Valerio Cora is singularly qualified to be designing and manufacturing his Acora Acoustics loudspeakers. Cora is passionate about music—he’ll listen six or seven hours a day, if he can—built amplifiers as a kid, and sold audio gear in the past. For 30 years, Cora has run successful computer hardware and IT service businesses. So far, this is hardly a unique resumé for someone founding an audio company: There are plenty of music-loving computer nerds with retail experience who mastered the use of a soldering iron at an early age. But there’s one item on Valerio Cora’s CV that it’s safe to assume no one else in the industry shares. Cora grew up around “dimensional stone”—natural rock that is quarried and then cut and finished for uses ranging from construction to bathroom vanities to tombstones. His father started a marble and granite company half a century ago after emigrating from Italy to Ontario and the family business thrives in Toronto to this day. Cora fabricates his loudspeaker enclosures from African black granite. This is no “gimmick,” he emphasized to Neil Gader in a back-page interview in Issue 304. For Valerio Cora, granite is the ideal material with which to make a loudspeaker cabinet, and now he has the finished products to prove it.
It’s been a long-standing ambition of Cora’s to build a high-end loudspeaker with a stone enclosure. (He first tried with marble, which is easier to work with, at the age of 16.) But until fairly recently, the technology to do so effectively and reproducibly didn’t exist (see sidebar). In the fall of 2018, Acora Acoustics was launched, with two of the three available models making their debuts at AXPONA 2019. Although a single manufacturing facility is on the horizon, currently production is divided among three locations in the greater Toronto Area. Stone cutting, cabinet assembly, and finishing are accomplished at one site. The crossovers are built and installed, along with the drivers, at another—all that dust created by the cutting/finishing processes would be a problem in a typical factory space. At a third location are packaging, warehousing, and shipping operations, as well as a showroom.
The three Acora Acoustics loudspeaker models available include the stand-mounted two-way SRB for $15,000 per pair (the matching stands are $5000), the two-way SRC-1 floorstander considered here ($28,000 per pair) and the two-and-a-half-way SRC-2 ($37,000 per pair), also a floorstander. The choice of which Acora to purchase should not be driven by the size of one’s bank account but, rather, by the dimensions of ones listening space. For my 15′ x 15′ room—the ceiling height varies from 11′ to 13’—I opted for the SRC-1, though Cora told me that the smaller speaker would probably have worked fine.
I had one concern ahead of delivery. You won’t be surprised to hear that these babies are heavy—246 pounds per speaker. I was relieved to learn that Valerio Cora and Acora’s Sales & Marketing Manager, Scott Sefton, would be coming by to set them up. Although I was still grateful for their expertise, it turns out I need not have worried about any “heavy lifting,” as there wasn’t any. The SRC-1s (and the SRC-2s, which weigh about the same) never actually have to be picked up in the process of getting them unpacked and into position. The speaker is double-boxed and, after removing some fasteners, one simply lifts the cardboard containers up and off to reveal the SRC-1 sitting on a small platform of hard foam and wood. A thin plastic insert is attached to the undersurface of the speaker’s integral steel base. It’s not difficult to maneuver the SRC-1 onto a hand truck or dolly to get the speaker to the general vicinity of where you want it, the plastic insert protecting the lower part of the enclosure. Two adults, neither of whom possesses superhuman strength, can accomplish the task safely and quickly. So, don’t let the weight scare you.
The SRC-1 is a stunning black monolith that, spiked, stands 44½” tall, tapering from bottom to top. The footprint of the base, which is made from ¼” dampened structural steel and provides reassuring stabilization, measures 19½” in width by 15″ in depth. (Hardened stainless-steel spikes attached to solid brass bodies that screw in from the bottom of the base were supplied—aluminum is standard. A matching disc accepts the threaded post on the other side.) The speaker itself is 14″ wide and a mere 5″ deep on the top surface. The enclosure is fabricated from eight pieces of 3cm-thick granite that form a six-sided structure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but I personally found the Acoras to be the most visually appealing loudspeaker I’ve ever had at home—and quite a few non-audiophiles shared a positive opinion regarding their looks. The lack of grilles didn’t bother me (or anyone else) as the black color of the two drivers matches the deep black of the granite cabinet. The SRC-1 is an example of well-executed industrial design, and showing the tweeter and woofer to the world only underscores a harmonious joining of form and function. At the insistence of Scott Sefton, Cora is working on an optional grille that may attach magnetically to the steel screws that anchor the drivers to the front baffle but, for now, if you need to hide the speaker (or protect the drivers from curious youngsters) the SRC-1s shipped with a velvet sock that covers them from head to toe.
