of equipment. One feels the bulk of material and the care with which they have been crafted. But their telling difference emerges after visual inspection -- in the sound.
 
"When the first two pairs of Acoustic Zen cables went into my system (displacing, for this listening, a pair of Magnan and a pair of Harmonic Tech cables), the soundstage both deepened and grew wider. It more fully resembled the actual physical location where the music that I recorded was captured live-to-two-tracks."
 
Immediately -- and I mean RIGHT AWAY upon installation -- the first pair of Acoustic Zen zero crystal "Silver Reference" interconnects changed, for the better, the sonic envelope of my initial listening area. This occurred despite the fact that the cables, Lee told me, had not been broken in. He suggested that thirty hours of pink noise would allow the wire to settle into its best sonic qualities.
 
I followed Lee's advice and began to take notes after his wire had been burned in fully. I kept in place the four-foot run of Magnan Vi single-ended cables that linked a Conrad-Johnson "Premier Eleven" tube-amplifier to a custom-built cross-over for my Cabasse Baltic-Stromboli speakers. Magnan wire has been a near-fixture in that system for almost nine months of continuous critical listening in preparation for a review of the glorious C-J amp [to follow]. With the inclusion of the Acoustic Zen cables, I not only heard more information from that large, stunning amplifier. I heard how the cables handled musical signals. My long time listening and taking notes on the C-J tube amp allowed me an unconfused view of what the new cables brought to the system.
 
A significant difference was discernible right away at the top of the spectrum. The Acoustic Zen "Silver Reference" cables gave a greater sense of ease in the higher frequencies (above 12 kHz) where a sense of "air" and room ambience are largely concentrated. This was particularly apparent with the exquisite cymbal work that Chico Hamilton executed on late-'50s recordings with his quintet (Pacific Jazz recordings now re-issued on Mosaic Records). Acoustic Zen's upper end resolution was vivid, as well, in the reproduction of snare drum textures when Hamilton used soft mallets. The instrument's size and mass became fuller, more delicately percussive.
 
Next, I replaced a one-meter single-ended pair of Harmonic Technology cables with a one-meter pair of Lee's zero crystal "Matrix Reference" interconnects. The Acoustic Zen wire then linked the output of my hand made Cabasse cross-over to a modified Audio Research LS-2a (tube) pre-amp. Everything that the Cabasse satellites and sub-woofers received, therefore, was now delivered from the new Acoustic Zen cables.
 
WHAM! Images that had already been holographically dead-on (a characteristic of Dave Magnan's Vi and Signature interconnects), images texturally-complex with musical nuances, expanded and locked into even more vivid three-dimensional resolution.
 
The first track I played with two pairs of Acoustic Zen cables in the system was "I Concentrate On You," a gorgeous rendering by San Francisco vocalist Jackie Ryan, with Mike Wofford's trio, from an album soon to be released. This is a track that I know very well. I recorded it live-to-two-tracks at 24-bits using several tube microphone pre-amps. In addition, my colleague Steve McCormack and I worked dozens of late night hours to master it and eleven other songs on the album "For Heaven's Sake," BluePort, [BP-J004].
 
Nothing about the sound of this recording is foreign or mysterious to me. I had, literally, heard the music as it was being created, while it was recorded. After those fleeting moments on two evenings of live performance, I had listened to this song at least eighty times during various stages of the selection, editing, and mastering process. Parts of the material had been inspected even more than that. I had, in addition, heard the track on more than thirty high-end sound systems during the weeks that Steve and I were mastering it. I am aware of our exuberance and long hours. This is our work and our passion.
 
I was somewhat startled by what I heard on my Cabasse system when the first pair of Acoustic Zen cables went into the network. I am understating the case. I was more than surprised by what I heard -- and surprised not only because individual sonic details previously blurred or buried stood forth with their own integrity.
 
I was surprised, to the point of genuine amazement, hearing subtle musical elements that had been obscured or absent … details that had never before emerged from this material on this system.
 
The truth of the sonic change was larger than this statement suggests. The simplest way to name the change is to say that I heard a MUSICALITY -- a presentation of the music's inner pace, with an utterly convincing rhythmic and harmonic cohesiveness -- from Jackie Ryan's stellar, mid-performance quartet that had never before been delivered by this monitoring rig.
 
A footnote is in order here. Recording studios routinely employ very long runs of microphone cables as well as patch bay circuits and patch cords. The number of linear feet of wire that sits between an artist's voice or instrument and the tape that captures it can be measured in three figures or more. Despite the importance, and the prevalence, of cables in studio recording work, the vast majority of recording engineers adamantly believe that wire is wire -- that no difference can be heard among cables. Mogami is akin to Canare. Canare is equal to Belden, with Clark or Monster no more, no less sufficient. A recent two day recording engagement at a major Los Angeles studio once again confirmed this mind set. One is tempted to laugh … or cry.
 
The assumption of cable equality is a joke. Sufficiency does not suffice. And one wonders, concluding such adventures, about the quality of home sound systems used by those who feed the sound of great musicians through ordinary wire at the beginning of your (and their own) listening pleasure.
 
My Cabasse monitoring system has been set up to deliver a high degree of detail so that I can hear as far into the sound chain as possible. I use it as part of my mastering playback work. It is one of several systems I rely on to work with recordings, one of several used to review equipment, as well.
 
I've found few rules of the audiophile road that are one hundred per cent certain, but I am sure of this one. The proof of great cables is in the details. I have never encountered any interconnect that is utterly neutral, without tonal character. I doubt there is or will be such an entity. Therefore, I take REVELATION of detail and ACCURACY of musical representation to be a strong sign of virtue in interconnects. If the music being played through such wire is beautiful, (beautifully played, beautifully recorded) then the wire should deliver it beautifully and vividly.
 
That predilection on my part has lured me to admire Nordost Quatro-fils cables as well as Magnan cables. Very few interconnects that I have used combine rigorous analytical revelation with extraordinary musicality. The best Magnan and Nordost cables do that. Others approach this ideal. I have long been a fan of AudioQuest "Diamond" cables for that reason.
 
When the first two pairs of Acoustic Zen cables went into my system (displacing, for this listening, a pair of Magnan and a pair of Harmonic Tech cables), the soundstage both deepened and grew wider. It more fully resembled the actual physical location where the music that I recorded was captured live-to-two-tracks. Such recordings are in some sense fragile. When recordings are done well, they carry an explicit sense of the ambience in which music is created as musicians, in performance, dig deep into their inspired work.
 
A single pair of Acoustic Zen cables increased the Cabasse system's transparency. Two pairs created a sense of intimacy and musical "palpability" that riveted me to the listening chair. My experience at that moment was very much like being back at the club, in person, the night that "I Concentrate On You" was recorded with musicians less than twenty feet from my console -- using a twenty foot pair of "Diamond" mic cables, a thirty foot pair of Magnan, and a twenty-five foot pair of van den Hul cables.
 
Notes that I took on the occasion of my first extended listening to the Acoustic Zen cables capture observations otherwise lost. The first concrete result of hearing Zen's "zero crystal reference" cables was "added upper range clarity" and "deepened soundstage resolution." My scribbled notes point to "transient reverberation tails that linger eerily" and "quicker attack from vocal dynamics" as well as "solidity from the piano's percussive heft given added body and placement." The singer's "height and presence," the notes say, "take on greater resolution than before."
 
There was more "there" to be heard and felt with the Acoustic Zen wire. I was struck by the liquid ease of Jackie Ryan's voice. The Zen cables seemed to cradle and adore middle registers, the rich harmonic core of musical feeling. When the midrange is right, everything else stands more solidly in musical perspective. The Zen wire seems to love the broad middle register of this singer's magnificent expressive voice.
 
As a reality check, I went back to the original configuration of cabling in order to verify my notes. My initial experience with the Zen wire left me somewhat perplexed or, at any rate, disbelieving. I was perplexed because such a stunning difference, next to the marvelous Magnan cables, was wholly unexpected. I was disbelieving, in part, because ancillary differences -- the air's humidity and one's own mood or alertness, as immediate examples -- play a significant role in critical listening. I wanted to be sure that such a graphic sonic change had truly emerged from the simple act of swapping two pairs of very good (and steadfast, time-tested) cables for the Zen cables.
 
"The bottom line is this. While Acoustic Zen's pure silver cable has an almost magical ability to reproduce the smallest (most evanescent) sonic details I've ever heard, I'm not certain which of these two remarkable interconnects I prefer. Each is relaxed and deeply revealing. They are both musically seductive."
 
The bottom line on the difference became clear with ongoing listening. With the Acoustic Zen wire in the chain, the emotional connection between the ear and consciousness became more intimate. I do not want to dwell here with the emotional impact of the Zen cables. Nonetheless, the seductive aspect of these cables is very real. It does not occur at the expense of sonic accuracy.
 
The surprise I first encountered on hearing an extremely familiar piece of music rendered more life-like in precise ways that recreate the truth and feeling of the original performance -- the event's musical textures and energy unfolding with relaxed sonic ease from the master tape that holds it -- was, for me, unexpected.
 
No doubt, surprise (by definition) is always unexpected. In this instance, the experience was joltingly unexpected because the cables that routinely link this (and every other) sound system that I use for mastering and post-mastering comparison are, in fact, the best cables that I have ever been able to locate. Perhaps I value interconnects, cables, analog and digital wire, and all of the network paraphernalia that an audio engineer must rely on simply because … I am an audio engineer. Without cable, no sound. Without good cable, bad sound.
 
Therefore, my devotion remains steadfast in pursuit of the mysteries of cable and cable design. Let me itemize. I followed my initial scrutiny of the Acoustic Zen cables by replacing every interconnect in my Cabasse-system with either one-meter or one-point-five meter runs of "Silver Reference" and/or "Matrix Reference." My trusted Magnan Vi cables came out. Nordost Quatro-fils cables came out, also. Zip, as well, to Robert Lee's previous cables from Harmonic Tech.
 
The entire network of wire, including the digital cable to the Birdland "Odeon Lite" 24-bit DAC, was now comprised of Zen wire. One by one, as Lee's cables went in, the sound of the master tape through the system, via a Tascam 24-bit recording unit, grew more accurately complex -- true to the mic-feeds that hit the tape from the on-site mix.
 
I have enormous respect for a few privileged cables. Over many years of use, in truth, I have felt "privileged" by their sonic integrity. In my estimation, Magnan Vi cables carry a nearly unrivaled sonic coherence. Dave Magnan's "Signature" cables are (also) unique, eccentric, and superb. Both of them represent genuine gold standards for any cable designer. Their ability to discriminate frequency intervals among instrumental voicings -- and within the complex structure of the piano, as well -- is unusual by any measure.
 
Nordost Quatro-fils cables deliver excellent spectral extension. For the past two years, I have regarded the Quatro-fils as part of my working equipment in the field and back in the studio. To the Nordost and Magnan cables, I'll add one more, less recognized (in truth under-recognized): van den Hul's "Thunderline," along with their carbon-filament "Second," cables are truly magnificent (if, also, eccentric) cables that have no easy comparison.
 
