I finally got to hear a mono system at SSI, but not in the manner that I or the exhibitor might have wanted. Halfway through the show, Audio Note's Dave Cope suffered the loss of one Empress Silver monoblock amplifier ($10,000/pair), apparently owing to an AC power surge. The Empress Silver, seen here alongside the outlet of infamyand a coil of Audio Note's new Isis LX 168 copper-Litz speaker cableis a new single-ended mono design with a 5U4G rectifier tube, a 6SN7 input tube, and parallel 2A3 triodes, for a total of 8Wpc. This was a disappointingly bad break for a company that has, in the past, won more than its share of Most Enjoyable System of the Show awardsalthough I must say that a mono recording of Count Basie's "88 Basie Street" was nonetheless fine when played through the surviving channel.
Aboveground Records, obligatory cedar shingles and all.
The Massachusetts island called Martha's Vineyard, a tourist destination with a year-round population of only 18,000, is home to at least a hundred T-shirt shops, scores of seafood shacks (the calamari at Nancy's is amazing), dozens of ice-cream parlors, and three unpleasant cute-tiques called The Black Dog. Residents and vacationers alike are also served by an excellent store called Aboveground Records (8 Great Harbor Triangle, Edgartown, MA 02539).
There are three requirements: You must invent a very good loudspeaker that sells for between $1000 and $2000/pair. You have to make enough of them, over a long enough time, to achieve a certain level of brand recognition and market penetration. And you must create a dealer network of reasonable size, with an emphasis on well-promoted specialty shops.
As an unabashed fan of amplifiers that use EL34 output tubes in Ultralinear circuitsan output architecture that, to my ears, almost always sounds colorful, well-textured, and believably lushI was delighted that, in the VPI suite, a trio (!) of Joseph Audio Pearl loudspeakers were powered by a trio (!) of Citation 2 monoblock amplifiers from VAS Audio ($3000/pairwhich, I guess, translates into $4500 for three). The Citation 2, which offers 50Wpc in Ultralinear but can also be switched to triode mode for 25Wpc, also uses 12AX7 and 12AU7 small-signal tubes, plus a 5AR4 rectifier, and its specially wound output transformers are said to be vacuum-potted.
In one of several rooms sponsored by Montreal’s Coup de Foudre, A href="http://www.stereophile.com/content/gift-flower-garden">Philip O’ Hanlon demonstrated a system comprising a Luxman PD-171 turntable/tonearm ($6400) with Brinkmann P1 phono cartridge ($2700), Luxman DA-06 DSD D/A converter ($6000), Luxman L550AX integrated amplifier ($5400), and Vivid B1 loudspeakers ($15,000/pair), with Cardas cables throughout. (The computer-audio source was an old MacBook running Audirvana playback software.) Not to take away from the goodness of the other gear, but I was once again mightily impressed by the manner in which the Vivid loudspeakers, in spite of looking like surprised Cyclopian aliens, delivered music with such human warmth and touch. (Lou Donaldson’s organ on “Alligator Boogaloo” sounded especially fine.)
The Viola electronics on display included their four-chassis, dual-mono Solo preamplifier ($45,000) and Bravo II stereo amp ($59,000). The latter is supplied in two chassis, and provides 700Wpc channel into 4 ohms: the nominal impedance of the TAD CR1s. DAC was the highly regarded Bricasti M1.
The next-to-the-last demonstration I heard at RMAF 2012 was among the two or three most impressive. Doing business as Volti (it means to move forward) Audio, Maine resident Greg Roberts builds horn loudspeakers that seem to embody both the superb craftsmanship and musical impact of America's finest vintage-audio products. His newest, the Vittora ($15,000/pair), is a three-way loudspeaker with a horn-loaded 15" bass driver, horn-loaded 2" compression driver for the midrange, and horn-loaded 1" compression driver for the treble, with passive crossover networks, stepped attenuators for the mids and trebles, and an all-plywood cabinet in a choice of veneers. Based on a brief audition with EMM Labs digital source components and a BorderPatrol S20 single-ended 300B amp ($13,750), I can only say that the Vittora is, if anything, underpriced. My first question to Mr. Roberts was, "Who do I have to kill to borrow a review pair?"; we're still working out the details. . .
It wasn't so much a vow as a prediction: After selling my last pair of Ticonal-magnet drivers and the homemade horns I'd carted around to three different houses, I supposed I would never again have a Lowther loudspeaker in my humble house.
That remains literally true: The 7" full-range drivers to which I'm listening today are from a German company called Voxativ; the horn-loaded cabinets from which they play were also designed by Voxativ, and are made in Germany by the Wilhelm Schimmel piano company. And, with all due respect to Lowther, the 75-year-old English loudspeaker firm that launched a thousand DIY fantasiesnot to mention a thousand very lively wavefrontsthe Voxativ drivers and horns take the Lowther concept further than anyone else of whom I'm aware.
Oh, I talk a good game when it comes to the whole music-lover-vs-audiophile thing. But I admit that when it comes to record players, I'm just another hardware junkie. I love turntables and tonearms for more than the musical enjoyment they give me. Turntables and tonearms are my favorite toys.
Tentatively named the JMW-3D (the suffix refers to the modeling technology used to create its high-tech tooling), VPI's new one-piece tonearm wand/headshell/bearing housing is molded from epoxy resin, which promises to resist sound-coloring resonances while remaining comparatively immune to the problem of energy storage. Although pricing has yet to be determined, VPI's Harry Weisfeld suggests that the arm may be expensive at first, although he hopes that prices may moderate as the production process itself becomes less expensive. The new arm is seen here on a prototype of the VPI Classic Direct, a direct-drive turntable based on the Classic chassis (projected price: ca $20,000).