October 2007Acapella Audio Arts High LaMusika Interconnects and Speaker Cables
by Marc Mickelson
I do a fair amount of audio-related entertaining. Companies send products and sometimes their staff to set them up and ensure that everything is working as it should. It's understandable that this would occur with speakers -- they are the components whose sound is most compromised by poor setup -- but I've had people from companies that make audio cables visit to install their interconnects and speaker cables. I explained up front that I could connect everything myself, but it didn't matter. The desire to do it their way won out.
I also host people in the industry who happen to be passing through my area, and it was on such a visit from Brian Ackerman, the distributor of a pack of European-made electronics, speakers and accessories, that I first heard the Acapella High LaMusika cables. Brian was picking up some electronics when he asked if I'd want to give some beefy Isoclean power cords a listen. I wasn't interested in recabling my system for a couple of hours of listening, so Brian suggested something easier -- auditioning a pair of Acapella interconnects he had in his car. I gave in for the sake of hospitality.
If you think reviewing a set of audio cables -- discerning sometimes minute differences between lengths of wire -- is what happens to those who warm their feet in audio hell, try doing this with a single pair of interconnects. The change to the entire system with a single run of new wire is rather small, so hearing differences is even harder than usual. Yet, as soon as Brian and I put a pair of High LaMusika interconnects between my amp and preamp, the greater energy up and down the frequency spectrum was obvious. You can easily guess what happened next: I asked Brian about reviewing an entire set of these wunder cables, and youre now reading the end product.
Breaking into the audio-cable market, which is dominated by a handful of big names, is tough, but it's even tougher when it's your secondary line. Acapella is known for its horn-loaded speakers, some of which, like the Triolon Excalibur and Campanile, are physically large and use an exotic ionic tweeter that, from my experience, produces exceptionally sweet, delicate highs. These are distinctive speakers -- nothing else looks or sounds quite like them -- which makes Acapella's LaMusika interconnects ($3000 USD per meter pair) and speaker cables ($7600 per eight-foot pair) all the more curious. Some speaker and electronics manufacturers make interconnects and speaker cables, but none of those cables seems as refined as these.
First, they are completely handmade, and one of the more interesting steps in this process is the application of a ceramic insulation on each conductor. It is Acapella's belief that ceramic is second only to air as a dielectric; its application probably accounts for the lion's share of the lengthy build time -- from ten days to two weeks -- required for each pair. The conductors are solid-core, chemically pure silver 0.3mm or 1mm in diameter. Here is where much of the cost of the High LaMusika cables lies.
RCAs are WBT silver NextGen connectors, and XLRs are silver Neutriks. The cables are directional, though they are not marked with arrows or such. You have the signal follow the direction of the printing on the shrink tubing.
I would have liked to grill the people at Acapella about their interconnects and speaker cables, probing their choice of geometry, which they call simply "symmetrical," and materials. There is a bit of a language barrier; moreover, Acapella is highly protective of its work and products, so the people there are cautious when it comes to divulging details. In case you were wondering, the wire used inside Acapella speakers is "similar" to that used for the High LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables. That's the most I could find out.
My system then and now
When Brian visited me, I still had the Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 speakers. They are long gone, replaced during the time the High LaMusika cables have been here with Verity Audio Lohengrin IIs and Wilson Audio MAXX 2s. I had many amplifiers with which to drive the big Verity and Wilson speakers: Lamm ML2.1, Lamm M1.2 Reference and Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk III monoblocks, along with Convergent Audio Technology JL2 Signature Mk 2, Audio Research Reference 110 and Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 stereo amps. Preamps were almost as abundant. I own Audio Research Reference 3 and Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP line-stage preamps; a CAT SL1 Ultimate Mk 2 joined them. Sources were all digital and included the Aurum CDP (which is a CD player as well as a preamp), an Audio Research Reference CD7 CD player, an Ayre C-5xe universal player, and the most recent Zanden Model 5000 Signature DAC and Model 2000 Premium transport connected with Zanden's proprietary I2S digital cable. This final combo produces the best digital sound I've yet heard.
Most of the electronics rested on products from Silent Running Audio -- a Craz 4 Reference rack and Ohio Class XL Plus2 platforms -- while the Zanden digital separates sounded best on a pair of Harmonic Resolution Systems machined-aluminum-and-polished-granite platforms.
A Shunyata Research Hydra V-Ray or Essential Sound Products The Essence Reference power distributor cleaned and pressed electricity, except for what the CAT electronics used, which came straight from the wall. Power cords were Shunyata Research Anaconda Helix and Python Helix in both Vx and Alpha variations, Crystal Cable Ultra, or Essential Sound Products The Essence Reference. Interconnects and speaker cables alternated between Shunyata Research Antares Helix and Orion Helix, and Crystal Cable Ultra.
The music of High LaMusika
The High LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables are nondescript -- of mid-sized thickness and covered with a simple black mesh. Compared to the metal baubles and fluorescent jackets that adorn other cables, the High LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables look like they were made by Mennonites, so plain is their appearance.
This makes the distinctive sound of these cables all the more surprising. Their immediacy is matched by abundant clarity -- a potent combination that makes for very involving, even exciting listening. Voices and instruments were rendered with almost hyper-real precision and crispness, but this never toppled over into clinical rigidity, where the sound is more about the parts than the whole. The High LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables are too refined for such ham-handedness, though I certainly wouldn't call them "polite" or "laid-back." "Vivid, forceful and athletic" is more like it.
