Arcona 40 MK2 speakers – Near-perfect all-round sound

October 31, 2022
10/10

Summary

Gauder Akustik Arcona 40 MK2 Standmount Speakers REVIEW

Looking for a pair of really special standmount/bookshelf speakers for a small-to-medium room? GARY STEEL writes that you’d be remiss not to audition the Arcona 40MK2s. They’re that good.

 $7190

One thing hi-fi reviewers seldom mention is their own hearing. At 63, despite a lifetime spent listening to overloud rock bands in poor acoustical environments (i.e., concerts) for a living, I can still hear pretty much the normal human frequency range. Even the high notes. Unfortunately, for a big chunk of the time, I had the brand spanking new Arcona 40 MK2 standmounts in my possession, my sinuses were playing up and my ears almost gave up the ghost. Happily, I could no longer hear my kids’ piercing screams or engage in family dramas, because I was as deaf as a post. Unhappily, there was no point in listening to music.

The positive out of all this is that I got to keep these rather gorgeous speakers in my possession for quite a bit longer than planned and that I got a good chunk of uninterrupted listening time both before and after the disastrous ear blockage. And when the multi-pronged pharmaceutical approach began a slow improvement in my hearing, even when it still sounded like I was listening through mud, I could tell that these speakers were special. That might sound like an idiotic thing to say, but think about it: imagine that you’re partially deaf and you’ve got a very average portable Bluetooth speaker in one room and in another a pair of these beauties. With impaired hearing, could you tell the difference? Of course you could! Even through mud, I could hear musical details through the Arcona 40 MK2s that an inferior pair of speakers wouldn’t have revealed.

 

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That might seem like a long-winded way to prove a point, but I felt that it was a point worth making. When my lug holes finally popped and I could hear the splendour of music in all its ravishing colours again, I was completely blown away by the Arcona 40 MK2s all over again. They’re a loudspeaker that debunks the fallacy that audiophile joy is simply about detail. It’s a dull trope that newcomers to audiophilia fall into every time. When they audition a new piece of equipment, they measure its excellence by how much more they can hear rather than whether it actually sounds better; or that it conveys a convincing totality.

The Arcona 40 MK2s are stupendously detailed. I could hear guitar and piano/keyboard lines on some recordings that I’d not even noticed on my Martin Logan Summits, sometimes tremendously subtle musical flourishes somewhat buried in the harmonic intricacy of a track. But here’s the thing: while they’re incredibly musically revealing, they never betray the wholeness or totality of a piece of music. Some speakers are all about detail retrieval but you find that the song as a whole isn’t holding together in the way that you expect it to.

What’s more, like the Gauder Akustic 100MK2 floorstanders I reviewed a few months back, they do the business when it comes to a beautifully transparent top end as well as an incredible facility for showcasing the layers in a recording, complete with any grain in the voice or instrumentation.

The Gauder Akustik Arcona MK2 range

The Blurb

Gauder Akustik speakers are “renowned for their accuracy resulting from low-resonance cabinets, optimised crossover, purpose-built drivers, ceramic tweeters, high attention to detail and quality finish. The Arcona 40 Mk2 is a sealed bookshelf with a ceramic tweeter and 7-inch Accuton aluminium driver. The Mk2 is a significant upgrade on the AMT tweeter in the Mk1 with smoother integration with the Accuton driver. The Arcona profile is a parabolic teardrop tapering toward the rear designed to minimise internal reflections that can colour the music. It’s constructed of CNC-milled MDF, and is built by fusing thin 22mm slices vertically to eliminate internal cabinet vibrations. The sheep’s wool damping material is reassuringly old school. The Arcona 40 offers an engaging natural immediacy that’s inviting and musical with an exceptionally wide dynamic range. The speaker exhibits superb transparency and plenty of air, focus and dimensionality in its sonic view.”

The cabinets are high-gloss white and surprisingly long. They come with a surprising 10-year guarantee. One of the idiosyncrasies of Gauder Akustik is a little metal looped plug that fits into the back of the speaker. Fitted, this “bass extension bridge” did nothing much for me, but others might see a difference depending, I guess, on what kind of amp you’re running with the speaker and how powerful it is. Personally, I preferred the sound without the bridge.

Listening

I threw a wide range of music at the Arcona 40 MK2s, from full symphony orchestra to acoustic middle eastern music, from experimental electronic to classic jazz, from heavy metal to punk, from reggae to progressive rock, from ambient to funk. The speakers handled everything with aplomb.

I added some bottom end with a wonderful little wee REL T/7x subwoofer that, with its shiny white coating looks perfectly matched. Cables were the handsome matched Gauder Akustik Clearwater Balance ($1950) and crucially, the exceptionally heavy (and handsome) Relsound stands ($800). The main source was my trusty Yamaha CD-S2000, with my Rotel RC-1550 preamp and AVM Evolution SA3.2 power amp.

While I played a lot of tracks I’ll try and keep this review shortish by mentioning only a truncated sample of my playlist.

The Cure’s 17 Seconds (1980) isn’t exactly an audiophile release, but it sounds fantastic. This is a kind of a Dark Side Of The Moon for the post-punk crowd, a moody and psychedelic album that sounded really bad on its original NZ pressing and CD issue but completely delicious on the 2005 remaster. This album uses little except atmospheric keyboards, a flanged guitar sound that should be copyrighted and cheap drum machine with Robert Smith’s perfectly anguished voice to create an album that’s a complete one-of-a-kind. Listening to this masterpiece on the Arcona 40s is a special experience. The guitars render themselves beautifully in space, the sharp fake cymbals beam out like shots of steam, and the bass is solid as a brick. This album is brave enough to leave a lot of space in the mix and every element sounds just right, and though I had intended listening to only one track for this review I found myself transfixed for the full 40-minutes’ playing time.

