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Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
september/october 2013


Audio Ramblings - Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers
by Dave Clark


In my previous speaker reviews I was curious as to the relationship between a designer's personality and the sound one realizes through their products. That is, if the designer is cool and calm, will his product create music with much the same character? So far it has played out rather close, though with the Acoustic Zen Crescendos ($16,000 a pair)… well they tend to fly in the face of the friendly and warm Robert Lee.

For anyone who has not met Robert before, he is in possession of a generous and warm personality; always greeting Carol and me with a warm smile, along with a hug and handshake. Robert is as enthusiastic as anyone you will likely meet when it comes to music, food, and audio—just my sort of fellow to hang out with. He loves to flash his version of the proverbial Cheshire grin as he plans his next creation; whether it be a cable, speaker, or electronics. Of which he appears to do at the drop of a hat. In casual conversations, one can toss him an idea, and the next thing you know he is sharing with you how he would make that whatever and do it better than anyone else. Witty and personable, that is Robert to a T.

In come the Acoustic Zen Crescendos… a speaker that in many aspects tends to be the antithesis of Robert's personality. A bad thing? No, not at all… just for me a curiosity, what with my experiences so far.

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

The Crescendos offer the listener the best 'merging' or 'melding' of an ideal two-way monitor with a fully integrated subwoofer—of which the speakers are not, though from the front they do have the visual image of two speakers built as one (two-way monitor with a fully integrated subwoofer).

The Crescendos are a large and substantial box sporting beautiful cabinetry that is shaped to address cabinet reflections and so on by curving backward. They are heavy and solid (dead to the knuckle and at 125lb each a bear to moved about) combining a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter with two 5" midrange units and two 8" woofers in an obvious three-way transmission-line design (90dB @ 6 ohms).

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

What one gets is a speaker that will play crazy loud with no hint of strain or congestion. Extended and airy with never a hint of strain or glare from the ribbon, they possess a crazy deep bass that is tight and tacitly scary. I was able to rock the room with any bass heavy tracks without any fear of damage. Damage to me and room perhaps, but the Crescendos just sang like crazy never balking at what I threw at them sonically.

They image like the dickens, are fast and nimble… they simply toss your music out and about in a way that allows one to hear what is there with nothing obfuscating the details and nuances. Clean and articulate… the Crescendos are a window into the recording. No punches are pulled, no criticisms are avoided. They play like they mean it and lack any sense of forgiveness—forgiveness in the sense of colorations that color your music or allow you to move on without taking notice. Not forgiveness in the sense of being unforgiving. Sort of like the best of Muhammad Ali and Michael Spinks melded into one: grace, speed, and power. Ali plays with you and then bam, Spinks seals the deal. Once in the ring neither boxer will forgive your lack of skills or ability. Kablamo!

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

The Crescendos are though less about being warm and rich (unless that is what is in your music that is being played back) and more about the truth. So unlike Robert who makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and oh so welcomed and appreciated, the Crescendos will slap you around with their clarity and coherence and make you wish you had better sounding music. In playing back a few tracks after I had them just right in the room, the first thought that passed my aging and not so coherent mind is how they reminded me of my own speakers, but after they and my room were 'tuned' with the DEQX Mate. Sweet. I was getting a lot of what I experience with the Teton/Mate set-up, but without the Mate in the mix. Which is not a knock against the Mate—sorry, but the Teton/Mate combo is still tops in my book. But oh man, I bet the Crescendo/Mate set-up would be stellar! Which is not to suggest that the Crescendos are in need of a quick fix (see below), but that one could create three options to tailor the speakers to fit their music or aural swings. Actually, any speaker and room needs the DEQX Mate—it is that good! But using it to review speakers really would not be fair, now would it? Even so, the Crescendos gave the Teton/Mate combo a rather decent run for their money sans DEQX.

As a side note, the Crescendos did arrive with a complete set of measurements that are rather stunningly flat and overall quite excellent in all respects being very reminiscent of how the Tetons measure after the DEQX 'treatment'. Of which all points to Robert having done it right.

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

Now I will say that if you want more richness and warmth (colorations to be sure and nothing wrong with that as long as you know what is going on and are happy) then try these with tube amps or cables that tend to go that way. That is fine by me and something I did here to great effect. Not the tube amp that is, but I did swap in the Skogrand SCI Markarian 421 interconnects and hot damn… these cables transformed the speakers into ones that, while still possessing their inherent character, now gave me more of the richness and warmth that I experience with the Tetons/Mate. Which is not to suggest that the Crescendos are lean and mean, dry and analytical; that they are not. They are the proverbial Formula 1 car of the present, as opposed to the touring car of the past. It is just that I like more color in my sound than I did when I was younger—when the Crescendos would have been for me a quick purchase. Is it more about age or more about preference? No doubt both… at my age I want to relax and not think about things so much—I have that in spades right now thank you ever so much—and so for sure, my preference is now less is more. I want to chill and escape. The Crescendos let nothing escape. They will grab you, and make you sit up and pay attention. They hold no prisoners.

Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers

The Crescendos are a speaker that will open a door to what is in your music. They are a true audio "tool" to not only hear and see how the music was recorded, but to realize what is going on in your system. They will reveal things about your music and system that you might not want to know—they are honest and pure. For the $16000 you get an amazingly well-thought and a beautiful loudspeaker (fit and finish are superb) that competes with other designs costing several times their more 'affordable' price. How Robert does it, I have no idea as these are a true assault in defining a full-range SOTA loudspeaker. I loved my short time with the speakers and found them a wonderful window into my music. Kudos to Robert and the AZ team.

Acoustic Zen

More on the Crescendos can be found here and here