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17 Mar 2007: Akis Michalopoulos

Michalopoulos-Mar-2007-syst

By Tony Pothitos

Imagine this

Walking into a room, freshly woken up, shaved, and ready for a night of having some food and drinks and listening to someone's stereo system, a good laugh, and in general a Saturday night out with the A.C.A members. Not a bad though at all is it, to be with friends and enjoy an evening of music listening?

But that was my imagination: Read what my heading of this paragraph was, I said, IMAGINE THIS!

But what if something else happened in reality? You have to stop imagining. So stop right where you are, and hear the truth.

Realize this

Walking into a room with 15 of the most beautiful women in the world, barely dressed, and waiting for you! All lying on a comfortable L shaped couch, which could easily fit 16 people. You kiss everyone you can, to say hello, not to show you are astonished, and calmly take your seat on the couch to hear the music.

Within minutes you're bored of the music and the pair of over rated B&W 800 Matrix, which by the way look like as if a speaker was posing to be a Picasso!

I mean, who in the world would make a speaker that was so asymmetrical it would take 5 hours to get used to? You don't have to listen to the sound. You can see that it is not going to play music, so why bother? Have you ever seen a Picasso painting play music?

Michalopoulos-Mar-2007-pic-1 You have 44 square meters of playing space, you have two Theta Dreadnaughts II, Bi amplified, at 250 watts each one playing in stereo, a Theta Carmen II with a Theta Generation VIII D/A converter connected with what else, a Theta coaxial. A pair of Shunyata Altair interconnects ( I wonder why that was not Theta also?). And so what?

Within minutes you realize that the sweet spot is smaller than your stomach, especially mine, and everywhere else you sit, the sound, especially with voice moves from side to side with every whim the Matrix felt it wanted to go. Like it had its own personality and ideas on how to play what you wanted to play! How worst can it get?
Easily.

The women aforementioned leave, and in there place I have MaxG next to me and Dionyssis (a new Member) almost hugging me to get into the sweet spot! Which is not sweet at all, but the only place where the music could be heard!

This was turning into a nightmare, and this was real, no need to pinch myself on this one, and no wondering if I had taken in too much water consumption either.

As the night moved on, we heard from our host Akis Michalopoulos, a high end dealer I might add, and his selection of CD's which he wanted to play for us.

Now we all know that most people play great sounding recordings when trying to show off their systems. We all know that some songs sound great and others don't on any system, so we try to hide our system’s weaknesses and show only its strength.

The gist of it was rather simple. The mids were compressed, not airy at all. The bass was there when it wasn't supposed to, and it lacked the punch when it should have had it, and it was slow. The highs seemed well… non existent. I mean these speakers were built for Victorian homes with 5 meter ceilings, not in an apartment in Greece. The sweet spot was made literally for the size of a donut and for the first time the sweet spot was literally sweet sized.
The Secretary of A.C.A. was thank God controlling the evenings events by making us all very much what we should be. HIS SLAVES! Otherwise it is chaos! He is an ex-pilot for Olympic Airways and it looks like he has gotten used to saying "crosscheck" too many times! But for our needs he is our captain of discussions and organization and for that, I take my hat off to him.

After some words were said, I left the sweet spot (for all I cared, it was nicer around the food area) and gave others the chance to listen in.

Michalopoulos-Mar-2007-pic-2As I was in the kitchen trying to find something to eat, since nothing else seemed to be on my mind, the host placed on album on his Transrotor, Super Seven Reference, hooked up with a Van Den Hul Mc-1 Hybrid, a Tr-3500 from the same company and a Dynavector XV-15 cartridge. And all of this in the worst possible place you could place a TT. In the corner! Where waves and turrets of reverb, background clatter, and garbage goes to. The host had a super duper Pioneer LCD screen, even bigger than mine in the middle just to make things even worst, making sure all the music just slips and slides and bounces off the glass just in case something went right!

Well, to my surprise, something did go right. It was a mistake I understood it immediately, after all, I have so many years in this club and I know music more than anyone my age does. I have experience in playing instruments; I have changed many machines in the past and have an excellent ear under all circumstances. I am as good as it gets. I am perfect, whatever I say is right and what you say as long as you say the same is right. I am a gift to mankind. I make no mistakes, NEVER, EVER.
But I did make a mistake. I allowed myself to accept myself to make one mistake only and went back to the system to hear it playing the TT. After all, when these speakers were made, I am not sure there were CD's out there? And speaking of which, why does a dealer of so many brands of speakers, have a pair of outdated speakers, which he does not even sell? Why would a Mercedes dealer drive a BMW?

