Maybe it's my selective perception, but there seems to be a resurgence of single-driver speakers. The Gemme Audio Vivace ($4100) uses a 4" Fostex driver in a complex horn-loaded enclosure. Sensitivity is 92dB, which is not high by horn standards, but the claimed bass frequency extension is 20Hz, which is extremely low by any standard. They played some organ music at the demo, and I can't say that I heard anything close to 20Hz. The bass was impressive by single-small-driver standards, however, and the speakers had the coherence that this sort of design is known for. Gemme Audio is a small company based in Montreal, with only two products: the Vivace and the Tanto ($5100), a more conventional two-way system. Getting into the crowded audio marketplace is a difficult feat for any speaker company that doesn't have a full product range; the fact that Gemme has been picked up by distributors in the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and Ukraine tells me that they must be doing something right. Pictured: V-P Sales and Marketing Jean-Pierre Boudreau and the Vivace, with the Tanto lurking in the background.
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.
Dan Wright's career in audio started as a modifier of D/A converters and CD players. Although his company, ModWright instruments, still does digital source component modifications (he says he finds SACD players to be the best candidates for modification), he has also developed his own preamplifiers and phono stage. The latest of Dan's preamps is the LS 36.5 balanced tube line stage ($4995), which uses his own custom-designed MWI capacitors, 6H30 Russian Super Tubes, and a 5AR4 tube-rectified power supply. He also introduced the new SWP 9.0 SE phono stage at FSI.
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.
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.
The advent of digital cameras has re-kindled my interest in photography, and I enjoy discuss photography in person and on some Internet forums. Doug Schneider of SoundStage.com (left) is another "photo guy," and one I know likes to use flash in his photography. I avoid using flash whenever I can, but I do use it sometimes; lately, I've been having more success with flash using the Gary Fong Lightsphere II, a light diffuser that bears a resemblance to something made by Tupperware. I had the Lightsphere II with me at the Show, so when I ran into Doug at FSI, I was excited about showing him this useful if strange-looking gizmo. He then took out his Lightsphere II from his camera bag, and we were ready for a "duelling Lightspheres" photo opportunity.
KEF is one of the show's sponsors, and had several systems on demo, including a particularly impressive-sounding one featuring the $11k (unless otherwise specified, prices are US$, speaker prices are per pair) 205 Reference, with Chord Electronics digital source (Blu/Dac, $21k) and electronics (CPA 5000 preamp, $24k; SPM 6000 monoblock amps, $53k/pair).
It's not what you might think. The Montreal Sheraton Center is not that type of hotel. And just so you don't get the wrong idea about "Ten Stories of Pure Passion," the program for the 2007 Festival Son & Image (FSI) makes it clear that it's the "ultimate experience for those who have the passion for electronics, music, home theater and gaming.
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.