Tarheel Hi-Fi: Arion Audio, VPI, Audio Research, and Nordost

Whenever I meet a fellow Charlottean, my first question is “Do you dine at South 21?” A Greek-owned drive-in diner with the most amazing fried trout and onion rings south of the Mason-Dixon line, South 21 is what I associate with the South, not tater tots nor banana pudding. Mike didn’t know South 21, but he did fill me in on his speakers.

Kalellis's Apollo 12 line-array dipole towers and Apollo woofer modules are open-back designs. The system shown at CAF was priced at $58,000; a smaller system is available for $49,000. The towers stood 76" high, 18" wide, and 18" deep. (Each speaker's base measures 22" wide × 17" deep and adds 3" to each 12's height.) Each tower covers frequencies from the upper bass upward using 12 1.4" × 5.2" drivers—dubbed "High Velocity Transducers" (HVT).

Each Balanced Force Woofer (BFW) cabinet stands 18" wide, 14" high, and 14" deep and contains two 10" woofers with aluminum honeycomb carbon-fiber diaphragms. Three pairs (6 modules total) were used at CAF. The woofer modules were powered by four Arion class-D monoblock amps rated at 1kW each.

Kalellis uses DSP-controlled crossovers to match system to room. “The Apollos use DSP for all filters including crossovers,” Kalellis stated. “At CAF, the crossover frequency was set to 140Hz. The woofer modules were powered by four Arion monoblock amps rated at 1kW each. In the room at CAF, we measured a flat response from 28Hz to [above] 22kHz. We then adjusted the balance to our liking."

Alongside the Apollo 12 speakers, Kalellis employed a VPI Avenger direct drive turntable ($24,000) with VPI Shyla cartridge ($1750), Audio Research Reference 3SE phono stage ($17,000), Audio Research Reference 6SE linestage ($17,000), and Audio Research Reference 160M monoblock power amplifiers ($32,000/pair). Nordost supplied the system's Odin II cables. Total system cost: about $250,000. The rack was a VPI prototype.

Impressing with very fast, natural dynamics, Kalellis’ system scaled tall buildings, like Superman, casting large images that floated free of the speakers. Playing Count Basie's 88 Basie Street, the Pablo vinyl took on a life force I didn't know it possessed. Maybe it didn't until now. Basie's piano was especially large and creamy sounding; his big band was explosively dynamic, tactile, punchy, and natural. A treat!

remlab's picture

the drivers in the line array to go that low. Viewing some HD measurements would be interesting to say the least

Anton's picture

What a impressive invention.

The original patents expired in 2004 and we've really seen a lot of cool development.

That being said, perhaps it's time to start covering show systems with prices listed in how many multiples of median incomes they cost!

CG's picture

You raise a great point.

I wonder how many people who can afford these very, very high end products attend audio shows.

At the other end of the state from me, there is a medium sized city (~60,000 people) with a Rolls Royce dealer, a large Ferrari dealership, one for McLaren, one for Bentley, and even one that stocks Bugattis. Plus assorted others. As best I can tell, there is no audio store any longer. People who live there can afford high priced audio gear. But...

thatguy's picture

both are great points.

I do enjoy reading about the over-the-top stuff but it would also be nice to see more on the lower end of the price scale. Unless those vendors don't exhibit anymore. Maybe they've settled into living off youtube infomercial/review sales?

I'm really curious how many high end products get sold as a result of the show. I guess they don't have to sell very many of some to make it hugely worthwhile.

Do the mega-rich just have their decorators pick the system that goes with the room? Go with built in stuff from their home theater designer? Or do many care what it sounds like as long as it is loud?

CG's picture


My somewhat limited observation of people who can afford the kinds of equipment you're talking about suggests they fall into one of three categories:

* They don't care about listening to music. They have other interests, like some other hobby that is equally geeky, but not audio. One brilliant orthopedic surgeon I know is interested in model trains and racing small sailboats. Another fellow I know owns eight very nice houses for himself and his somewhat extended family, devotes a lot of time and effort to what might be called community support and charity, and tinkers with ham radio.

* They don't care about audio equipment and aren't music lovers anyway. Nowadays, audio equipment doesn't impress people, so what's the point? In fact, the look and size of some audio gear may leave a highly negative impression. Side note: *I* don't like the way a lot of it looks.

* They do care and do buy, but generally they want equipment they can have properly installed and works on demand. For these people, shows don't even exist. The dealer matters to them far more than anything else. Not a bad plan, actually, if your goal is just to sit down and enjoy listening to music. This is why companies like Wilson do very well. They provide solutions that are more or less plug'n'play for the user and are very high quality. (Good business plan, BTW...)

Besides, most people I've met who have lots of disposable income have a different skill set than typical geeks do, and quite honestly focus on being wealthy. That's how they got to be wealthy in the first place.

I'd bet that most of the folks who own systems that cost more than $10k, to pick an arbitrary number, have upper middle class livelihoods, plus or minus, but devote the bulk of their discretionary fun money to their stereo system. That precludes exotic vacations, seasons tickets for sports, maybe a small fishing boat, a giant BBQ pit, or maybe even a sports car or fancy truck. Or, they just save and shop well. These customers aren't the ones buying $200k systems.

All of the above is merely an educated guess based on observation. No real verifiable insight. Just some drivel from a random guy on the internet.

ok's picture

and the combination of the two is rarer still.

ken mac's picture

it will make a music lover out of anyone. The Arion speakers with the AR and VPI gear was fantastic. It made incredible music.

Ortofan's picture

... it's not as though there weren't at least a few in attendance who make products available toward the lower end of the price scale.

Marantz could have displayed the PM8006 integrated amp and ND8006 CD player/streamer, both priced at $1,500.
Technics and Ortofon could have shown an SL-1210GR turntable with a 2M Blue cartridge, for about $2K.
B&W could have added their 703 S2 speakers for $4K.
Total system price of about $9K, and far less than most of the individual components on display.

Would such a system be good enough to let you enjoy your music?
Or, do you really have to spend as much as for a new car, let alone far above and beyond that amount?

georgehifi's picture

I've often thought the largest "Raven" ribbon at 270mm long can only get to 500hz, best would 6 in a line source and quality 8" isobaric'd drivers for 2 x subs to get up to 500hz and use them as integrated stands for the line source.

Cheers George

windansea's picture

maggie was touring with a ribbon for topend and planars for midrange and then several small open-baffle woofers, maybe 6 inchers, with big power driving the woofers, plus DSP, and listeners universally acclaimed the coherence, that finally there was a maggie system with maggie clarity but with the impact of dynamic drivers.

I'd like to hear these combos of speedy woofers with ribbons to see if it's the best of both worlds, without the mismatch that always plagued the Martin Logan electrostats with woofers. I had the SL3. Now I've got 3.7 maggies but still would like some bottom end kick and haven't found a sub that matches, not REL, not SVS.

Dmjohn's picture

I heard these at the show. Very nice,but I think the Carver Line source speakers are as impressive. They were around 18 k. I don’t think they are in production any more. But if you found a used pair, you could really have something very special at a fractional price.