ACI claim that their "speaker and audio systems offer the finest value and quality in the world". Could the Titan sub-woofer live up to this promise and compete with designs costing more than twice as much? John R. Potis set off on the road of discovery for SMR Home Theatre.
Many thanks go to Mr. Mike Dzurko for his help and for providing the review sample.
ACI Titan Sub-woofer
Down firing powered sub-woofer
|(All specifications as per manufacturer)|
A Titan Among Giants!
In the Spring 97 issue of Peter Aczels "The Audio Critic", Mr. Aczel named Mike Dzurko (of Audio Concepts Inc.) one of the "White Hats" (good guys) of Audio. He pointed out Mikes "excellent taste in sound", credited him with "redefining value in loudspeakers" and took note of Mikes "respect for science". Aczel also stated that, "ACI speakers have a history of performing like much costlier units sold by dealers." Ive long been aware of ACI and wanted to find out for myself if he could live up to Aczels white hat team.
Ive long been a fan of sub-woofers. I first bought one after blowing my second woofer in a pair of Martin Logan Sequal IIs. I wasnt looking for more bass per se, but rather looking to protect the woofers in the speakers. By high passing (filtering out the bass frequencies) the main speakers, it was my hope to take the strain off the woofers. Serendipitously, I found that I could do with less than half the amplifier power that I was using and took the oppertunity to move from a 200 watt solid state amp to a 90 watt tube unit. Of course, in the bargain, I also wound up with considerably more bass extension and power.
Then came home theater. I acquired another well known and respected sub-woofer for that system too. I was now the proud owner of two very well regarded sub-woofers, each system costing between $1,600 and $1,800.
When Mike Dzurko promised to send me a sample of his sub-woofer, one which sells factory direct only for $799, I expected good things, but could it compete on the same level with my twice the price subs? Read on.
Removing the ACI "Titan" from its box was a revelation. I had seen its picture in the company info packet before, but was completely unprepared for what I found. First, the color in the pictures is way off. What I got was a beautifully finished natural cherry finish which was lightly lacquered. Second, I was under the impression that the sub was of different proportions. This Titan is hands down, the best looking affordable sub Ive ever seen. It looks like a finished end table of sorts. One guest said that it looks like a pedestal which would be used for displaying a piece of fine art. This is the first and only piece of audio gear that my wife has actually taken a liking to. When I first got it home, she walked into the house, looked at it and asked what it was. I told her and "I like it!" was her response. I wont hold my breath waiting for that to happen again!
On the rear of the sub is the amp module. In evidence are heat sink fins, a continuously adjustable low pass filter, three RCA inputs, a volume control, a phase switch and the non detachable AC line cord. In all honesty, the hardware does not inspire the highest levels of confidence. But considering the cost of the sub, I can forgive ACI for not finishing the module with gold plated fixtures. My only real criticism is the fact that its very difficult to read the positioning of the high pass filter. Once the sub is set up though, this problem will cease to irritate. I promise.
For installation purposes, the sub comes with speaker lead adapters. These are bare wires on one end and RCA terminations on the other. You attach the bare wire ends to the speaker binding posts on your amp, then the RCAs plug into the sub. These are actually rather short leads, so I had to use an "extension" cord of sorts. Female RCAs on one end, and male RCAs on the other. These adapters are series resistors with a 50Kohm value. Your amp sees them as no real load at all.
Depending on your speakers, these may well be the best way to hook the sub into your system. Hook up the sub in this manor, adjust the low pass filter so as to not overlap the speakers bass output -creating lumpy bass response, and adjust the volume to match the output on your speakers. I encourage the user to experiment with positioning as well as with the adjustment of the low pass filter. Some advise setting the low pass filter to the same frequency as the lower limit of the speaker. However, I've found that rooms and room placement can effect the bass response of both the speakers and the sub to make this method unreliable. If a speaker is specd down to say, 45Hz, its entirely possible that the room can reinforce its output extending response down to 35 to 40Hz. In this case, the low pass would be set lower than the 45Hz spec would indicate. Conversely, the room may suck the speakers bass dry allowing extension to only 50Hz or so. In this case, the low pass filter would have to be set higher. I advise trusting your ears more so than the specs.
If you want to take advantage of sub ownership by removing the bass from your main speakers, ACE also makes two different filters available ($29/pr when purchased with the sub, $39/pr by themselves). These plug in between power amp and pre amp and are valued at 65Hz and 85Hz. I found these passive filters to be very transparent.
Also of great use was the phase switch. This reverses phase 180 degrees. Ive seen it in print that often this is not noticeable and indeed, on many early subs, this adjustment was omitted. I found that with the Titan, this was an indispensable feature. In fact, I found that in both the rooms in which I tested it and with both systems, I got a better match with the sub adjusted with reversed phase. When the sub was set "in" relative phase, there was a very noticeable gap between the response of the sub and that of the speakers. This happens around the crossover point as outputs from the speakers and sub overlap. If they are out of phase with each other, they cancel each other out. Bass sounds disconnected and unnatural. Flipping the phase switch eliminates this discontinuity.
NB. For more sub-woofer placement and calibration guidance, follow this link.
