At times, the joy that life attacks me with is unbearable and leads to gasping hysterical laughter. I find myself completely out of control and wonder how could life surprise me again and again and again, so completely. How could a man be a cynic? It is a sin.
- Norm Macdonald October 17, 1959 - September 14, 2021
I started this article with a quote from the late comedian Norm Macdonald because it's so apropos. Norm's quote came several years into his terminal cancer diagnosis, that he kept a secret from the public, that ultimately took his life on Tuesday. Think about that. A guy who loved life so much even though he was dealt the most difficult of hands. That positivity is a beautiful thing and positively infectious.
As I said in a recent article about my visit to Schiit Audio to take part in a blind listening session, "I understand less than desirable jobs. My job now isn't one of them." Expanding on that a bit, I was recently invited to listen to two pairs of speakers from one of my favorite high end audio designers, Alex Peychev of APL HiFi. It started with the question, "Do you want to fly down here in the morning, spend the day listening, and fly back home in the evening?" Seriously, I have the best job in the world.
I love music and I love when music sounds as good as it can. Listening to my favorite music on world class audio systems, as a job, is the stuff of which dreams are made. What's more, flying to spend the day with @joelha, one of the most positive people I've ever met, who has a love of life, music, and high-end audio that is second to none. Think I'm playing it up a bit? Read this wonderful story written by Joel and you'll get a tiny sense of who he is: Medium.com
First, a Little Business
Joel has been a huge fan of APL HiFi products and its owner Alex Peychev for several years. The two first met at the Warsaw audio show and hit it off. Not long after, Joel obtained his first APL component. Then the next, and the next, and the addiction was real. Only joking about the addiction, but I've heard first-hand from Joel about each system upgrade and how much enjoyment APL products have brought to his music listening experience. A couple years ago Alex asked Joel to represent his products in the US market and Joel said he would help in any way he could. Keep in mind that this isn't Joel's day job, it isn't putting him into a new tax bracket, and "represent" should be used in the loosest sense of the word. Joel does what he can to help Alex because he believes in him and his products.
The Mini Audio Show
I left my house before dawn, jumped on a flight to Omaha, NE, and was there before I could finish one episode of a podcast. After landing, I was off the plane and out the door within 10 minutes. I love that airport.
Joel and I immediately started talking about what else, audio. I brought my RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones and some music, and Joel setup the APL speakers the night before my arrival. It was like our own private audio show.
Upon entering Joel's house, I saw a terrific listening environment. The environment is roughly 40 feet by 50 feet and 15 feet high. I call it an environment rather than a listening room because Joel has an open first floor that houses his audio system. Music has plenty of room to breathe in this environment, without getting lost like it can in the ballroom-sized listening rooms at some trade shows. I enjoyed seeing real world items throughout the space, rather than the acoustic panels required in my room. Overall, it enabled me to listen to the music and the speakers much more than the room.
Brass Tacks: The Speakers
Alex Peychev's component designs for APL HiFi are some of the most natural sounding components I've ever heard. Upon hearing one of his DACs, I immediately say to myself, this is so Alex. After 30 seconds of listening to his speakers, I had no doubt they were his designs through and through.
The two models of speakers I heard in Omaha were “Agane” and “Endless”. The Agane speaker is a smaller three-way speaker with two cabinets. A smaller two-way speaker sits atop the larger bass-stand cabinet. I've included a photo of this speaker, as a picture is worth way more than a thousand of my words.
The speaker, appropriately named “Endless”, is quite a bit larger than the Agane, but I won't offer dimensions because the version I heard was a prototype, with very unofficial cabinets. I can say the design I heard had three cabinets for each channel, but I don't know if this design will make it to final production. That's obviously up to Alex as he completes the fine sonic tuning and final cabinet design. I'm not publishing a photo of the Endless because I don't want to ring a bell that can't be unrung. It would be a disservice to both Alex and readers to show a design that is certain to change.
Let's get down to brass tacks. The speakers sound fantastic. In true Alex Peychev fashion, the materials are on the "natural" side, with silk dome tweeters and paper cone drivers. Don't even bring up beryllium to Alex, he isn't a fan. Both speakers feature a proprietary first order crossover design that Alex has worked on for years to perfect. Both the materials and the crossover combine to finally reproduce an ideal sound that Alex has had in his head for decades. He knows the sound he wants, and finally figured out how to achieve it.
I first listened to the Agane speakers, without the bass modules connected. This "little" speaker delivers a surprisingly large sound capable of filling Joel's large listening environment. It certainly can't pressurize the room, but let's not be foolish in asking the speaker to do so. Within the speaker's frequency limits, it's very solid and presents a soundstage with nice width and depth. It isn't an ultra-detailed ear splitter in any sense of the phrase and is more of a speaker one can listen to all day every day.