Alongside these top-end manufacturers of sonic nirvana, Acoustic Zen Technologies, Ltd. has now pitched its tent. When Robert Lee called to inform me of his ongoing research, and his new cable designs, I was interested because his record over many years is impeccable. I was not prepared for the simplicity and elegance of musical reproduction that his new work has wrought. I can honestly say that, in the months that I have listened to his pure "zero crystal" silver and (silver- copper) matrix cables, my relation to recording and mastering equipment has taken on a new dimension.
 
I hear more of what I've recorded.
 
I trust Acoustic Zen's cables. They have all the sonic fundamentals right: accurate tonality, spectral extension, dynamic range, coherence within (among) sonic registers, textural delicacy, ambient openness, and that hard to define quality that I'll call musical pace. The proof for me is in the recording of music. I now regard Acoustic Zen's cables as an unimpeachable standard for my own recording work. If these wires were priced at the top, among the most expensive interconnects, I would not be at all surprised. They are not. How often, in the world of audiophile ecstasy, do we find bargains? Seldom. Here you have one. Acoustic Zen cables are priced lower than most high-end interconnects. Of the small group that I deem extraordinary, they are by far the least expensive. Acoustic Zen cables are the real deal at a modest, no nonsense price.
 
Conclusion
 
Nothing will dissuade me from my longstanding ambivalence about cables. They are, for me, necessary evils. I cannot live without them … in large numbers. Thus the need for a negotiated settlement with some. These cables make such negotiations easier.
 
The bottom line is this. While Acoustic Zen's pure silver cable has an almost magical ability to reproduce the smallest (most evanescent) sonic details I've ever heard, I'm not certain which of these two remarkable interconnects I prefer. Each is relaxed and deeply revealing. They are both musically seductive.
 
An Interview With Acoustic Zen's Robert Lee
Interview by Jim Merod
I received several messages from Robert Lee, the legendary cable-design guru at Acoustic Zen, politely but urgently requesting me to audition his proprietary cable-testing loudspeaker system - the Acoustic Zen Monitor Reference One.

Since I had, on one occasion, heard these solidly-built and attractive (polished rosewood) monitors, I did not comprehend the invitation's special energy. After some delay, a result of workload overload and uncertainty about the exercise, I acquiesced and Lee showed off his newly refurbished monitors for me in his private listening quarters, a comfortable living-work space where he spends countless hours listening to the results of ongoing experiments with wire and cable configurations. 

I was impressed, as I had been before, by the tonal purity of Robert Lee's audio set up. Lee uses his own amplifier, the Zen Hologram, a 100 watt per channel, point-to-point wired mini-behemoth that excels in soundstaging accuracy and tonal purity, to drive the Monitor One speakers. He also uses his own pre-amplifier, the Zen Hologram Companion. But the point of the exercise when we got together was to hear the Monitor Ones and talk about revisions that Lee has made to his well-regarded line of Acoustic Zen cables.

Enjoy the Music.com: Your monitor speakers are revealing without analytical harshness or reinforcement of artifacts that sometimes plague extremely revealing speakers. 

Lee: I chose materials that are musical and I made the two-way design so it let's me hear what my cable work really is doing!

Enjoy the Music.com: The monitors, then, are useful tools as well as good sounding musical instruments. 

Lee: (Laughing) You are right ! I need to hear everything, the slightest detail, for example, all of a single note's overtones... [and] big instruments like trumpets plus small instrument sounds, a tambourine or African thumb piano. But I want beautiful sound, too! I love music.

Enjoy the Music.com: Are you ready to manufacture these monitor speakers? 

Lee: Not yet. I'm not sure when, but they let me do my work in a way that I think is special. Maybe someday I will.

Enjoy the Music.com: Say something about that 'work'? 

Lee: When I started Acoustic Zen I decided to make cables that are personal for each system, custom-made for any audio system....

Enjoy the Music.com:  Customized? 

Lee: Right... interconnect cables and speaker cables that can be modified to bring out the best in any home theater or stereo set up. So that's what I'm doing.

Enjoy the Music.com: And your point is? 

Lee: The Monitor One reference speakers are totally neutral and any change I make in a cable can be heard immediately. Right now! It is not difficult to hear a small change in the cable so that I can custom-make or, how do you say this, tweak a customer's cable so it gives the best sound for that system. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Do many customers request the tweaking you offer? 

Lee: Not as many as I thought, but that is changing as people learn how great sound can be when I do custom work on their Acoustic Zen cables. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Have you learned anything recently, doing these customized tweaks, that adds to your knowledge about audio-video cables and cable design? 

Lee: I learn every day. I really do, because this work is very important to me. I have worked with big companies and now 

I have my own happy cable company. So I work long hours. 

Enjoy the Music.com: What have you learned recently? 

Lee: (laughing) I won't give you any secrets. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Go ahead. 

Lee: No secrets, but I will tell you something. When I started Acoustic Zen I had many [design] ideas that I wanted to use. With every one of them I have learned how to push it further toward open, beautiful musical sound that I feel people want - that people who really love music want to hear! 

Enjoy the Music.com: Say a little more about that. 

Lee: My 'reference two' series of interconnects and power cords and speakers cables hold my secrets inside them. Right there in changes I've made, one at a time, everything I've learned. I must tell you that half of what you learn working with wire is technical and not so interesting, really. But half is trial-and-error. That's where I have fun. You listen and listen some more. There is no end to the listening and learning. I drive my wife Emily crazy because I listen so much and work too hard to make my best [possible] cables. All the time. I never stop. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Is it worth it? 

Lee: Well, I think so. It's not about money or anything like that because, for me, it's about the art of sound, getting that as right as I can. [Cable-making] is an art, you know? Art more than science. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Are you satisfied with your new 'reference two' line of cables? I mean, satisfied in some genuine artistic sense? 

Lee: Yes. I'm more pleased by these cables than anything I've ever done. People who listen very close and hard, they tell me I am right to be pleased. 

Enjoy the Music.com: You won't share a few of the tricks or secrets that have made these cables your best ever? 

Lee: No, but I will let you listen to them and hear for yourself. 

Enjoy the Music.com: You mentioned on the phone that the 'reference two' cables worked together as a system. What did you mean? 

Lee: First, each cable -- digital and speaker and interconnect -- can be made exactly right for each sound system. They all can be made just about perfect for a person's audio system. Maybe that's a surprise to you, but I promise they can be made to work together and then they are a musical component in that system. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Some people just want to buy cables and plug them into a home set up. Bang, done. No fuss. No delay. 

Lee: Right. I know. That's why I try so hard to make all of my cables musical in the first place. Music comes first! 

Enjoy the Music.com: But? 

Lee: The person who has a good A/V system or maybe a great sound system can let me know what they think can be better. I tell them, please listen to my cables in your system. Take notes. Tell me what you hear. Then I work with them to do that. We make their sound better. Much better. You see, Acoustic Zen cables are made with the very best pure silver and copper -- long-grain 'single' crystals that are very, very transparent [delivering sound]. The long crystal structure is really like having no crystal at all. Zero crystal. The wire we use does not hamper my work to deliver fast, clear, accurate musical bundles. In fact, it helps me. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Bundles... an interesting term.

Lee: So I do tweaks (laughs) after I create the most perfect cable design I know how to make. Custom work just makes everything better after that. More real, more alive, more like live music. 

Enjoy the Music.com: And, I take it, your 'system' approach means that music is kept somehow 'whole' or 'integrated' across its full run through your cables. Is that it? 

Lee: Yes, but more than that. I know how to make adjustments to each cable. Loudspeaker cable [for example] is different than digital cable. So when someone has a whole Acoustic Zen 'Reference Two' cable system, they have cables that work like music in a sound system. They can all be 'tweaked' (laughs) to get everything out of the audio system... and that person has great music and not just big sound or something dramatic but not really like music, not beautiful or refined!

Enjoy the Music.com: You've made some fairly 'refined' points there, I think. What do you mean by 'dramatic' sound? 

Lee: It's like a cartoon. You hear audio systems that are powerful and also expensive, but they sound like a circus. The sound is not real. It's not like live music at a concert or even in a studio. It's too big and not real at all, like a punch in your head or maybe in your ear (laughs). Too much of one sonic part, you know, and no sonic balance. Then you get cartoon sound. Big but [it's] not real. 

Enjoy the Music.com: You mean by 'part' something like a small but distinct portion of the audio spectrum? 

Lee: Yes. All parts of sound must be present; the whole of what we can hear from the low lows to the highest highs. That is how music presents itself in the concert hall. Right? 

Enjoy the Music.com: So let me recap all this. You're saying that your cable design philosophy intends to create 'balanced sound' that, at the same time, is extended to the upper octaves and to the bottom octaves, and this allows for a subtle, coherent, and not overly dynamic musical soundstage. Do I have that right? 

Lee: That's close. I am trying to tell you something hard to talk about. I believe that musical sound is delicate... very delicate. Most people do not seem to hear that any more. But it is a fact. Go to a concert in a good auditorium. Even if music is powerful or loud, what you hear in the concert hall with big symphony orchestras or jazz groups, it floats. Is that the right word, 'floats'?

Enjoy the Music.com: Perhaps. Go on, please.

Lee: The beauty of great music is in small details, the way sound floats. The harmonic details. 

Enjoy the Music.com: And these sonic details and musical subtleties are what your work seeks to reproduce in each of your cable designs as a collection of cables, a 'system' of cables, 

as it were. Is that it ? 

Lee: Right. 

Enjoy the Music.com: What do you think about the people who say that 'wire is wire' and [that] all cables are the same or, at least, make no real difference in the way you hear music reproduced? 

Lee: Maybe there are a lot of deaf people who still like music (laughs). 

Enjoy the Music.com: This is an old and, no doubt, boring topic. 

Lee: Yes, and the only thing I can say is that the other good cable makers out there know. Just like you and people with great ears... They know that sound is a very complex thing that will always surprise you the more you work with it. 

Enjoy the Music.com: The 'surprise' is how great the differences are between one cable and another? 

 
Lee: Well, I guess so, but I meant that sound and music is the most complex kind of information that humans regularly deal with. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Don't stop there, please. 

Lee: Well, what can I say more (laughs). 

Enjoy the Music.com: Why is music and sound so complex? 

 
Lee: That's difficult to answer. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Try, okay? 

Lee: I was a musician when I was younger, a violinist. If  you do not play an instrument, you do not know how many things you have to think about all at once if you are going to be a good musician ! You have to think about how you hold your instrument and fingering and tone and, most of all, how you want each note to sound... the feeling of the note, the feeling of the instrument and your body, too. Everything about music is about feeling. It is not just technical, what notes to play, but emotion. And that is what you hear in the music. Feeling. And feeling is complex. 

Enjoy the Music.com: Go on.

Lee: Well, music comes from everywhere... it is inside composers and musicians and listeners. It is inside the [musical] instruments, too, and inside microphones and cables and equipment that all record it... inside the equipment that reproduces it, also!

Enjoy the Music.com: This is a novel way of looking at music. 

 
Lee: It's true, I think, because music is not just amazing because it is beautiful. It is beautiful because it is an amazing collection of sounds that are weird or wild and going in different [sonic] directions at once (laughs).

Enjoy the Music.com: This is the complexity you meant a moment ago, then? 

