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Gauder Akustik Arcona 40

I’ve long had a love affair with stand-mounted two ways with non-standard tweeters, either Air Motion Transformers (AMT), ribbons or quasi-ribbons. The first that captured my wetware was a quite diminutive little fella from Infinity, their InfiniTesimals. We had them in the tape copy room at Criteria studios along side some reference Ed Long MDM-4 time aligned monitors. Much later – though over a decade ago – Mark Levinson’s Red Rose Rosebud II had real ribbons and ran about $3k, or about $4k in today’s dollars. Recently, I heard about a modern little hopeful from Europe, and decided to investigate…

German company Isophon was founded back in 1929, and was known in later years for their inexpensive drivers. In the ’80s, Roland Gauder, a Doctor of Physics, had a consulting firm that designed hi-fi gear for outside clients. In 1989, Gauder’s Acoustic Consulting began working with Isophon, and in 1997 obtained the rights to market Isophon-branded products. His lines were proudly designed and manufactured in-house. Gauder went on to form Gauder Akustik with business partner Achim Knapp in 2012, and rolled out the brand in 2013. Isophon’s acclaimed $30,000 Arabba was a 3 way tower, and is a direct progenitor of the current Gauder Akustik BERLINA RC 7 MK II.

The guiding principles at Gauder Akustik haven’t changed much. As an Isophon marketing piece stated, “…a scientific approach and infatuation are both equally important components in music, to construct with the help of the latest technologies speakers that enhance the music reproduction even further.” That methodology, where rigorous science informs subjective evaluation, continues to this day, as does an insistence on keeping production close at hand. The BERLINA line embodies the sum of Gauder’s current thinking, but is a bit rich for my blood. Always looking for great yet affordable sound, I was irresistibly attracted to their entry level ARCONA 40, a sealed, two way stand-mounted design.

The ARCONA 40’s cabinet, when viewed from above, has the now familiar, diffraction busting parabolic shape; a truncated teardrop tapering toward the rear. It’s constructed of CNC-milled MDF, and is built up from thin, 22 mm slices vertically stacked in sequence. The sheep’s wool damping material is reassuringly old school. On the rear is a recessed flat, on which the WBT Nextgen binding posts are mounted. Height is 14.2″ or 36 cm, width is 8.3″ or 21 cm, and its depth is 13″ or 33 cm. Each speaker weighs just shy of 27 pounds. My set was accompanied by a matching pair of black stands, with three uprights of tubular steel, two about 1″ in diameter, and a third twice as wide. The speakers sit on self-adhesive elastomer thingamabobs stuck onto the top plate, and four spikes connect stand to floor via a base plate. Retail price, with stands, is $4,995 per pair. The product comes with a 10 year warranty.

Gauder Akustik’'s sleek and stylish ARCONA 40

Gauder Akustik’’s sleek and stylish ARCONA 40

The included stands were flat packed with easy to understand printed instructions, and required only a large philips driver to assemble. An open end or crescent wrench would allow you to set the locking nut on the carpet spikes. I used a set of slip joint pliers. Though the stands will accommodate mass loading, I did not fill the three columns with sand, BBs or spent plutonium. Although the speakers normally come with optional black cloth-clad framed grills fastened with velcro, I didn’t receive grills with my loaners and didn’t miss them one iota. I think the self-adhesive velcro implies just how little Gauder Akustik values grills, preferring to let the technology package make its own statement.

Upon unboxing and getting everything set up, I gave them the obligatory 100 hours of burn in using a combination of my own purpose built exercise signals and music. Then, I listened and thought, “Oh dear, yet another unpleasant speaker. I’ll just let it cook some more,” which I did after trying a bit of Sonic EQ to see if I could locate the problem I was hearing. After an initial pass, I came back to it again a few days later to refine the settings. What I ended up with, an entirely subjective result, was a 1st order parametric 3.2 dB down at 8.7 kHz with a Q or Quality Factor of 2.3, and another 1st order parametric 2 dB down at 5.9 kHz with a wider Q of 1. The EQ removed a raspiness, an edge, that I found annoying. With DSP bandaids in place, I settled in to listen and listen, and…things changed. Over the course of a month, the harshness dissipated, replaced by a taut, involving sound that I’ve come to enjoy immensely. The EQ was summarily taken out of circuit.

I ended up placing the ARCONA 40s eight feet apart, toed in about 25°, about 6 feet from my listening position and 20 inches from the wall to the rear of the cabinet. This is far closer that the equilateral triangle setup I usually go with in my room, but I simply loved the soundstage…so there! Unlike the larger members of the family, which are vented on the bottom, the ARCONA 40 is an acoustic suspension design. Because of that, I didn’t have to worry about LF interference from a rear-firing port. As head of the design team, Roland Gauder doesn’t think that ports in bookshelf speakers are a good approach. With a vented two way, “…all the cabinet resonances which show themselves in the midrange are radiated through the port and colour the mids. Moreover, many people have to place their “bookshelf” speakers close to a wall or even worse, in a bookshelf! If you have a vented enclosure with the port (facing toward) the front, you hear the cabinet resonances. If the port is firing to the back, it causes booming and resonates with the back wall.” So, for bookshelf designs, he feels it’s beneficial to instead use a sealed enclosure and to compensate for the loss of the port with an extended frequency crossover which puts the same amount of energy into the speaker as a port does. Toward that end, they use a high pass-filtered woofer which extends bass response by one octave. By the way, the frequency response is 3 dB down at 42 Hz and 23 kHz.

