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Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
september/october 2013


Acoustic Zen Crescendo Speakers: The Best on the Scene Regardless of Price?
by Jim Merod


[Photograph courtesy of Acoustic Zen]

Starting from a High Place

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 $16,500, 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. Nonetheless, I've found that they achieve their highest pinnacle of musical illumination paired with Kubala-Sosna Elation! speaker cables.

More reflections as they occur….

Retail: $16,000.00 per pair

Acoustic Zen
16736 West Bernardo Drive
San Diego, CA 92127