Lee: Sure, but there's a lot more to say. I just don't know how to say it all. 

Enjoy the Music.com: I admired your cables years before you started up your present company at Acoustic Zen. You seem to be a cable designer who is sensitive to the delicate nuances of music that reside within, or alongside, the dynamic and percussive 'slam' that also defines truthful, 'live' musical experiences. 

Lee: I try to do that. Thank you. 

Enjoy the Music.com: You may not agree, but I'm always a bit startled at how distinct and unique each of the few genuinely great audio cables are from one another. Despite a more or less agreed upon goal [for cables], sonic neutrality, there is still a great deal of what you've called art involved in the reproduction of musical sound. And that cable 'art' creates enormous sonic and musical distinctions. 

Lee: I hope when you hear my 'reference two' cables you will like them better than what I did before. 

Enjoy the Music.com: I have a feeling that many of the things that you know about the creation of cables is difficult if not impossible to teach an apprentice. How do you preserve and pass on what you've learned over your long career? 

Lee: Maybe that is what art is all about something that cannot be taught to another person but only found from a single point of view. 

Enjoy the Music.com: So you see your sonic point of view as unique and individual? 

Lee: I guess so, but part of this art, maybe, is learning what makes music inside cables, speakers, and different sound systems and even inside of strange rooms and spaces. So the 'Robert Lee approach' is only one point of view. For me, and this is only me, okay... I have a responsibility to know all points of view that make beautiful music because music makes us feel happy to be alive (laughs).

Enjoy the Music.com: That might sum it all up. Thank you, Robert, for taking time to talk today. 

Lee: I always like to talk about cable-design work. (It is) about making music. I am Buddhist so I think the universe is all about music (laughs). I really do. It is music top to bottom. Without any end or limit. So I guess I feel a little bit like a musician in what I do (laughs). It is probably what I was always supposed to do with my life. I try the best I can. I hope it makes someone happy. 

Robert Lee’s magic touch is still at work: unimaginable and inspiring.
Jim Merod

REVIEW SUMMARY: One can afford to have two or three of these digital cables because they are priced well below their true value. They are a genuine (massive) bargain among high-end audio gear. In the near future, I am going to throw more challenges at Robert Lee’s "MC-Squared" cable.

I have the sense that I have not yet gotten to the bottom of this remarkable digital cable’s full musical truth. I think that’s the case because, when I put an "MC-Squared" cable in the mastering or auditioning sound chain, a seductive, arresting, essentially emotional but (also) vividly detailed experience of "being there with the music" sweeps my monitoring room up into it. This is a strange thing to say about a mere cable -- a digital cable, at that. But the illusion one gets when the "MC-Squared" wire goes into the musical equation is that something undefinable and wholly glorious happens to the world around you. It is as if your listening room is transported to another place: to the place where the music you are hearing was made.

I am slightly uncomfortable saying such things as this because someone may think I have been sniffing glue. Perhaps the after dinner apple pie was baked with hallucinogenic raisins. None of those. Only music that I’ve recorded, a superior playback system, and Acoustic Zen’s very welcome addition to the sound of REAL music: live music in REAL SPACE . . . the space where I recorded the music long ago or, more memorable yet, last week. This illusion of being taken back to places where I recorded (and, live, first heard) such great music is spooky but awesome and wholly gratifying as well. With the "MC-Squared" digital cable, Robert Lee’s magic touch is still at work: unimaginable and inspiring.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Recently I was given an assignment by a remarkable and gifted musician who wanted me to transfer out of print LPs of his music to compact disc. The exercise is not particularly onerous. It does, however, demand a certain degree of care in preserving as far as possible those hard-to-define but wholly discernible "analog quality" that superior vinyl recordings deliver. I was, in short, asked to minimize any pops and hisses that the vinyl grooves may hold while, in the other sonic direction, maximizing analog "warmth" and musical fluidity.

I like such assignments. One can merely "transfer" the LPs to discs and let it go at that. Alternatively, one can set up a sonic transfer chain that, on one pass or several, minimizes vinyl grunge while preserving vinyl beauty. For this particular assignment – two full LPs transferred (if possible) to one compact disc – I chose an initial sound path that led from a Linn LP-12 table, using a Grado "Sonata" cartridge. I employed Acoustic Zen’s "Silver Reference" interconnects direct to a Crane Song 24-bit HEDD {Harmonically Enhanced Digital Device}, whereupon the analog flow was converted to digital chunks and sent to a Marantz CDR 615 for burning music onto plastic.

The Acoustic Zen "MC-Squared" digital cable was the purveyor of final musical delivery. Without a hitch, all went as I imagined it would. I used the initial digital transfer to scope out how pops, hisses and other vinyl irritations could be eq’d into oblivion or, at least, increased silence.

On the second transfer to create gentle upper end sonic shaping, I used one Acoustic Zen "MC-Squared" cable between my modified McCormack digital transport and a Z-Systems rdp-1 (Glenn Zelniker’s magic machine that stormed our digital world to great effect not too long ago). I used a second "MC-Squared" cable between the rdp-1 and the Marantz CD duplicator.

I have already discussed my admiration for the rdp-1. Suffice it to say that this little monster box sits up and sings if you give it a chance to do its work. If you compare the rdp-1 to a Manley "Massive Passive" box, you will find how utterly different the worlds of eq calibration and adjustment can be. While the rdp-1 is unobtrusive in every sense of the term, the Manley imparts a gorgeous (undistracting) golden hue to sound that passes through its circuitry. Or, at least, the Manley’s tube circuitry allows such golden sonic warmth to appear on your eq’s masters. Note: this warm signature is not an intrusion. It is very much like the view of an Italian piazza near sunset -- a subtle golden light that caresses the scene with understated but dramatic illumination.

Z-Systems’s rdp-1 demurs. It refuses to add golden light or any light at all except the glow, sheen or shimmer of what a sonic signal delivers upon entry. You can alter the sound spectrum of any recording by a deft use of the rdp-1, but you’ll never find that you’ve enhanced or altered it with chiaroscuro light.

I love both machines. They are made for different sonic purposes. For the task of transferring an already beautiful (tube-based) vinyl recording, the rdp-1 was the way to go. But there is a caveat that structures your use of the rdp-1. It will reveal, perfectly, any signal shaping inherent to the digital cable that sends it musical information. Choice of digital cable is extremely important, therefore.

After I had set up my second transfer, so that hisses and pops might be lessened, I was pleased. While all the vinyl grunge that one might ideally want to disappear was not eliminated, I heard (nonetheless) a vast improvement in the original LP sound. The rdp-1 did exactly what I asked it to do. Short of running the sound through a Cedar declicker, or some such state-of-the-art vinyl vacuum cleaner, the sound I heard coming from the rdp-1 was remarkable: warm, coherent, and precisely aligned musically with the original LP copies that stood behind its improved sonic reality.

"I am still a fan of Nordost’s cable work. They have set a certain standard for musicality over the last few years. I have a difficult time dismissing these fine wires merely because I find here, with the "MC-Squared," a digital cable that is more musical."

After the transfers were complete -- as an exercise in sonic "what if?" -- I decided to swap the "MC-Squared" input cable. I tried eight different digital cables: Nordost "Moonglow," Kimber "KCAG," XLO, Wire World, Harmonic Tech, Apogee, and Wonder Link. In each case, the music shifted its basic sonic frame. With the XLO, the soundstage narrowed. With the Moonglow, a greater heft in the lower mid-band was added and a slight thinning in the upper sonic region appeared. The Wonder Link came close to equaling the "MC-Squared," but it was slightly veiled by comparison, a very subtle difference, in fact, since the tonal and dynamic values of the Wonder Link are similar to the Acoustic Zen cable. Neither the Harmonic Tech [Robert Lee’s earlier digital design] nor the Apogee cables (the Apogee is a remarkable value, by any standard) came close to the sonic glory of the "MC-Squared" wire.

Just for added information and sustained inspection, I made a test disc using each different digital cable with the same piece of music. I wanted to have more than a momentary audition of these cables. The disc let me hear, repeatedly, what I heard immediately as I switched and swapped digital cables.

I am still a fan of Nordost’s cable work. They have set a certain standard for musicality over the last few years. I have a difficult time dismissing these fine wires merely because I find here, with the "MC-Squared," a digital cable that is more musical. The Acoustic Zen wire, in ways that are very clear to discern, goes beyond not only the excellent Nordost wire but beyond other high-end digital cables, as well. The distinctions that I hear (directly and via the comparison test disc) among these nine digital cables are not all that subtle. One hears significantly greater soundstage height, depth and width with the "MC-Squared." One also hears more inner detail, especially the subtle decay of long transient edges as they decrease and the wispy evaporation of ambient decay reverberations. One hears a much greater sense of the acoustic space where live music has been recorded when the Acoustic Zen cable goes into the sound chain. Since my work is to record live "in performance" music, such information is extremely important to me.

A word here about analog to digital conversion. As a test of the resolution that is possible with 24-bit digital masters, I transferred a recent master tape that arrived for final mastering work. The chain began with a Tascam 45-HR that fed the master to the HEDD 24-bit A/D & D/A. That was then sent to the Marantz. In doing this, I employed two sonic "routes." First, I transferred the 24-bit information via the TASCAM’s internal D/A. Second, I transferred the same information directly from the balanced digital "out" of the Tascam … both transfers going through the HEDD.

With the first route, using the TASCAM’s internal D/A, the HEDD converted the analog signal back to a digital feed. Of course, the HEDD’s circuitry is not perfectly inaudible, even if there is only a very (very) slight veiling that appears when this (more circuitous) route is used. In the second iteration, the HEDD stood as a silent "pass through" for an all-digital signal. Its circuitry again added more sonic hurdles to achieve the end result. But, again, the HEDD demonstrated its clean, clear, undamaging signal delivery. I am, in one word, impressed. This Crane Song A/D and D/A box is special.

The point of this twin exercise was to hear how the TASCAM’s A/D and the Crane Song’s D/A (and A/D) conversions "shape" a musical signal. A subsidiary point was the chance these exercises offered to hear differences among digital cables: to discover sonic degradations or changes exacerbated in the process of less-than-ideal signal transfers.

This double transfer of identical musical information allowed a close "look" into the ways that individual digital cables alter, or impose their sonic signatures upon, transferred musical material. A few years back, I ran a lengthy, somewhat difficult and cumbersome series of comparative cable tests (in that instance, microphone cables) for a top-end cable manufacturer. Differences then, as now, were uniquely revealing of each wire’s way of delivering – and tailoring -- low level musical sound.

I am sure that such laborious, somewhat addle-brained exercises with cables are the work of a kid who never grew up. Beyond the enjoyment of affirming less than systematic impressions of equipment (such as the wonderful Crane Song HEDD), these exercises reveal how additive and indisputable are the imposition of individual cable identities. The bottom line is this: when supplemental cable lengths are included in the (intentionally oblique) transfer of music from original master to copy, the innate sonic signature of each cable is magnified.

