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Product name: Acuhorn Giovane85
Manufacturer: Acuhorn - Poland
Cost: 3,300 euro. (Currency conversion) (YMMV)
Reviewer: Andy Norman - TNT UK
Reviewed: March, 2013
Acuhorn is unusual in the world of smaller speaker manufacturers in that they design aspects of their own drivers as well as the cabinets, allowing a greater degree of control and scope for innovation than those who combine existing drivers and boxes. Their approach on the speaker reviewed here is to use cones manufactured by Tesla combined with magnets of their own design.
Back in 2009 TNT-Audio reviewed their Nero 125 loudspeakers, larger units than those considered here. The conclusions then were that the speakers were very smooth and accurate sounding but somewhat lacking in dynamics and extension in the large rooms in which they were tested. Today's review is of a new generation product from Acuhorn, the Giovane85, featuring a new "Superleggera" driver. Superleggera is Italian for Extralight. The Giovane is the smallest in a range that includes two larger pairs of loudspeakers. So, since I only have access to smaller rooms – and these smaller speakers – so it will be interesting to see how they stack up.
As one might expect from a firm with the name "Acuhorn", this is a horn loudspeaker – a single full range driver in a vented cabinet. Unusually, the cabinet has a large vent at the rear meaning the cabinets look more conventional than is often the case with horn speakers. The cabinets are small floorstanders made of light and resonant wood, finished, in this example, with a light coloured, matt finished cherry veneer. The overall standard of construction is very good, if rather plain.
The cabinets are smaller than I expected, being very much of the modern small floorstanding type, just maybe slightly wider. Dimensions are 86cm tall by 20cm wide and 30cm deep. The sound seemed tolerant of different positions – they sounded good against the wall and a little different (though not obviously better or worse) at 50cm out. I followed my usual practice of placing speakers on the long wall. This is likely to be particularly beneficial for this type of speaker as it tends to boost the low frequencies which are generally weaker in single driver loudspeakers. Although sometimes that positioning can induce boominess, it didn't in this case. As ever, speaker positioning is important but these speakers don't seem especially sensitive to it.
Acuhorn are very pleased with their driver. They have been on a journey to reduce the mass of the driver in an attempt to make it more responsive to transients and thus better at rendering musical detail. The web site shows the progress from a conventional driver to this latest version, with no basket at the rear and the frame of the speaker integrated with the wood of the cabinet. The integration with the cabinet also means that there is no visible means of connection of the driver at the front – no screws or allen bolts – which contributes to the minimalist look. The speaker is very sensitive making it a prime candidate for valve amplification or, at the opposite extreme, modern low power digital amplifiers.
The speakers lack any facility for spikes. This means there is no possibility of adjusting them for stability nor of penetrating through carpet to make a more solid connection with an underlying floor. This could be a concern for prospective customers with thick carpets or uneven floors particularly since they are very light in weight, so less likely to settle sturdily on the supporting surface.
It's not every pair of speakers that elicit an unprompted expression of admiration from my wife. I'd just unpacked and set up the Giovane85 speakers when she walked in and said "they're rather attractive". Given the cool reception normally accorded a pair of speakers, I think we can take it as read that this is a pretty little speaker system. The design is pleasantly minimalistic and the proportions well balanced. The finishing is very professional, with all the joins and edges well made and the selection and matching of the veneers decent although not spectacular. There is transfer lettering with the Acuhorn logo in silver along the bottom front edge of the cabinet and "superleggera" in small red italics on the side, in line with the widest point of the driver. The lettering looks pretty cheap to my eye being simple transfers but it's subtle enough not to notice too much either way. There is a range of veneer colours available. At this price though I would expect more exotic veneers and more sophisticated finish options, such high gloss or piano black.
The speakers come with covers to fit over the drivers for protection. These are, in contrast to the rest of the construction, cheap and nasty plastic and card sheets which are held to the cabinet by hooking a rubber lip over the front edge of the unit. It's not terribly effective (it would never keep a child's prying fingers out of the delicate drivers as the covers fall off easily) and it's unsightly by comparison to the speakers and cabinets themselves. In fairness to Acuhorn, it's difficult to see what other arrangement they could have come to without interfering with the simplicity of the plain front. You should work on the principle that these don't have covers and you might think about waiting a while if you're likely to have small children unsupervised in the vicinity of your speakers. I've managed to repair a couple of pushed in tweeters over the years (put sellotape on the front and pull – very carefully) but these drivers wouldn't survive that type of treatment.
But let's take a step back and find out a bit more about these boxes then get on to the critical question of what they sound like.
