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Hi guys,

Well after much research I finally bought my HT/audio system earlier this year. What follows is a longish review that focuses on the audio capabilities of the system. I've posted this stuff on Audio Asylum but since many of you here are interested in HT stuff as well I will flesh out that the front projection referred to is an LT-150 that is playing off an HTPC receiving an SDI feed.

Here's the review and all I can say is if you are serious about audio don't have a second thought about Peter Thomsen's gear. This guy is a genius.

Review of 2-channel audio and home theatre performance of an Acoustic Reality system

My story with this audio equipment is a bit of a strange one. I originally took delivery of a complete home theatre and audio package of equipment from Peter Thomsen of Acoustic Reality in March of 2003. Then after very little time I was obliged to temporarily work elsewhere and I couldn’t listen to the system for quite a number of months. What follows then is my listening impressions over the last 2-3 months, after what seems to me to have been a very long time of not being able to listen. During my absence the speakers were broken in and I would guess all equipment now has somewhere between 200 to 500 hours on it.

To go straight to the conclusion anyone interested in this level of equipment should go first to http://www.acoustic-reality.com/portal.asp and read over the material. I think without question people who are interested in pure audio with an absolute minimum of coloration and impressive performance in virtually every range of the spectrum will be stupefied with the performance offered by this equipment. Indeed, for the price it is simply something that anyone who is serious about audio should definitely not overlook. Peter’s business model of combining his genius of speaker and amplifier design with the direct marketing platform of the internet is something that makes his equipment particularly attractive to those who look for world class audio at reasonable prices.

First of all, the system I have consists of the following:

Acoustic Reality 3D Mk II speakers (for fronts – the Mk II designation means they incorporate Peter’s new crossover. These speakers were forebearers to Peter’s current line of Tetra speakers)

Acoustic Reality Avinci One speakers (for rears – apparently Peter no longer makes these anymore and seems to have decided to go with the Tetra line of speakers with their tetrahedon shaped enclosures alone)

Both the 3D Mk II’s and the Avinci’s have ScanSpeak drivers.

Two Acoustic Reality digital amplifiers, each with 2 x 250 watts amplification (now these would be called the eAR Two Mk II amplifiers)

Interconnects are supplied by Peter Thomsen and are good quality cable. Sorry but I am not one who is a great believer in cable lore.

Source is a DVD-A10 player from Technics (chosen for the fact that it was capable of being modified to provide SDI output of DVD film output, and has a number of audiophile oriented design features. It includes DVD-Audio capability along with CD playback and also has an integrated master volume control allowing me to avoid integrating a pre-amplifier into the audio chain. Those who visit the Acoustic Reality website will see however that Peter now makes a preamplifier).

My weakness in the system is the listening room. It is a 2.4 m wide by 5 m long basement room with concrete floors and ceiling and cinder block walls. Apart from carpeting and a couch there are no room treatments. Listening position is at the apex of an equilateral triangle with the speakers virtually at the edge of the width of the room, and about 1 meter out from the front wall, so I am about 2.4 m away from the speakers.

Two channel listening - audio

The immediate impression is contact. There is a direct palpable sense of the performers being in the room. You close your eyes and the performance unmistakably is taking place a few metres away. There is so much realism with well recorded material that it is simply scary. I have never experienced this level of acoustic accuracy with any system I have auditioned or owned.

Soundstage and imaging are uncanny. I mean really uncanny. I can hear performers well out past the lateral boundaries of the room and the performance consists of musicians and vocalists who appear to be physically present anywhere from directly in front of me to a meter or two behind the speakers. Material that has been recorded and produced in a manner to create sonic effects (e.g. Daniel Lanois, Pink Floyd) is particularly pleasant to listen to on this system in terms of it’s imaging capabilities.

The treble range is very well presented with undetectable sibilance or overhang. Control is present throughout the upper ranges and this system simply sparkles on test material that emphasizes cymbals. To what extent this is due to the excellent transient performance of the amplifiers or to the speaker transducers it is not clear to me, but it is clearly a match made in heaven.

The midrange is particularly convincing in this system. Well recorded vocal material (e.g. Diana Krall, Norah Jones, Peter Gabriel) is completely captivating and I defy anyone to find a flaw in this systems ability to open a window through to the music – particularly onto vocals which are absolutely stunning.

