Acoustic Zen

RMAF 2014

RMAF 2016

RMAF 2015

RMAF 2106 Part Time Audiophile

Acoustic Zen master Robert Lee, whose quiet, humble presence and terrific-sounding speakers are a mainstay of the major stereo shows, almost didn’t attend the 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest

Worn out from the exhibit circuit and company duties, Lee was seriously considering sitting this one out until he got a call from John Dormandy of Voss Audio, inviting him to provide a pair of speakers to power some new electronics.

It proved beneficial for both men and their enterprises, as the Acoustic Zen-Voss pairing turned out to produce some of the best sound of the show.

Lee was displaying his Crescendo II ($22,000 a pair), a tweaked version of his well-regarded floorstander, while Voss provided the Auquus UltraClassA/B ST amplifier ($54,000) and class-A Liquus UltraClass line stage ($44,000). Rounding out the rig was an Aesthetix Romulus Eclipse CD player ($14,000) and A Jena Model 2 AC filtering unit ($2,000).

The Auquus is a 150 watt-per-channel MOSFET amp that offers extremely wide bandwidth, Dormandy said.

“We designed it to capture the harmonic richness of tubes, but with the speed and harmonic purity of solid-state,” he told me.

The Liquus, meanwhile, features lithium-ion battery power and a bandwidth capability similar to the Auquus.

Voss was incorporated in June after five years of research and development. Next up is a phono stage, Dormandy said.

Acoustic Zen's Crescendo was looking great, as usual, in its high-gloss rosewood finish (as good as you can get in this price range). The speaker is a three-way, full-range model that incorporates two 5-inch midrange drivers, two 8-inch woofers and a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter — all in a transmission-line design. The upper half of the Crescendo uses a D’Appolito configuration for the mids and tweeter, while the bottom of the floor-standing tower employs “underhung” voice coils for its ceramic-coated woofers.

I’ve heard the Crescendos driven by a variety of tube and solid-state gear, and their reproduction is consistently great. It was the same at RMAF in Denver.

The Voss gear, especially, seemed to bring out the sound-staging and imaging attributes of Lee’s design. His speakers already have some of the flattest frequency-response plots in the business, and combined with the wide bandwidth and extremely low noise floor of the electronics, you could follow notes as they dissipated practically into infinity.

This could be heard on several tracks I played (well, more than several, as Lee and Dormandy were very patient hosts), including Steely Dan’s “My Rival” and the Pretenders’ “Nothing Maker.” Sibilants were almost nonexistent, while bass and drums had both impact and depth.

The Zen-Voss rig could do the blues, too. The B.B. King-Eric Clapton version of “The Thrill Is Gone” was, to put it mildly, thrilling. And perhaps the most astounding song I tried was an ancient field recording of Junior Kimbrough accompanying himself on "Meet Me in the City",    a yearning plea to a lover howled over some of the most hypnotic, syncopated guitar-playing ever recorded. On this spare track, which is part of an obscure British compilation called The Honky-Tonk Demos, I heard for the first time what sounded like Kimbrough tapping his foot on the beat.

I could have stayed the rest of the afternoon — and Lee and Dormandy probably would have let me — but, alas, I had a long list of rooms to report on for Part-Time Audiophile. It was nice, though, to have my moment of Zen.

RMAF 2106 Stereophile - Herb Reichert

When I entered the Voss Audio room I stopped cold in my tracks by the door. I knew instantly…whoever set up these Acoustic Zen Crescendo II loudspeakers ($22,000/pair)…whoever decided they should go far out, away from the back wall and close to side walls…whoever it was really knew what they were doing. The sound was sharp, clean, focused, and pulsing tightly. Imagine the sound of low distortion. I was deeply impressed.

Maybe all that high-budget gear sitting behind the Acoustic Zens was contributing to all that tight musical sound? Maybe. I noticed a Voss Auquus ST Reference amplifier ($54,000), a Voss Liquus Reference line stage ($44,000), an Aesthetix Romulus Eclipse CD player ($14,000), Jena Labs Model 2 AC filter ($2000), and some neatly arranged Jena Labs cables. Bravo, Voss Audio!


RMAF 2106 Audiophilia - Karl Sigman

Passing by Room, 407, I heard exceptional sound quality emanating; so in I strolled. It was the Voss Audio Room, and on hand were both the modest and talented Robert Lee from Acoustic Zen, and the energetic and passionate John Dormandy of Voss Audio, both from California. I listened to the CD, Branford Marsalis (saxophonist), `Trio Jeepy’.

