Athena - an audio Epiphany

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jonbee

Athena - an audio Epiphany
« on: 11 Feb 2012, 04:41 pm »
Last evening I had an audio epiphany. After 44 years in this hobby, I thought I had a good idea what was possible to achieve in 2 channel stereo in a "normal" residential living room environment.
Those who've read any of my posts know that I've had ~250 pairs of quality speakers, ranging from "budget" champs like Dynaco A-25 (my first, in 1968),  to my all time fave, Apogee Divas. I've heard hundreds more. My current main system, revolving around a pair of Selah Audio Tempestas with a James EMB-1000 sub (fed by a modded Oppo BDP83-> Eastern electric minimax dac plus-> Cullen Modded PS Audio GCC-500 integrated, PS Audio Power Plant Premier, Zu cabling), is highly photographically accurate- very detailed and lifelike, with nary a flaw in the reproduction to my ears. Very clean and smooth, perhaps somewhat dry sounding, but very enjoyable.
A member of a circle of seasoned 'philes with whom I've shared the hobby for the last few years has a wonderful system- a very fine vinyl front end, plus a Mac mini music server feeding an Ayre usb dac, and Shindo pre and amp. With his previous speakers, Devore Gibbon Super 8s, the sound was spookily spacious, with good balance, detail and openess, but for a slightly bright top end and a lightweight bottom end. A great sounding system.
This friend recently took delivery of a pair of Daedalus Athenas, and after a good breakin period invited the circle over last night.
From the first note, we all knew we were hearing something special. Harmonically accurate and natural, every instrument and element was very convincingly accurate, with solid, natural bass into the mids 30s, at least, and a wonderfully detailed yet naturally easy top end.
But the most arresting feature was the immediacy of the presentation. We were no longer listening to the proverbial "open window on the performance", but the illusion that the performers, whether a cello soloist or the Count Basie band, were IN THE ROOM, in 3-d. This system went beyond photographic accuracy, such as I have in my rig, to HOLOGRAPHIC accuracy. I can't describe it any other way.
I can't truly assign credit solely to the speakers- the Shindo gear is justly famous for their immediacy and spaciousness, and the room (a seemingly normal living room) participates in some way I don't really understand, but the Athenas took everything to another level entirely from the Super 8s. I think anyone would be impressed by the improvement, and the amazing illusion produced.
I can recommend if anyone is in the market for a pair of modestly sized, beautifully finished floorstanders and wants to spend, say, $8k or more, should find a way to hear the Athenas (or their larger brothers) and if necessary, stretch the budget. These beautifully handcrafted speakers are not cheap, but they take high fidelity to the next level, in my experience.

« Last Edit: 28 Feb 2012, 10:03 pm by jonbee »

Daedalus Audio

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Re: Athenas- an audio Epiphany
« Reply #1 on: 14 Feb 2012, 06:57 pm »
Last evening I had an audio epiphany. After 44 years in this hobby, I thought I had a good idea what was possible to achieve in 2 channel stereo in a simple residential environment.
Those who've read any of my posts know that I've had ~250 pairs of quality speakers, ranging from "budget" champs like Dynaco A-25 (my first, in 1968),  to my all time fave, Apogee Divas. I've heard hundreds more. My current main system, revolving a pair of Selah Audio Tempestas with a James EMB-1000 sub (fed by a modded Oppo BDP83-> Eastern electric minimax dac plus-> Cullen Modded PS Audio GCC-500 integrated, PS Audio Power Plant Premier, Zu cabling), is highly photographically accurate- very detailed and lifelike, with nary a flaw in the reproduction to my ears. Very clean and smooth, perhaps somewhat dry sounding, but very enjoyable.
     A member of a circle of seasoned 'philes with whom I've shared the hobby  for the last few years has a wonderful system- a very fine vinyl front end, plus a Mac mini music server feeding an Ayre usb dac, and Shindo pre and amp. With his previous speakers, Devore Gibbon Super 8s, the sound was spookily spacious, with good balance, but for a slightly bright top end and a lightweight bottom end. A great sound.
This friend recently took delivery of a pair of Daedalus Athenas, and after a good breakin period invited the circle over last night.
From the first note, we all knew we were hearing something special. Harmonically accurate and natural, every instrument and element was very convincingly accurate, with solid, natural bass into the mids 30s, at least, and a wonderfully detailed yet naturally easy top end.
But the most arresting feature was the immediacy of the presentation. We were no longer listening to the proverbial "open window on the performance", but the illusion that the performers, whether a cello soloist or the Count Basie band, were IN THE ROOM, in 3-d. This system went beyond photographic accuracy, such as I have in my rig, to HOLOGRAPHIC accuracy. I can't describe it any other way.
I can't truly assign credit solely to the speakers- the Shindo gear is justly famous, and the room (a seemingly normal living room) participates in some way I don't really understand, but the Athenas took everything to another level entirely.
All I can say is, if anyone is in the market for a pair of modestly sized, beautifully finished floorstanders and wants to spend, say, $8k or more, should find a way to hear the Athenas (or their larger brothers) and if necessary, stretch the budget. These beautifully handcrafted speakers are not cheap, but they take high fidelity to the next level, in my experience.