The end result of this daylong fiddling with cables confirmed previous auditions. Nordost wire is still (of course) a very good wire. One’s work or listening is not at much loss when it sits in the signal path. The Wonder Link digital cable, not so easy to find, it seems, is a remarkable digital cable that deserves the praise it has received. But the new Acoustic Zen "MC-Squared" digital cable achieves a level of performance -- enormous soundstage replication; musical beauty by the bushel loads; timbral accuracy and unequaled dynamic heft and slam – that makes it stand out among a strong group of top-end digital cables. The very best digital cables get out of the way and let music emerge on its own terms. The "MC-Squared" cable does that in spades but with a ne plus ultra quality of indescribable rightness and exquisite aural intimacy . . . at a dirt-cheap price point.

One can afford to have two or three of these digital cables because they are priced well below their true value. They are a genuine (massive) bargain among high-end audio gear. In the near future, I am going to throw more challenges at Robert Lee’s "MC-Squared" cable.

I have the sense that I have not yet gotten to the bottom of this remarkable digital cable’s full musical truth. I think that’s the case because, when I put an "MC-Squared" cable in the mastering or auditioning sound chain, a seductive, arresting, essentially emotional but (also) vividly detailed experience of "being there with the music" sweeps my monitoring room up into it. This is a strange thing to say about a mere cable -- a digital cable, at that. But the illusion one gets when the "MC-Squared" wire goes into the musical equation is that something undefinable and wholly glorious happens to the world around you. It is as if your listening room is transported to another place: to the place where the music you are hearing was made.

I am slightly uncomfortable saying such things as this because someone may think I have been sniffing glue. Perhaps the after dinner apple pie was baked with hallucinogenic raisins. None of those. Only music that I’ve recorded, a superior playback system, and Acoustic Zen’s very welcome addition to the sound of REAL music: live music in REAL SPACE . . . the space where I recorded the music long ago or, more memorable yet, last week. This illusion of being taken back to places where I recorded (and, live, first heard) such great music is spooky but awesome and wholly gratifying as well. With the "MC-Squared" digital cable, Robert Lee’s magic touch is still at work: unimaginable and inspiring.

Should the Acoustic Zen Crescendo MkII be your last speaker?
Robert Lee (Acoustic Zen Designer / CEO)

Look at some of the accolades we’ve received in the audio press.

“…the Best System at a Real World Price, was provided by the noble Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen. His voluptuous Crescendo Mark II speakers ($18,000 per pair) simply disappeared, leaving an invisible vocalist in the room to caress the ears with velvet pleasure.” Jim Saxon, The Audio Beat, February, 2014, CES “Jimmy Awards”

“The Crescendo is eminently musical and supremely well-integrated from top to bottom and is currently my favorite box speaker under $30k. Make no mistake about it: The Crescendo is a fantasticvalue at its asking price. An enthusiastic five-star recommendation!” Dick Olsher, The Absolute Sound, January, 2013

 “…The sound was exceedingly warm and inviting… when music was played at optimal levels, the sound was lovely.” Jason Victor Serinus, Stereophile, T.H.E. Show Newport 2012

 “…The sound was simply spellbinding. I can't recall hearing imaging this good on any system using conventional speakers for less than $100,000” Sound Stage, CES 2012 Report

The world of high-end loudspeakers can be a maddening and sometimes rocky place to traverse. Many audiophiles continuously search for a speaker that will satisfy their needs only to continuously discover that over time, a speaker may become fatiguing, uninteresting, or simply intolerable to listen to. Unfortunately, this can also come with a heavy price tag, even up to the six figure range. So, what if you could find a loudspeaker that actually fulfilled the high-end promise of smooth, full range frequency response, time and phase alignment that creates superb images in space, with vanishingly low distortion and gorgeous finishes all at a price that is within the reach of most music lovers? That loudspeaker is here today!

The Acoustic Zen Crescendo has been received at shows around the country, on dealer floors, and in our customers’ homes by audiophiles, reviewers and pundits with incredible acclaim. In its new MkII version, those accolades are even greater. But, how do we get such exceptional sound quality in the first place? The answer is in a design that utilizes solid technologies and techniques that serve the musical waveform first and foremost. Let’s face it, there are lots of high quality loudspeaker designs in the high-end, so what exactly makes the Crescendo different from the rest of that packed landscape? 

First and foremost, the Crescendo was designed for music and with real, live music as the reference. The reality is that most audiophiles and music lovers spend time with their systems listening to music, not thunderstorms or train whistles. Musical signals are highly complex and reproducing them effectively is not necessarily as easy as it may seem. But, with properly utilized technology, design principals and exhaustive testing it is possible to create a transducer that is faithful to the musical signal. The Crescendo accomplishes full range response along with low distortion, dynamic impact, coherence, efficiency, and realistic imaging.

The drivers utilized in a quality speaker design are its heart and most important component. To ensure a solid foundation we have consistently utilized “under-hung” driver technology in our designs. The principal of the under-hung driver is that the voice-coil is narrower than most conventional drivers’ voice-coil and essentially never leaves the magnetic gap of the motor assembly. Basically, the voice-coil is shorter than the magnet’s gap or “under-hung”. The vast majority of speakers utilize the opposite or “over-hung” drivers where the voice coil easily travels beyond the magnetic gap of the magnet assembly because it is longer than the magnet’s actual gap. Think about when you were back in junior-high science; remember playing with magnets? Specifically, the demonstration where you took a bar magnet and placed it under a sheet of white paper and sprinkled some iron filings on top of the paper. When the filings were in close proximity to the magnet, they were more orderly and you could make out the magnetic lines of flux and the further away from the magnet the iron filings were the more disorderly they became. The principal of an under-hung driver is much the same. Since the driver’s coil is always inside of the magnetic gap of the speaker’s motor assembly, it’s under the influence of the magnet across its entire range and it’s response has less distortion, kind of like the bar magnet experiment. With over-hung drivers, the coil travels beyond the magnetic gap and causes distortion in its movements, much like the iron filings that are too far away from the influence of a magnet. The advantage to the under-hung driver is vastly lower distortion since the coil is always under the influence of the magnetic gap and how it is influenced by the incoming signal voltage. That being the case, why don’t more manufacturers utilize under-hung driver technology to achieve lower distortion designs? Well, there are a couple of reasons; one is expense and the other is that over-hung drivers are easier to work with. Essentially, with a conventional, over-hung driver the tolerances and materials do not have to be as rigid and any anomalies in the response and distortion properties can usually be ameliorated with crossover tweaks and cabinet construction techniques. With under-hung drivers, the expense is greater and the need for very careful matching of components and materials is critical, but the outcome more than compensates for the diligence required in their use. That’s why the Crescendo’s mid-bass and bass drivers are all under-hung designs to gain the lowest possible levels of distortion and pass the benefits to the listener. And, in the new MkII, our drivers now feature larger magnet assemblies and we’ve improved the coil to gap ratios due to improved manufacturing capabilities enabling even lower distortion and consequently, greater fidelity!

As you look at the front of the Crescendo, you will see that the upper drivers are in a “D’Appolito MTM” configuration. This allows the best possible recreation of the original waveform and eliminates the “lobing” effect common with other configurations. The advantage to this is that the audio signal will reach the listener in proper phase and time relationships with no smearing due to the signal interactions inherent in conventional designs.

Traditional driver placement vs. MTM design

Two five inch mid/bass drivers that employ a unique magnesium alloy impregnated paper cone material flank a horn loaded ribbon tweeter specifically designed and manufactured for the Crescendo. This MTM array asures smooth frequency response with proper phase and time relationships intact and the ribbon tweeter is implemented to provide extended, open, and non-fatiguing response. An aluminum ribbon covers 95% of the vibrating area of the tweeter membrane. This unique feature provides a purely resistive impedance which means a friendly load for the amplifier and simplifies crossover design.  The vibrating element is almost completely weightless compared to traditional dome type tweeters. This affords immediate and precise high-end response to transients in the musical signal and reveals the dynamics of instruments with high frequency specrtral content like no other. It has an essentially linear phase response which provides time coherent reproduction resulting in accurate frequency  response, rhythmic drive and outstanding imaging capability. Our tweeter is quick, without distortion  and without ringing. Many modern “audiophile” speakers seem to have tilted up or bright treble response which lends a bit of excitement to the sound, but long term causes listener fatigue and dissatisfaction with the overall tonal balance of the speaker. The Crescendo’s mid to high end response is natural, non-fatiguing and remains faithful to the source. 

To convey deep bass with resolution and authority, dual eight inch, ceramic coated, underhung drivers are transmission line loaded to extend response to a true 20 Hz. Low frequency driver “loading” is the engineering process that allows the driver to vibrate freely and at the same time not be adversely affected by nor affect the other parts of the design. There are three basic ways to load a low frequency driver; ported (or vented), acoustic suspension and transmission line. Ported designs are ubiquitous because they are easier and cheaper to design, but usually have high roll-off characteristics - 24dB/octave or more - and don’t lower the resonant frequency optimally, consequently creating a very sharp drop in response. Many also have a problem with “doppler” distortion (remember your junior high physics; a car or train moving toward you or away from you causes the sound you hear to change in relation to distance as the sound waves are constricted or extended between your ear and the object in motion…), which is actually a product of phase and intermodualtion distortion caused by a speaker cone not moving uniformly. This is usually caused by the voice coil traveling beyond the magnetic gap in the motor assembly. An accoustic suspension design better controls the frequency roll-off, but can have issues with the build up of pressure behind the driver restricting its motion and causing distortion as the back wave of pressure builds up and directly acys on the woofer come surface from behind. Both ported and acoustic suspension designs also can suffer from sound bouncing off of inner cabinet surfaces and re-radiating back through the woofer cone, smearing the sound.  A properly tuned and damped transmission line has a smoother roll off, around 6dB/octave, that will extend bass response and allows the back wave of the driver to be optimally controlled while giving the best loading of the driver and reducing distortion. This technique has the ability to extend bass response without making it “lumpy” or creating a “one-note” characteristic. The Crescendo’s exceptional bass response and vanishingly low distortion are due to its complex transmission line loading technique, along with underhung drivers, to not only give tuneful, taut and deep bass response, but bass response that is in phase at the listening position to complement the proper time and phase relationships inherit in the rest of the design. The musical outcome is startling and can be immediately discerned with fast, coherent and powerful bass that lays a musical foundation for the music. Have a look at the frequency response sweep to the left and you’ll see that the Cescendo’s effective response is extremely linear and coherent across the audio passband with less than 3db of deviation from frequency to frequency, even at the acoutical crossover point between the transmission line port and the other drivers. Transmission line loading is not the easiest to implement, but it eliminates the “chuffing” and potential phase anomolies of ported designs and the power inneficiencies of acoustic suspension style cabinets. While our bass loading design is more complicated and more costly than most, it affords the truest response to the music, and that makes the extra work to implement it worthwhile.

Proper phase relationships are vitally important to speaker performance and its ability to reproduce a uniform, and musically correct output. Think of this example; If you held a few marbles in your hand that were uniform in weight and size, and dropped them to the floor with the intent of them all hitting at once to produce a single “crack”, they would actually all hit at different times and effectively “smear” the sounds your ear perceives since the sounds from the marbles would be striking the floor at different times and all react in different ways in the environment. They would hit the floor “out of phase” with each other. Now, let’s take those same marbles and drop them so that they all hit the floor uniformly and in perfect unison. If that is achieved, you will hear one coherent sound. They are now, “in phase”. This is a very simplistic example, but the end results are what’s important to understand; multiple incoherent sounds that smear what you want to acheive, or one uniform sound. Now, all speakers have some level of deviation in phase as amplitude and frequency change. This also affects the speakers load presented to the amplifier, but the ideal is to get the waveform to launch “in phase” with the signal at the input terminals and to keep from “smearing” that signal. We invite you to do some investigation of competitive products phase response and amplitude curves to see the surprising differences in some designs (some of which are in the upper echelon of high-end speakers in terms of their acceptance and their price!) In the Crescendo, that musical waveform is always produced in phase with the electrical input to the speaker with very little deviation and with a very stable impedance. The result is an output that is true to the input signal and simply outperforms others in terms of sheer musicality, listenability, coherence and accuracy.

The Crescendo employs a crossover network that is so highly refined in controlling the balance of the drivers that it yields a nominal efficiency of 90dB SPL @ 1 meter. The overall design keeps the impedance of the speaker at a nominal 6 ohms with no drastic shifts in phase and an easy load for almost any quality amplifier across the audio spectrum. So, while it will certainly respond to and fully complement powerful solid state amplifiers, it will also respond just as well with lower powered vacuum tube designs or high quality integrated amps. This is accomplished while maintaining unparalleled phase and time alignment, smooth frequency response and the lowest possible levels of distortion from the ultra-linear, under-hung driver design. The importance of both proper phase response and smooth impedance cannot be stressed enough; either one, improperly handled, can be the downfall of many competing loudspeaker designs. The Crescendo, however endeavors to ensure that both are high priorities. Proper phase relationships throughout the design ensure that music reaches you intact, as a whole, as it was intended. An impedance that stays smooth and with no wild swings across the frequency spectrum means your amplifier doesn’t have to struggle to reproduce the full spectrum of sound that you expect. Couple these with the ultra low distortion and linearity of the Crescendo’s drivers and you have a transducer that transcends all of the science, all of the engineering and all of the technology that we’ve put into it. The Crescendo will respond to what it’s driven with and consistently provide a musical experience like none other. Smooth response across the entire musical spectrum. Bass fundamentals that are deep, truthful, taut, and underpin the music as they should. Dynamics, truth of timbre, and imaging that are real and uncolored with an overall sound that is true to the source and non-fatiguing. 

In its new MkII version, we have also made improvements to the cabinet and its bracing to lower resonances and overall distortion. As with all Acoustic Zen products, you’ll continue to see an unparalleled level of fit and finish and some of the most beautiful cabinet works in the industry. People marvel at the quality of finishes on the Crescendo with its real wood veneers and deep, multi-coat clear finish. The Crescendo will look as good in your home as it sounds and comes in a number of finish choices to complement your décor. We ensure that the Crescendo is as beautiful to behold as it is to listen to!

Crescendo Finishes

All of this comes at a price that you may not believe. Most would expect a loudspeker with this level of refinement and technology to cost well into the five figure range, well above twenty, thirty, even forty thousand dollars. Instead, the new Crescendo MkII gives all of this performance for only $18,000. Many music lovers and audiophiles have already discovered the tremedous value of the Crescendo and replaced competing designs with price tags well beyond its own price. Most comment that they have searched for years for a loudspeaker with the musical performance of the Crescendo only to be disappointed time after time. The Crescendo has become a “final purchase” for many listeners. You may ask how we’re able to sell this level of quality and execution at this kind of a price, especially in light of the competition in the audio world. Let’s just say that we believe in selling a great product that can improve people’s enjoyment of music and movies at a price that is honest and in line with that product’s intrinsic value, not in line with hype, cachet or marketing spin.    

Does all of this technology and engineering deliver the goods? Considering our own testing and the comments of numerous reviewers and discerning audiophiles, the answer to that is a resounding, “Yes, and then some!!!”. The Crescendo’s design goal of faithfully reproducing the musical event has been completely realized. Musical integrity is kept intact with less distortion and greater fidelity across the audio passband than with most competing designs. The Crescendo creates a magnificent image with weight, authority, dynamics, warmth and coherence. And, unlike most of the current full range, high-end loudspeaker designs on the market which command enormous prices, the Crescendo is rationally priced. Crescendo owners are commenting that the Crescendo is the loudspeaker that has ended their quest for the best in musical reproduction, even after spending thousands more over the years on competing designs. The Crescendo is the obvious choice for the music lover looking for the ultimate in performance and value and could very well be your last loudspeaker. There are few high end loudspeker designs today that consistently receive the reviews the the Crescendo does after real life listening experiences. When people visit our show displays or our dealers and beging to listen, you’ll notice that they sink into their chair and listen to music instead of a speaker. Most Crescendo customers continually exclaim that they have found what they have been seeking for years. The Crescendo is designed to convey music’s power, timbre, nuance, dynamics, tone and ability to reach into the heart and soul of a listener like no other. We invite you to listen for yourself and experience the difference.
............ Robert Lee (Acoustic Zen Designer / CEO)

It’s important message for serious music-lovers
Robert Lee(Acoustic Zen Designer / CEO)

SUMMERY: We feel that there is no competitor, regardless of price, that can match the engineering achievement of our loudspeakers while being as natural sounding and independent of the amplifier driving them as possible. If you are passionate about music, if you want to listen to life like sound and the true spirit of music that will touch your heart at home, then I invite you to listen again to our speakers with your favorite recordings. Life’s too short to listen to speakers that are sub-par! If you change this or that in your system – front end components, amplification, speakers – and you’re still not satisfied, here is way to save your time and money…..get a pair of Adagio, Crescendo or Maestro loudspeakers from Acoustic Zen and you will smile and say “ That’s It !!”

EXTENDED COMMENTORY: I want to personally thank you for visiting us during one of the audio shows that we regularly display at and I enthusiastically invite you to visit us or one of our dealers to listen again to our magnificent, transmission line Adagio, Crescendo, or Maestro loudspeaker systems.  The Crescendo has received an enthusiastic Five-Star recommendation from Dick Olsher of The Absolute Sound, and over the past 10 years our loudspeaker systems have consistently garnered “Best Sound” and “Best Room” awards at every show we attend. There is a reason for that and I’d like to share some of the inside story around why that is and how Acoustic Zen’s speakers differ from others.

Most of us know that a speaker system is the most difficult component to properly design and manufacture in the audio reproduction chain. At the same time, it’s one of the easiest to get into the market with because it’s not always terribly expensive; drop a couple of high quality drivers into a box and voila’… you’re in the audio business. As long as you get sound out of them, seems that people will buy them, even if they sound lousy! That’s why there are so many speaker manufacturers. The truth is, very few exist that make products that are, as I said previously, properly designed and engineered and truly sound like music. A great loudspeaker has to reproduce 10 octaves of complex frequencies simultaneously and at the same time preserve the phase relationships of all these multiple fundamental tones and their harmonics. It also has to interface with the room to yield a proper, and musical, tonal balance while producing an extremely wide dynamic range of sound without audible distortion. In reality, these are difficult properties to achieve and one of the reasons I believe music lovers and audiophiles are continually changing speaker systems and components, searching for that elusive “something” that will finally satisfy their ears and their heart.

Let’s start with some basics. Why do different musical instruments have different sounds, even though they can play the same fundamental note? Different instruments use different methods for producing sound; like the strings of a guitar or a violin, reeds in a clarinet or saxophone, or just columns of air like a flute, organ, or the human voice. Some produce sound when struck like the head of a drum or the bars on a vibraphone or even the strings that are struck by hammers in a piano. Ultimately, they all vibrate and cause the air around them to vibrate in sympathy to create sound. Different instruments have different size, material, and shape and because of the different physical properties of different instruments, each note played by those different instruments do not vibrate at only that single, fundamental frequency. They produce vibrations at many different frequencies, often called harmonics, partials, or overtones. The relative pitch and loudness of these overtones gives the note a characteristic sound we call the timbre of instrument. 

Have a look at this You Tube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRAXK4QKJ1Q …you can see how fundamental and harmonic frequencies and various pitch structures are very complicated and complex in their waveforms for the same note when played by different instruments. So, when we listen to music imagine how complex the total soundwave must be! I discuss instruments and music because all of the frequency, pitch, phase, time, and amplitude of music relate to how we reproduce such complex soundwaves from a loudspeaker system, and why so many speaker system sound so different from each other.

Now, in an audio system, the speaker is a reactive load and it presents that reactive load to your amplifier. Being reactive means that it has resistance, capacitance and inductance, and the combination of these factors creates the speaker’s impedance. When you’re listening to music, the output from your amplifier is a recreation of the input signal and it drives that signal to your speaker’s voice coils with current. 

Because a loudspeaker's impedance is reactive, the current flowing to it from your amplifier will lag or lead the signal voltage by what is known as a phase angle. If you look at the impedance and phase curves of a couple of very expensive loudspeakers reviewed in Stereophile magazine you can see that the speaker’s impedance varies anywhere from 3 to 15 ohms as well as creating a phase swing of +45 degrees to -45 degrees. This is fairly realistic for most high end speaker systems, but some will even exceed this. How do those variances in impedance and phase angle ultimately affect the sound quality the speaker produces?

OK, let’s get a little technical… In an audio system, your amplifier “sees” the load presented to it by the loudspeaker. Ohm’s law, which is the basic formula for almost all electrical circuit engineering, tells us that voltage (V) is equal to current (I) multiplied by the resistance (R) in the circuit, so V= I x R. In simplest terms, the voltage at the amplifier output is affected by the resistance of the load to create the varying current required by a musical signal that drives the voice coil of the speaker. In reality it’s a little more complicated than that because, as stated previously, the load of a loudspeaker is reactive and not purely resistive as Ohm’s law assumes. So, that reactive load with its inductive and capacitive properties, the basic theory and from Power equation formula: Pavg = Vrms X Irms cos φ.(P is power output of the Amp system),we look at the “power factor” of the circuit, represented by cos φ. As you can see the voltage and current in the circuit are now affected by a reactive load where φ, is the phase angle the reactive load creates and the “power factor” is a function of the cosine (cos) of that phase angle. That reactive load now becomes a part of the amplifier’s “power factor” calculation. The reactive load will cause the signal to vary from its original state in relation to the impedance and phase angle characteristics of the speaker (inductive positive swings or capacitive negative swings). This causes some of the amplifier’s output to be wasted as excess current that performs no work and it gets dissipated as heat in the voice coils and causes the amplifier to work harder, and become less stable. Change one thing in the equation, like the phase angle and it affects everything else; you can’t fight physics! (note: cos 0 degree= 1, cos 45 degree= 0.707, cos 90 degree= 0)

So, you can see that the power output from your amplifier will vary with changing phase angles and impedances that are caused by a reactive load. The worst case is that the amplifier sees ether pure inductance (phase angle +90 degrees) or pure capacitance (phase angle – 90 degrees). Under those conditions, the voltage and current output from the amp are 90 degree out of phase; the cosine of 90 degrees is zero and that means no power is delivered to the speaker when it’s needed. Fortunately, this doesn’t normally happen because there is always a level of pure resistance in the impedance as well that counteracts some of that phase shift. However, because highly complex frequency soundwaves change very fast (maybe 100 Hz at this moment and changing to 2 kHz within a µsecond) and amplifier output varies with different frequencies, the shifting phase angle will alter the original fundamental and harmonic frequency’s amplitude and distort it to another overtone or timbre.

Another way we could explain the effect of phase angles in a loudspeaker is with the example of speaker polarity. As you probably know, if the left and right speakers are “out of phase” (the +/- terminals on one reversed form the other, 180 degrees reversed) it will cause the sound pressure that your speakers create to be out of phase and cancel each other, resulting in little or no sound. All of the sound stage will collapse and disappear and the overall amplitude will be lowered (if you face speakers directly at each other and out of phase, they will cancel even more, almost to the point where you cannot hear them at all). Try it yourself at home as this is an easy way you can experiment with these principals. Vocals will shift out of center stage and both pitch (the fundamental frequency) and overtone (the harmonics) of the original sound will be totally altered or canceled. This is what happens when the signal is out of phase 180 degrees. How about 90 or 30 degrees out of phase? What will happen to the sound? Well if the right channel has a sound wave at 1 kHz working at an inductive phase of +45 degrees and left channel has a sound wave at 2 kHz working at a capacitive phase of -45 degrees in the same time domain (see the first graph), the two frequencies are now out of phase 90 degrees with one source speaker creating compression and the other source speaker creating rarefaction. Consequently, there will be a very noticeable increase or drop in level (amplitude) compared with original sound wave, and the combined waveform will not reproduce the original musical overtones or timbre correctly.  In other words, incorrect phase leads to lateral image shifts but also alters the original timbre of the instrument in the signal. Obviously, the greater the impedance and phase angle shifts that are present at the speaker, the greater the effect on the amplifier’s output and power factor, and the overall system’s ability to correctly reproduce the musical waveform. The recorded music that we listen to via our speaker systems is highly complex; thousands of frequencies and amplitudes continuously changing in terms of micro seconds. Phase inaccuracies will cause the original frequency amplitude to shift and will also cause intermodulation distortion. Remember the graphics in the You Tube video? Look at the spectrum of different instrument’s fundamental and harmonics samples. 

When the phase angle swings up and down, it will color the original sound timbre or overtones. It’s similar to a synthesiser where you can actually adjust the different fundamental and harmonic frequency’s amplitude as well as their phase that emulate instrumental or vocal waveforms. This is the reason all the myriad brands of speakers systems sound so different, even though most of them have similar +/- 3db sound pressure level (SPL) specifications. However, most of them have such wildly varying impedances and phase curves that it damages the accuracy of their actual output. I challenge you to go check the past 30 years or so of speaker measurements in Stereophile (or any other publication that does performance testing) and look the impedance and phase measurements. You will find almost none that have flat and smooth traces. With some of them the electrical phase swings as much as +/- 45 degrees, but almost all have some level of variance, and that is one of the major factors that makes them all sound very different.

Human ears are remarkably sensitive to vibrations in the air, especially in the 200 Hz to 4 kHz range and this is where most fundamentals and primary harmonics created by most instruments and the human voice occur. When we listen to an instrument played live, we hear it in what we call absolute phase or absolute polarity; there is 0 degrees of phase shift in the sound you hear. Recorded sound by its very nature cannot perfectly reproduce that live sound, but good recording engineers do everything possible to recreate sound and music as faithfully as possible. They strive to capture the fundamental and harmonic content of music in a way that when played back through a quality system, will recreate that musical event as faithfully as possible. If you are looking for true, lifelike sound from your audio system, and want to get the event recreated as faithfully as possible, it is critically important that your speaker system has smooth and flat SPL but must also have impedance and phase curves that are smooth and flat or they will cause distortion of the musical waveform as we have demonstrated! 

I’m not going to talk about the importance of how to properly design a cross-over, or how to choose drivers, or cabinet design but wanted to emphasize how impedance and phase problems cause all kinds of distortions. To learn more about the technology we put into our loudspeakers, please see the attached white paper about our Crescendo… and take note of the impedance and phase measurements!  

It is key to listen to the spirit and essence of music reproduced from a speaker system with the most life like source possible and that is usually realized with recordings of unamplified, acoustic instruments.  

If you look at the Acoustic Zen Crescendo (or Adagio) speaker measurements for impedance and phase, you’ll see they are almost flat at 0 degrees. It is our belief that Acoustic Zen has solved the engineering problems associated with reproducing this wide spectrum of musical information in the most life-like manner via a loudspeaker.

Our speakers do not bloat the bass or suffer from the one-note bass associated with ported enclosure designs. The bass is fast and accurate and only speaks when the performers did. The  midrange drivers and tweeter are time and phase aligned with each other and the woofers to present a coherent point source that produces real-world, life-like images. Our loudspeaker systems are voiced to sound like a live acoustic concert and don’t transform it into an in-your-face and over processed musical event created by the wizardry in a recording studio – although, our speakers reproduce the latter very well also! On natural acoustic recordings, the timber and harmonics of vocals, pianos, stringed instruments, guitar, brass, woodwinds, percussion, and countless other instruments all sound like the real thing; not flashy, just natural. That’s because our speakers are so neutral and have such low distortion, not to mention wide dispersion, that they faithfully recreate the musical waveform better than competing brands that are sometimes two or three times the price. This greatly reduces listening fatigue and increases listener smiles! Plus, our speakers also present a benign load to power amplifiers so that both tube and solid-state amplifiers sound their best.

Years ago when I was manufacturing high-end audio amplifiers and cables, I owned some of the best loudspeakers the world had to offer at the time: and all of them sounded different and may great at part of spectrum but still missed the soul and spirit of music compared with any of the live concerts I attended. I know there have important mystery need to discover. This is why I decided to design and build my own loudspeakers that would actually perform as I expected. 

Of course it was very difficult to solve the myriad number of engineering problems inherent in creating a neutral and musical transducer. It took me more than 15-years of research and experimentation to achieve a speaker that I thought did justice to the ideal of recreating a live musical event. The Crescendo in particular is the result of those many years of development and it meets all of my design criteria: natural, musical sound with a very flat and smooth frequency response, exceptional phase accuracy, plus an almost purely resistive load to the amplifier (like those used on the measurement bench). The near perfect frequency response and life-like sound of the speaker would be lost if it presented a reactive load (non-zero phase angle) to the amplifier which would then add its own colorations to the reproduced sound.

We feel that there is no competitor, regardless of price, that can match the engineering achievement of our loudspeakers while being as natural sounding and independent of the amplifier driving them as possible. If you are passionate about music, if you want to listen to life like sound and the true spirit of music that will touch your heart at home, then I invite you to listen again to our speakers with your favorite recordings. Life’s too short to listen to speakers that are sub-par! If you change this or that in your system – front end components, amplification, speakers – and you’re still not satisfied, here is way to save your time and money…..get a pair of Adagio, Crescendo or Maestro loudspeakers from Acoustic Zen and you will smile and say “ That’s It !!”

………..Robert Lee(Acoustic Zen Designer / CEO)

Well... After having the Absolute Copper cables installed my reference Demo system I must say that they are some of the most balanced cables I have ever heard..
Ken Redmond - Simply Sound
Greetings Robert.
 
Well... After having the Absolute Copper cables installed my reference Demo system I must say that they are some of the most balanced cables I have ever heard..
 
Top to bottom coherent with exceptional resolution of individual instrument dynamics and timbre.
 
You really have a winner in this cable Robert.
 
Anyone who listens to MUSIC will love this cable.
 
They are my new reference cable..
 
Four times a year I have the privilege to sit on stage with the Baton Rouge Symphony during their dress rehearsal.. I literally sit in a chair next to the second violin.. Your cable has recreates that sound better than anything I have tried. and I have tried a LOT of cables a LOT more expensive.. 
Many of them recreate parts of the sound but at the expense of other areas being wrong.
 
None are as complete as your Absolute Copper Cables.
 
I have always maintained that the "audiophile" community is way too focused on "resolution" and not enough emphasis has been given to proper dynamics and timbre. 
 
When I sit next to the second violin I don't hear anything over 4K coming from it..and what touches my soul is the resonant sound of the body of the instrument and the organic quality of the bow being dragged over the strings.. Also, one of the things I use to judge sound is the "plucking" of a Violin or Viola.. 
 
Absolute copper captures these qualities very very well.
 
This is what you sent me about the cable..
 
"I don't know how to describe that the music heard have more lifelike, everything more smooth 
 
Absolute Copper captures the initial leading edge of the fundamental and is able to resolve multiple leading edges of different instruments playing at the same time better than any cable I have heard. 
 
It is organic and open throughout the midrange without being "thick or slow or dark".
 
And the top end is simply wonderful.. very extended but never bright or "too fast"
 
The top end blends perfectly with the midrange and is not "out front".
 
The "timing" of the cable is exceptional..
 
Bass is just right..tuneful and just the right amount of weight..
Acoustic bass and cello are fantastic.
 
One of my best friends is First Cello in the orchestra and I had him over to listen to some Cello music ( and to play cello in my listening room) and he agreed that the Absolute Copper was the best he has heard at recreating his instrument.. 
 
Well done Robert...!!! 
 
See you at RMAF.looking forward to hearing the Crescendos..  
 
Very best,
Ken Redmond 
Simply Sound
Acoustic Zen Crescendo is much better than anything I've heard from Magico - better than anything I've heard from Wilson too.
Sprezza Tura
Well I'm in the spend...... 
 
Magico has sounded nice - just nowhere near the price points IME. The Acoustic Zen Crescendo is much better than anything I've heard from Magico - better than anything I've heard from Wilson too. Fractions of the price. 
 
That's me calling it like I hear it. Problem is when reviewers say something negative people get on their case - look at Stereophile saying something luke warm (kinda negative) about Bryston - the S hit the fan. 
 
The problem is that people are "afraid" to look bad. People, including reviewers, often wish to placate the masses - and be viewed as part of the club.
ACOUSTIC ZEN MAESTRO REVIEW LINKS:

Reviews

I've heard much more expensive wire that can't hold a candle to these.
John Zurek
All this melancholic contemplation led me to my ultimate emotion-inspiring musician, Ludwig van Beethoven. I needed some cheering up, so I went straight to the Sixth Symphony, known as the Pastoral. Although Georg Solti is my favorite Beethoven interpreter, I decided to play Herbert von Karajan's 1963 version with the Berlin Philharmonic. I was transported to a green field somewhere in Europe. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the peaceful brook burbling, or was it just me babbling? Whatever. For me, nature is a spiritual need. I felt refreshed, and once again, the Zen cables succeeded in wringing the emotion from the music.
 
Some years ago, I was looking for speaker cables and a coaxial digital cable. Because I did not have the time and energy for an extensive search, I sought advice from someone I respect—Jim Merod, the excellent recording engineer and founder of Blueport Sound, among many other achievements. Jim advised me to check out the cables from Robert Lee's new company, Acoustic Zen. Jim has probably forgotten more about audio than I'll ever know, so I took his advice and bought the cables, and was happy to confirm that Jim was right about them.
 
Fast forward to today. I've been using the Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables for a long time, and they are among the best speaker cables I've heard. Ditto for the MC2 digital cable. As a result, I tried to get some Zen interconnects from Robert Lee for review, but somehow it didn't happen. A few months ago, I was in Los Angeles on business, and spent an evening with Dave and Carol Clark in Long Beach. It turned out that Dave had gotten some AZ cables and didn't have time to review them. Before I knew it, the Zen Silver Reference and Matrix Reference interconnects were tucked into one my bags on the plane back to Colorado.
 
Pictures do these interconnects no justice. The top-of-the-line Silver Reference ($948/1-meter pair) is wrapped in a lovely silver (of course), with a jacket that looks like it should be reserved for the surface of a space ship. It's thick cable, with locking connectors that are easy to use. The Matrix Reference ($498/1-meter pair) is similar in size and high-tech sheen, but the color is purple and they have a different type of locking connector.
 
The Silver Reference and Matrix Reference interconnects both sound excellent. Each has the characteristic sound of the metal of which they are constructed (the Matrix References are copper), and would be at the top of my list if I were in the market for interconnects. That said, I simply cannot write the typical review about these cables. Why? When my system became all-Zen, it took on a new personality. It was one of those "ah-haaah" moments in audio. These cables were meant to work together.
 
Here's how I ended up configuring them: The Satoris, as always, were connected to either my Thiel 3.6s or the very interesting Hyperion HPS-938s (review coming soon). A pair of three-meter Silver Reference interconnects went between my amp and my Cary preamp. A three-meter pair of Matrix Reference interconnects went between my Cary CD player and preamp. A one-meter pair of Silver Reference interconnects went between my Black Cube phono preamp and the Cary preamp. After I started to listen to music, something happened. The music was transformed. Everything I listened to took on a whole new feel. My system was communicating to me in a way it never had before. The Zen wire communicated nuances of emotion, passion, and excitement. The typical audiophile words—highs, mids, transparency, lows, soundstage, dynamics, etc.—could not describe what I heard. Why? I simply didn't care to analyze it. I heard music, and that music communicated with more zest and life than I'd ever heard. Dissecting all the parameters of what I was hearing seemed trivial. I never expected to have this kind of experience by changing a few pairs of interconnects. I have heard electronics sound synergistic, but I was not prepared for this.
 
Since I was supposed to be reviewing these cables instead of merely enjoying them, I did try moving them around within my system. I found that the magical combination was to use the Matrix References between the source components and preamp, and the Silver References for the preamp-power amp connection. Listening to B.B. King Live at the Cook County Jail, I could feel the mood of the crowd. This was no ordinary concert. These folks were incarcerated. They didn't pay for tickets—they were doing hard time in a terrible place. On "How Blue Can You Get," B.B. does a kind of call and response, first in his own voice, then in a woman's voice: "I bought you a brand new Ford/You said ‘I want a Cadillac'/I let you live in my penthouse/You said it was ‘just a shack'/I bought you a ten dollar dinner/You said it was ‘just a snack'/I gave you seven children, now you wanna give ‘em back." B.B. works this perfectly, and has the audience in the palm of his hand. The inmates love it, and their response becomes part of the performance. It's quite an experience, and the AZ cables put me right there.
 
I pulled out the old Police standard, Ghost in the Machine, and began with "Sprits in the Material World." I hadn't listened to this album in many years, so I hadn't realized that the spike-haired lads from across the pond were much more than an 80s party band. They were making quite a political statement on this track, one that is relevant today—perhaps even more so today. It got me thinking about their music in a different way. What was I missing when this record came out, more than twenty years ago? And why did it make me so sad listening to it now?
 
All this melancholic contemplation led me to my ultimate emotion-inspiring musician, Ludwig van Beethoven. I needed some cheering up, so I went straight to the Sixth Symphony, known as the Pastoral. Although Georg Solti is my favorite Beethoven interpreter, I decided to play Herbert von Karajan's 1963 version with the Berlin Philharmonic. I was transported to a green field somewhere in Europe. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the peaceful brook burbling, or was it just me babbling? Whatever. For me, nature is a spiritual need. I felt refreshed, and once again, the Zen cables succeeded in wringing the emotion from the music.
 
What more can I say about these wonderful cables? They may not nail every audiophile parameter, but I don't care. They are among the most communicative, musical audio components I've heard. At their respective prices the copper Matrix References and the Silver References, occupy an interesting price point in the cable market. They are expensive, yet affordable if you compare them to other cables at the same price. They are probably within reach for most audiophiles, even if you have to save up for them. I've listened to some excellent affordable cables lately, ones that I heartily recommended, but sometimes—this time—more expensive is better. I've heard much more expensive wire that can't hold a candle to these. Only you can decide if they are worth the money. I say that they are one of the biggest audio bargains I've ever come across. The motto on the AZ website reads: "At Acoustic Zen, we seek "MUSIC… No compromise!" Music you will get. These cables have my highest recommendation. They are superb. John Zurek
by switching to Acoustic Zen products you are bringing your investment to a whole ‘nother level.
John Brazier

However, by switching to Acoustic Zen products you are bringing your investment to a whole ‘nother level. The differences can be vast for some and subtler for others, but in most cases, what you will get is just a better, more musical sounding set up. The silver-based Reference IIs and Hologram IIs maintain the quality of the signal better than any other cables I have heard.

I wrote my first audio review for audioasylum.com on the Acoustic Zen WOW interconnects, which WOW'd me. At the time they deserved landmark status for their price-to-performance ratio (and no doubt after all this time, still do). Since then I have kept an eye on Acoustic Zen, as well as having owned most of their cables, culminating with the Silver Reference II interconnects and Hologram II speaker cables. The Silver Reference IIs are the company's top-of-the-line interconnects, but there are two more rungs of the ladder to aspire to beyond the Holograms (being the Double Barrel and the Absolute). As I moved up the line from the WOWs to the Silver Reference IIs, each step resulted in the sound of my system opening up and smoothing out, while the soundstage expanded to the limits allowed by the associated gear. With the top-of-the-line Silver Reference IIs in the system, I am now experiencing the ultimate in openness, refinement, transparency, and delicacy. 
 
In heavy rotation of late has been Zigaboo Modeliste, I'm On The Right Track; this is an aggressive and excellently recorded funky spin on New Orleans music. Modeliste is the self-proclaimed "King of the Funky Drums". If you enjoy hard hitting drums surrounded by a tight band then check this one out. With lesser cables, some of the edge to this "hard hitting" would be lost. To make this disc the experience that it is, requires the bass to be tightly controlled, while the blackness between the notes has to be very, very back. The combo of the Silver Reference IIs and the Hologram II's are able to deliver the signal without the slightest of bit of mucking. For fun I replaced the Silver References with some old Tera Labs interconnects, which I think were about $100 when I purchased them over 5 years ago, and as you would expect there was an enormous difference between the two. But what really startled me was a complete absence in the "nature of the system as a whole." The King of Funky Drums lost his crown. Gone was the cleanliness and precision of the band playing as a band. The leading edge of the drum hits were not nearly as sharp and tight. Prior to the switch, the drum kit was front and center and the King wouldn't have it any other way. After, the drums were less prominent and seemed to blend in more with the band.  
 
Now, I understand comparing a $100 interconnect with one 10 times its price is really not fair, but I feel I needed a reminder of what was the standard for me sometime ago. More importantly, I was reminded that cables are true "components" in any audio rig, and if you don't think so try playing your's without them.
 
Much of what I like about the performance of the Silver Reference interconnects applies to the Hologram II speaker cables. The Holograms bring openness and balance to the signals presented to them. They have no signature that I can pin point my finger on. They are remarkably subtle and sweet. I found that the Holograms represented a significant improvement over the Acoustic Zen Satoris. Which I had used for about 2 years and before the Satoris I ran a shot gun run of Kimber Cables 8TC/4TC. They were good cables and like many if Kimber's products bring a remarkable level of performance for their price.  
 
However, by switching to Acoustic Zen products you are bringing your investment to a whole ‘nother level. The differences can be vast for some and subtler for others, but in most cases, what you will get is just a better, more musical sounding set up. The silver-based Reference IIs and Hologram IIs maintain the quality of the signal better than any other cables I have heard.  
 
Acoustic Zen supplies no unique packaging, just good ol' well-insulated wire. Acoustic Zen cables are based on proven technology, but the company simply manages to do things better—much better, to my ears. To some, spending $995 for interconnects is not in the cards. There was a time were I could not justify it either, but the sonic improvements are worth it. With the WOWs at a quarter of that price and the Matrix Reference IIs at half, there are Acoustic Zen cables at price points for everyone. The same holds true for the speaker cables—Five models, five prices. I recommend that you slip in some Acoustic Zens at your price point and begin listening to music. It will sound oh so much better. 
Newport 2012: Acoustic Zen and Triode Corporation - Tubes. Bigger speakers. Sexy finishes. Sultry sound. Thundering bass.
by Part-Time Audiophile

Here’s the bottom line — audiophile gear can easily cost more than a car. In some cases, more than a house. I don’t really get that kind of gear, but whatever. But, as everyone keeps saying, quality doesn’t have to come with that kind of price tag. The Acoustic Zen/Triode Corp room was another, elegantly phrased, case in point. No, it’s not cheap by any means. But where the cost/performance/aesthetic grid meet to chart that epic curve, you’ll find this gear there, right at the start.

This look, this gear, this sound — this is why we’re audiophiles.
 
This is the gear we take home to our long-suffering families and loved ones and they finally say, “Wow. I get it now.”
 
This is the sound that stuns our friends and neighbours, rendering forever inadequate their box-store receivers and crap-ass speakers. This is where their plotting starts.
 
Hee hee!
 
I love finding an Acoustic Zen/Triode Corp room at an audio show. Every one of them has  been an exercise in the best possible kind of audiophile excess. This is luscious, gorgeous stuff. And it looks great, too.
 
Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen teamed up yet again here at Newport with Santy Oropel of Twin Audio Video (the importer for the excellent and affordable Triode Corp line of tube gear and more) to put together a textured, layered sound that was easily among the best at the show. Again. This is becoming something of a thing for these two, who seemed to have come up with a formula these last few years that has consistently and thoroughly soothed my savage beast, tickled my fancy, and sketched giant shit-eating grins all over my face.
 
Robert thinks I’m funny. But then, hey, looks aren’t everything (har, har). Ahem. Moving on ….
 
In this room, Robert was showing his mid-range $16,900 Crescendo loudspeaker in a burled finish you kind of have to see to truly believe. To say that it’s “furniture grade” does it something of an injustice, but that’s just where things start. This Acoustic Zen speaker is a transmission-line 3-way design with a horn-loaded tweeter and some giant bass drivers.
 
I got a chance to play my Chris Jones CD, Roadhouses and Automobiles. My bass torture track, “No Sanctuary Here”, is a tour-de-force of creepy atmospheric thunder — but only if the speakers can “do that”. Here, they “did that” in a way that made a couple of the other folks in the room look at me as if to say “what the hell are we listening to?” Robert promptly plucked the CD case from my hand and I wasn’t sure he was going to give it back. Anyway, thrilling stuff.
 
