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April / May 2009
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere
ACCUSTIC ARTS
CD-Player I - MK3 And Power I - MK2
I have never heard the Martin Logan speakers sound quite so good.
Review By Brett Rudolph
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

ACCUSTIC ARTS CD-Player I - MK3  It is always a thrill when you have the opportunity to review components and cables on the higher end of the audiophile spectrum. Several months ago, the opportunity presented itself in the form of two components from ACCUSTIC ARTS, the CD-Player 1 MK3 and our world premiere of the Power 1 MK2. Both of these products are crafted and produced in Germany.

After a fairly lengthy conversation with the North American distributor about the abilities and capabilities of the components, we decided that he would send the components and also order the correct cables to truly allow the equipment to perform at its absolute best. A mere two days later two rather heavy boxes arrived on my doorstep just begging to be opened and examined.

After unpacking both components, the first impression was that they were both visually stunning and certainly worthy of a place in any playback system. While this certainly should never be a deciding reason for purchasing equipment it never hurts to have a component impressive. In fact, the styling of these components and the craftsmanship that obviously went into not only their design, but their production as well, says a great deal about the company itself.

 

The ACCUSTIC ARTS CD-Player 1 MK3
The CD-Player 1 is the ACCUSTIC ARTS entry level two channel digital front end. However, that is about the only thing that can be said about it being entry level. It features a top loading CD mechanism and a magnetic weight that allows it far better vibration dispersion, ultimately leading to far less jitter than many comparable units. This is coupled with the fact that the unit itself weighs 35 pounds which by design creates a very stable platform further lowering the jitter and increasing the performance.

The design and artistry of the component is not just superficial. Although the player is impressive to the eye, what lies inside is equally impressive. The player features five separate power supplies for laser control, digital signal processing, display control, display heating and D/A conversion. Once again the company paid very close attention in its design of the player to allow the unit to function optimally and without compromise.

Although the list of features is extremely lengthy and certainly notable, perhaps one of the most important is the company's use of a 24-bit/192kHz multi-bit D/A converter. This coupled with the use of a 12dB Butterworth-Filter, precision filter capacitors, metal film resistors and what is definitely a very high quality digital filter once again adds to the overall extremely thoughtful design of the unit. It also, as you will find out later on in this review, only increases is overall performance.

If there is one thing can be considered both and asset and a liability it is the front panel controls. Although it has the basic functions such as play, stop, skip forward/backward and standby/operate, everything else requires the use of the remote control. Perhaps it is somewhat of a pet peeve, but for the most part my preference is to use the controls on the component itself and not the remote where possible.

 

The World Premiere Of
ACCUSTIC ARTS' Power 1 MK2
ACCUSTIC ARTS Power AMP I - MK2 ACCUSTIC ARTS offers several amplifiers, but the Power 1 is the only integrated amplifier in the company's product line. Like the CD player, do not let the fact that it is an entry level component fool you into believing that it is anything but an extremely well designed component. It offers many of the features of their amplifiers and preamplifiers, but at a substantially less expensive price point.

The Power 1 is fairly simplistic in its external design. The front panel of the integrated amp is a thing of beauty. It has all the controls you could possibly want at your fingertips. Two large dials control nearly all the functions. The first one allows you to switch effortlessly between the three unbalanced inputs, a single balanced input and an unbalanced input which bypasses the preamplifier for use in surround systems. The other allows you to control the volume of the four inputs controlled by the integrated preamplifier.

On the rear, the unit has five inputs that are controlled by the front knob as well as one unbalanced and one balanced pre-outs for use with another amplification system. In addition are the binding posts for the amplifier, to be discussed later, and a place to connect a power cord. The layout of the rear panel is spectacular and the connecting inputs and outputs is simple and easy. You need not worry about not having enough space to connect even the most difficult cable, there is plenty of space.

