The Fifth Element #77 Page 2

Those interested in learning more about the thinking that went into the Canalis Anima can download "What's Up With Those Animas" an eight-page white paper by Joachim Gerhard.

Listening: Seeing as the Canalis Animas' $1500/pair stands had yet to arrive, I made do with what was on hand, which positioned the speakers' tweeters too low. My initial listening impression was of the chilled-vodka clarity we've come to associate with Joachim Gerhard's designs. In that respect, I am completely in agreement with Wes Phillips' 2007 impressions of the Sonics Anima speaker, including the slight prominence in the treble that lends "enhanced definition" to detail.

But my second impression, and something that was obvious even before the stands arrived, was that this was one very quiet loudspeaker (footnote 1). It soon became apparent that Canalis's bamboo enclosure deftly threaded the needle. There was no apparent blurring or overhang owing to enclosure resonances, nor did the music sound constipated or dead. There was just an entirely natural sense of more space between the notes. While I didn't quite match Wes in rediscovering my entire music collection, I did enjoy playing recordings I hadn't heard in some time.

But before I get to some of those recordings, let's deal with those rather pricey stands. I'm not usually a huge believer in dedicated stands. I usually think that any good, well-damped stand of the right height should adequately do the job. The problem for me was that the optimum height for the Animas was at least 6" higher than I could easily accomplish.

When the Animas' stands showed up, my first reaction to them was, "My, how handsome." They're made of the same bamboo plywood as the speaker enclosures and are stained to match; the combination will fit in well in most interiors. The design of the stand makes for a gracefully slender visual profile when viewed head-on, but it obviously provides rigidity. With the exception of its hardware pieces, the stand is nonmetallic, and is stained to match the loudspeaker.

One feature I really appreciate is that speaker and stand are designed to bolt together. This not only provides a more efficient path for the evacuation of cabinet vibrations, it's a nice convenience and safety feature, regardless of whether your concern is a cocktail-hour guest's knocking the speaker off its stand with his hip, or a toddler trying to pull himself up by the speaker cable. So I set up the Animas on their stands, at the time not knowing what they cost, and attached the eight Strange Attractor footers.

Holy Schemoley. First of all, getting the Animas high enough so that my ear was more at the level of the middle of their woofers than slightly above their tweeters both tamed the top end and served to better integrate woofer and tweeter outputs. The other major differences made by the combination of stands and footers were that the bass went lower without booming, and the soundstage grew higher and wider. The stand-footer combo also made the Animas much easier and more rewarding to listen to. I decided to advise you not to buy the Animas without their stands and footers, but that was before I learned their combined total price: $2300/pair.

In defense of Canalis, Allen Perkins tells me that there's much more bamboo plywood in each stand than in each Anima, that there's more labor in cutting and finishing, and that the plywood they use costs $800 a sheet.

By the way, in JA's measurements of the Sonics Anima, he commented that it was not a loudspeaker to be listened to while standing up, owing to the nature of its vertical dispersion. I didn't get that impression at all from the Canalis Anima. Later, Perkins told me that one of the goals of the redesign had been to address just that issue.

Back to the Music: All comments refer to listening to the Animas perched on their stands and footers. All listening was done with AVM's cool, collected, and very competent Inspiration C8 CD receiver (see below), and Analysis Plus Oval 12 speaker cables.

First up was Vlado Perlemuter's autumnal performances of Chopin's Nocturnes (CD, Nimbus NIM 5012). What an underrated player! What poetry! Perlemuter's approach at first blush might appear undemonstrative, but that would be to miss his deep engagement with the music. His subtle shadings of rhythmic pulse and melodic phrasing make it difficult to imagine these pieces being played any other way and still be artistically valid. If you like Ivan Moravec's Chopin, I'll be very surprised if you don't like Perlemuter's. The Canalis Animas did a very satisfying job of rendering Perlemuter's delicate pinks and grays of tone color and sensitive dynamics.

Next: Iona Brown and Josef Suk in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Brown conducting as well as playing violin (CD, Argo 411 613-2). This should be on the short list of the greatest recordings of this most congenial and collegial of Mozart's masterpieces. Especially on the stands and footers, the Animas struck a wonderful tonal balance that had only a slight emphasis of the treble, while Suk's lamentably underappreciated viola playing had real weight.

Staying with bowed strings: The Canalis/AVM combination showed what a truly excellent job Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz did (in 1984, no less) in recording the Orford Quartet's set of Beethoven's string quartets (8 CDs, Delos 3039)—a real sleeper among complete cycles of these works. The Orford lacks a big name, but they never sound out of their depth, even in the knottiest passages. The recording, done in a Toronto church, is, I think, competitive with most of the top-shelf recommendations. The Canalis-AVM combo got right both Beethoven's sweetness and his grittiness.