When my fellow reviewer Mike Cox saw that I had these on the way, he was keen to hear how they sounded with his single ended triode power amps and minimalistic preamp. So between us we had a fair bit of electronics to throw at the speakers. First up, using a netbook as source and my Marantz SA-KI Lite as a DAC, we connected through Mike's Audio Experience Balanced A1 preamplifier and a pair of kit built 300B single ended triode power amps. We ran through the raft of material that we would expect to sound good with such a set up. Diana Krall sounded rich and appealing and there was plenty of detail. I often use the opening of her Live in Paris version of the Joni Mitchell classic "Case of You" as a test of detail and imaging. The track opens with the hall sounds, including audience coughs and you can hear the piano pedals moving and other ambient sounds as the music starts. With a revealing system these sounds are rendered convincingly then, of course, the music that follows is wonderful. The little Acuhorns delivered on the SET promise. With this type of material and these electronics there were no obvious weaknesses. Any single driver system involves compromises at the frequency extremes but there was nothing obviously lacking. The bass was never going to shake the floor – these are not party speakers – and although double bass was slightly recessed, there was enough bass to underpin the sound. The system sounded sublime with Ella Fitzgerald then Norah Jones and all the usual audiophile suspects.
We tried different preamps and the Acuhorns conveyed each change pretty much as expected as expected although I'm not certain they were totally transparent to the changes. It was certainly adding a character of its own. Sometimes it seemed a pleasant warmth, sometimes a slight coloration. First up was the highly regarded Music First Audio passive pre. That cleaned the sound up a bit compared to the valve richness of the Audio Experience, but it lost almost as much in atmosphere as it gained in clarity. We then tried the little PGA2311 digital preamp (going from obvious high end to budget digital). Surprisingly the PGA2311 gave a decent account of the music and we weren't conscious of it being a massive step down. This could be because the PGA2311 is particularly high quality or it could be that the subtler aspects of the difference weren't being rendered by the loudspeakers. In all cases however the speakers passed my "Rickie Lee Jones test" in which the system has to deliver the finger snaps in Chuck E's in Love in their own acoustic space at the same time as being coherent and engaging enough to entice you into a bit of foot tapping to the rhythm. We did try some Alicia Keyes for a more modern take on female vocals but the more modern instrumentation and recording did not fare as well as the traditional acoustic sounds, showing a hint of colouration that harked back to that which I'd noticed when first playing the speakers when they were brand new but which had faded as they ran in.
The speakers had a natural and relaxed tone. Bass was present but not deep or powerful enough to drive heavier music and the highs seemed somewhat rolled off, giving an easy presentation but not one that seemed likely to offer a thrilling presentation. Timing and imaging were very good however and there was plenty of detail within the frequency range on offer. Technically, the manufacturer quotes -6db across the range 40Hz to 20kHz and a response of 96db. This is consistent with our listening experience.
We'd moved on by this time to a track to which Mike had introduced to me as good test of system dynamics, the version of Hotel California on the Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" album. That opens with a heavy, resonant drum introduction before the guitars enter. We were surprised at the speakers' ability to deliver the impact of the drum and the detail of its resonance. We also checked out a little bit of high resolution swing jazz from Dick Hyman. That confirmed our thoughts about the great sense of timing we were getting from the drivers albeit that some of the sizzle was lacking from the percussion track. After the tests with Mike's gear I ran them for a few days from my Musical Fidelity A3.5 which gave a perfectly listenable sound, albeit less engaging than the valves. Finally it spent some time in my second system being fed at first by a NuForce DDA-100 which gave a warm and engaging tone not dissimilar to the valves and then a technically rather similar Audio4Soul Xtreme16 integrated DAC/amplifier (review to follow) which really brings out the clarity and imaging that the speakers are capable of.
This is a good pair of speakers, well engineered, professionally put together and finished. They are exactly what you'd expect from a pair of good small horns, with slightly less coloration and reasonable performance at each end of the spectrum. But they are restricted in several ways compared to more conventional designs so they will be suitable only for listeners with very focused tastes and specific expectations. They are similar in many ways to the Seas Exotic speakers which Maarten Van Casteren built and reviewed last year but those were very substantially cheaper, although they did require a DIY build. Having said that, you could pay a carpenter to build the Seas Exotics and get change from the price of the Acuhorns. There is a wide range of high quality loudspeakers in this price range and the Acuhorns, to my mind, did not offer enough evident material value for money or perform exceptionally enough to stake a claim in that territory. At the end of the day they are decent enough single driver boxes made out of light wood. The price quoted by the manufacturer seems to me extortionate.
In summary – the imaging is very good, frequency extension is a necessary victim of the design but the compromises seem to have been well thought out. Dynamics are better than expected. They look good but the finish is very plain and there are shortcomings in terms of the covers and lack of spikes. If you've a taste for acoustic music and you're considering sensitive speakers in this price range these would be a domestically very friendly choice.
© Copyright 2013 Andy Norman - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com