The first speaker I set up with the Titan was a pair of Apogee Centaur Minors. The Minors are an excellent speaker. Extremely clean, detailed and transparent, and unfortunately, bass shy. Unfortunately again, their transparency in conjunction with the speed of the ribbons posed what I thought would be an unfair task for the inexpensive Titan. I was wrong. The Titan assended to the task without a flinch. It matched up very well and in no time at all, those Minors were shakin it! I couldnt find anything to fault at all. Bass was extended, tight and extremely articulate. I doubt if I had ever heard them sound better.
Next up was a pair of NHT SuperZeros. Those familiar with these diminutive monitors know that they offer nothing at all in the way of bass below 85Hz. I inserted the Titan into the system, made the appropriate adjustments and was off. Once again, I was knocked out by what I was hearing. Rhythm and pace were just astounding. With the 85Hz filter in place, the SuperZeros were wailing!
It was then that I began to notice something in the quality of the bass I was hearing. It was something special. Real special. Never, in any of my systems, with either of my subs, had I heard the articulation I was hearing. As a matter of fact, extremely rarely, with any system I had ever heard, was I made aware of such outstanding bass. When properly adjusted, the sub never added unwanted artifacts to the music, but I had never heard such solidity when called for. Bass lines were more in evidence than I had recalled before do to its eloquence. Weight and slam were also outstanding.
Next, I hoisted it upstairs and into my dedicated listening room. I used the same 85hz filter between my Classé pre and power amps and used "Y" connectors to hook the Titan up at the pre-amp level. After some trial and error, I achieved what I thought to be excellent matching with my Sonus Faber Concertos.
Once again, I wasnt prepared for what I heard. This little sub just kicked my reference subs butt from one end of the room to the other. For articulation, this Titan wouldnt be beat. Among many other discs I tried was my bass torture disc, Telarcs "The Very Best of Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Top 20" (CD-80401). Up first was Lloyd Webbers "Overture of the Phantom of the Opera". The opening thunder crack was fantastic. Ive heard this on much more expensive systems which didnt do as well. If the speakers arent up to the task of handling the transients, the thunder is rounded off and sounds as if it is off in the distance. If the system is up to it, its got the sharp "CRACK!" that tells you that your neighbors house has been reduced to a pile of cinders. The Organ music that follows had more weight than I was used to hearing too.
Track #20, "Jurassic Lunch" is a killer track. A speaker killer that is. Its loaded with infrasonics extending down to 5hz. The CD box has a warning with regard to play back levels and speaker damage. The Titan didnt read those warnings. It didnt care. It handled the T-Rex with all his stomping, growling, chewing and belching with aplomb. It loved it and begged for more.
So out came my Wilson Audiophile recording of "Winds of War and Peace" (WCD-8823), with Lowell Graham conducting the National Symphonic Winds. Track #1, "Liberty Fanfare" features a HUGE drum the dimensions of which I cant remember anymore. . When its struck, walls shake. Or, should anyway. The Titan didnt let me down. Both walls and floor were set in motion and I couldnt control the big smile in my face.
After that, it was time to put down the pen. There was lots more listening to be done, not for review or reporting purposes, but for pleasure!
I have to give credit to ACIs customers. It takes a lot of guts, and a lot of good faith to buy a pair of speakers from a mail order company not having heard them. Sure, you have a two week period during which you can return all ACI products if you dont like them, but who needs the hassle? Its no wonder that ACI has given up most of its advertising budget and relies on word of mouth to sell its wares. If their speakers are anything near as good as this little sub, the speakers can do all the talking for themselves and must return excellent bang for the investment.
Subs are another matter altogether, I think. Shopping for subs isnt as easy as one may think. The listening room as well as the positioning within that room has a profound effect on the performance of any sub. Probably more so than the main speakers for that matter. Also, level matching as well as low pass filter adjustment is VERY important if one is to extract the best performance from a sub. I truly believe that there is only one place in which to effectively evaluate a sub-woofer- your home. In the case of bulky and heavy sub-woofers, what better way to get them home than to have them delivered by UPS!
So what about this "White Hat" stuff? Sure, the Titan is an excellent product and I cant recommend it highly enough for those with a budget approaching twice its asking price, but is that in itself enough to make such an elite squad? At first I wasnt sure. You see, ACI has been around for 20 years. As good as their products may be, they are a rather well kept secret in most circles. Can a man as talented as Mike Dzurko be deserving of such an honor after allowing his company to remain in such relative obscurity? Of course he can. Mike could be a rich man running with the big boys if he wanted to play the game the same way they do. But he isnt because he doesnt. He seems to operate ACI for the pure love of it. When I called him at the conclusion of my evaluation, it was my first time speaking with him ever. We spoke of other projects in the works and it struck me what a frugal man he is. Not frugal with his own money, anything he spends will ultimately be passed along to the customer anyway, so he is actually frugal with your money. His "skipping the middle man" way of doing business via factory direct sales is another way of saving you big bucks. He goes out of his way to bring you the best product he can for the as little as he can. All he asks is that you give him a shot. Yeah, I think Aczel got that white hat stuff right.
Now if I can only get hold of a pair of his Sapphire IIIs!
Good luck and listening,
More information about ACI products can be found at the Official ACI Web Site.
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