When Turned On Audio’s Neil Young mentioned that he had a set of the Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo speakers in the shop for a day or so, I just had to pop in to take a look.
These speakers are hand made in Holland and they’re both gorgeous and very distinctive. Works of art? Can’t argue with that. The cast bronze driver surround set against the light veneer is quite unlike your average floostander. They certainly come from a different school of thought to my narrow baffle, heavily braced, extra dead cabinet wonders with five drivers per side.
They’re a long way removed from most modern speaker designs actually. Where the modern approach is generally to deaden the cabinet as far as possible, these cabinets are thin walled and resonate like the body of a musical instrument when tapped. In addition, they’re an open backed design, with a skeletal rear panel offering clear access to the internals. The materials are 4mm Oregon pine on the front panel and Sitka spruce on the top and side panels. For all their size (and they are quite big speakers), they weigh in at a svelte 17.5Kg each. The Musical Affairs website has the following to say about the design process:
“Our search for the ideal sound box for these unique speakers lasted from 1996 to 2000. During this period, we tried out many designs and materials. The results were generally speaking satisfactory, but the “magic” of a “live” musical performance was not quite there. One fine day in 1999, Bernard Salabert gave us the idea of using Sitca spruce “tonewood” for the boxes, instead of MDF. Sitca spruce is the wood used for the sound boards in pianos, for guitars, violins, cellos and other stringed instruments.
Extensive study taught us what we needed to know about how musical instruments are built and, armed with this knowledge, we started a second search, which resulted in the design of a sound box with very thin walls, made entirely from 4 mm solid wood, and with the necessary bracing – like that used in the manufacture of guitars, for example.
The design and realisation of this bracing was a real challenge, but the final result is a sound box that is completely free from undesired resonances, and no muffling is required in the box.
For the finishing of the boxes, we chose a violin varnish based on shellac, a proven product for high-quality musical instruments.”
Despite looking like a single driver speaker, the Grand Crescendo is a two-way system using French made PHY-HP drivers, featuring Alnico magnets and silver voice coils. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, the drivers are deliberately placed off centre on the front panel, as Hans Kortenbach, the designer puts it: “Although we realise that the “off centre placement of the speaker” will not be to everyone’s taste, we chose this solution because extensive testing proved that this choice was the best from the point of view of quality of reproduction”.
The Grand Crescendos are 97 dB sensitive and need to be paired with low powered amplifiers to be heard at their best, ideally with 16 Ohm taps to match the driver impedance. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to listen to them in any detail but the bit I heard was lovely. Some lucky punter is going to have a lot of fun running them in.
The price? A mere $20,000.
Some YouTube footage with information about the speakers: