Audio Federation, Acapella, Audio Note and The Fifth Element – AXPONA 2018

By Rafe Arnott

Horns. Most people think they go beep-beep. But not me, to me they sing. Of course for the non-audiophile this probably doesn’t make any sense, for those more sonically inclined, they would probably get the cut of my jib, and understand that I was referencing horn loudspeakers.


Those slightly magical designs that take advantage of the natural tendency of an acoustic horn to increase the efficiency of a transducer by acting as an acoustic transformer between dense speaker diaphragm materials, and the far-less dense air we live, and breathe in. A horn speaker company I have a lot of respect for is Acapella Audio Arts. This high-end, bespoke German manufacturer has been refining their beautiful – and colourful – loudspeaker designs for almost four decades. Their latest version of the Cellini High  – a hyper-spherical midrange horn design $59,990 USD – featuring a TW1s ION (Plasma) tweeter, and two 10-inch bass drivers, is a favourite of mine, and a speaker I’ve happily been able to spend a reasonable amount of time with over the last few years thanks to the hifi trade-show circuit.

So when I entered room 440 at the Renaissance Schaumburg, and was immersed in the sound that the Audio Federation (now out of Palo Alto, California) had curated with the Acapella LaMusika integrated amplifier $109,600 USD, Audio Note UK CDT Five Transport $52,000 USD, and Fifth Element DAC $147,850 USD (featuring the separate, full-sized chassis Fifth Force power supply) my brain facilitated an internal dialogue with my body to sit, and listen for as long as my schedule allowed to all this valve goodness being channeled through horns. I was not disappointed, nor have I ever been in past encounters with the Audio Federation.

Audio Federation owners Neli and Mike Davis are unrepentant audiophiles “without any self control” who I know I can always count on at any show to bring the goods in spades. Queued up while I was sitting down was the Swiss electronic band of legend (in my estimation) Yello. 

A syncopated cacophony of EDM goodness was pumping through the system (wired up with a mix of Audio Note UK, and Acapella cabling, and resting on HRS SXR stands with M3x isolation bases $16,85 USD), and by pumping, I mean directly into the musical-appreciation centre of my ever-taxed mind.

Horns are never the easiest to set up in any room in my experience, matching them with the proper electronics is the first step to sonic nirvana (as is any stereo system), but placement, and room acoustics tend to be lensed rather strongly when dealing with horns, but here in Chicago, in this less-than-ideal room environment, the system just sang… yes there were minor issues, but the overall effect was deep, impactful bass, incredible dynamics, and ethereal upper registers.

The system displayed lightning speed on transients, and an immediacy, and organic texture to various electronic effects, orchestral strings, horns, keyboards, and lead singer Dieter Meier’s vocals that put the recorded players physical presence there in the room.

An AXPONA standout.