That made me think, so I took a deep breath, left the food and took myself back to the L couch and have a listen. Maybe I was too smart for my own good.

I can admit that there was a loyalty to some of the notes and even a few voices. The TV seemed to be hiding the singers inside it and if that was not enough, the acoustical guitar had bass. Something which took us a while to understand, but then did as I remembered my Fender model 49 which Dire Straights used on the cover of one of there albums, you know, the metal based guitar that is totally different than anything before its time.

The two woofers were actually playing in unison and the sound again, to my dismay of myself and my great knowledge was not what I thought it was at first.

Had I not seen something I should have before? Had I missed a beat? What was going on? Here was a system obviously, painstakingly put together over the years starting to make sense. OR WAS IT ME?

Mark Twain once said "When I was 19, my father was soooo stupid. By the time I was 24, you would not have believed how much HE HAD LEARNT" This signified not how much his father had learnt, but how much HE had changed since he was 19. By 24 he had matured. The world was the same and so was his father, but the way he saw things made everything look different.
And as Mark Twain was astonished, so was I.

I am a 41-42 year old know it all. I want a speaker to slam when the boot of the drum hits the 18 inch foot bass, and when there is a twitch in the cymbal, I want to hear it too! But guess what. Our host, Akis, didn't! He was not trying to find the wrong, he was trying to find the right.

He didn't even want to hear the punch in the stomach, the hunger driven bass freaking sound, not music, but sound, that I was expecting to hear from such a goliath speaker.

Michalopoulos-Mar-2007-pic-3He wanted to listen to things in a more natural state. No boom, no bam, no tings or screeches. He wants to listen to the core of the song, the music itself, no matter what it was, rock, classical, jazz, pop or ethnic. He wanted and had done something none, or few of us have ever dreamed of doing, making a compromise that would make over 90% of the music playable on his system. And had succeeded in doing it without killing his sound!

I needed another plate of his wife's profiterole, a chocolate mousse with white cream which was not allowed for me to eat. But I was starting to regress. If I was a drinker this is the time I would go to the bar and say to the barman, "pour me a double".

I felt like Mark Twain again.

Maybe I was asking for something that was not real, and in fact was looking at things only from my side of the fence? Have I missed the point in music? Was I hanging around old men for too long and have gone senile? Why were there beautiful woman in the room when I came? Why had they changed to smoke fouled A.C.A members?

And then it dawned on me.

When I walked in, I was not trying to analyze or criticize or trying to find something to write about for the A.C.A, I was Tony, listening to music and when I was listening to that music, everything in the world seemed better. Everything WAS beautiful. But when I sat down as a writer for A.C.A., I went into MACHINE MODE, which is don't listen to the music, just listen to the machines!
But our host did not want to impress me. He did not want the emotion I did. He was mature. He has passed the stage where impressions meant anything and his system was correct, without making it personal. Meaning he didn't tune it for himself, but for what really music should be heard like.

By the time I had realized this, it was too late. Everyone was getting dressed to leave and I was still in the middle of the couch wanting more. The room was filled with beautiful women and instead of looking, I wanted to LISTEN!

I asked the host to play my Sheffield DRIVE, the Audiophile reference series, with live studio recordings after everyone had left, and begged him for 15 minutes of his time, although it was almost 12 midnight!

I have heard this CD over 3000 times. In over 1000 systems, including cars. And I can say with complete safety that I know what to listen for.

The problem was that I was hearing things that I was not used to hearing, not sounds, but notes not blown up, and in its own insane way, it was making total sense. It did not have the roar, the bang, the clash, but it had the melody, the space, the notes far beyond the speakers, and as MaxG had noted earlier, I had forgotten I was listening to a CD player and not a TT.

But when had said it, I had not heard the TT at all. Could the Transrotor be so good? Was it the Audio note bulb pre? Was the very reasonably priced (for a Theta!). Dreadnaughts making the difference so obvious on a CD, which I know so well? Or was it the combination. I know for sure it was not the speakers. Because I have heard them before and was not impressed by there sound, maybe making me rather not as objective as I wanted to be, while listening to the system and not the music?

