SSI: Robert Deutsch Day 1

The first room I visited at SSI 2015 was the one devoted to the Soltanus Acoustics ESL Virtuoso loudspeaker (CAD$10,995/pair). Why did I choose this room? First, their room was right next door to mine, so it was a matter of convenience. And when I saw the sign that said that they were showing a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker—well, given my history with the original Quad and KLH Nine, I was most intrigued.

And this speaker turned out to be one of my "finds" at the show. The sound had that classic electrostatic purity and quickness, but was more dynamic than either of those classic speakers. Voices were nicely focused in the soundstage, and the bass lived up to the full-range description—at least, if your notion of "full-range" doesn't include much below 40Hz (which is all that they claim). The speakers were being driven by a 1978-vintage Threshold amp (rebuilt, though). The product literature claims that the ESL Virtuoso is world's first crossover-less electrostatic loudspeaker, and I guess this is true if by "crossover," you mean a conventional RC crossover network, but the speaker does have a crossover of sorts, in that the signal is selectively sent to treble and bass frequencies to different electrostatic panels through varying the transformer's electrical characteristics, including the damping factor.

Whatever the specifics of the design—and I don't claim to understand it—and whatever the importance of eliminating the traditional crossover, the design obviously works. I visited the room on three occasions during SSI—and not just because they were next door. There was just something beguiling about the sound.

The speakers are made in Serbia, home of the designer, Zoltan Mikovity, shown in the top picture with the speaker. Mikovity started by repairing and modifying original Quads, so he certainly knows his electrostatics. At this point, there is only one North American dealer, soltanusacoustics.com, so they're well short of the five required to be considered for a review in Stereophile. If they had the requisite number of dealers, I would be asking for review samples.

IsoAcoustics is the maker of the Aperta speaker stands—or rather, devices that are placed on speaker stands, providing an interface between the stand and the speaker. The company—located in Markham, Ontario—is headed by Dave Morrison, seen in the photo, who has extensive experience in acoustics and vibration control in the pro area. The isoAcoustics devices ($200/pair) were demonstrated by comparing the sound of two pairs of Focal Area 960 speakers; one pair with the isoAcoustics devices and the other a matched-height set of plywood, with the same distance between the left and right speakers of each pair. The results were quite impressive: a general tightening of the bass and less smearing in the midrange, and even the treble.

Kevin Wolff (seen in the photo) of VANA, distributor of Vienna Acoustics loudspeakers, was on hand at SSI 2015, and demonstrated the new Beethoven Concert Grand Symphony Edition loudspeaker (US$8500/pair). Although these are described as the third-generation Beethoven loudspeaker, which makes it seem as if it might be a minor, evolutionary development of the earlier speakers, but the new speaker has all new drivers, starting with a new in-house designed 1.2" silk-dome, neodymium-magnet tweeter, with each driver mounted in its own, sealed enclosure. In a system with McIntosh electronics, the sound had that smooth, highly musical quality that Vienna Acoustics speakers. are known for.

I spotted the nice-looking tube integrated amp shown in the photo, and, seeing that it's called the Graaf GM50B Mk.2, assumed that it's a German product—or a product designed in Germany and made in China. It turns out that it's neither. It's made in Italy by Audio Analogue, and GRAAF is an acronym (for I-don't-know-what). This is a fully-balanced design using KT90s, putting out 50Wpc, and costs CAD$8500.

Mike McCormick, President of Bel Canto Design Ltd, is a most enthusiastic ambassador for the company's products—enthusiasm that I think is apparent in this photo. Here, he was explaining how all the elements in digital design are critical in the rendering to the signal from the original digital code to the analog output, and playing the—very impressive—system featuring the Raidho D-2 speakers, (CAD$50,000/pair), rest of the system costing CAD$70,000.

Audio Passion is a Canadian distributor of audio equipment, including some fairly rare "artisan" items. The Jean Maurer Model JM370E speakers (CAD$19,999/pair, shown in the photo), made in Switzerland, had their first North American showing at SSI 2015. Other products imported by Audio Passion include the Aqua La Diva transport (CAD$9999) and Aqua La Scala Mk.II (CAD$6999), also getting their first North American showing.

COMMENTS
Allen Fant's picture

As always, great coverage -RD. Regarding the 1st pic at the top of this page, what CD/SACD spinner is in that rack?

Robert Deutsch's picture

The product you're asking about is the Integris CDP CD Player/Preamp by Aurum Acoustics. Alas, they went out of business about five years ago.
Bob

Allen Fant's picture

I wanted to 2nd the VA speakers offered by VANA, Ltd. This company also supports IsoTek products.

carcajou's picture

Bonjour

The Swiss made Loudspeakers demonstrated by Audio Passion at the SSI are Jean Maurer JM370E (and not Jean Mauret as stated in the text under the picture).

Regards

Carcajou

John Atkinson's picture
John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile
carcajou's picture

Thank you to you for having applied the correction so quickly.

Carcajou

DanGB's picture

The Italian amplifier maker is GRAAF, not a GRAFF. Ken Kessler's a long-time fan of their stuff, I believe.

Robert Deutsch's picture

Thanks for the correction. Looks like an interesting product.

DanGB's picture

If you Google just 'Graaf', you get picture of a very pneumatic blonde woman. 'Graaf Amplifiers' is what you want to search... well, maybe.

Brooklyn Audio Inc.'s picture

Wanted to thank you once again for the review and the only dealer we have at the moment is Brooklyn Audio Inc. in Nova Scotia. - Jody Crane

toobdood's picture

hey RD
you might be interested in reading the review published on the 6 moons website regarding these speakers...

Robert Deutsch's picture

Thanks for the reference. Interesting review. It's good to know that someone else had a similar reaction to these speakers.
Bob

PredatorZ's picture

not to be a grammar Nazi, because to be truthful without spell checker I would fail miserably at writing. Would you guys prefer small errors be ignored or mentioned ? I'm good either way. For example " The product literature claims that the ESL Virtuoso is (the) world's first crossover-less electrostatic loudspeaker,