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Even though I'm an SUV meister, I get the Swatch/Mercedes mini. If I was an inner-city dweller where parking lots were rarer even than political honesty, I'd own one. Plus, it's just plain cool to illegally park laterally.

Even though I live deep in the backwoods, I get living downtown right above two floors of factory space as Acapella's chief engineer Albert does. I can see him mosey on down in his jammies, cold cuppa Java in hand to chase the latest inspiration at 2:00AM in the morning undisturbed by phone calls, visitors and business as usual.

I get creativity that pursues extremes, paths less traveled and carefree celebration of the self-reliant can-do spirit. I get colossal hornspeakers, colorful finishes, custom options and one-up alterations.

I get paralleled smaller woofers in favor of a solitary big one. I sold the Platinum Solo when it first came out and remember to this day the look of disbelief when customers would watch that puny 5.25" woofer pound out the lowest note of an electrical bass and insist I was hiding a subwoofer - which I wasn't.

Alas, when it comes to the musical virtues of the LaCampanellas, I confess to feeling like the hermit at the Mughal Emperor's banquet. Surrounded by gastronomical and high-society opulence, I secretly wish for a simple mango and banana. I don't get the banquet. I don't get the values underlying it. I miss the horn charge that doesn't happen at efficiencies even a conventional dynamic loudspeaker like a Triangle achieves. I don't get using a horn merely above 700Hz where plenty of musical gumption remains reproduced without benefit of the horn. I don't get $26,000 worth of apparently quite elaborate internal cabinetry when the sound with all of my in-house equipment fails to conjure up that involvement factor I crave (and get in spades from my $2695/pr Gallos and $2,800/pr Zu Druids). Simply put, I find myself in that uncomfortable place Wes Phillips once described as "I don't luv but I do respect." Mind you, this reaction is based on what I had on hand for ancillaries. Still, the notion that these speakers might require $20,000 worth of Einstein gear to come on song doesn't quite turn around my current failure to see the light. After all, my hardware isn't exactly chopped liver.

Yes, compatibility is a very real issue in HighEnd audio. For now, however, I'm left with expectations raised by my Duos, about $20K transparency, jump factor, vocal lock, microdynamics and low-bass growl as well as subtle low-bass spatial trickery. Whether with 30 tubed watts of Audiopax -- which could be shy of the requisite current needed -- or 360 watts of bridged/balanced eVo juice, the Acapellas didn't really change their basic character. Whatever it is they thrive on, my equipment isn't providing.

Though I tried to, talking with Hermann Winters in Germany on the phone did not shed light on any specific amplifier requirements regarding damping factor, current delivery, low-impedance stability or such-like. Essentially I was told that these speakers are highly sensitive to the quality of their preceding electronics. This must mean that what I have is simply not good enough. I was also told that the horn is capable of 100dB efficiency but was deliberately padded down to match the four custom SEAS woofers. Paralleling drivers which operate over the same bandwidth usually nets a 3dB increase in gain. Four drivers would net you 6dB. While avoidance of the high efficiencies most horn makers pursue (Martion Audio System's Orgon, another spherical horn system from Germany, clocks in at 106dB for example) is clearly a deliberate design choice here, its rationale escapes me. All Mr. Winters offered was that it prevents horn-typical colorations. Distributor Brian Ackerman didn't have answers either to this question I consider not only relevant but highly obvious: If all your hornspeaker competitors take advantage of the 10dB of acoustical gain a spherical horn adds to its driver without using higher compression ratios, why has Acapella chosen to pursue this alternate route? What are its advantages? Sell me on the concept. For now, color me baffled in Taos. Incidentally, the asymmetrical horn shape of the LaCampanellas -- already applied for with a German patent -- is said to mitigate reflections at the horn's lower cut-off range, again to avoid certain 'typical horn colorations' that plague other such designs.

The first obvious incompatibility hurdle were my Crystal Cable Reference speaker cables. They sounded malnourished, laterally shut in and tonally bleached. That's never been the case before but - the more you do, the less you know. Plus, there's always a first for anything. Acapella's own speaker cable wrought a transformation that those who claim speaker cables make no difference would consider hyperbole. Tone color solidified and the soundstage expanded in three dimensions. Even so, nothing else I could think of really elevated the performance to a level where I felt the asking price was commensurate with my listening pleasure. This desperation was compounded because two admittedly truly superior examples of speaker design craft -- at 1/10th the price each -- have no such issues with any of my electronics. They're equal-opportunity omnivores so to speak.

My chief complaint? The LaCampanellas simply don't want to come to life at what I consider lower normal levels, i.e. in regular living-with-others mode. This effect of restraint is known to anyone who's ever felt the undeniable urge to prime the pump, goose the gain and lift the curtains. Even at volumes in the upper half of my window, these speakers refused to compete with my Gallos in terms of detail retrieval, impact and transient fidelity. I could have speculated that my sympathies for 100dB+ efficiencies and their effects were slowly but surely causing listener impotence on my part. But because the Ref 3s are a mere 88dB -- less than the Acapellas -- the 10dB handicap the LaCampanellas suffer against the Duos and Druids could not lay claim to be the decisive factor here.

It's not that these speakers behaved poorly. Forget loose bass, shrill treble, a recessed or forward midrange. None of that. Their failure went deeper. They simply did not create that spark whereby sounds turn into ravishing music. The sounds just sat there as though held back behind a blanket. My wife said it best. "They are boring, aren't they?"

Reinserting the Ref3s into the same system proved that very point. Of course I wouldn't have agreed to this assignment in the first place had I not heard the Acapella/Einstein setup at CES. While the LaCampanellas there did suffer a peculiar lack of focus -- image density was strong to the hard left and hard right but diffuse in the center, something noticed also by Serguei Timachev of Indra fame who sat next to me at the time -- the sound in general was good and considering show conditions, highly promising. I'm thus disinclined to put too much stock into my present inability of not duplicating (much less exceeding) what I heard in Las Vegas. Importer Brian Ackerman has already dispatched the vaunted Einstein gear said to be the cat's meow with Acapellas. I will thus reserve further comments until it arrives. You see, I don't want to be guilty of crying wolf before having exhausted further ancillary combinations. I do, however, confess to a certain amount of frustration that such a high-priced offering would prove to be so fussy about preceding amplification. As the flower children used to say, "let's just see what 'appens"...
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