what can I say but... thank you! 

my understanding is that these have about 250 hours on them and so still have a ways to go before they are 'fully' broken in, so they will get better still, a bit more fluid and smooth, getting a little more out of the way of the music. 

You are right in that the great sound was not just the speakers, Jon has a great setup and one of the design goals of these speakers is to be an open window to the upstream components and ultimately, the recording. Interesting that the day before your get together Dan Wright and I did a presentation near there for the Seattle Audio group and I talked about how my primary design objective is first and foremost getting the tonality of voice and instruments 'correct'. Others may focus on imaging, bandwidth etc but for me if the tone is right the rest can follow.
Anyhow, thank you for really 'getting' what I'm trying to do with these speakers.

best,
Lou


jazdoc

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Re: Athenas- an audio Epiphany
« Reply #2 on: 15 Feb 2012, 03:37 am »
i attended the PNWAS meeting Lou is referring to. While the room was rather large for the speakers, the essential characther of the speakers shone through.  I have received feedback that the speakers made a big impression on the attendees, one of whom is soon to visit and listen to my Ulysses'.

BTW, the speakers at the demo were drop dead gorgeous!

jimdgoulding

Re: Athenas- an audio Epiphany
« Reply #3 on: 15 Feb 2012, 05:45 am »
Lou, you do nice work, IMO.  The speaks of yours that I have been privy to do nice job of revealing what's in front of them right down to the source.

navin

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #4 on: 27 Mar 2012, 05:18 pm »
Last evening I had an audio epiphany. ..My current main system, revolving around a pair of Selah Audio Tempestas...A member of a circle of seasoned 'philes with whom I've shared the hobby for the last few years has a wonderful system- ..With his previous speakers, Devore Gibbon Super 8s, the sound was spookily spacious, ..This friend recently took delivery of a pair of Daedalus Athenas, and after a good breakin period invited the circle over last night....I can recommend if anyone is in the market for a pair of modestly sized, beautifully finished floorstanders and wants to spend, say, $8k or more, should find a way to hear the Athenas (or their larger brothers) and if necessary, stretch the budget.

How would you compare the Athena to your Tempestas?

I understand the Athena is at a very different price point but the bass of the  Tempesta can be extended using the "Extreme" option which would also bring them closer in price.

jonbee

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #5 on: 27 Mar 2012, 08:32 pm »
The biggest problem comparing them is that the Athenas were powered by $25k in Shindo electronics vs. my Cullen modded PS Audio GCC-500 Icepower amp. The PS is a very good "conventional" sounding amp, but the Shindos add a presence and richness that can't be ignored. That said, the Tempestas in my system compare very well in detail, focus, harmonic accuracy, balance, and "listenability". The bottom end is not quite as deep and powerful on the Ts, but is tighter and better focused. The Shindo amps are not the last word in woofer control; with a different amp the results would change.
The sense of immediacy and 3 dimensionality with the Shindo/Athena combo is the main distinguishing factor. The Tempestas are better than anything I've owned in this respect (except for Apogee Divas), but the sense that the instruments are truly in the room with you is unreal in the Athena system, exceeding even the dipolar Apogee ribbons.
To illustrate what I'm talking about here- the owner had 3 rows of chairs set up for the audition. Sitting in the first row chair, about 7 or 8 feet from the speakers, the instruments sounded like they were located between me and the speakers, and extending back to just behind them. Sitting in the third row, off axis, in front of the left speaker, it sounded like the performers were surrounding the front row chair, and then extending back behind the speakers! In all my years I've never heard the like. The entire group was shocked to hear this phenomenon.
I'm very satisfied with the Tempestas. With properly matched ancillaries, they do just about everything else as well, at a fraction of the price. If I wanted to move up the chain, I'd give the Athenas or the other Daedalus models a very close look indeed. They are works of art.
BTW, the Athenas are almost 3 times the price I paid for my custom finish Tempestas, at almost $11000 for the pair I heard.
« Last Edit: 28 Mar 2012, 03:39 pm by jonbee »