Court & Spark (1973) was the album where Joni Mitchell threw off her folk roots and married herself to the cool summer grooves of some of LA’s best jazz session musos. It was her big moment and helped to define a soft-rock sound as well as spawned 100s of mellow jazz-influenced female singers over the next few decades. It’s always been a great-sounding record but the brand-new masters (taken directly from the multi-tracks) rid the record of the sharp sonic edges of previous compact disc iterations. I can hear myself making the same observation with every track I play on the Arcona’s: I’m hearing instrumentation that I’ve never heard before and thinking “where the hell did that come from?” But unlike some forensically inclined hi-fi presentations, the Arcona’s aren’t about detail over overall sonic integrity. In the late ‘70s Tom Petty said something along the lines that if it’s a good song you should be able to get the gist of it on a shitty car stereo or transistor radio. On the Arcona, the songs hold up but you ALSO get the resplendent detail, which on an album like this shows how her genius songs are also convincing compositions. The sound is captivating.

As with Joni Mitchell’s Court & Spark, there’s a lot going on in David Bowie’s swansong Blackstar (2016); so much so that a lesser pair of speakers would have difficulty resolving the density and detail into a picture that had cohesion to the listener. The Arcona 40s masterfully deal with this incredible song. I’m not much of a Bowie fan but on this track, the glam icon comes up with a theatrical progressive rock epic that’s seriously weird and spooky, with subterranean bass in some sections, possibly the strangest beat ever welded onto a song, some exciting saxophone skronking and… well, it’s a giant among songs. The piece wields such a powerful emotional pull that it’s hard to get too analytical about it, but suffice to say that its full glory is ably conveyed by these speakers.

Love’s legendary Forever Changes (1967), despite featuring extreme left-right channel stereo separation typical of the era, sounds splendid on the Arcona 40s. Avoid early CD issues of this album as they have a high-pitched tone going through them, but the expanded 2002 release is properly remastered and proves that despite the relative primitivism of studios back then it was possible to get astonishing results. This is LA flower power pop at its slightly psychotic best with a mixture of acoustic and electric instruments, including Arthur Lee’s excellent electric guitar and vocals and judicious use of string instruments. This album has influenced generations of music including the more melodious end of the NZ Flying Nun label and listening to it on the Arcona 40s, while the music is definitely of a previous era, it comes alive and sounds so present that you can pretend to be sitting in a park somewhere in California “turning on” to the cool bands and the hot chicks!

The Moody Blues had created a unique sound world with their mix of pop, rock and orchestral elements in the late ‘60s and ‘Questions’ (from A Question Of Balance, 1970) takes it a step further. On the Arcona 40s the piece doesn’t have the sheer enveloping full-spectrum wonder of my Martin Logan Summits and neither does it have the mid-bass dynamic, but the compensation is in the sheer musicality of the sound. They very nicely convey the 1970 period studio flavour, and if you shut your eyes you can almost imagine that you’re sitting in the studio as it was being recorded. It was an innovative time for recording studios and they were still learning the art of overdubbing and you can hear all that… the way the engineers are fusing the rock instrumentation with subtle orchestrations.

Before Bryn Jones (aka Muslimgauze) died of a rare blood disease in Feb 1998 he spent about 15 years in his Manchester studio pouring out track after twisted track – a potent brew of extreme electronics, middle eastern percussion and samples, and dub-type effects. Hussein Mahmood Jeeb Tehar Gass (1998) is but one of hundreds of posthumous releases by this utterly original sculptor of sounds and like all his records, it sounds incredible. Being one of the more punishing bass-heavy releases I was scared to turn it up loud on the Arcona 40s but even at moderate volume, the speakers conveyed the shocking presence and detail he invested in his tracks, with acoustic percussion and all manner of sampled sounds processed on his all-analogue rig. On an inferior pair of loudspeakers, this music can sound samey because of repetitive elements, but when things are this rich in detail there’s plenty to keep a questing ear happy. Switching over to my Martin Logan Summits on this album straight after, I’m instantly aware of some quite profound differences: while the MLs have a huge sound stage and a seamlessly smooth presentation from top to deep mids on the panels, the Arcona 40s are a more exciting listen, because the sonic layers and grain of the music is more revealing and there’s a more pronounced dynamic. Proof that you can’t get everything in one pair of speakers! You pays your money, you takes your choice!

Summing Up

If there was one thing I would say about these speakers it would be: IT’S ALL THERE. They’ve got detail to spare but they’re coherent too. The Arcona 40s have a kind of practical realism that’s very Germanic. The Germans, after all, are the geniuses of engineering and Gauder Akustik are, as far as I can hear, practically flawless.

I admit to being a little scared to punish these speakers with some of the more sonically extreme albums I love or to push the volume as high as I sometimes like, and personally, my take on the Arcona 40 MK2 is that it would be ideal for a small-to-medium room and someone who listens are moderate levels. Which isn’t to say that they can’t handle volume or extremity, just that I was too shy to push them as hard as I would my own speakers. Ideally, a purchaser would have a nice sub like the wee REL to give the speakers that low-end rumble, as well.

But I would own these in a second if I had some spare cash. They’re simply wonderful and for $7190 they’re quite affordable, too.

www.lastfrontieraudio.co.nz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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