Moving on to the electronics, Triode Corp gear included a TRV-CD5SE CD, a TRX-1 preamplifier, and a pair of huge Triode TRX-M845SE monoblocks. A word about this gear — it’s all assembled in Japan, one. Two, it has a level of fit-and-finish that is startling to look at. For example, the first amplifier my wife looked at and called “pretty” was a Triode Corp integrated. There’s the red lacquer, gleaming chrome, and glowing bits that really lift this brand out of the haze of reasonably-price electronics. And lastly, three – all that’s irrelevant as it’s the sound quality that makes them a must-audition.
 
Here’s the bottom line — audiophile gear can easily cost more than a car. In some cases, more than a house. I don’t really get that kind of gear, but whatever. But, as everyone keeps saying, quality doesn’t have to come with that kind of price tag. The Acoustic Zen/Triode Corp room was another, elegantly phrased, case in point. No, it’s not cheap by any means. But where the cost/performance/aesthetic grid meet to chart that epic curve, you’ll find this gear there, right at the start.
 
Lucky for you, Robert and Santy do a lot of shows. Find them. Bring your CDs. Plan on taking your time. I think you’ll find the time well spent.
The Acoustic Zen are audiophile-grade speakers, whereas the others are not
Mike

Acoustic Zen Crescendo and Tri at CES 2010 - Wherein we go into more detail about the sound at this year’s CES.

I think these speakers are for music lovers, not quite so much into the sophisticated sound gymnastics as some audiophiles are, and want a audiophile-grade full-range speaker for an audiophile-grade 2-way speaker price.

First, Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen knows how to set up a room at a show. He knows what kind of sound he is after, and if the amp he was supplied is not doing what he wants, he will put it on static display and use something else that gets the job done.
 
What this means is that 1) you can go to their room at a show and be pretty certain it is not going to suck. In fact, it will likely be quite good sounding [we’ll go into what good sounding means in this context below], and 2) that the amps he is using are amps YOU can use with these Acoustic Zen speakers and be pretty sure that it is going to also sound good.
 
Yes, this is indeed extremely rare. By far most rooms (99% or so), even ones we give best of shows to, either A) sound good because they got lucky and the unfamiliar amp from a manufacturer who was the first to agree to share costs of the room JUST HAPPENED to sound good with the speaker manufacturer who was the first to agree to pay some of the room costs or B), the quality of one of the components, or the speakers, is so good that even with mismatched components the room still sounds pretty good.
 
Acoustic Zen has paired with Red Dragon, Edge, Response Audio and Tri.
 
Essentially, the Crescendo speakers are full-range Adagio speakers, which were already pretty full-range but were not enough for people with larger rooms or who listen to a lot of classical music and want the lower octaves to sound realistic. The Crescendo has a greater ease of presentation and a bigger, fuller sound.
 
Which I think is the point of these speakers.
 
First, most speakers in this price range suck. They are a joke. Few attempt to do full range and those that do usually suck more.
 
Let’s talk about the ones that do not suck for a minute.
 
We have the Marten Miles III and Kharma 3.1C. More detail, more transparency, more audiophile, but no where near the authority or frequency range.
 
The Soundlab A1 has the frequency range, but not the authority unless you really out a mofo amp on it, but if you want a electrostatic then you are probably not reading this post anyway.
 
You got the Wilson Sophia [not the range or sense of ease], Avalon… not sure which one [not the authority or range], Audio Note [if you have corners available. If you do then this might be a possibility, with careful attention to setup]. Let’s see… what else?
 
Most people who come here to demo these speakers, to tell you the truth, have just come from auditioning the B&W, Definition, and JM Lab/Focal. They have just been fed tipped up midrange hell and musical slurry. They are rarely audiophiles and we have so little time to demonstrate to them that they are on the road to ‘audio hell’ [when they see $350K speakers, they think we have already arrived at audio nutsville  ]. The Acoustic Zen are audiophile-grade speakers, whereas the others are not [sorry]. Which takes us to the next section.
 
These speakers have what I think of as 2 distinct sounds - depending on the amp driving them. With a Red Dragon amp, or little Kharma amp, these are very dynamic, fairly quick sounding speakers. With Edge amps and tube amps, these are more…tube-like, a little more harmonic and continuous. With BAT amps you can achieve the middle ground - more or less.
 
We’ve found people greatly prefer either one or the other with these speakers [whereas we do not. We like both flavors of sound].
 
I think these speakers are for music lovers, not quite so much into the sophisticated sound gymnastics as some audiophiles are [guilty as charged, love those crazy subtle details and intricacies!] , and want a audiophile-grade full-range speaker for an audiophile-grade 2-way speaker price.
 
“…and I think the AZ Crescendo is even better now because Mr. Lee has raised the sensitivity of this speaker over the last few years. That’s why it sounds better now with sweeter, low-ish powered tube amps…
Acoustic Zen Crescendo Speakers: The Best on the Scene Regardless of Price?
Jim Merod

Anyone who feels, as I have for nearly four decades, that speakers are a problem to be reckoned with, owes it to their own best interests to investigate the Crescendos. Anyone living with them will no doubt feel both relieved that an audio difficulty has been solved... and that so much improbable musical pleasure has entered their life at such little expense.

I can cite perhaps one other infinitely-nuanced speaker that stands near to the Crescendos, but it is many time the price of these over-performing musical units. At US$16,500/pr (NZ$23,995/pr incl sales tax), Acoustic Zen has brought forward works of art that grace any physical environment while setting the highest standard for musical brilliance and acoustic delicacy and power.

Several years ago I popped for a pair of Acoustic Zen's remarkable and drop-dead gorgeous Crescendo speakers. They had it all. The musical hunger that my heart and soul live with on a constant basis fully encountered aesthetic satisfaction, dynamic power, lyrical delicacy and (that most elusive of all parameters) soundstage accuracy and imagistic vividness, defined by holographic instrumental and vocal details. Many speakers previously had promised such joy. None had ever really delivered it.
 
There was no way that I'd allow myself to go on without a set of Crescendos. The deal was sealed after long audition with no disappointments. Those who endure my grouchy relationship to speakers of all sorts, and to price points, are aware that I've had a decades-long antipathy for speakers, with few exceptions. In truth, with only a single outlier, I've found virtually every microphone I've ever put into play to be a useful, sometimes glorious partner in my recording adventures. (Shure SM57s and 58s reconstructed for PA I do not require or care to indulge.)
 
When you consider that mics are inverted speakers, and vice versa, from a distance the anomaly of my distress with speakers appears unlikely or absurd. Yet there it is in full and graphic Technicolor sonic imprint. For me, speakers have always been the weakest structural link in the audio and musical chain.
 
Long ago, Richard Vandersteen's 2Ce speakers seemed like a wonderful gift to any truly engaged musically-inclined person. They were then and, oddly, still are. Even as the 2Ces do nothing extremely well specifically, the overall delivery of relaxed musical truth has always been both surprising and engaging... for a truly inexpensive price. Compared to many hyper-expensive speakers, the 2Ces are underwhelming, never "wrong" or quirky or an irritating musical partner. They wear well and offer real, if un-dramatic, musical satisfaction. I've never parted with them, and every so often put them in harness for nostalgic joy. Richard is an audio magician, and his recent (expensive) inventions are among the best ever. Also, my recent addition of the current iteration of Magnepan 1.7 speakers is no accident, but a result of their long trek toward a special acoustic footprint now beautifully accomplished. The Maggie's always promising planar design has come fully into its own, a potential "classic" arriving on the scene well sculpted, better late than never.
 
Acoustic Zen's Ascending Trajectory
 
Make no mistake here: when Robert Lee's improbably profound Crescendo speakers came into the marketplace several years ago, they were amazing in ways I've seldom if ever witnessed. And that was before he enhanced his "under hung" driver array. The Crescendos are now a unique audio instrument... something special to behold!
 
Let me admit my own thickness here. I was minding my business, perfectly content with the Crescendos' performance, when maestro Lee called to ask if I'd be interested in an upgrade to my reference speakers. "You're kidding me, right?" I responded, thinking that was a long shot, at best, maybe a bad idea given the timeless adage not to "fix" a very good thing.
 
Robert Lee wasn't teasing or jousting. Not long after, he arrived at Chez BluePort with a monster SUV to box up and cart off my favorite pair of never-fail music makers. A month went by and I asked myself if just maybe I was losing musical joy that could never be made up... if, by chance, I'd succumbed to the fickle goddess of "New and Different" without considering the fact that lost listening time is gone forever while so called "enhancements" sometimes turn out to be negligible or mere fantasies.
 
Life is fragile, judgment blind, time an implacable thief. One's proper motto against such odds: do no harm. What mischief had I wrought?
 
I Was In Error Differently
 
I was wrong to imagine that maestro Lee would mislead me into hoping for improvement in the form of a will o' the wisp.
 
Au contraire, mon ami. The good audio doctor made a great speaker way better. Much more mo' betta... stupendously enhanced. Virtually impossible to comprehend "better" in all aspects of sonic transparency and musical erotics. He replaced terrific drivers with ridiculously upgraded units that simply disappear. Sound that was once glorious became music so clearly defined (and refined) that it no longer seemed to be recorded. My own hi-rez recordings seemed immediately "there" with uncanny ambient reality.
 
Robert Lee's gentle surgeon's touch massaged a beautiful sounding pair of speakers into a sonic delivery system without equal in my main reference system... virtually unrivaled in long years of listening experiences. The Crescendos—always adorable and accurate as well as engaging and instructive—became jaw-dropping sonic delivery systems: thoroughly invisible but thoroughly palpable in their musical results. These speakers are defined by a sense of "you are there" acoustic intimacy, instrumental tonal accuracy, and musical openness.
 
Surveying the Spectrum
 
I can cite perhaps one other infinitely-nuanced speaker that stands near to the Crescendos, but it is many time the price of these over-performing musical units. At US$16,500/pr (excl sales tax), Acoustic Zen has brought forward works of art that grace any physical environment while setting the highest standard for musical brilliance and acoustic delicacy and power.
 
Doubtless I'll return to these lovely gifts to music lovers everywhere because the ongoing narrative of a great speaker entering new audio territory atop the Audio Himalayas is a story, and an experience, too alluring (and also well within reach of real world audio budgets) to overlook for long.
 
Anyone who feels, as I have for nearly four decades, that speakers are a problem to be reckoned with, owes it to their own best interests to investigate the Crescendos. Anyone living with them will no doubt feel both relieved that an audio difficulty has been solved... and that so much improbable musical pleasure has entered their life at such little expense.
 
I'll note, for the sake of truth, that the Crescendos are splendid with a variety of speaker cables. They're not a difficult load to drive and they are not fussy about cable mating. 
 
More reflections as they occur….
ACOUSTIZ ZEN ADAGIO REVIEW LINKS:

Awards

ADAGIO IS AWARDED A RARE 6MOONS BLUE MOON AWARD

the Adagios are damn easy to listen to. Everything is where it should be, you have a true foundation in bass and you don't have to put on a radiation suit and sunglasses to listen to them for hours on end.
Chip Stern
ADAGIO WINS TAS-The Absolute Sound Editors Choice award


Adagio - One of the most transparent speakers on the market