navin

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #6 on: 28 Mar 2012, 03:59 am »
The biggest problem comparing them is that the Athenas were powered by...The sense of immediacy and 3 dimensionality with the Shindo/Athena combo is the main distinguishing factor.

BTW, the Athenas are almost 3 times the price I paid for my custom finish Tempestas, at almost $11000 for the pair I heard.

Thanks jonbee. I know how difffcult it is to compare 2 speakers in 2 different systems. There are too many variables.

I thought the Athena was about $8000/pr. and the Tempesta is about $4000/pr. Hence I assumed that the Tempesta Extreme would be about $6-7000/pr strinking distance in price to the Athena.

I dont know if this is the correct way to put it (and I certainly dont was to offend anyone) but it seems to me that Selah Audio's cost of speaker is almost 50% from the drivers used alone (The Tempesta for example uses a RAAL tweeter, Accuton Mid, and Illuminator woofer non of which are considered cheap).

I do NOT know which drivers Daedalus uses in their speakers but I suspect maybe they invest a lot in the beautiful cabinetry (not a bad thing considering that WAF as important). Not ot say Selah cabinets are not good I'm told they are beautiful too (I am yet to see either brand of speaker)...oh well see I have gone shot myself in the foot and then put that foot in my mouth.  :lol:
Silly old me. Fortunately I live in India. Rick and Lou cant beat me up across 3 oceans can they?  :wink:

But I think you get my drift?

jimdgoulding

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #7 on: 28 Mar 2012, 06:01 am »
In the spirit of fairness to the DeVore's, the Gibbon's 8's are pretty lightweight is this comparison.  They are two ways.  The 9's might have faired better at around the same cost, $7500.00, I think.  Were I in the market, they would likely be my next purchase for my modest size room in mink bamboo.   Very purty.  The Dad's ARE 96db efficient, tho, right?.  Wow!  That IS becoming.   

Bill Baker

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Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #8 on: 28 Mar 2012, 12:06 pm »
Quote
I do NOT know which drivers Daedalus uses in their speakers but I suspect maybe they invest a lot in the beautiful cabinetry


Lou does put a lot of work into his cabinetry but also into the drivers and crossovers. I know the woofers are custom built to his specification and I beleive the midrange drivers are slightly modified to meet his requirements as well.

jonbee

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #9 on: 28 Mar 2012, 02:44 pm »
The 9's might have faired better at around the same cost, $7500.00, I think. 
Interesting. One of my audio groups' members who heard the Athenas when I did owns the Silverbacks. He was in agreement with all 7 members of the group, who thought it was the most amazing sound we'd heard.
The Athenas' drivers are probably less expensive than the Tempestas, but they all have remarkable properties and work perfectly together. The cabinets are solid wood, not veneer, and are hand made. This pair had all the options, bringing the price up to nearly $11k, according to the owner. Whatever pixie dust Lou is using in the Athenas is working. More people should hear them.

roscoeiii

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #10 on: 28 Mar 2012, 03:18 pm »
Speakers are more than just drivers and cabinetry, important as they are to the overall sound.

But it is the implementation of all the ingredients in toto that matters. Just like component matching requires synergy, so it is with the elements of a speaker. Gotta hit that sweet spot of cabinet, driver and crossover. Any decision (especially to reach a particular price point) will come with compromises and challenges. IMO, the great speaker designers are those that most successfully deal with these challenges.