The Power 1 is not only well designed on the outside, but like its sibling it is also well thought out on the inside as well. The unit contains a magnetically shielded and encapsulated 550 VA toroidal core transformer which allows for high output reserves. In addition there are separate windings for the preamp section, the power section and both the left and right channels, which alleviates many of the concerns about an integrated preamplifier versus a separate preamplifier/amplifier combination.

The amplifier itself utilizes eight MOSFET output transformers. Ultimately the rated output is two channels at 190 watt at 4 Ohms or 130 at 8 Ohms. However, while this reviewer did not measure the actual output, these numbers are likely extremely conservative. In fact, during the review the integrated preamplifier was connected to a pair of rather power hungry Martin-Logan ReQuest speakers, and there was certainly no problem whatsoever.

The Power 1 also comes with a very well laid out remote control. Although pretty much everything can be done on the front panel of the unit, the remote control does give you a great deal of flexibility. Like the CD player it is built from aluminum and matches the unit completely.

 

The Initial Review
The components arrived already broken in so it did not take long to connect them to my reference system. After a few moments everything was ready to go and it was time to see how the components performed. Quite honestly my first impression was that the CD player was extremely precise and sounded like one would expect from its outer beauty, spectacular. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the Power 1.

After trying the Power 1 with my Wilson Watt Puppies as an integrated amplifier, my findings seemed to indicate that the two were not a match made in heaven. In fact, after several hours of listening, I took advantage of the component's pre-out ability and utilized my Krell amplifier instead. This definitely improved its performance, but not to the level which would be expected. After speaking with the distributor, he suggested that perhaps the cables which had just been shipped would rectify the situation. However, as a precaution, arrangements were also made to connect the components to different speakers when the new cables arrived. Luckily that was not remotely necessary.

About two weeks after receiving the initial equipment, a substantial box of cables arrived. Normally, packaging doesn't impress me, but in the case of the cables received this wasn't the case. Like ACCUSTIC ARTS' components, not only were the cables extremely handsome, but even the packaging made a great impression. It was sort of funny to read the note from the distributor apologizing for not shipping the power strip in its packaging, but it didn't fit in the shipping carton. The carton contained ACCUSTIC ARTS Powerstrip Active 6, Silver Line XLR interconnects, Powercord Ferrite (wattgate), and Top Line MK-2 bi-wire speaker cables. All the cables needed to connect the components and the speakers utilizing all ACCUSTIC ARTS cables. Once again setting the cables up in the system was simple and while the cables were not broken in, at my request, the difference was immediately noticeable.

Although it normally takes several hundred hours of utilization for cables to really break in and show their true potential, the ACCUSTIC ARTS cables took relatively no time. After only 70 hours or so, they had settled down and while my evaluation of the system itself waited until they had been running for 200 hours, they change was nearly imperceptible. Once again, it seemed that the ACCUSTIC ARTS cables were certainly somewhat different in their break in characteristics, but given the system itself, not all that surprising.

 

Review Take Two
The review certainly took a huge turn from my initial evaluation. The system with the new cables installed and broken in took on an entirely new dimension. While the review will certainly go into far more detail, it is important to note that all the shortcomings of the Power 1 disappeared entirely. In fact, its performance was such that it seemed that everything had been replaced with an entirely new set of components.

The first album used to review the system was EMI Classics, Kate Royal. The album contains a number of classical selections featuring Kate Royal as soprano accompanied by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Edward Gardner conducting. The second track, Debussy's Les Filles de Cadix, is a superb example of the synergy between a female soprano and a stellar orchestra. It is often times very difficult for a playback system to fully realize as there is so much information over a full ranged spectrum. The ACCUSTIC ARTS system was one of the first that could really accurately render the material not only lifelike, but enveloping and magical. The pace and timing was seemingly perfect and created an overall feeling of involvement in the music itself. In fact, the experience left me feeling as though no matter how many times it had been heard in the past somehow something had always been missing until now.