After getting comfortable with the sound of the two-way top cabinet, Joel connected the bass module below for a much fuller presentation. I'm unsure how Alex does it, but even the bass module sounded "pure Peychev." People who've heard APL components will know immediately what I'm talking about and are likely nodding their heads in agreement as they read this. The bass module didn't add slam to the presentation but added the foundational bottom end in such a pleasing way that I had no interest in going back to just the smaller top cabinet. That isn't a sleight to the smaller cabinet, but is more of a "once you hear it there's no going back" comment.
After "spinning" many tunes through Roon and the Agane speakers, it was time for the Endless. As strange as this may sound, I had no idea what the speakers were named when I sat down to listen. This turned out to be fortuitous. One of the first things I noticed with the Endless speaker was an incredible attack, decay, sustain, and release. The decay and sustain went on forever. It was reminiscent of going to a concert when the audience controls itself by withholding its applause until the music is 100% over. It's a beautiful thing to hear that last ounce of decay all the way through.
To nobody's surprise the absolute showstopper (in a good way) was heard when I played Midnight Sugar from the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio. As a side note, do other people's computers auto-correct the name Tsuyoshi appropriately? Mine does. Perhaps that's a sign I'm way too far down the Japanese jazz rabbit hole. Anyway, listening to Midnight Sugar through the APL HiFi Endless was a very memorable experience to say the least.
Presented in front of me though these speakers was Tsuyoshi Yamamoto on piano, Isoo Fukui on bass, and Tetsujiroh Obara on drums. The only things missing for the presentation to be more like a live jazz club experience, were the clanking of wine glasses and a smoke machine. The soundstage of the Endless speakers is off the charts. From front to back and left to right, it's insanely three dimensional. This presentation is the exact opposite of that delivered from some horn speakers that are much more in one's face. The Endless just present this space full of music rather than push it out to the listener. It's like an invitation to come hear what's being presented rather than the speakers bringing it to you.
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto's piano sounded like I've never heard it previously. In fact, I spent about an hour listening through my own system last night just to compare what I heard from memory. The presentation of this piano in my own system is vastly different from the APL Endless in Joel's listening environment. I can't say which one is more accurate to the original performance, I can only describe the sonic differences.
On the APL Endless I could picture the piano in a large space behind the left speaker. There was this huge openness to each note as it went on endlessly into the empty spaces around the piano. If anything, the Endless is about a presentation of natural sound that is tailor-made for an acoustic jazz trio. On my own system, in my acoustically treated listening room, the sound isn't nearly as large. The piano is much more localized with much less decay than can be heard through the Endless.
Isoo Fukui's bass was as impressive through the Endless as it is through my own system, but again very different. On my system the bass has more texture and feel to it, versus a greater spatial presence through the APL Endless. This also has something to do with the listening environments because Fukui's bass, on this and many other recordings, can reach out and hit the listener in my room as if he was playing right in front of a speaker. Through the Endless, it's much more about a natural sonic presentation or a hologram. Fukui's bass is but one part of the larger hologram that makes up the entire APL Endless presentation.
Based on this extended listening session and my conversations with audiophiles over the years, I'm excited for this speaker to make it into production and for people to hear it in their own environments. Listeners who know what they want out of a speaker or audio system, who value natural sound, endless decay, and a soundstage like none other, will most certainly want to put APL speakers on their short list. The price of the Agane top-module starts at $8,000 per pair and the bass-stand starts at $7,500 per pair (price depends on finish). APL HiFi has yet to put a price on the Endless because it is still in prototype stage.
Alex has managed to toe the fine line between overly detailed and lush bloom, with a first order crossover design that's uniquely APL and produces sound that's 100% Alex Peychev.
What a Day
I wish I could write up everything we talked about and listened to that day, but at a certain point it becomes gluttonous. I had so much fun talking audio, listening to great music, and getting the chance to hear the latest creations from Alex Peychev.
Perhaps one of the good things to come from the cancelation of audio shows lately, was this trip. Yes, we geeked out on all things audio and music, but far and away the best thing about the trip was meeting Joel's four three-year-olds. Yes, four kids that are three-years-old (read the above linked article if you skipped it). I was overwhelmed by the smiles, laughter, and interest the kids showed in my dad-humor. When getting into Joel's car to head to the airport, all four kids followed me to the door and gave me a send-off that I'll never forget. Four three- year-olds all yelling "bye, bye, bye, bye ..." to "uncle" Chris was absolutely delightful.
More information about APL HiFI - https://aplhifi.com