The company claims that their crossover, with Mundorf and Audyn components in an electrically balanced topology, presents an easy load so moderately rated amps will work. Indeed, though I tried my trusty Bryston 3B, 100 Watts being the maximum recommended, I set it aside in favor of Lindell’s APMX, a 40 Watt into 8Ω Class A design. Always curious, I also pressed a set of NC400-based Ncore monoblocks into service as well. Though they noticeably widened the soundstage, they also contributed to a too polite bottom, so out they went in favor of the AMPX’s more sumptuous booty…and that’s the way everything stayed until I had to send the speakers back.

Don, a friend and avid speaker builder, dropped by to take a listen. He chuckled and mentioned that the ARCONA 40s look like, but don’t sound like, a kit speaker. “Gauder is using a customized faceplate,” he noted. “The faceplate design mostly impacts off axis measurements, and the Gauders are very impressive in their off-axis response.” He thought the woofers appeared to be custom versions of 6″ HiVi woofers used by Mordaunt Short and others. Don mentioned other evidence, “Looking at the impedance curve of the ARCONA’s and the complex crossover they employ, it sure looks to me like HiVi woofers are used.” The Gauder’s overall concept reminded him of the Rogers LS3/5a…“Come up with a nice design, then hammer out near perfect response with a really complex crossover.” Don also commented on their smooth off-axis response, since the ARCONA 40 deliver excellent, uniform directivity in the horizontal plane. You can walk anywhere in front of these little guys, and the timbre doesn’t shift significantly. For me, the voicing remained the same, whether parked on the couch in the sweet spot or in the kitchen making yet another batch of corn bread.

The crossover, in this case, really is quite complex. Gauder told me, via e-mail, that his design employs crazy steep slopes exceeding 8th order. “The crossover is something different to all conventional filters. In all our loudspeakers, we use crossovers with a slope > 50 dB/octave. Thus the overlap (between mid/woofer and tweeter) is reduced to a minimum.” More conventional filter designs have too much overlap for his tastes. If that overlap is too big, then the same frequencies are radiated by two drivers from two physical and acoustical centers, causing in-room power and phase response errors. “(But what’s)…more important is that the impulse response of the speaker is distorted,” said Gauder. “The impulses are not sharp anymore and so, in the crossover region, the speaker will sound washed out and un-precise. (These errors)…lead to a loss of spatial information and one can localize the speaker cabinets themselves.” When done right, the desired illusion is obtained, “…the singer, band or orchestra is standing in front of us!”

Let’s talk about those drivers…Roland Gauder said that they expend a good deal of effort choosing the perfect part for each speaker. They are OEM’d for Gauder Akustik according to their in-house designs. The 7″ low frequency driver has a vented spider and non-resonant rubber surround. No dust cap avoids distortions from partial resonances and materials discontinuities. Gauder takes special pride in the mid/woofer’s X-Pulse cone, which was developed especially for the ARCONA series. The X-Pulse membrane is an “…aluminum diaphragm which shows resonances as all hard and rigid materials (do). There is a soft damping layer of…plastic on the back side. A membrane built up of two layers shows a totally different vibrational behavior than a one layer/one material membrane. This two layer membrane can easily be used up to 4 kHz and so the crossover point of 3.2 kHz is a perfect choice (in combination with) our AMT tweeter.” By the way, the tweeter uses FeNd-magnets.

That custom tweeter faceplate & capless X-Pulse driver

That custom tweeter faceplate & capless X-Pulse driver

Some would discount high order crossovers as having too much phase rotation. When asked about this, Gauder replied that, if a linear acoustical phase response is your goal, “…you need to have complementary filters for high pass and low pass filters at the crossover point. Then, a harmonic transition from mid-range to tweeter is guaranteed and no information is lost.”

He also reinforced the rigor + listening design process, saying “…loudspeaker design in the 21st century should be far ahead of the trial and error methods of the last century. Nowadays we have the mathematical means to describe a loudspeaker in a completely new way and we should use this potential.” He employs a very detailed mathematical description where the cabinet, the crossover and the drivers are a coupled system in the electrical world. “By transferring it then to the acoustical world I have all information about amplitude and phase and so I can build complementary filters. And this is the essence of all: it does not matter which order of filters you use, you have to take care of the fact that you use complementary filters!” The mathematical design solution is truly a hairball, far beyond Thiele and Small, and requires “…the big computer cluster at my (local) university to be able to get the equations solved. For example, there are 14 equations for an ARCONA 40 to be solved which are nonlinear and coupled!” Math is great but it means nothing if it doesn’t correspond to real world performance. Gauder’s bottom line is simple, “For me, the truth lies in the listening!”

