Ending the Show on a Good Note: Gradient, DNM, SimpliFi Audio

While many exhibitors at the California Audio Show struggled with the sound of their rooms, employing careful, creative speaker placement and a variety of room acoustics treatments, SimpliFi Audio’s Tim Ryan seemed happy to ignore the room altogether.

Partnering Gradient’s Revolution Active loudspeakers ($11,995/pair) in bi-amped configuration with a $500 Fosgate amplifier and 50Wpc Resolution Audio C50 amp, and playing ordinary CD-quality music files through iTunes running Channel D’s Pure Music and a Resolution Audio Cantata Music Center (review to come from Jon Iverson), Ryan wanted to show not only that CDs could still sound good (they did), but that the most important aspect of the sonic puzzle is the interaction between the loudspeakers and the room. The cables were all DNM ($12/ft) and employed their new High-Frequency Termination Network (HFTN), a precision circuit fitted at the end of each cable and designed to, uh, stop something. Sorry, my notes get foggy here. Basically, Ryan explained, the HFTN improves the performance of any device with an output buffer. It levels severe impedance dips and peaks, while preserving the audio signal.

Anyhoo. I’m sure that Tim Ryan put effort into speaker placement, too. Like any speaker, the Gradients require careful positioning to sound their best, but I was surprised to see that Ryan had used no room treatments whatsoever.

We started with Sade, and the sound was immediately impressive, with a big, wraparound soundstage and oodles of three-dimensionality and low-end impact. Ryan tempted me with Springsteen and Peter Gabriel—the voices sounded beautifully rich—before walloping me with gut-shaking organ music to show off the system’s dynamic range.

His affinity for the more technical aspects of hi-fi—Ryan also dazzled me with figures and graphs that would make John Atkinson blush—was matched by his enthusiasm for music: Ryan clicked again and we heard an acoustic guitar and synth melody. I recognized it almost immediately as John Vanderslice, and Ryan smiled, his eyes sparkling: “Ha! I’m pretty eclectic, too!”

I had ended the show on a good note, indeed. This was one of my favorite listening experiences of the California Audio Show.