The bass extension of the speakers is the only limitation of any note with these speakers – they are not able to plumb the very depths of bass and I do wonder how they would perform with a good subwoofer that freed them up from providing the lowest octave. I suspect something like a Vandersteen 2WQ would be a very welcome addition to this system. This is not to say that the speaker’s bass is poor – it is tonally very accurate down to somewhere in the mid to low 30’s I would guess. Furthermore (and I suspect this is the amplifier more than the speaker) the impact of the bass in terms of control is quite remarkable. I have never heard a system with such masterful control of the bass in my life. The only (and I want to emphasize that I mean the only) drawback I can find with this system is that full extension into the 20 Hz range is simply a little too rolled off for my tastes and I find myself wondering how it would sound if the speakers were freed up from their bass duties and allowed to have their midrange and treble qualities shine.

However, I want to emphasize that the performance in the bass range I am referring to is really only the very lowest depths. Bach’s Tocatta Fugue in D Minor (which I have on DVD-Audio) comes through as a very convincing performance, but I am aware that there is additional bass from the pipe organ that I should be hearing and feeling. The point is that what I am drawing attention to here actually influences very little in the way of recordings. In fact, if I was using the system only for music I suspect I might not even bother thinking about a subwoofer. As it is a dual use system I think I will get a sub and see how I feel about using it for DVD and music or DVD’s alone.

Before I move on to the home theatre part of this review I will just add a couple of remarks about the amplifiers. They are absolutely silent. You turn them on and they disappear. I mean no sound, no sound signature, not even any heat because of their design. Just nothing. They allow you to hear the music and they do so while remaining completely faithful (be that good or bad) to the original recording, and I find that you simply cannot ask anything more of an amplifier. I still can’t get over the fact of turning off the amps after an extended listening session and finding them completely cool to the touch. Interconnections are not located so conveniently, but personally I have no time for people who get concerned about such things. The amps look wonderful in terms of their design (as do the speakers for that matter), but even if they didn’t I really couldn’t care a less. The fact that Peter has paid particular attention to the design and finish of all of his equipment is simply an additional bonus.

Home theatre

Save yourself the money and forget a center channel with this system. The imaging and soundstaging capabilities of the 3D Mk II’s is (as I’ve said before) simply stunning. Holographic is the word that comes to mind. Having this level of speaker in the context of a home theatre presentation of film material is wonderful beyond any words I can find to explain what I mean. To see dialogue taking place on the screen then hear something like a splash of water, hear a church bell, or just about any recognisable sound effect and hear it rendered so perfectly, so naturally that you could swear it happened in the room is something that adds a whole other dimension of reality to the viewing experience.

Our home theatre is a front projection system with projection onto a 2.4 meter wide screen (which explains why I am obliged to keep the front speakers at the edge of the room boundaries). The combination of big screen playback and this level of realism with the audio playback is something that cannot be expressed in words. People who have seen DVD’s with well recorded soundtracks in this setup are completely involved in the experience. Thanks Peter, that’s just what I wanted.

The only comments I can make on the Avinci One speakers in this system which are functioning as my rear speakers is that they get too little use. I truly feel I have a star set of performers back there and it bothers me that to all intents and purposes I am only hearing them 10% of the time, and then really only as some sort of sound effect transducer. My plan is to move these speakers from rear duties in the theatre to our upstairs living room system (now served by some aging B&W Leisure Monitor 1 speakers). My big question will be what to do for amplification. In a way I am tempted to build stands for the 3D Mk II’s to keep them approximately 15 cm off the ground, add spikes and run them with one of the digital amps and take the other one to run the Avinci One speakers upstairs. Then I’d buy some other relatively inexpensive source of amplification for the B&W’s that I would move downstairs for rear duties.

All in all, whether for home theatre or discriminating audio listening I can’t recommend Peter’s equipment more enthusiastically. He provided me with a tremendous amount of help and advice in my research phase, was thoroughly professional in all of his dealings, and shipped the material in an uncommonly thoughtful way. I doubt if the courier service could have damaged the equipment if they had tried.

The price that one pays for this level of equipment is not something to be taken lightly and unless one has far too much money I suspect most who choose to buy Peter’s equipment are making a major purchase. That was certainly the case for me. However, in my case I feel completely vindicated by the superlative quality of the audio. I simply don’t see ever needing another audio system. Period.
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