The SRC-1 has a single 2″ port near the bottom of the rear surface of its polyhedral enclosure, above the single pair of binding posts. Other than isolation for the crossover, there’s just a single internal compartment that requires only minimal damping and no bracing, thanks to the granite’s physical characteristics. This is a reason why Valerio Cora favors two-way designs; a three-way would necessitate a separate space for a midrange driver; plus, he notes, having a third transducer would be responsible for “a lot of phase-shifting and coherency problems.” Acora sources its drivers from Scan-Speak, a 1″ soft dome tweeter and 7″ sandwich paper-cone woofer from the Danish company’s Illuminator line. Cora disassembles the stock drivers, modifies them (top-secret stuff, of course), and then puts them back together before installation in the cabinet. The topology of the crossover is also proprietary, though Valerio Cora will disclose that mathematically it’s closest to a fourth-order design. The crossover is located just behind the binding posts, attached to a stiff carbon-fiber board, and, as above, gets its own compartment within the cabinet. Cora feels it’s critical to protect electronic elements from vibration transmitted from within the enclosure or via the binding posts that can potentially compromise their physical integrity (say, break down solder joints) or degrade electrical pathways.
When the Acoras were positioned to their best advantage, they were 7′ 2″ apart, center-to-center, a bit closer together than my usual Magico S3 Mk2’s are situated. They faced directly forward, unlike the S3s and virtually every other loudspeaker I’ve evaluated in this room that performed best spatially when canted in towards the listening position. The top of the SRC-1 was 29″ from the CD-lined front wall and the front baffle about 10′ from the sweet spot. I listened to the speakers driven both by pairs of Pass XA60.8 and David Berning Quadrature Z monaural amplifiers. Digital sources included a Baetis Reference music computer and the MusiCHI SRV-1 server, used with an Ideon Audio Master Time Blackstar re-clocking platform. A T+A DAC 8 DSD performed D-to-A conversion and an Oppo BDP-103 served as a disc transport. For LP playback, my VPI Scoutmaster with JMW tonearm/Bluepoint Special EVO III system sent output to an Audio Research PH2 phonostage and then on to the analog pass-through inputs of an Anthem D2v pre/pro. Analog cabling was mostly Transparent Gen 5 (Cardas from ARC to Anthem); for digital connections, Furutech (USB), Ideon (USB), Revelation Audio (AES/EBU) and Apogee Wyde Eye (coaxial/SPDIF) cables were employed.
After the SRC-1s were fully broken-in and I had an understanding of their general character from casual listening and completing a batch of music reviews, I felt ready to evaluate the product’s strengths and weaknesses by the usual (somewhat) methodical progression though a continually evolving set of “reference” recordings. I had on hand the LPs, silver discs, and digital files that help to zero in on a component’s performance—low- and high-frequency reproduction, imaging, dynamics, etc.—as well as familiar specimens of specific musical genres—solo piano, jazz vocals, large-scale symphonic music, classic rock, and so on. I had a hard time proceeding. This is, of course, an audio writers’ cliché, but many times I found myself neglecting the parameter I was supposed to be attending to, instead getting caught up in the totality of the performance. Whatever I was listening to, the SRC-1s seemed intent on communicating the musical essence of the selection.
As a corollary, I also found the speakers to be exceptionally revealing in a strictly sonic sense. Without seeming analytical, they shone a light on the relative quality of competing components inserted into the audio chain. An instance of personal significance concerned the two sets of monoblocks used for this review. Both the Berning and Pass amplifiers are fine products. Even though one was nominally a tube design and the other solid-state, they were hardly typical of these broad classes. To me, they sounded more similar than not, perhaps because in both instances, the engineering goal was neutrality. I was feeling guilty about owning both the XA 60.8s and the considerably more expensive Quadrature Zs and put the latter up for sale just as I was getting to know the Acoras. Fortunately, I had no takers near the asking price. With the SRC-1s, I came to appreciate a level of refinement with the Berning amplifiers that was obviously of musical consequence. I took the ad down.
