Tarheel Hi-Fi: Arion Audio, VPI, Audio Research, and Nordost

Whenever I meet a fellow Charlottean, my first question is “Do you dine at South 21?” A Greek-owned drive-in diner with the most amazing fried trout and onion rings south of the Mason-Dixon line, South 21 is what I associate with the South, not tater tots nor banana pudding. Mike didn’t know South 21, but he did fill me in on his speakers.

Kalellis’s Apollo 12 line-array dipole towers and Apollo woofer modules are open-back designs. The system shown at CAF was priced at $58,000; a smaller system is available for $49,000. The towers stood 76″ high, 18″ wide, and 18″ deep. (Each speaker’s base measures 22″ wide × 17″ deep and adds 3″ to each 12’s height.) Each tower covers frequencies from the upper bass upward using 12 1.4″ × 5.2″ drivers—dubbed “High Velocity Transducers” (HVT).

Each Balanced Force Woofer (BFW) cabinet stands 18″ wide, 14″ high, and 14″ deep and contains two 10″ woofers with aluminum honeycomb carbon-fiber diaphragms. Three pairs (6 modules total) were used at CAF. The woofer modules were powered by four Arion class-D monoblock amps rated at 1kW each.

Kalellis uses DSP-controlled crossovers to match system to room. “The Apollos use DSP for all filters including crossovers,” Kalellis stated. “At CAF, the crossover frequency was set to 140Hz. The woofer modules were powered by four Arion monoblock amps rated at 1kW each. In the room at CAF, we measured a flat response from 28Hz to [above] 22kHz. We then adjusted the balance to our liking.”

Alongside the Apollo 12 speakers, Kalellis employed a VPI Avenger direct drive turntable ($24,000) with VPI Shyla cartridge ($1750), Audio Research Reference 3SE phono stage ($17,000), Audio Research Reference 6SE linestage ($17,000), and Audio Research Reference 160M monoblock power amplifiers ($32,000/pair). Nordost supplied the system’s Odin II cables. Total system cost: about $250,000. The rack was a VPI prototype.

Impressing with very fast, natural dynamics, Kalellis’ system scaled tall buildings, like Superman, casting large images that floated free of the speakers. Playing Count Basie’s 88 Basie Street, the Pablo vinyl took on a life force I didn’t know it possessed. Maybe it didn’t until now. Basie’s piano was especially large and creamy sounding; his big band was explosively dynamic, tactile, punchy, and natural. A treat!

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