EAR, Jadis, Avatar

Today I awoke determined to have no agenda. Start on the third floor of the LAX Sheraton Gateway, begin walking about, and see where you're led.

The first person I spied was distributor Dan Meinwald of EAR (above), sharing a room with Byron Collett of Music Direct (formerly of AudioPrism, the makers of one of the great bugaboos of the doubtful amongst us, the infamous CD Stoplight, aka "The Green Pen"). As I discovered in a number of rooms, the system was somewhat of a hodgepodge, with the various distributors less than familiar with each other's products. Nonetheless, the EAR Acute CD player ($5500); Valve Audio Black Widow preamp and 200W amp combo ($7500), South African products that combine 6922 Electro-Harmonix tubes with MOSFETs; and Legacy speakers ($7150/pair) produced a lovely, warm sound on my beloved recording of Karina Gauvin singing Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne. After taking a snapshot of the beautiful, clean layout of Valve Audio's 200Wpc Predator integrated amp, I learned from Byron that many of the products available through the Music Direct catalog can now also be found in up to 500 retail outlets across the country.

Next I bumped into Patrick Calmettes of France's Jadis (pronounced, as I learned from Patrick, zha.dees) and Pierre Gabriel, Jadis' Montréal-based North American distributor. As someone who uses the latest version of the Jadis Defy 7, the DA 7 Luxe, as his reference amp, it was interesting to learn that Pierre is currently in the midst of establishing a US distribution network for Jadis' line of integrated amps. Patrick also told me that, despite China's newfound emergence as a manufacturer of high-end products, Jadis is very popular in Mainland China.

Next I encountered Darren Censullo of Avatar Acoustics. As a pilot for Delta Airlines, Darren flies all over the world, finding products he chooses to import. Hence the room's system mixed the German Dynavox Dynastation 2 CD player, a $6000 unit whose combination of Telefunken RENS 1374D NOS tubes from the 1930s with a Sony Playstation has elevated it to cult status in Europe; Karan Acoustics Reference preamplifier, a $14,000 solid state unit complete with phono stage and vacuum-stepped attenuator that is manufactured in Novisad, Montenegro (formerly Yugoslavia); Luminous Audio $3000 amplifier; the Ascendo $12,500 System E loudspeaker; Virtual Dynamics cabling; and Acoustics Systems Resonance Control room tuning rack, resonators, and diffusers.

The latter deserve a paragraph unto themselves. When I initially listened to my favorite Terry Evans track, "Blues No More," I thought the system overly warm and euphonic, and lacking in the bright edge one would expect to hear as the drummer thwacks the side of the drum. Nor did Ry Cooder's guitar have the leading edge twang I had expected to hear.

As an equipment reviewer, I'm very reluctant to provide instant feedback to a distributor or manufacturer. But Darren's eyes had the look of someone who wanted it real bad.

Darren then explained that before I had entered the room, he had spent time with a reviewer from another publication who had claimed that the system sounded too bright. Even though Darren thought the problem was with the reviewer's reference CD, not the system, he had proceeded to tweak the sound to the reviewer's satisfaction. This was accomplished by adding and subtracting little beads of gold, silver, and platinum from atop the small maple resonators affixed to the wall in specific places around the room.

After my feedback validated Darren's sense of the sound, he began to undo the damage. Five minutes later, I heard significant differences, as much of the leading edge and color had returned. The soundstage had also opened tremendously; the walls of the hotel room for all intents and purposes melted away. Amazing. Darren also expected to continue tweaking once we finished talking.

These guys are not cheap: the Basic resonator, which Darren claims can help control errant bass, costs $200, while the top-of-the-line Platinum/hard instrument maple resonator which he claims has the most neutral, dynamic effect lists for $2500. (I won't even begin to discuss the diffusers, or the Top Line equipment supports, which combines four layers of wood and three textile-based layers plus little holes to optimize resonance for a cost of $650 for three). Nonetheless, the resonators are among the most unobtrusive, spouse-acceptable tuning devices I've ever encountered. That counts for a great deal in my book. I look forward to experimenting with them in the near future.