Symphony orchestras once had definable national characters. When high-end audio came along, those characters became the national sounds of the gear. While most audio manufacturers, like most symphony orchestras, have tended in recent decades to homogenize into an "international" sound, most French audio gear has remained distinct.
A science-fiction parable I read too many years ago to remember who wrote it used the image of a glass jar stuffed with colored plastic spheres. The story's protagonist was asked whether the glass was full. "Of course," was his reply, whereupon a hidden faucet was turned, the jar filled up with water, and fish swam in the spaces between the balls.
Irving M. "Bud" Fried, an early contributor to Stereophile, hails from the city of brotherly love, and I must confess to finding it difficult avoiding a few brotherly jabs at Mr. Fried's name: something like "this Bud's for you" would surely not escape deletion by our conscientious Editor. And what if I should happen to complain of a dried-up or "Fried" quality in the upper midsJA is bound to object to this breach of good taste. Well, having gotten that off my chest, you'd be interested to know that I consider it quite appropriate that someone from Phil-a-del-phia should be in love with transmission-line enclosures; the name is almost as convoluted as a trip down a folded line.
In the last issue we published a rather enthusiastic "Quickie" report on a small, $190/pair speaker system from a new company—the FMI Model 80. It was virtually devoid of low end, even as a stereo pair (pairing effectively doubles bass output), and slightly rough as well as a shade soft at the high end, but it had a quality of "aliveness" to it that almost defied belief. Was it a breakthrough in design? A new transducing principle? No, it was neither. In fact, the Model 80 looks like any one of those hundreds of little bookshelf systems that clutter, the pages of Stereo Review's "Hi-Fi Directory" in tedious profusion.
Genesis Advanced Technologies was formed in 1991 to manufacture loudspeakers designed by industry veteran Arnie Nudell, who was responsible, with Cary Christie, for some of high-end audio's highest-performing models when both were at Infinity Systems. The company was acquired a few years back by Gary Leonard Koh and some of his friends, but Nudell remains with the company as Chief Scientist and the company has offices and a production facility in Seattle.
Whenever anyone marvels at the enormous Genesis II.5 loudspeakers in my house, I'm quick to tell them that the II.5 is the smallest, least expensive loudspeaker made by Genesis Technologies. In fact, the company makes two larger speaker systems, the $33,000 Genesis II and the $70,000 Genesis I (footnote 1).
In Stereophile's "Recommended Components," most full-range Class A speakers—and even some in Class B—are behemoths. Some are tall, some are wide, some are deep, and some are just plain big. Most of us would find such no-compromise devices physically imposing and visually distracting in our listening rooms. Putting aside the infamous "Spousal Acceptance Factor," how can you ignore such speakers' presence and concentrate on the music?
At last January's Consumer Electronics Show, one of the more musically satisfying rooms I visited in Las Vegas' Alexis Park Hotel was hosted by Canadian magazine Inner Ear Report. I had visited the room ostensibly to take a look at the Audiophile APS AC regeneration system, but I also wanted to give a listen to the Gershman Acoustics Opera Sauvage speakers that I had agreed to review for Stereophile—not just the speakers in the abstract, but the very samples that, after CES, were going to make the trek to my Brooklyn listening room.
Gross is about to play an excerpt from a recording of John Rutter's Requiem. It's a piece that challenges just about every aspect of sound reproduction: there's an orchestra, a soprano soloist, a chorus, a pipe organ, and the acoustics of a large concert hall. Wimpy speakers need not apply. I listen, expecting to be underwhelmed.
Whoa! The low bass of the organ so fills the room that I look for subwoofers in the corners. The orchestra and chorus have great presence. There's a believable sense of space. These are some speakers! How much?
A clever engineer with an interest in home audio says that the real obstacle to high-fidelity sound is the adverse and unpredictable way in which speakers interact with most domestic rooms. To address that need, he brings to market a loudspeaker that disperses sound in a new and original way. Controversy ensues. Controversy endures.
A.C. Wente of Bell Telephone Labs was apparently the first person to get the bright idea (in the 1930s) of measuring sound transmission in a small room. A loudspeaker at one point reproducing pure tones of constant power, and a microphone at another point measuring sound-pressure levels, gave him the means to assess the room's impact on sound quality. The measured frequency response was so ragged that I'm positive the venturesome Dr. Wente was duly shocked.
I live in a house that has a pyramid-shaped roof, so I guess you could say that I have a thing for pyramids (footnote 1). That's probably why I was immediately drawn to the Green Mountain Audio Diamante. I'm also attracted to floorstanding speakers with small footprints, since my listening/video room is only 13' by 16'. My Holy Grail of loudspeakers is a small speaker that's flat between 20Hz and 20kHz, can do 110dB sound-pressure–levels without straining, and costs less than $1000/pair.
When a loudspeaker designer produces a world-class product, it is usually the result of years, perhaps decades, of experience gained from designing less ambitious products. To review a particular designer's product history is to witness the learning curve in action as both his skill and technology advance. Successfully battling the laws of physics to produce a truly exceptional loudspeaker is thus thought of as the domain of the seasoned veteran whose vast knowledge and experience culminate in the pinnacle of his career—a world-class loudspeaker. Moreover, it is just these designers, working their way up to their masterpiece, who are the most successful at getting an ambitious design right. The high-end loudspeaker business is littered with the remains of companies that attempted to build a first product far too lofty for their skills.
Paul Hales does things differently. "I set out to build a true reference speaker," he asserted when I asked him about the, er, concept behind his Concept Five loudspeaker. For a mere six grand? The other guys don't even blink at $20k, $30k, even $70k statement speakers.
Paul Hales has been a busy guy lately. In little over a year, he has designed and brought to production four new speakers in his Revelation series (footnote 1); his cost-no-object flagship, the Alexandra, which had been seen but not heard at a number of shows, was finally demonstrated at the 1999 CES; and he has introduced the new Transcendence series, which replaces the Concept series. (He's also produced a brand-new baby girl during this period, although I believe his wife made a significant contribution to that project.)