Gauder Akustik Arcona 100 MK2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers REVIEW
German speaker design may be all about maths and physics but these Gauder Akustik beauties found a place in GARY STEEL’s heart.
Sometimes I marvel at the idea that music can sound so very different emanating from one pair of similar-looking floor-standing loudspeakers and another. All the more so because there’s a certain uniformity of aesthetics at work, with long thin columns giving the listener pause to wonder whether there is any resounding difference between them.
And just as there’s science and technology in the way wine is made the same can be said of hi-fi components. It’s just that when it comes to evaluating that wine, or those hi-fi components, a huge amount of subjectivity and personal taste comes into play. So, in addition to questioning the ability of one pair of speakers to sound different from another, I question my own ability to determine a qualitative difference.
But although Gauder Akustik’s Arcona MK2 loudspeakers to some degree or other share the current trope for long and thin, I knew the moment my ears heard them sing that their sonic signature was something else. No questioning was necessary: it was obvious. You can see my overall rating on this page, which means you already know that I’m beyond impressed with them, but let’s start from the beginning.
Way up in the picturesque far north of New Zealand, Alex Hastie runs Last Frontier Audio, which is both a showroom and a distribution hub for a small, perfectly formed selection of high-quality audiophile gear. Alex only sells audio products that he personally believes in, and he has exclusive distribution here for one of Europe’s most revered loudspeaker brands, Gauder Akustik.
Like so many independent audio specialists dotted around the knotty terrain of our two islands, Alex is a fount of knowledge about gear and puts that extra layer of care into consulting with clients to assemble systems that really sing together. When he heard that my power amp had blown its left channel, leaving me without the sound of music, he turned up with a system for me to play with. Accompanied by fellow far north dweller and the man behind the HiFi Downunder Facebook page, Mark Loveridge, Alex delivered and connected an AVM SA 3.2 Class-D amp, and a pair of very shiny Gauder Akustik Arcona 100 MK 2 speakers. To cap it all off, Mark let me play with his music server, which is controlled by Roon and contains squillions of his own downloaded tracks as well as access to hi-res streaming music service Qobuz. And I didn’t have to lift a finger, except to select songs on the app. (Yep, folks up north are friendly and helpful!)
Dr Roland Gauder, a physicist, came up with the idea of Gauder Akustik in 1990 when he set about designing and manufacturing loudspeakers using precise mathematical calculations apparently using Euler’s famous formula.
I’m mathematically challenged, so I won’t go into the technical specifics of Gauder’s products, but suffice to say those with a better comprehension of such things can visit the Gauder Akustik YouTube channel here to get a fascinating insight on the brand and Dr Gauder’s ideas. Essentially, he emphasises that after all this time, for him it’s still all about mathematics and physics.
With so many loudspeaker manufacturers simply playing around with the same essentials, Gauder Akustik takes a bold approach by taking a stance and doing things differently. For instance, their speakers are comparatively low-efficiency, which means that they demand more juice from an amp. They feature very steep filters and very stiff cabinetry, and all that exacting attention to detail comes at a price. But in my opinion, with Gauder you’re paying for things that make an actual difference, not just the prettiness of design or other irrelevant fripperies.
Another plus is that Gauder Akustik is made in Germany, which means none of the usual outsourcing to foreign economies where the ultimate quality of components cannot always reliably be trusted.
The Arcona 100 MK2 is, believe it or not, Gauder Akustik’s entry-level range. With a speaker that’s nearing the NZ$20K mark that might sound faintly ludicrous, but having spent the best part of a month with these speakers, I consider them a bargain. It’s a matter of perspective. With their top-of-range speakers running to the best part of $200K, Gauder Akustik has made the decision not to stoop to the level of compromise required to churn out a bargain basement model. Instead, the Arcona 100 MK2 bear many of the hallmarks of much, much more pricey models in the Gauder Akustik lineup.
So, the basics: the Arcona 100 MK2 is a three-way ventilated unit with ceramic Acuton tweeters, XPulse diaphragm drivers (one for mids, two for bass) and a steep 50dB per octave crossover. It comes with a bass extension bridge at the back, which you can connect if your amp has enough power to take the extra load.
My review speakers were glossy piano black (they’re also available in white). I have a slight psychological problem with thin-looking speakers in the sense that I expect them to sound thin as well. I needed to get over this mental prejudice and the Arcona MK2 speakers helped me do just that.
The first thing I notice about the Arcona MK2 speakers is the bass. It’s extraordinary. I’ve heard column speakers that pump out bass beyond their weight, so to speak, but I’ve never heard bass out of a floor-standing speaker that managed such perfect weight and precision in timing – and that was without the bass extension bridge.
The second thing I notice is the extraordinarily holographic ability of these speakers. As an owner of a pair of Martin Logan electrostatic speakers, I’d long thought that only ESLs could project a genuinely holographic sound picture, but here I was with eyes wide shut hearing sounds bounce all over the room – and not just off walls.