And like anything else in audio, much also comes down to the preferences of the listener, both in terms of characteristics that matter most to the listener, and the styles of music that a listener prefers.

navin

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #11 on: 28 Mar 2012, 04:36 pm »
The Athenas' drivers are probably less expensive than the Tempestas, but they all have remarkable properties and work perfectly together. The cabinets are solid wood, not veneer, and are hand made.

I know I took at look at the Daedalus speakers and the drivers look positively "ordinary". A local cabinet maker also insisted that cabinets made of sloid wood sound better. Can anyone confirm this? Solid wood is expensive. Which type of wood makes most sense to use. Which solid wood does Lou use?

Daedalus Audio

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Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #12 on: 28 Mar 2012, 04:48 pm »
ah there it is again... just another pretty face!  :lol: even with my pro gear from when I first started people would often think that most of the cost is in the hardwood cabinet. the reality is that I just don't charge much for my labor and for that aspect of the work. I use solid hardwood for the stiffness and sound quality, I feel it is simply a much better material than MDF etc., the fact that it is also beautiful is just icing.

usually I would consider speaker systems to have three main components; the drivers, cabinets and crossover, and as Rosco has said the implementation of these parts is what matters. I pay great attention to ALL the parts of the system. our AP crossovers alone cost more than some of the systems mentioned here, and if you were to build them from off the shelf parts (like many of these builders do) they would cost about $10,000 a set!

I could go on but lets just say that these are VERY expensive to build and that doesn't even cover the real costs of the cabinet work.

anyhow thanks much for all the kind words, I'm really glad that people are enjoying these!

thanks,
lou



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Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #13 on: 28 Mar 2012, 05:01 pm »
I know I took at look at the Daedalus speakers and the drivers look positively "ordinary". A local cabinet maker also insisted that cabinets made of sloid wood sound better. Can anyone confirm this? Solid wood is expensive. Which type of wood makes most sense to use. Which solid wood does Lou use?

I know a gentleman who does a lot of behind the scenes work for many audio companies, it is not unusual for a company to go to their design dept with a driver that 'looks' cool and tell them to make a system around it.  I am more interested in what works.  I developed the core driver in my systems almost twenty years ago to accurately reproduce live acoustic instruments. I have refined this design over the years and still rely on it because there are few, if any, off the shelf drivers made that do what these do. so while they may 'look' ordinary, they are anything but.

btw Navin, I appreciate your honest comments. no offense taken, and I hope that in a couple of years I can visit India.

thanks,
lou


jonbee

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #14 on: 28 Mar 2012, 05:52 pm »
I know a gentleman who does a lot of behind the scenes work for many audio companies, it is not unusual for a company to go to their design dept with a driver that 'looks' cool and tell them to make a system around it.  I am more interested in what works.  I developed the core driver in my systems almost twenty years ago to accurately reproduce live acoustic instruments. I have refined this design over the years and still rely on it because there are few, if any, off the shelf drivers made that do what these do. so while they may 'look' ordinary, they are anything but.

btw Navin, I appreciate your honest comments. no offense taken, and I hope that in a couple of years I can visit India.

thanks,
lou
The drivers do look "ordinary", but what comes out bears no relation to the looks. Period. I guess that's what first struck me when they were fired up. A substantial part of the sound didn't appear to be coming from these boxes at all, and try as I might, I had a hard time getting a handle on the "sound" of the drivers. Sonic invisibility. True magic. I've heard most of the exotic drivers out there, and the sound of these Plain Janes really does go beyond others I've heard, including 'stats, ribbons, plasma, exotic cone and dome materials of all types, you name it.
I don't know how Lou does it, but hearing is believing.
As to the price, what these offer for the price is quite reasonable, considering the price of any true sonic competiton I know about. I think there are a lot of speakers that sell for multiples of the $ that don't deliver the music so wonderfully.
As has been said here, each of us has our own sonic truth meter, but for me and the members of my audio group these pin the needle.

Audioclyde

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #15 on: 28 Mar 2012, 06:29 pm »
I can't comment on the Athena's (unfortunately), but I've owned my DA-RMa's for 3 years or so now, and am still absolutely thrilled by their performance (and mine were built for me by Lou prior to the all-Poly x-over, so I don't have that upgrade--I want it but can't stand the thought of shipping these beauties and being without them!! Road trip to Tulsa, Lou?  :green:).

