I attended the Akubarik Katalyst demo event at Sound Gallery tonight, in High Wycombe.
First, thanks to the gents at SG for hosting the event and for their hospitality. Also good to meet Stephen from Linn sales who was completely inscrutable when it comes to Akurate Exaktbox Katalyst!
The set up tonight was different to other collective demo evenings I've attended, and I think the better for it. Despite the system being in room that could've held 8 on dining room style chairs (for those of you who know SG, its the long narrowish room at the far end of the upstairs corridor), SG opted to keep just a pair of comfy chairs in the room and run a series of demos for 2 people at a time. The room is carpeted and has (drawn open) curtains over 2 small windows behind the speakers. There is no obvious attempt at treatment so it resembles a pretty normal living room. There was just the one system comprising a KDSM and the Katalyst equipped Akubariks, the exisiting shop pair that have had their modules upgraded. There were no standard Exakt Akubariks available for back to back comparison.
So thoughts on how they sound are based on memories for comparison, which is not ideal, but I've heard at least 4 pairs of Exakt Akubariks in the past at various different locations to recollect how they sound. Several pre-determined tracks were played and then we were offered the opportunity to select a track of our choice each. A nice balance. The demo system was running with SO and our host, Ronnie, had spent the previous evening tweaking away to the nearest 0.1dB or thereabouts. So nice to have a dealer putting in so much care and effort.
The first track was from a very popular female vocalist for whom I have very little time and who's records are typical of today's compressed recordings which was a very brave choice, but I'll come back to that later. Almost as surprising a choice were 2 Craig David tracks. I was not familiar with either of them, but I'm familiar with the multi-tracked vocal technique. These tracks gave the system the chance to shine in seemingly contradictory elements which became a theme throughout the listening. David's multi-tracking is very clear to hear, yet flows together as one vocal. That probably doesn't make much sense, but its difficult to describe. Across all the tracks the instruments and vocals are clearly separated, just as you would expect of Exakted Akubariks, but the main difference is the way they flow much better together as one piece of music. However, this is not the shmushing together and blurring of the sound that some systems seem to pass off as an attempt at a joined up musical message. In that regard, Katalyst seems to bring to Akurate the same attributes it brings to Klimax. There's a certain kind of effortlessness to the Katalyst presentation, be it Klimax or Akurate. We had a McCartney track where the acoustic guitar and percussion were crisply rendered but not in a forceful way - there's a sense of naturalness to the music. A really stunningly performed and recorded track from the high res Nils Frahm album 'Piano Day' was next up. The emotion in this lilting, slightly melancholic (but positively upbeat by Frahm's standards) flowed into the room and dragged me in. The instrument very well portrayed, full of flavour and richness with a believeable scale in the room. Have a search for this album, its downloadable in high res on a 'donate what you like' basis.
My co-listener chose Peter Gabriel's 'Philadelphia' track. Its not something I'm familiar with. I only enjoy a limited selection of PG's material but this one hasn't been added to that list. My co-listener seemed to really enjoy the way it was played. I chose 'Till Tomorrow' from Yello's 'Touch' album. The breathy trumpet playing was superbly presented - out in the room and full of subtleties and feeling. Underneath, the bass lines are full and lush but without flabiness underpinning the flow and timing superbly. I suspect some excellent SPACE Optimisation skills at play here. The limited vocals on this track had complexity and some subtle inflexions that I've not heard before. Was it all good? Not quite, there's still some of that Akubarik tendancy to hold back a bit, to consider a good time to be something that's just not 'the done thing'. But its a minor point and won't be an issue for many listeners.
So is this iteration of Katalyst a success? In my view its a resounding 'yes'. If I had a pair of Akubariks, I'd be trying to find the funds for the conversion ASAP. As it is, roll-on the Exaktbox version please Linn...
Oh, and that first track. Adele. 'Hello'. I still don't like it, but the Akubariks made it tolerable rather than shouty and unpleasant. High praise indeed!