A second selection from the same album, track thirteen, Strauss's Morgen!, the sweet overtones of the orchestra combined with rich musicality of the vocals left this listener breathless. There was a palpable realism that seemed to grow the longer the selection was heard. Once again, while the material was familiar, the amount of detail gave a much fuller immersion in the music. Before moving from classical music, it seemed appropriate to evaluate the system with a full orchestra. Therefore, the next album chosen was Telarc's Britannia performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I chose track one, Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance Marches 1 & 4", because of their notability. The marches also tend to take a fair amount of energy from the amplifier to reproduce correctly even at fairly low volumes.

The reproduction was simply amazing. The powerful passages were every bit as lifelike and entertaining as the slightly less energetic ones. The material was extremely holographic in its presentation and the listener was easily captivated during the passage. In fact, while I have heard in both its two-channel and multi-channel SACD versions also included on the disc, neither had the same impact or sound quality, even with the supposedly increased reproduction fidelity.

 

Jazzy Evaluation
The first Jazz album used to evaluate the system was Telarc Jazz Label's Seraphic Light by Saxophone Summit. The album which is an album containing a great deal of saxophone music as the band suggests is a great example of how various saxophones can not only make a beautiful combination, but with the right playback system, allow the listener to actually experience the attack and decay of various instruments.

The first selection used from this album was track three, "Reneda". Two tenor saxophones and one soprano saxophone accompanied by percussion create a myriad of different sounds, each independent and yet dependent on the other for completeness. Once again the ACCUSTIC ARTS system did a spectacular job of recreating the performance. Since the recording was done in a studio, the acoustics were such that the listener was able to actually hear the instruments both independently while also being cognizant of the synergy within the recording. On the same album, track five, Message to Mike, provided a great example of the playback system's ability to not only resolve the music, but reproduce it in such a way that the attack and decay of the notes were evident without being overpowering. Once again, hearing the passage left me with the feeling that I was hearing things within the music that I had missed.

The second album used to evaluate the playback's system ability to capture the jazz experience was Patricia Barber's Night Club. This is a great example of a graceful female vocalist accompanied by a jazz band in a live setting. The ambiance is equally as important and the texture of Patricia's voice and the musical instruments. The system captured the ambiance nearly perfectly. There seemed to be a slight loss of holographic imagery, but at the same time, the vocals were so overwhelming it was extremely hard to tell. Closing your eyes you could hear breathe as she sang the songs on the album. Once again the attack and decay of the instruments was palpable and only added to the overall visceral impact of the album itself.

 

Don't Forget The Rock
While it was hard to stop playing jazz and classical music, it was time to move on to rock. So, I cued up what has become one of my favorite albums for reviewing playback system's Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. The new remastered version not only sounds somewhat better, in my opinion, than the original, but it also offers a chance to see how well the system is able to resolve lower bass and reproduce it.

The first track, "Speak to Me/Breathe", begins with what ultimately becomes the sound of a beating heart. Since it starts out very low in the bass region, many amplifiers tend to have problems meeting the requirements to allow the speakers to fully reproduce the selection until it reaches a somewhat higher volume and has greater detail. The ACCUSTIC ARTS system had no such problem. Although nearly inaudible at first, it was almost immediately apparent what the sound would resolve itself into and even at its lowest levels the amplifier was able to keep up with the power requirements.

As the level increased and the sound grew louder the system only became more transparent and able to resolve the following music into a holographic tapestry that reviled any that I have heard. In fact, where many systems tend to lose their focus and the imagery slips into a sort of distorted mess of sounds, the ACCUSTIC ARTS system became even more effective in its reproduction. Although the SACD two-channel and multi-channel versions of the same passage do tend to have slightly more detail than the CD version, neither seemed to sound as good as it did on this playback system.

The second track that I used to evaluate the system was number five, "Money". While the track is not as difficult as some others on the album on some levels, the ability of the system to resolve the music into distinct channels and then move the sound realistically between them is often a challenge. This is especially true when it's heard at higher volumes. Luckily, the ACCUSTIC ARTS system had no such problems. In fact, the realism and definitive and distinct separation was handled extremely well. Although it normally sounds far better using headphones, in this case there was enough separation and combination that they were not needed.

