Country of Origin


System N°1

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Soundaware D100Pro, Kinki Studio DAC
Integrated amplifier: Simon Audio i5
Loudspeakers: Acelec Model One; Zu Audio Submission
Cables: Black Cat Cable Lupo
Power delivery: Puritan Audio Labs PSM156 
Equipment rack: generic wooden foot stool
Room: 4 x 6m 
Review component retail: €2'495 &  €5'400

Systematically. It's how we'd like to assemble a satisfying hifi. The actual route to it is often more haphazard. Even reviewers can chance upon an unexpectedly winning combination well after a review first published. So these short features grouped under the same constellation logo are about the grace of hindsight, occasionally from sheer dumb luck when certain items just so happened to be on hand and produced unexpected sparks. In all cases, our archives will already have published feature reviews on the main components. But those reviews are about parts. Today's report is about proven combinations. Often the key players will be the amp+speaker pairing. After the room, that's the biggest variable. Adding a particular digital source (I don't do vinyl) won't markedly tip the balance or wipe out the winning bits. Neither will cables past a base level of competence. So don't expect complete itineraries. This is about locking in a particular sonic flavor or presentation with the most important determinants. Sorting out the secondary and tertiary players remains at your own discretion.

Today is about the Simon Audio i5 integrated and Acelec Model One monitors. Both are from personal design heroes. The first is Simon Lee, formerly of April Music, now heading his original 4-square team under Simon Audio still out of Seoul/Korea. The second is flying Dutchman Cees Ruijtenberg, formerly of Metrum Acoustics, now Acelec and Sonnet Digital. Remote controlled, fully balanced and fitted with a pre-out to rope a sub into the picture—I use our Zu Submission in the left corner but for these purposes it's utter overkill—this 25wpc 'single-ended' push/pull amp with just one pair of transistors per channel is very ballsy, dense and rich. A pair of dual discrete opamps from Burson are socketed thus swappable. Simon fancies their 'Classic' model which emphasized a bold-but-soft warmer climate. For these speakers, I favor the 'Vivid' model which gets a bit quicker and more detailed. The fully aluminated Dutchies combine Mundorf's AMT tweeter with a radially slashed ScanSpeak mid/woofer and a stacked 1st-order filter which seriously accelerates attenuation past the first octave. I bought the optional stands. Not only do those bolt to the speakers but they allow for removal of their spikes to terminate in hard-rubber footers perfect for parquet floors. I elevate the fronts with Audio Physic mag footers for a bit of rake. That aims the tweeters directly at my ears. Sitting cross-legged on my chair puts me a bit higher than standard so this cheap trick works perfectly.

My source is a simple Soundaware SD card transport. Substitute with streamer, DAP, smartphone. For DACs I've tried an older Auralic Vega, Questyle CAS192D and Kinki Studio. None of it alters the core flavor. Highly recommended however is the €1'450 Puritan Labs PSM156 AC/DC filter behind the footstool. Very close is their PS106-DC at approximately half. You'll obviously make sound plugging straight in the wall but these no-nonsense high-performance British power conditioners do make a significant difference.

Why do I recommend this amp/speaker pairing? Think of the monitors (they also come in silver) as Dutch Magico albeit with rear ports. Rubber-bonded thick aluminium enclosures, premium drivers and expert filters make for a quick very dynamic linear and highly resolute sound. You can easily push these to prioritize speed and clarity over fullness and warmth. That's where the i5 comes in. With the Classic opamps in its circuit, it simply, to my ears at least, adds a bit too much counter steering. Hence my preference for the Vivid. Being hot-swappable, you roll them like tubes so decide for yourself.

On this fight card, these elegant heavyweight compacts do a very authoritative 40Hz. That makes a subwoofer quite the overkill luxury. Just because we already have the Zu, it's there on a 4th-order 50Hz low-pass, PEQ gain set to +6dB at 20Hz for a bit of infrasonic lift. On ambient fare with synth bass or big drums, this sneaks in just a bit of fill and, when on the recording, further enhances subjective dimensionality. That already stretches wall to wall with spooky specificity without any 1st-octave assist. Unlike most of their kind, I suffer no room interference from these rear ports. Their five-fold speed advantage over regular cones can have many an AMT act forward on peaks when their higher dynamic range suddenly leads the mid/woofer. Fronted by Simon Lee's amp voiced for very robust but soft power, these Mundorf exotics never do. When I think this set gets loud, I'm still below 25 on the dial. That's below half mast. A smart volume taper affords me lots of useful steps and in black-out mode, the display doesn't even awaken when I change volume. That's great late at night when idiot lights and displays are an undesirable pollution. Overall this is a high but not extreme resolution system with surprising dynamic chops and a very robust demeanor without any of the lean miniaturized lightness which monitors can charge for their small drivers. If your room is no bigger than ours, nothing more is warranted!