Turntables were very much in evidence at FSI, some being on demo by their distributors, and some being used by exhibitors who just wanted people to hear what their speakers/amps/preamps sound like with a good vinyl source. Perhaps the most interesting turntable demo that was of the venerable Linn Sondek LP12, which is the turntable that I own. Linn has recently announced a series of upgrades they say make a major improvement in the sound of the LP12. Not content merely to make promises, Linn had a comparison of two versions of the LP12 and its matching arm, one that was current as of a couple of years ago, and another that had the new SE upgrades installed, both with the same cartridge, both optimally set up by Linn setup expert Gary Dilliott (who had set up my own LP12 a few years ago). I didn't have time to listen closely to the comparison, but I overheard at least one Linn owner in the room exclaim that he wouldn't have believed that such an improvement was possible. Looks like my LP12 is due for a trip to the shop. Pictured with the two Linns is Gary Dilliott. Can you tell which turntable is the upgraded version?
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.
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.
Attending a show like FSI can be a tiring business, what with walking up and down corridors, and even when you sit down to listen you may experience tension, trying to discern the character of the sound. A few hours of that, and you can probably use a massage. If that's how you felt at FSI, the remedy was at hand: Jennifer Sunde and Mireille Beaudry are massage therapists who were at the show, offering a choice of Swedish and Shiatsu massage. Here they are in a brief break between clients.
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.
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.
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.
Eli and Ofra Gershman of Gershman Acoustics have been exhibitors at just about every audio/home theater show that I've been to in the last few years. They always manage to have good sound, but it's been a while since they've had a new product. They had one this time: the Sonogram ($2500, shown in photo) has a conventional box shape that's unlike their exotic-looking Black Swan, Gap 828, and Avant Garde models. However, I'm told that while the outside appears conventional, appearances can be deceiving, in that the internal structure resembles the pyramid shape that characterizes their higher-priced models. I quite enjoyed the sound of the Sonograms, driven by Linar amplifier and Simaudio CD player.
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.