I have to admit that Monitor Audio has been one of those companies whose products I've just taken for granted. I went into the Monitor Audio room at FSI more-or-less from a sense of duty, but was almost literally stopped in my tracks. What's this? A new speaker that doesn't have the conservative look that I associate with Monitor Audio, and sound that was arrestingly lifelike. The speaker was the Platinum 300 ($8995—all prices in this report per pair), the top of the Platinum range that will be available in May 2007. It uses a ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium ribbon tweeter, honeycomb-sandwiched midrange and bass drivers, in an enclosure made of a cast anti-resonance composite material. The claim bandwidth is 28Hz–100kHz. (I could hear a small peak at 45kHz, and another one at 82kHz.) If I remember correctly—I wrote this info down but can't find it—the source was a Simaudio CD player and the amplification was courtesy Linar Audio.
Red Wine Audio is the name of the company making amplifiers designed by one Vinnie Rossi, "an electrical engineer with a true passion for music and implementing the electronics that recreate it," whose name, if you pretend that Vinnie is spelled with one "n," means "red wine" in Italian. (Actually, "vini rossi" means "red wines," but let's not quibble.) What makes Red Wine Audio amplifiers interesting is that they're all battery-operated. The system being demoed used a pair of the Red Wine Audio Signature 70 monoblocks ($2999/pair), driving single-driver speakers ($2495 MaxHemp or $949 Super 3XRS) from Omega Speaker Systems. The source was a battery-powered computer server, so that the only AC-powered devices in the room were some table lamps. I can't say whether it was the battery power source or some other aspect of these designs, but the sound was uncommonly natural and easy-on-the-ears. The small Super 3XRS speaker, which uses a proprietary 4.5" Omega hemp-cone driver, had a coherence and focus that reminded me in some ways of the $7000/pair Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD-712z single-driver speaker that I reviewed in the January, 2007 issue. Shown here are Vinnie Rossi (left) with Omega Speaker Systems' designer Louis Chochos and the Red Wine/Omega system.
This is in the "Better Late Than Never" department: At the end of the 2007 CES, John Atkinson auditioned Sonus Faber's new Elipsa loudspeakers, but he ran out of space on his camera's memory card, so he was not able to take a picture. After the show, JA emailed the other writers that had attended CES, asking if anyone happened to take a picture of the Elipsa. None of us had. So, John, this is for you: a picture of a pair of Elipsas, which were making sweet music, driven by Ayre electronics.
System Audio A/S is a Danish manufacturer of loudspeakers that's been in business since 1984, but I must admit that I've never heard of it before—probably a function of the fact that North American distribution has been spotty. Listening to the new SA Rangers ($4000), I was convinced that the fault was certainly not of the speakers. The sound was open, with a wide and deep soundstage, and a great sense of "quickness." (The system used an Arcam CD source and electronics, and Nordost Valhalla speaker cables.) The SA product literature also convinced me that this is a mature, fully developed product line, with some proprietary technology, including a dome tweeter that weighs just 80mg, making it possibly the world's lightest. Pictured are S/A's sales manager Frits Dalmose (left), Canadian distributor Bruno de Lorimier (right), and the SA Ranger (middle).
All right, it's time to play The Price Is Right: Audiophile Edition. Take a look at the speakers in the picture. What do you think they would sell for? To help you with the bidding, I'll tell you that each speaker has a 12" Peerless bass driver, 6.5" midrange with a Kevlar cone, and a titanium-aluminum cone tweeter, all mounted in separate resin-moulded cabinets. Each speaker weights about 150 lbs and the cabinet is beautifully finished.
In the same room as the large KEF system, there was a nifty mini-system for iPod users. The heart of the system is the new Fatman iTube iPod tube hybrid integrated amp ($649, including special stand for an iPod, and a second set of inputs for a CD player). Although rated at only 13Wpc, it had no trouble driving a pair of KEF IQ1s ($350). It's pictured here with Jay Rein of Bluebird Music, the North American importer.