Apogee Duetta, Scintilla, and tussle with horns

Apogee Duetta Graz Henk

The Scintilla last Sunday excited me, so given the Easter holiday this weekend, I scheduled a visit to Henk in Holland – I really wanted to know if it is the Scinitilla or the Duetta that I preferred.

Henk’s 40 ft long, 7m, wide room is too big for the Duettas. They lose bass. Also, he drives his Krell FPB 600 directly from his Phasure dac, and uses digital attenuation, something I don’t prefer (his Grands have a built in volume control). The Duetta therefore seemed much bass light in this room compared to the Scintilla I heard or the Duettas that I have heard at Justin’s or Grant’s (Lissnr from WBF).

However, as I moved closer to the opposite side of the room nearer to the wall, the bass improved, and it took the Duettas an hour to open and start sounding better. 

Henk, Graz, Christoph, and others I interacted with prefer the Scinnies to the Duettas and the Divas, and now I understand why. Henk confirmed my guess that the Scintilla does resemble the Full Range magic in the mids in some ways as those are the only two with a pure ribbon (Diva has a pure ribbon tweeter, but not a pure mid – the mids of Divas, Duettas, and Grands are all kapton-backed). The Scintilla pure mids and tweeter integrated beautifully, and the bass of Scintilla is better than that of the Duetta. Graz also designed his higher efficiency Synergy based on the Scintilla. 

However, despite the lighter bass, and a lower resolution than I am used to, I found myself listening to extended passages – just like on the Scintilla. I heard a fair bit of arias and violin/piano concertos.

What I did later was make Henk move the Duettas so that they stood 1m from a glass back wall, just over 4 ft. apart, and sat a few feet from them. This position actually became more enjoyable, and intimate.  

Apogee Duetta Graz Henk

Apogee Duetta Henk Graz

Picture taken from behind the panel, you can see how close the listening chair is, and Henk and the Grands on either side.

All of you should also read on Rich Murry’s Apogee Duetta in the US – this is quite an all out assault on the Duetta, and is run in all valve set up in an 18*13 room and is generating great bass and layering behind the speakers. The electronics with Lampi and the TRL Dude preamp probably add that meat.

This makes me rethink the point of Divas – they are stuck in the middle. The Scinnies are sonically better, the Full range are better and mightier, and the Duettas and Scinnies both fit smaller rooms better. The Divas require more space than the Duetta and the Scinnies, just short of a full range, so if someone wanted to go big, best to upgrade from a Duetta or a Scintilla to the FR. I am willing to change this view if I hear a better Diva.

So where does that leave me with Apogees and horns? Over Easter, my girlfriend booked a surprise concert for us to listen to Bach’s St Matthews Passion on Good Friday, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. This hall is much superior to Birmingham and Barbican, next probably only to the smaller Sheldonian, and the concert was at least a top 3, if not the best concert I have attended.

The horn that I am considering is providing me more fluidity and liquidity, across instruments like piano. So for piano and piano concertos, for reproducing a full bodied, rich tone, the kind that you get at small chamber type halls like Wigmore and King’s Place, as well as at my favorite, the Sheldonian, the horn is the way to go – put a SPU anniversary on it and you will get the best rendition of the Emperor, as if someone was holding a hose pipe where the horns are, and the notes were flowing out like water towards you, decaying just before you. And no, this does not apply to all horns.

However, violin and violin concertos play better on the Apogees. And they do orchestral from a more just back of center at Barbican point of view  

But the St Matthews Passion is different. It’s now my favorite piece along with Beethoven’s 9th. It goes through choral, various tenor/baritones/mezzos/sopranos, individual instruments, etc, but most importantly, it made me realize what it is like to sit through for 3 hours with a 20 min interval. And enjoy every minute of it. Beethoven’s 9th is different, it can never get monotonous, but if the St Matthews Passion is not performed well, or had it been composed differently, monotony would have set in pretty quickly. Other concerts also have multiple pieces being performed, not just one – this is one long marathon piece – shame that it is performed only during Easter. On the way back from Manchester, I asked my girlfriend what she wanted to listen to at home – opera/aria, piano and individual instruments, or symphonies. Arias, followed by symphonies, was her reply.  And yes, she has been much more active at the Royal Opera House than I.

Why am I stating all this? Because the pure-ribboned Apogees are the best I have heard for vocals,bar none – no stat, no horn, no valve amp, no analog, can produce the vocals that come out of a pure aluminium ribbon, IMO put an oppo and a Krell KSA 100, and you will get better vocals from here than you will get from configuring anything upstream on any other speaker. So if I wanted to sit and listen to arias all day, the Scintilla is a straight choice. Followed by the Duetta. Put a high current class A through them, and the tenors roar. Crystal clear. The baritones have a great chest, the women a gorgeous density.

Given that I cannot think of indulging in a space for a full range, the bass produced by the Scintillas and the Duettas, while great, is less relative to trio bass horns or the big bespoke horn I am considering. The Scintillas are better than the Duettas on bass.

So on orchestra, the bass of the horn will be much higher than that of the duetta and the Scintilla – given that it has an open cabinet, at 1.35m almost 3 times the width of a focal maestro utopia and at 1m 2.5 times the depth. The horn creates scary bass as it plays the opening movements of Mahler 2, and is excellent on the quieter parts of the symphony as it reproduces the horns, flutes, clarinets, etc. What it gives up to the Apogee is the height and the scale that comes from the height – the Apogee, even the Duetta, gives a more realistic stage representation as the whole plane, top to bottom, is distributing the bass and the feel of the orchestra. The Apogee also produces the softer bass most realistically – by softer bass I mean the one that is produced when the rest of the orchestra gently joins from behind the soloist – the way cellos and double bass gently join in, so you hear the orchestra opening up behind the speakers.

The horn breathes better – if you are listening to Bydlo, not only is the opening tuba produced best on this horn (following the Yamamura), but the room heaves and sighs as the big move comes in and the cattle marches through. The Apogee does this extremely well too, just that the horn has an advantage.

Now, one should not think that where one design has an advantage, the other one does not. While listening to the Scintillas, we were all mesmerized by how tuneful the bass was due to the lack of overhang that comes from a cabinet coloration, and arias on the horns are obviously extremely enjoyable. From a pure logistical perspective, the Scintillas can fit smaller rooms but have a shape constraint, the horns need a big room (but no shape constraints).

At the end of the day, all this is mental masturbation, these individual attributes don’t always matter, and I just have to see what I can listen to longer. I am now just trying to fathom what I can most easily listen to without focusing on aspects of the speaker. The Apogees have passed this test, I will check out the horns in June and then make my sonic decision. Practically I should wait for the room to be confirmed. If I had the luxury for a big room, I would rank FR, horn, and Scintilla, in that order.

With Scintilla, the options to play around with amps is limited, with SETs there is more, especially as fellow audiophiles can bring amps over. And yes, the Apogees actually respond much more to analog than horns – not sure why, but the soundstage of vinyl has caused realism to jump up multiple times on the Apogees whenever I have demoed

Anyway, tonight, Bonzo rocks

Led Zep

 ps: Another review here 

pps: More on Henk’s Scintilla bracing

Apogee Scintilla

Internal bracing with steel

Apogee Scintilla

Added benefit: Ample space for a high quality filter beneath the ribbons, and the added height makes the scinnie even more of a line source.

ps: Read a funny comment on Audioasylum – “The Scintilla doesn’t drop down to 1-2 ohms….it doesn’t get above 1-2 ohms”

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