Vyatcheslav was played, with distilling accuracy in timing, bass but not rumble, Antonio Forcione with Sabbina Sciuba with the Naim recording (so well known as my favourite guitarist and female voice from the precise musicality of their cooperation in this album, making music even from a 1 watt radio create feelings). Eden Atwood was next, having this album and remembering it from my B&W 802N and from my Quad 989's.

The sound was not the best in the world, I am not saying that, but what I am saying is that what this man has done, is take an impossible speaker to work with, and do exactly that! Make it work! Make it play music, without the emotions and overwhelming feelings romantics like me look for. Meaning, me not caring if my own system plays classical or anything else but rock and the blues. This system was what the owner was. Mature, sensitive, strong, yet soft and oh so pleasant-sounding when listened to without everyone in the room talking and making so much noise as it was before while the members were there. It was symmetry and it was what our host was. Honest.

System Description

  • B&W 800 matrix speakers, driven by 2 Theta Dreadnaught amplifiers and an Audio Note M3 preamplifier
  • Analogue source: Transrotor super seven reference t/t and a Dynavector XV-1S cartridge (amplified by Krell KPE reference phono stage) on a Transrotor TR-3500 arm.
  • Digital source: Theta Carmen II/Theta Generation VIII tr/DAC combo.
  • Wiring: Acrolink 7N-D 5000 for interconnects and Shunyata Andromeda for speaker cables.
  • Power cables/Electr. install.: Shunyata Anacondda Alpha/VX for all, plugged in a Shunyata Model 8/2 power filter (with the exception of amps, which are powered through a 35A dedicated power line).

Then Akis went crazy.

He made the change, and went to what you may ask?

He played Notis Sfakianakis, then just as I was ready to explode he did it again, he played The Eagles – ‘Hotel California’, one of the first songs I learnt how to play when I was a kid, and a song which changed my life in many ways I might add. Dire Straits then slapped me in the face after that, and to close the night since it was 3 hours later, Stratos Dionyssiou, an infamous Greek artist, deceased but only in body, but not in our minds and our heart. This system was playing EVERYTHING, I cannot write this word enough to emphasize this point enough.

I was now Mark Twain at 24 years old. The system had not changed, I had. I now saw that this system was one step closer to God, to maturity of human thought, of endless hours and workmanship and of an incredible WAF which I must say is the type of woman that you can show and claim that behind every great man is a greater woman.

But getting back to the system. I did not know how to describe it, and the only thing that came to me was this:

If I were as good as I thought I was, I would not have made the mistake I did tonight. But for the first time in my life, a system made me grow as a human being. I was wrong and the system was right. I was a fool and immature and the host was not. I learnt a lesson tonight, and even though I got home at 03:30 in the morning, I cannot sleep.

It is nights like these that make A.C.A. so special. These are not just "let’s have fun events" but let us learn from each other and make ourselves better people from music events.

If I was a child stereo system, let's say I am a baby TT, when I grow up, I want to be a Transrotor, I am an arm, and when I learn about life, I want to be the same as my TT. And when I grow and mature, I want to be a Dreadnaught! I want to sound like the Theta DAC and I want to grow into an Audio Note pre! As for the speakers, I don't want to be such a pain. I will try to become something else. So except for the speakers, which I know could not reproduce music without having the best front end. Everything else was a harmony in and by itself.

Had the system had Thetas larger and much more expensive amplification, costing 90.000 Euro, I don't think that this system would take us one step closer to God. I honestly believe God would step down to us!

That's as close as you can get with the room and the speakers he has to work with.

That is Akis. Honest, hardworking, mature, smart, patient, learning, and completely humble.

As for me, I am going to go throw away my entire home system from my room. I have to learn from Akis about essence and of music without having the intention of showing off. Our systems our not our ego's. They are our lives. And that makes all the difference.

It is not every day I learn about myself through a system, and it is not every day I admit to being so wrong. But it is a day to remember and a man to get to know.

A.C.A. members are not just hobbyists, we are a group of knowledge, willing and giving to each other and tonight I was the student and Akis the teacher.

Thank you for your lesson in life Akis. Honestly!

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