I've owned significantly more 'expensive' speakers from the likes of Wilson-Benesch, Sonus Faber, JM Labs and Thiel--each very good in their own right, but none of them made 'music' for me like the DA-RMa's.  So whatever components Lou chooses to use, his implementation has created a speaker that, for me at least, just makes me want to listen to them (with a big smile on my face)!  I find I use my system much, much more often, and for longer periods, than I ever did prior to installing the DA-RMa's.

Sorry, couldn't help but put my 2 cents in  :D.

Randy

navin

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #16 on: 29 Mar 2012, 04:14 am »
ah there it is again... just another pretty face!  :lol:
I use solid hardwood for the stiffness and sound quality,

usually I would consider speaker systems to have three main components; the drivers, cabinets and crossover, ... and if you were to build them from off the shelf parts (like many of these builders do) they would cost about $10,000 a set!

Lou, I honestly did not mean any harm. That is why I said they LOOK "ordinary". I never said they sound ordinary. It was just a reaction to to the more expensive drivers used in Rick's Tempesta.

I used quotes around ordinary because I suspect the drivers are anything but.

That said, a local cabinet maker also once told me that solid wood sound better than ply or MDF and should sound better than the layered combination (of ply, mdf, fiberglass, and lead sheet) I use. What wood do you recommend. I like curved shaped cabinets so would 3-4 layers of 4-6mm of solid wood work?

I am at a conference the next few days but when I get back I would take to my cabinet maker and ask how thick a layer of solid wood he can bend into the curved sides I like. Currently my boxes are 7 layers starting with 4mm MDF on the inside + 3mm resin-bonded-fiberglass + 4mm MDF + 1.5mm lead sheet + 4mm MDF + 3mm resin bonded fiberglass + 6 mm Marine grade ply which is then veneered.

I know at least one very large audio company that also prefers to use "cool" looking drivers in their speakers sometimes with unlistenable results.

Oh yes Lou you are welcome to India (I live in Mumbai) anytime.

wilsynet

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Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #17 on: 29 Mar 2012, 05:09 am »
Are you asking him for tips on how to reproduce his cabinets?  Isn't that like asking Coca-Cola for how to best make a cola?

jimdgoulding

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #18 on: 29 Mar 2012, 08:44 am »
Interesting. One of my audio groups' members who heard the Athenas when I did owns the Silverbacks. He was in agreement with all 7 members of the group, who thought it was the most amazing sound we'd heard.
The Athenas' drivers are probably less expensive than the Tempestas, but they all have remarkable properties and work perfectly together. The cabinets are solid wood, not veneer, and are hand made. This pair had all the options, bringing the price up to nearly $11k, according to the owner. Whatever pixie dust Lou is using in the Athenas is working. More people should hear them.
What did you replace your Silverbacks with and why?  Thanks. 

navin

Re: Athena - an audio Epiphany
« Reply #19 on: 29 Mar 2012, 03:05 pm »
Are you asking him for tips on how to reproduce his cabinets?  Isn't that like asking Coca-Cola for how to best make a cola?

Not at all! LOL. Maybe I did not phrase my earlier query correctly.

Some months ago a cabient maker I met insisted that solid wood sounds better than MDF/Ply etc.. and I dismissed him. Now Lou has confirmed this cabinet maker's observations. I just wanted to know what makes solid wood so good and how thick does it need to be? Is it the thickness of the wood that determines the sound of the solid wood? For example will 4 layers of 6mm solid wood sound the same as a single 24mm slab? Also what in Lou's opinion makes solid wood sound so much better than ply/mdf?

Also remember Lou's speakers sound good not solely because of the cabinets. His cabients, crossover and drivers work as a team to sound good. As Lou himself admits "our AP crossovers alone cost more than some of the systems mentioned". There is, apparently, a lot more going on inside Lou's speaker than just the cabinets.

I am sure that if I even got exact CAD-CAM plans (and I am not asking for this) to Lou's cabinets and used different drivers and a differnet crossover the prodouct might not sound as good as the the original.