 

Moving On
Obviously my experience with the ACCUSTIC ARTS equipment and cables was extremely intense and somewhat overwhelming. In my experience very few systems are able to reproduce so many different kinds of music without having some sacrifices. However, I found no such issues with the ACCUSTIC ARTS playback system as it was put together in my evaluation.

Before finalizing my review, I decided to try one last test on the equipment. Until the end I had been utilizing my Wilson speakers, but I switched them with my Martin Logan speakers to see what it would do to the ultimate quality of the playback. Of course there was a second reason, which is the Martin Logan speakers require far more power and tend to be much harder on an amplifier, but at the same time they can also be far more musical and transparent in their reproduction. The end result was that I can honestly say I have never heard the Martin Logan speakers sound quite so good. The amplifier, which is rated at 190 watt on 4 Ohms, had absolutely no problem powering the speakers at even somewhat higher volume levels. The bass, which can sometimes become anemic, was full, rich and sounded amazingly detailed.

 

The Conclusion
There is always a downside to doing a review of high end audio equipment and that tends to be the price. Unfortunately the system as it was configured is likely beyond most people's means, but it nevertheless represents a serious value. I would wholeheartedly recommend it against systems costing double without a second thought. If you are looking for a high end audio system, you owe it to yourself to give this playback system a real chance, and imagine this is really only their entry level.

 

 

Specifications
CD-PLAYER I - MK3
Analog Outputs: One stereo pair each XLR and RCA
Digital Outputs: AES/EBU and S/PDIF via RCA
DAC: 24-bit/192kHz upsampling technology
Distortion Factor: 0.0016%
Dynamic: 120 dB
Crosstalk: >101dB
Signal-to-noise ratio: -103dB
Dimensions: 4.1 x 19 x 14.8 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 35 lbs
Price: $8700

POWER I - MK2
Analog Inputs: Stereo pair XLR, three stereo pair RCA and stereo pair RCA (bypass)
Analog Outputs: One stereo pair XLR and RCA
Power Output: Two channels 190 wpc at 4 Ohms, 130 @ 8 Ohms
SNR: -94 dBA
Dimensions: 5.7 x 19 x 17.7 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 48 lbs
Price: $8500

POWER CORD FERRITE II
Pure Copper strand (99.999% OFC) with Ferrite-Compound absorbing layer and high quality shielding
Premium quality IEC-plug; special audiophile plug from Wattgate
Cross Section: 3x2.5mm2
Outside cord diameter: 14mm
Price: $1300 for 2-meter length

SILVER LINE (New Edition)
High-class balanced interconnect cable
Capillary conductors made of pure copper (99.999% OFC), plated with finest sterling silver
Fully assembled with high-class Neutrik XLR Plugs; conductors plated with pure gold
Exclusive use of high quality silver solder
Price: $1000 for 1-meter pair

TOP LINE MK-2 (Biwire)
High-Class multi-core speaker cable
Capillary conductors made of pure copper (99.999% OFC)
Twisted cables; optimized capacity and inductivity; very low resistance
Fully assembled with copper spades plated with pure gold
Price: $2400 for  3-meter pair

POWER STRIP ACTIVE 6
Premium quality Power Strip with two special EMC filter stages and separate wires
For analog and digital devices
Very stable aluminum housing for optimum shielding
Star-shaped wired, central earthing connection to avoid interferences
Integrated overvoltage protection, separately for analog and digital
Power Cord: Standard length 2-meter
Price: $1400

 

Company Information
ACCUSTIC ARTS
Hoher Steg 7
D-74348 Lauffen
Germany

Voice: (07133) 97477-0
Fax (07133) 97477-40
E-mail info@accusticarts.de
Website: www.accusticarts.de

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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