I have previously raved about composer Lera Auerbach's 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano, performed by Vadim Gluzman and Angela Yoffe (CD, BIS 1242). The Anima/AVM combo filled the room with that challenging music. Last of the rediscoveries was Arvo Pärt's Da Pacem, with Paul Hillier conducting the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807401), which I raved about when it was released in 2006. The Anima-AVM combo did a great job of floating both vocal and instrumental lines in a very quiet space. Bravi!

Summing up: When you get over the sticker shock, focus on the question of whether Canalis's update or renovation of the Sonics Anima, at a package price of $5550 including stands and footers, produces sound that not only passes the giggle test, but is competitive with what else you can get at or near that price. One easy comparison is with Vivid's Oval V1.5 ($7500/pair, see "The Fifth Element," October 2010). I think the Canalis and the Vivid are pretty much tied in terms of resolving power. The Vivid might be able to play somewhat louder and go somewhat deeper, but it also costs more, and its looks are more of an acquired taste. So for me, the answer to that question is Yes.

The remaining question is whether Canalis's improvements over the Sonics Anima are enough to lift the speaker into Class A, Restricted LFE of "Recommended Components." The speaker on its own? Not quite. With stands and footers? Yes, but just barely. I'm sending them to JA to be measured.

AVM's Inspiration C8 CD receiver
Argh! I feel so guilty! I had so much 'splainin' to do about the family history of the Canalis Anima that I don't have enough space left to do justice to its strong, silent partner in this month's system, AVM's Inspiration C8 CD receiver (footnote 2).

This is a very handsome, well-built (in Germany), one-box solution. The casework, with no visible screws, is elegant; I particularly like the way the lower left edge is rounded, while the corresponding right edge is not. At 13.3" W by 3.1" H by 13.7" D, the case is deeper than it is wide/

The Inspiration C8 has: a slot for loading a CD into its suspended drive; a phono stage and terrestrial FM tuner; digital inputs and outputs, including a USB input (limited to 48kHz and 16 bits); and a 150Wpc class-D amplifier. Its menu-driven functionality includes tone controls and loudness compensation, and an all-metal remote control is included. The price is $4190, with a three-year warranty. With the exception of connecting my iMac via USB cable to confirm that the USB input worked, all of my listening was to CDs.

The Inspiration C8 is a fully-thought-out product that is completely ready for prime time. Nice small touches abound, such as the fact that the default CD mode is Auto-Play, in which placing a CD in the slot starts the Play function.

Not only the C8's handsome, no-nonsense looks but also its essential sound reminded me of the great old Plinius amps, such as the 8150 integrated. The C8's sound was neutral, and powerful when that was called for. The C8 didn't strike me as sounding "digital," although when the Animas were placed too low, and therefore were more treble-intensive than their designer intended, I did take advantage of the C8's tone controls to cut the treble a bit. But that was unnecessary once the Animas were on their stands and footers.

That the Inspiration C8 has a power outlet for iPods and an RS-232 port for home automation systems such as Crestron's, and that its USB port maxes out at 48kHz (footnote 3), suggest to me that it was designed not for the hi-rez computer-audio geeks, but for the custom-installation/systems-integration or non–audio-hobbyist market.

The use to which I put the C8 is probably what it was designed for: a simple, elegant piece of audio gear for a music lover who wants to minimize boxes and cables, but who can't accept the major compromises in sound quality that come with glorified table radios.

This simply elegant little system—AVM Inspiration C8, Canalis Animas with stands and footers—costs $9740. For similar money you could get a different flavor of sound, but probably not anything "better" by a night-and-day margin. Admittedly, here you might be paying a modest premium for graceful design and no-apologies-needed fit'n'finish. Nothing wrong with that. A system that delivers the musical goods. Bravo.

Footnote 1: I am indebted to JA for his having pointed out this particular quality of quietness, in his review of the Sonus Faber Amati Futura in the March 2012 issue. I later heard a pair of Amati Futuras, and was very impressed: They seemed to combine the best features of the Vivid Audio and Wilson Audio speakers I admire, while having their own warm but not sluggish personality

Footnote 2: See Art Dudley's full review of AVM's Evolution C9 CD receiver elsewhere in this issue.—Ed.

Footnote 3: We were informed that with the C8 units that were scheduled to ship last December, the USB input will be 24/192 Asynchronous.—Ed.