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Positive Feedback ISSUE 34


Acoustic Zen's Crescendo Loudspeakers: A CES Preview
by Jim Merod


At Your Peril: A Glimpse

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 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 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!