One of my picks for 2007's best recordings is the soundtrack of a documentary: 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads. The movie covers a trip that Kenny Wayne Shepherd made with a few good buds -- Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Noah Hunt -- rambling around the southern US and recording live with a group of living blues legends, including Cootie Stark, Etta Baker, Gatemouth Brown and B.B. King. The companion CD [Reprise 49294-2] presents this incredibly vital music in sound that's variable because of the different recording sites but well resolved overall. The CD includes a DVD of the documentary; a two-LP set is also available and at the top of my "gotta get it" list.
I've become very fond of the way 10 Days Out sounds with the Acapella cables in my system -- energized from top to bottom, with a spaciousness and solidity that don't overwhelm each other. While I'm not convinced, even after weeks of listening, that the Acapella cables present the music without adulteration, what they do enhances the music, adding some sparkle to the entire treble range and increasing midrange presence. "Chapel Hill Boogie" is an acoustic country blues featuring John Dee Holeman. The product of an informal jam session, this is one of those spooky-real cuts that great blues albums sometimes have. Its informality is its sonic strength, and the brilliance of the Acapella brought this out, capturing the spontaneity of this stellar track.
Telarc classical and jazz recordings should come bundled with the Acapella High LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables. The richness of the recordings benefits greatly from the cables' lively sound. Telarc is one the main supporters of SACD today, and I think highly of the older Soundstream stereo recordings the label has turned into SACDs, especially Louis Lane and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's Appalachian Spring Suite, Rodeo and Fanfare for the Common Man, from Copland: Fanfare / Rodeo [Telarc SACD-60648]. This music doesn't sound nearly as warm as that on many of Telarc's newer recordings, and the Acapella cables captured well the spaciousness of Powell Symphony Hall in St. Louis and the impact at opposite ends of the frequency range from the famously powerful bass-drum whacks and piercing tam-tam strikes on Fanfare.
With the tam-tam especially, it would be easy for a tipped-up system to turn its widely broadcast energy into a cacophony of glare and splashiness. The Acapella cables remained controlled, spreading the high frequencies in a realistic manner but never thrusting them in my face. They seemed to know where the line between "more" and "too much" resided, and they never crossed it.
When people write for advice about matching an amp with a particular speaker, I ask right off what they hope to achieve sound-wise. "What's missing from your current system?" "What would you hope to achieve with the switch?" With the High LaMusika cables, the answer to these questions always has to be "greater energy and a more focused, muscular sound." These are not cables with which you'll fix a forward-sounding system, nor are they likely to cure a case of sonic reticence -- they don't shift the music's perspective or brighten it to the point of inducing glare. Yet they definitely do have a sound of their own, and one that I found thrilling from beginning to end, even as I questioned its breach of strict neutrality. I can make a case for the LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables sounding both different and better, though "What do you hope to achieve?" should always have sway in the purchase decision.
The Ultra question
Crystal Cable Ultra interconnects and speaker cables ($3250 per meter pair and $6750 per eight-foot pair respectively) look like the High LaMusika cables sound: beaming and agile. They use proprietary gold-infused-silver conductors and custom RCA connectors. Like the LaMusika cables, the Crystal Cable interconnects and speaker cables sound very clear and immediate in the treble and midrange, the latter of which has OTL-like purity. From my review: "The Ultras are among the most immediately correct-sounding cables I've ever heard, so acute is their balance between harmonic resolution and tonal color." "True neutrality, not a manufactured perception of such" is how I summed it up. I have used the Ultra cables often, and they have never failed to tell me what the electronics and speakers they connect sound like.
You have, no doubt, already begun sussing out the differences between the Acapella LaMusika and Crystal Cable Ultra cables. The Acapella cables have more of "a sound," one that embellishes acoustic music especially, while the Crystal Cable Ultras are unflappably evenhanded, with "a sound" that emerges from their dominant neutrality. The Acapella cables are bold and resonant, conveying space better than the Ultras, which have better tonal awareness and a slightly sweeter disposition. With the equipment I have here, I could make a strong case for using either set of cables. Neither sounded wrong or more right than the other, although the Acapella cables would be the easier set to recognize blind. After quite a bit of listening, swapping, and listening, I can say that I prefer the Crystal Cable Ultra interconnects and speaker cables because they have less of a character of their own, though it was always satisfying to switch back to the Acapella interconnects and speaker cables.
I recently heard the Acapella Triolon Excalibur speakers, and if I owned them, or any other Acapella speakers, the LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables would be staying as well. While I wouldn't say that the people at Acapella designed their cables specifically for use with their speakers, I am sure the speakers are used at the factory for evaluation and have influenced the cables' sound. It only makes sense.
When he visited and I first heard the LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables, Brian Ackerman happened to be retrieving some Einstein electronics he had lent me. As I reflect on that now, it seems like an interesting coincidence, because the sound of the Acapella LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables resembles that of the Einstein electronics -- nimble and quick, with easily noticeable clarity and upper-range energy. Both brands are made in Germany, which is also interesting. Maybe there's something in the Teutonic character that responds to clarity and immediacy, and eschews a richer, more laid-back presentation.
Whatever the case may be, if you are one of the steadfast skeptics who thinks that all audio cables sound alike, the High LaMusika interconnects and speaker cables will challenge your certainty. These plain-looking cables sound anything but plain, offering a lively, vigorous presentation that's impossible to miss if you're open to hearing it.
They cost a bundle -- I'd be pushing $20,000 to outfit my system -- but I am convinced that for some audiophiles they will be the final piece of a dream audio system, perhaps with some Einstein electronics and Acapella speakers. Brian Ackerman is standing by to take your call!
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