HE 2002: Day Three

If you think the name Viola Audio Laboratories sounds familiar, wait 'til you hear the names behind it: Tom Colangelo, Paul Jayson, and Tony DiSalvo—all former officers at Cello. Viola, working out of Cello's former New Haven facilities, is now producing a complete line of electronics, from the $18,000 modular Spiritu preamp to the $12,000 Bravo Double Set monoblock amplifier. The company also manufactures audio cables and a modular loudspeaker, the $18,000/pair Allegro, as well as an $18,000 subwoofer, the Basso. The system certainly is elegant-looking, and it sounded impressively coherent in a small hotel room—and that was with both the Allegro's bass module and subwoofer disconnected!

Sharing a similar elegance, and exhibiting a certain Darth Vaderesque glossy black armor, was Perreaux's new 200Wpc integrated, the $3495 Radiance R200i. Radiance is a new high-resolution line for Perreaux, and the 200i is filled with innovative touches. It's microprocessor controlled (and the microprocessor and display run on a separate power supply to prevent them from polluting the audio circuit's 80,000µF power supply. The amp has class-A input and class-AB output and runs both balanced and single-ended inputs. An optional phono section will be made available (are you listening, Mikey?). The amp is stuffed with high quality parts (such as 2-ounce copper fiberglass circuit boards) and such innovative touches as a USB input and a heatsink thermostat which can display each channel's operating temperature. And Perreaux even makes its own remote handset, which in heft and functionality puts most to shame.

Meadowlark's new slot-loaded floorstanding $995/pair two-way Swift sounded amazing. The speaker's baffle is ¾" solid ash elastically decoupled from ¾" MDF. It sports a 1" soft-dome SEAS tweeter, a 5.5" SEAS mid/woofer, and a first-order electrical crossover. With its severe rake-back and miniscule footprint, it's both sexy and top-heavy—just like Pamela Anderson. Fortunately, the speaker has a stabilizing stand that keeps it on its feet. Offering this much speaker for $995, Meadowlark will very quickly either become very rich or very broke. The beautiful ash baffle gives the Swifts a classic American, Louisville slugger integrity—can you tell we liked 'em?

We loved the Music Pumps and Purse which Blue Circle's Gilbert Yeung was displaying. The $799/pair Music Pumps are 25W single gain-stage monoblocks housed in a pair of size 11 women's dress shoes with 4" heels. The $499 Music Purse is a three-input preamplifier with 6dB gain in a fine Spanish leather matching purse. The sound was sweet and detailed and decidedly nothing to joke about. Yeung says that Wes Phillips is driving a pair of Dynaudio Evidence Temptations with his (actually his wife's) pumps, so apparently these pointy-toed shoes kick!

Silverline Audio Technology's Alan Yun brought his new speaker, the $8000/pair La Folia four-way which sports a 1.25" Dynaudio Esotar T-330D soft-dome tweeter, Dynaudio's 3" soft-dome midrange, a 7" Scan-Speak paper-cone woofer, and an 11" Focal woofer. If you're eyeballing the photo and wondering where that 11" woofer is, it's around back in its own ported enclosure. The front three drivers reside in sealed-box enclosures. The speakers sounded warm and precise—and their burled briar veneer was breathtaking.

Hervé Delétraz, our Swiss friend and sometime Stereophile contributor, was demonstrating his darTZeel NHB-108 model one 100Wpc stereo power amplifier, which looked and sounded great. Hervé started with a simple circuit, eliminated all negative feedback, and obsessed over every detail no matter how seemingly insignificant. The system sounded fast and pure and tonally spot on. We want one. For $9898.98, one could be yours.

Dale Fontenot has been building speakers for years—when he starts talking about box-loading and Q, our eyes just glaze over. But nobody could misunderstand his passion. When he heard Ray Kimber's Diaural circuit, the last component of his dream fell into place, so he founded Roman Audio to further his thoughts on speakers and Ray's crossover. His $5995/pair two-way Centurion looked great in Galaxy Creme finish (yep, it's the color of a '67 Ford Galaxy). The Centurion boasts a 1.25" Cabasse polycarbonate tweeter and a Cabasse 8" woofer (and that Diaural crossover, of course). Driven by an MSB CD player ($4995) and Plinius' $2995 8200 integrated amp, it sounded big and expansive. And detailed. And accurate. These guys are seriously good loudspeakers.

We were quite impressed with Simaudio's new $2895 Moon Nova CD player, which utilizes a lot of the same technology as the firm's killer $5295 Moon Eclipse CD player. We'd like to hear it a lot more.

David Chesky was demonstrating a new Web-marketed three-driver two-way loudspeaker, the $3995 C1. "Well, I have to have something to do once Napster puts us out of business," the label owner said ironically. "These would cost $8000 if sold in stores." They did sound like a lot of speaker. They were lively and articulate and imaged like all get-out. And the elegant ("I designed 'em," Chesky said proudly) towers were almost sculptural—the C1's are uncommonly decorator-friendly.

mbl was proud of its new 111B radial loudspeaker and 9011 monoblock amplifier. And why not? They certainly sounded and looked out of this world—and are priced accordingly. But the 1011 Analog Multichannel Audio Processor (price to be determined), shown in prototype form, was breathtaking. It made our purist two-channel CDs sound spacious and enveloping without sacrificing their pinpoint imaging. We never would have believed it if we hadn't heard it ourselves. And an all-mbl five-channel system is extremely easy to like. We could stand being spoiled like that.

We were also knocked out by Jeff Joseph's $20,000/pair two-cabinet Pearls, driven by Manley 250 monoblocks ($9000/pair). Joseph explained how moved he was by good audio's ability to overcome time—on the wings of high-end sound, we can enjoy 50-year-old performances as though we were present at the music's creation. Pretty words, but darned if he didn't proceed to prove them true with a recording of the Louis Armstrong All Stars performing "St. James Infirmary." Armstrong was all but physically present as he delivered the song's lyrics. And then he began to play: He was here or we were there or something—all we know is that when it ended, everyone in the room remained silent as we all returned to the Hilton on June 1, 2002. Music may be art and audio may be engineering, but sometimes, if we're very lucky, the combination can be magic. Go hear the Pearls; we suspect magic happens around them a lot.

And we still haven't covered everything we saw and heard—guess you'll have to wait for the complete show report in the September Stereophile for the whole story.