T Bone Burnett’s records are meticulously engineered and he has long fashioned a unique sound that combines advances in recording technology with organic elements from its history. ‘Every Time I Feel The Shift’ from his 2006 album The True False Identity is an especially grungy-sounding groove featuring a walking acoustic bass figure, a battery of skittering and banging percussion and some nasty guitars. It’s sonically testing and the Arcona MK2 captures it with typical German precision, capturing textural details I haven’t noticed before.
Salmonella Dub’s ‘Gifts’ (from 2007’s Heal Me) is a sonic delight with great production by David Harrow, and the Arcona MK2’s beautifully conveyed both the holographic dub effects and the stereo panning. The top end is incredibly crisp, and the bass is astonishingly accurate-sounding: tonally precise and just right. What I love about these speakers already is that their bass response is so effortless that I never once yearn for the addition of a subwoofer. Where bass on many speakers struggles with the lower realms or simply disappears altogether, the Arcona’s keep it all in proportion and just do the job.
Talk Talk’s The Colour Of Spring is one of the best-sounding pop/rock releases of the 1980s and its judicious mix of organic and synthetic elements keeps it sounding fresh. ‘Happiness Is Easy’ isn’t very happy, really, but the Arcona MK2’s perfectly captured the incredibly on-point drum figure that seems to go on, unaccompanied, for several minutes. Every element of this exquisite song is present and conveyed with exquisite musicality, from the ultra-crisp cymbals to Danny Thompson’s rolling acoustic bass to Steve Winwood’s pleasingly fruity organ.
The 2006 Little Axe album Stone Cold Ohio has an impressively large, bass-heavy sound that doesn’t lack for detail, and on ‘If I Had My Way’ the speakers capture it all: the unfeasibly deep dubbed-out bass, the dirty guitar and the trippy effects. Where most speakers tend to emphasise one aspect of this album over another, the Arcona MK2s render it all with, once again, the feeling that everything is cooked just right.
Nonplace Urban Field’s Golden Star is a key 1997 electronic mix album from German maverick Burnt Friedman. Notable more for its marvellous spatial qualities than its bass abundance (the bass is quite tightly clenched) the speakers coax the album’s sonic SFX out from the cabinets and throw them around the sound field so that the music often sounds well outside the outer perimeter of the cabinets. The result is quite 3D-like – something I’ve seldom, if ever, heard on a conventional cone speaker before.
The Moody Blues’ A Question Of Balance may have been recorded way back in 1970 but its opening track, ‘Question’, still has the ability to really jump out of the speaker with a sense of dynamics seemingly unique to a time when studios were first grappling with the progressive rock interest in combining acoustic and electric instrumentation. On this track, the galloping drums really resonate and take the breath away, and the Arcona MKII’s deliver every little bit of detail and dynamic without any sense of toning down the wide, powerful, full-spectrum sound.
I played a wide variety of music through the Gauder Akustik Arcona MKII speakers during the time they sat in my music room, and I enjoyed every moment. Very occasionally I felt that the top end could be a little edgy, but that’s very much a matter of personal taste, and there are times when a bit of edge is needed. Still, I couldn’t help wondering what additional levels of excellence and high-end transparency might reveal themselves in the pricier Ceramic or Berlina floorstanders.
I don’t know how Roland Gauder gets such incredible results but the Arcona MK2s literally speak for themselves. They’re genuinely holographic and the bass response is to die for. I more or less gave up on conventional cone speakers because I could perceive an unacceptable (to my ears) “interference” in the crossovers, but in the Arcona MKII there’s no perceptible crossover malarky.
These speakers sound good on just about any kind of music you throw at them, from acoustic jazz to death metal to Jamaican dub or classical. The most immediately impressive facet is the perfectly tight, well-controlled bass, which never sounds either strained or lumpy. I’m sure that the steep crossover has something to do with the magic of the bass. Interestingly, the 220 watts of the Class-D AVM power amp packed plenty of power until I put in the speaker’s bass-extending bridge, but sounded under-powered when the bridge was connected. Yes, the bass was a little deeper but it lost some of the qualities I love so much about the Arcona MK2: the seamlessness and tightness of the bass. Perhaps a more powerful amp may have produced better results with the bridge in, but you know what? Bass was ample without the bridge, and if I needed some depth-charge bottom end a powered sub would be the sensible solution.
In short, I can’t remember auditioning a more impressive floor-standing speaker in my 18 years of writing about hi-fi. I love my Martin Logans but while the expansive soundstage is slightly more impressive than any non-electrostatic speakers I’ve encountered, the Arcona MK2’s abilities in the bass department are notably better. For anyone with a spare $18K and a desire to hear music the way it’s supposed to sound, they’re a no-brainer.