The Powering was by Voss (Auquus UltraClassA/B (TM) ST Reference stereo Amp ($54,000), and Liquus UltrsClass (TM) Reference Line-Stage ($44,000), while the speakers were the Acoustic Zen Crescendo II in Rosewood ($22,000). 

Supporting equipment included an Aesthetic Romulus Eclipse CD player ($14,000) and Jellabas Model 2 AC Filtering ($2,000). The timber and natural textures of the saxophone were incredible as were that of most midrange/bass instruments.

When I stood close by the right speaker, it really sounded like Marsalis was playing next to me. Very impressive.

RMAF 2103 6 Moons - Steve Marsh

Triode Corporation, Acoustic Zen. The sound in this room keeps getting incrementally better each year. Pairing up the Triode TRX-M845 monoblocks with the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers like last year, there was a sense that something had improved.

A great jazz CD played in the Triode Corporation’s CD player into their new TRX-2 line stage. The bass was punchy and the trombone belted forth with gusto yet retained smoothness and never spilled over into harshness. The saxophone had a velvety smooth quality that was beguiling.

We listened to several more CDs, including classical music (Reference Recording’s Dance of the Tumbler) and Hugh Masakela’s hit song “Stimela” and the system did a wonderful job on all. Masakela’s voice had excellent articulation and was very intelligible and natural sounding.

Santy Oropel explained that the preamp and amps incorporated upgraded power transformers this year. I had always thought that the power transformer did not have a large effect on the sound. He insisted otherwise and said that the winding and insulation techniques had been improved and this accounted for the better sound.

Live and learn!

RMAF 2017

RMAF 2107 - Positive Feedback

Wyred 4 Sound and Acoustic Zen had an impressive system, featuring new Wyred 4 Sound products including a Roon-ready music server, PS-1 modular power supply, nextGen amplifier, and DAC-2v2SE. As well, the system included the Recovery USB reclocker, STP-SE Stage 2 preamplifier, USB cables, interconnects, and power Cables. Acoustic Zen Maestro loudspeakers completed the system.

RMAF 2107 - Audiohead

The room sounded effortless through the Acoustic Zen Maestro speakers ($43,000/pair) at Rocky Mountain Audiofest, bringing together both powerful control and subtle finesse for a most enjoyable experience.

RMAF 2107 - Part-Time Audiophile

Robert Lee tends to exhibit his well-regarded Acoustic Zen speakers at shows with an ever-changing list of electronics partners. Despite the diverse group of components — tubes, solid-state, Class A, Class D — he never fails to make a good sound.

The Zen master may have found his best match yet at the RMAF Show.  Lee, who’s based in California, teamed up with another Sunshine State manufacturer Wired 4 Sound.

The first demo track I heard was Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong doing “Summertime” from their 1558 studio album, Porgy and Bess. The vocals were nicely rendered, and the orchestral arrangement was conveyed with realistic scale.

I also listened to Jennifer Warnes’ version of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire,” from Famous Blue Raincoat. The high frequencies — especially percussion instruments — were extended and polished, and bass response was deep, full and tight. Warnes’ voice, meanwhile, was clear and up-front. Here, the Maestros did a particularly good job with image height, layering and overall weight and impact.

Acoustic Zen and Wyred 4 Sound seem to have struck up a mutually beneficial relationship. Audiophiles interested in the products of one should also investigate the other

RMAF 2107 - Enjoy the Music

Sometimes you're riding in an elevator minding your own business, and you get a surprise summons to a room. This happened to me when Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen saw my yellow name tag (Press) and told me I must come to his room, so I followed him and had a great experience with him, Ken Stevens of CAT, and Neal Van Berg who runs Sound Science in Castle Rock. Ken gave a compelling demo of why low level details are important especially in conveying the emotional content of music, and showed that this system could extract this info and help us experience the feelings of the artists. The system included a beautiful pair of Acoustic Zen Crescendo MK II speakers in stunning Bird's Eye Maple ($24,000/pr), CAT SL1 Legend preamp ($29,995), CAT JL7 Mono amplifiers ($34,990/pr), a Sound Science Music Vault MX IO Ultra music server ($9,995), Merging Technologies NADAC PL8 DAC ($11,500), and Acoustic Zen cables were utilized.

They let me play my test CD here and the sounds were spectacular, in particular the bell strike in "No Sanctuary Here" by Chris Jones came from above and behind the speaker unlike every other system where the bell is stuck on the tweeter. All genres shown on this system, big deep stage, wide dynamic swings, and the piano was very realistic sounding percussive while aurally showcasing rich harmonics. Neal is the Front Range dealer for all these brands and is located just south of Denver.

RMAF 2016