By Keijo Tanskanen
During his audio career Tapani Lappi has been more or less on the spot of Finnish high-end. TL-Audio has typically had one of the biggest and most expensive high-end set-ups in Finland. Tapani purchased Acapella Triolon Excaliburs a bit less than two years ago, and since then I had desperately waited for a change to listen to them. Finally I got my time. Because he does business he is sometimes forced to sell his favourite sets as well. This happened also just after my visit. Although Triolon Excaliburs are extremely expensive I don’t wonder at all that this pair found a new home. If you are a serious audiophile and have a thick wallet, the choice is actually quite natural. Just after selling Triolons Tapani got second hand Wilson Maxx 2s and Avantgarde Trios into his listening room! This is unique, and it is hard to imagine that in Finland these kinds of speaker demonstrations are possible elsewhere than in TL-Audio!
My visits were quite fast ones, but I think giving more time for listening would not have given any significant extra information, only a bit more detailed information. The “game” was so clear.
FIRST LISTENING SESSION
Tapani used his massive Velodyne 1812 subwoofer with Acapella Triolon Excaliburs. He said that it is necessary to use a subwoofer with these speakers in this room. After listening to Triolons without subwoofer I “surprisingly” could only agree with him. TL-Audio’s listening room is so big and wall materials are light enough that the most balanced, live-like and impressive results were achieved only when the highest quality subwoofer was used. Here I must point out that Tapani had also done a long term and professional job in finding right subwoofer placing and adjustments. The whole set-up was Audio Research Reference CD7 player, Audio Research Reference 3 pre-amplifier, Audio Research Reference 110 amplifier, Burmester 948 power conditioner, Velodyne 1812 subwoofer and Transparent Reference cabling.
I listened to several CDs which I knew very well and which I also own myself. There was no doubt about the quality of the sound; it was clearly from the highest level I have ever heard. I would not say that the sound was perfect or even the most resolving one. Instead I am sure it was among the biggest, the most live-like and impressive ones I have ever heard! In other words the sound staging was among the biggest ones, dynamics, balance, cleanness and frequency extensions were among the best ones or the best ones I have ever heard. Actually it is more or less hair splitting to criticize any sound parameters. If something has to be criticized, I would say that the acoustic picture could have been wider horizontally (probably it could have been improved by a wider speaker placement), and I may have heard very slightly more micro-detailed and coherent sound couple of times before. Anyway, without any over praises, this set-up went into the best three I’ve heard so far. That’s it!
When I came second time in TL-Audio, Tapani had also sold his Audio Research CD player and pre-amplifier. So, it was quite impossible to make direct speaker comparisons. But a new front end still had reference components, only speaker cables could have been better ones. That was actually only thing which disturbed me and very likely caused a bit more criticism for the sound evaluation. Also Velodyne 1812 was switched off and moved away, which naturally gave a slight advantage to Acapella set-up. Anyway, Wilson Maxx 2 set-up delivered such a bass that a need for a subwoofer came never in my mind.
SECOND LISTENING SESSION
The second set-up consisted of Wilson Maxx 2 speakers, Audio Aero Prestige SE CD player, Audionet Amp II Max monoblocks (which were brought by us), Transparent Power Isolator 8 power filter and Transparent Reference MM single ended interconnects (which were brought by us) and Transparent Music Wave Plus speaker cables.
This set-up delivered admirable sound as well, but could not quite achieve the level what Acapella set-up delivered. Also when Tapani had Maxx 2s first time couple of years ago the sound was better. I think this happened at least partially because of the better speaker cable and a bit more careful speaker placing. Anyway the sound was nothing but excellent this time as well. After some placing and adjustment procedures the typical Wilson sound was achieved: plenty of dynamics, excellent sound picture and transparency, fast and totally controlled bass and exceptional over-all clarity and so on. The potential of the speakers was easily noticed, but also that a little part of potential was still missing. Our well known CDs were played and listening results were quite clear: A very impressive and excellent over-all demo session, but still “a tiny stone was left in my shoe”.
THIRD LISTENING SESSION
Then it was time to replace Maxx 2s by Avantgarde Trios. The front end was also changed a bit because of practicality and reasonableness. The third set-up consisted of Avantgarde Trio speakers, Audio Aero Prestige SE CD player, Audio Research Reference 110 amplifier, Transparent Power Isolator 8 power filter and Transparent Reference balanced interconnects and speaker cables.
First class transparency, dynamics and clarity was noticed at once. Anyway, Trio set-up could not achieve the over-all presentation level what Maxx 2 set-up delivered. For example treble was not as clean and natural. Also bass had some clear problems – it sounded somehow separated from the other frequency range, and it clearly lacked tonality. Afterwards Tapani had noticed that one of the Avantgarde subwoofer units was slightly defective which explained a bit strange listening experiences of bass. After having a new unit, remarkable improvement in bass was achieved, Tapani explained afterwards. I have no doubts of it.
By my preferences and taste Acapella setup was in a league of its own. Wilson Maxx 2 set-up delivered excellent listening results as well, but after owning better experiences I could not quite achieve a nirvana with the second set-up. Avantgarde Trio set-up was very good as well. Additionally it is important to know that Trios are dramatically less expensive than Triolons and Maxx 2s. This can be also heard on the sound but not as much as one could imagine from the price difference.
So, it became clear that all the three set-ups and speakers of these two visits and three sessions were from the reference class. I have also no doubt to say that all the three speakers will give a lot of pleasure to their new owners if a suitable listening room and front end are used. With my eyes and ears the quality of high-end set-ups seems to still rise in Finland.