While vented boxes usually “go low” subjectively, they often exhibit a floppiness that I find annoying. For such a small volume cabinet, the ARCONA 40 delivers an amazing amount of clean, credible low frequency energy. Gauder mentioned that, to increase the low end response the ARCONA 40 is equipped with “…a high pass filter of second order. This filter in combination with the driver creates a 4th order Butterworth high pass, with a Qtc = 0.89 and not 0.707 as many people think (Qtc is the total Q at resonance – OMas), and extends the low end by one octave.” Indeed, the ARCONA 40 delivers persuasive bass below 30 Hz, cleanly portraying most of the bottom octave with as much precision as the mids and highs.

During the review period, I had another stand-mounted two way to compare against, Fritz Speakers’ Morel 6. At less than half the price of the ARCONA 40, the Morel 6 is a vented design with, yes, Morel drivers; a 6.25″ poly-coated paper cone mid/woofer and a 1″ ferrofluid-cooled silk dome tweeter. Not a fair fight, price-wise, I admit but I do love the Fritz design for its super, ahem, silky high end and chesty upper bass, eminently suited to pleasurable music listening and perfect for home theater. Compared to the ARCONA, the Morel 6’s slightly euphonious voicing doesn’t deliver the subjectively flat response of the ARCONA nor the extended high end of its AMT. That said, the Morel 6 has a pervading smoothness, while the ARCONA 40 has more snap, detail and a far tighter, extended low end. Different strokes, as Sylvester “Sly Stone” Stewart wrote…

If I had to assign a pithy description to the ARCONA 40’s sound, I’d have to say they are flat. Flat in a good sense; without a smile or, worse, midrange humps or bumps. Painting an unbiased neutrality across a very wide swath of listening area, the ARCONA 40 offers an engaging natural immediacy that’s inviting and musical. The low end is both precise and surprisingly low reaching, the midrange isn’t aggressive nor is it recessed, and the top is exacting without being etched or biting. In fact, if they played louder, they’d make great “small” speakers, in the Dolby sense, for pros on location or in need of meter bridge monitors. Granted, when I drove them too hard, they tended to be a bit shouty (at least with my AMPX, which may have been clipping), but I had to insert hearing protection in order to drive them to those sound pressure levels.

Although I loved them and was very sad to box them back up for return, they were not perfection personified. That high frequency aggressiveness I noticed early in my listening sessions never completely disappeared. A mere whiff remained, which I noticed only when I compared them to my lesser, dome tweeter-equipped Fritzs and B&Ws. Due to their size, bass slam is also not one of their many charms.

With such exceptional off-axis response, the ARCONA 40 are made for dancing around or simply living, always wrapped in your music. They stand in the middle ground of great sound at a reasonable price; bling-free, understated good looks combined with low distortion, wide coverage, neutral voicing plus excellent imaging and detail. About that lively transient response, Roland Gauder claims that, “The reason why my speakers are so much related to impulse response is that music consists of impulses rather than constant sine tones. Of course, frequency response should be close to linear but actually the impulse response decides if it’s an ordinary speaker or a fantastic speaker.” I couldn’t have said it better!


Gauder & Knapp GbR
Steinbeisstraße 24-26
D-71272 Renningen Germany
+49 7159 920161

Additional Gear Used for This Review

  • Sources: Amarra Symphony 3.0 w/iRC, iTunes
  • Cabling: Soundstring GEN II Beta 2-22S XLR/XLR and RCA/XLR, VUE Digital VU-3 USB, AntiCable Level 3 speaker cables, AntiCable Level 6.2 RCA/RCA, Soundstring GEN II Digimax-18 power
  • Conversion: exaSound e22, Calyx DAC 24/192
  • Amplification: Lindell AMPX, Rocness BA-3 custom, Bryston 3B
  • Speakers: Bowers & Wilkins 685, Fritz Speakers Morel 6, IsoAcoustics ISOL8R155 on Sanus Foundations Steel

Music in Heavy Rotation During This Review

  • Low — Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop 2015) Hooky, deeply textured compositions and harmonic vocals draw you in and hold you for the length of the entire album.
  • NDR Bigband: Hamburg Radio Jazz Orchestra — Tall Tales of Jasper County: The Double Double Suite (Inarhyme 2015) Man, can these dudes cook or what!?
  • Oddarrang — various (TIDAL) Finnish chamber instrumentalists skillfully combine elements of jazz, rock, classical and ambient to create an accompaniment to urbane living.
  • Maria Schneider Orchestra — The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare 2015) Passionate, lyrical writing and arranging that tells an epic story of prairie and home.
  • Andrew Skeet — Finding Time (Sony Music Entertainment 2015) A soundtrack for a contemplative winter afternoon.
  • Snarky Puppy — Sylva (Impulse! 2015) From cinematic to sultry, these normally trad jazzers cover a lot of ground while weaving a series intriguing soundscapes.

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