Do the SRC-1s produce as much bass energy as the Magico S3 Mk2s? Of course not—how could they? The S3s have two 9″ bass drivers to the Acora’s single 7″ woofer. Yet I didn’t find myself avoiding bass-heavy music, and I wasn’t much tempted to mess with a subwoofer. With Jean Guillou’s two-CD collection of Franck’s organ [Dorian], the lowest pedal stops provided a satisfyingly solid foundation for this highly theatrical repertoire. The SRC-1s production of those notes was even, with good pitch definition. Beyond extension and volume, the Acoras provided subtle cues regarding the nature of the vast recording space, an underappreciated aspect of superior low-frequency reproduction. Bass “slam” didn’t disappoint either—the impact of electric bass and kick drum on a well-recorded big band CD (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band’s XXL) or balls-to-the-wall rock and roll (“Heavy Fuel” from Dire Straits’ On Every Street).
At the other end of the frequency spectrum was a relaxed airiness and openness. Shelby Lynne’s tribute to Dusty Springfield entitled Just a Little Lovin’ was recorded by Al Schmitt at Capitol Records in 2007 and is a perennial audio show favorite. On the title track, do your best to tune out Lynne’s lascivious vocal and focus instead on the exquisite cymbal work of LA session drummer Curt Bisquera. His control of percussive color is on full display—the snap of a closed high hat or the slow sonically evolving decay of a large cymbal that’s allowed to ring. It’s quite apparent exactly where on the plate Bisquera is applying his stick—on the dome as opposed to the bow or edge of the cymbal. Also on the subject of treble reproduction: Harpsichord can be fatiguing to listen to on a recording. The burst of high-frequency sound that begins every note can register as distracting and amusical. Played back through the Acoras, the initial transient seems to be more smoothly connected to the body of the note and it becomes easier to focus on the music.
My listening notes abound with specific examples addressing the rest of what TAS reviewer Anthony Cordesman has called “The Sonic Checklist,” but just one recording will suffice to underscore how consistently the Acora SRC-1s deliver more than a taste of the real thing. For several years now, Bernard Haitink’s 2010 recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, specifically the first movement Allegretto, has been among the first selections I put on when I’m at the critical listening stage with a component. The Acoras met all the challenges this recording presented. The glockenspiel notes that open the piece were focused and precisely localized. Solo woodwinds were correctly scaled and timbrally believable. Each note of the two trumpets’ unison triple-tongued triplets registered with clarity, and the ominous-sounding bass drum thuds underlying nervously chattering strings were presented with a sense of the instrument’s volume and the kind of mallet used to strike it. The full orchestra climax five minutes into the movement crested majestically, and there was a superb sense of the Amsterdam hall, one of the finest places on earth to make a recording or, better yet, hear a performance. The Acoras did all that, without exaggeration or artifice.
The Shostakovich recording was surely a measure of the SRC-1’s capacity to provide an involving musical experience. But there was, grimly, a better one provided by the context in which I got to know these weighty visitors. Valerio Cora and Scott Sefton visited just weeks before the curtain came down on normal life in my city, this country, and the world as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Matters of life and death, and of economic calamity, were front and center, but the sudden scarcity of many “quality of life” experiences registered painfully as well. Every event scheduled for the concert year had, of course, been canceled, including my nearly annual pilgrimage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Listening to recorded music, lots of it, has helped me maintain some sense of equipoise, and the Acora SRC-1s have been a big part of that. The choices in their design largely derive from Valerio Cora’s belief that some rock harvested halfway around the globe can serve as the best possible loudspeaker cabinet material. Acora Acoustics is a newcomer on the perfectionist audio scene but definitely worth watching closely. You can carve that in stone.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Two-way bass-reflex loudspeaker
Driver complement: One 1″ soft dome tweeter, one 7″ sandwich paper-cone woofer
Frequency response: 29Hz–30kHz
Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 10–250 watts
Dimensions: 14″ x 44 ½” x 18″ (with spikes)
Weight: 246 lbs. each
165 Milner Ave,
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