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Using a large 12-inch woofer with two far smaller dome drivers would seem to put a certain strain on the design. Will the woofer keep up with the ultra-light and fast Titanium membranes? The Aquarius solves this puzzle amiably. The woofer neither follows nor leads and is perfectly sync’d with the upper drivers for a coherent sound field which radiates off the baffles. Koen clearly put a lot of effort into getting this right. There are computer models and a wealth of speaker design knowledge on how to design a box but what about an egg-shaped enclosure coupled to a bass-reflex port? Would he need one or two ports? Where to place them?  

Many CDs and LPs later, we had grown really fond of these speakers. Their strongest suit is to transfer musical emotion into the listening room at any given sound pressure level. Playing loud is never much of a problem but playing at low or very low levels without loss of fine detail is a big achievement. Even with the attenuator of our 6wpc amplifier just above zero, the tonal balance remained strong and the bass didn’t vanish. On a recording with upright bass and voice like Musica Nuda’s 55/21 where singer Petra Magoni and bass player Ferruccio Spinetti combine opera and jazz licks, a plucked open E-string was represented with the full body size of the instrument intact. Magoni’s occasionally piercing peaks remained composed and clean.

Whatever genre we threw at the Aquarius no matter the volume, they persisted at portraying a consistent image. Many speakers get lean at low volumes but not the Aquarius. This suggested a very well designed cabinet to optimally support the chosen drivers. Vented speakers may have optimized bass amplitude but when it comes to transient response and impulse fidelity, many stay behind their accompanying drivers. Not here.

After a few days of listening, Koen’s own speaker cables arrived. It turned out to be the simplest of designs and looked nothing like high end. A semi translucent Teflon tube held a single helically twisted silver ribbon. Remembering how we were cautioned about silver cables, here we stared at essentially nude silver ribbons terminated in simple banana plugs. Because this was Koen’s own pair, it arrived fully broken in. We merely pulled out the Nanotecs and inserted these. The Vaessen cable had a slightly lighter ‘taste’. From the midrange  on up, the sound was a bit more open and had a little more presence. Fortunately the perceived extra presence did not extent all the way up into the treble which remained smooth. Rhythm, pace and dynamics were unaffected. Despite its simplicity, this cable excelled.

Over the years, the Aquarius underwent several modifications. The most striking of those occurred of late and dealt with the baffle. Earlier designs ran a flat baffle, the current incarnation a faceted faceplate with squared dimples. Relative to its midrange and tweeter diameter, the Aquarius baffle is wide by conventional standards. Most designers would taper their baffle to narrow towards the top. Not Vaessen. While there is a slight taper, the baffle remains broad. With it, musical pitch is more stable particularly for central sounds that emanate equally from both speakers. With a wide baffle, the music becomes smoother, more accurate and easier to listen to. A wide baffle projects more of the sound energy at the listener. This extra projection is caused by diffraction of sound waves on the baffle. A narrow baffle avoids those for a more pin-point and beamier sound. For even smoother midrange/treble response than what he got from his bare baffle, Koen now created the dimpled diffraction plate. Unlike golf ball dimples, his embedded squares use hemispherical ends and the plate is turned by 90° and finished with a smooth carbon fiber trim. The resultant combination of wide baffle plus diffraction plate explains the stunning imaging this speaker is capable of.

No matter how hard we tried to identify a negative, we could not. The Aquarius supports very long sessions while listening to the most varied of music in an endless row. Small ensembles sound as intimate as they are, large orchestras win the stage they need and deserve and rock groups literally rock out your crib. This is a truly great speaker and all the years of fine tuning have paid well off. Besides excellent sound quality and the ability to run off 6-watt or 2000-watt amplifiers, the form factor is unique. Everyone laying eyes on the Aquarius lit up with a smile to suggest that unusually high cosmetic acceptance was at work. In the usual price/performances stakes, the Aquarius scores equally high.

What other wide-baffle speaker would compete? The first contender to our minds is the Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage. Its baffle too is intended to reflect more energy at the listener. Though Sonus Faber uses five drivers, their design remains a 3-way. Their speaker’s 137 x 65.5 x 50cm dimensions make it a bit larger than the Aquarius. Then its price doubles over the Belgian ovoid and the Sonus Faber also requires a powerhouse amplifier that can deliver current into its low 3-ohm impedance band.

Another contender might be the Audio Note AN-E. This also is a wide baffle design capable of creating a very broad deep soundstage to speak to the heart of the music. However, there’s a catch. The Audio Notes need corner placement to bloom. Combined with a true monkey coffin look, it makes them a harder sell in the acceptance arena. On price too they quite outrun the Aquarius. Adding up what we know of competing offerings and coming from Avantgarde Acoustics Duo Omegas, we conclude that Koen Vaessen’s Aquarius is a truly unique proposition in both form and sound quality. Parting with the designer’s personal pair was real tough...

Quality of packing:
Demo pair came unpacked.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: n/a.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Quality of owner's manual: n/a.
Website comments: Very rudimentary, needs work to become more appealing.
Human interactions: Courteous and friendly.
Suggestions: More information on the website would be beneficial.
Remark: Speakers are made to order which supports any choice of finish color. Koen added to our review that by request a bi-wire version is optional. He also gave a 92dB 8-ohm sensitivity and a 22-30.000Hz frequency response spec.

Vaessen website