The debate between the advocates
of tube and transistor electronics will continue for many years, but in my
view the differences between the sounds is narrowing. Tube designers work hard
to extend the frequency bandwidth while transistor designers make efforts to
avoid a cold hard sound and to tame the nasties sometimes associated with
crossover distortion and other such silicon artifacts. Not only is the sound
converging, but more attention is being paid to cosmetics so that sometimes it
is hard to tell from a distance if an amp is tube or silicon based. Some
designers even combine both technologies. Musical Fidelity have used a series
of non traditional tubes in their products, such as the Nu-Vista and Tri-Vista
series, while David Berning showed here a prototype preamplifier using a tube
based switching power supply.
the most extravagant attempt to narrow the gap between tubes and transistors
is the Integris Active 300B from Aurum Acoustics of St John’s, Newfoundland.
I have seen prototypes from Aurum at CES the last couple of years, but now we
have two shipping products. The Integris Active 300B ($27,000 US or $30,000
Cdn) is an active speaker system with 3 drive units and a central stereo
amplifier with active crossovers. This may be the first active tube based
speaker system, and the designers, led by Derrick Moss, aim to get the very
best performance out of the 300B tubes by eliminating the passive crossover
between the output stage and the drivers, allowing higher output levels and a
broader bandwidth than otherwise possible. The 300B tubes are not used beyond
half their rated power so tube life should be extended.
The second component is the Integris CDP ($10,000 US or $11,000 Cdn) which
incorporates a high-end top loading CD player and an 11-input active preamp
into one rather large box. The transport is the Philips CDPro2M and the
digital processing comes courtesy of Anagram Technologies of Switzerland.
Certainly the sound in this room was top notch with precise imaging with no
sense of strain even at high volume. The bass response was extended yet
relaxed, which contributed to a most musical performance.
new Canadian speaker to catch my eye comes from Fidelity Acoustics of
Vancouver. Feeding the speakers was a Naim stack including the CDX2, NAC 282
Preamp, NAC 250 MkII Power amp and a HICAP power supply. Fidelity Acoustics
has a long history assembling speakers for TDL and Lowther, and are now
introducing their own design, the RFM2 ($4,400 Cdn). Philip Mayburgh explained
that the secret in this slim design lies in the careful use of the Vifa Ring
Radiator tweeter which handles all the frequencies from 2kHz to 40kHz. This
makes life much easier for the 150mm ScanSpeak bass /midrange driver to
operate cleanly. Fidelity uses a transmission line to improve the accuracy of
the bass response. Does it work? I was very impressed with the quality of
sound, which was maintained well as we turned the wick up. The stone /
concrete pedestal is available in linen, shitake or cinder finish, while two
wood finishes, maple and wenge are offered. This is an impressive debut and I
am looking forward to hearing more from Fidelity Acoustics.
For some odd reason, when I ran into Vince Scalzitti of Tri-Cell
Enterprises, I failed to recognize him and he thought I was my brother. We
must both have been worn out by then! Vince demonstrated a Clearaudio
turntable, Pathos tubed electronics, Acoustic Arts Drive 1, MSB Platinum DAC
II and an Equi=Tech Balanced power supply, wired together with Cardas Cable
and driving miniature Elac 310 Jet speakers. These speakers, perched on the
matching LS 67 stands, are not new products but Tri-Cell has just picked up
the Canadian distribution. A nice punchy sound, belying the size of the drive
units. The speakers run $1650 Cdn for wood finish, or $2500 for the metal
finish on display.
Lisa of Canadian distributor Audiopathic had several rooms at the show. She is
pictured here with the small Innersound Kachina speakers ($12,000 US)
driven by the new Jeff Rowland Concerto Integrated amplifier, sounding much
more dynamic than at CES. The Kachina features UltraStat electrostatic
panels and a custom 8” woofer installed in a compact transmission line
providing bass response down to 32Hz. Sitting front and centre is the Jeff
Rowland 302 while sitting either side are the 500 wpc 501 monoblocks. Sitting
in the rack below the Concerto is the Synergy 2 Preamp. Fine sound indeed, but
you really need to sit in the sweet spot for maximum enjoyment. Jeff Rowland
has been producing transistor amps that don’t sound like transistor amps for
many years, and the new ICE based series does not disappoint -- very smooth.
Across the hall in another Audiopathic room sit the unusual looking Eventus
Phobos speakers ($8,800) from Italy. I think they look rather sad with the
grills in place -- much better without. DCS provide the digital source, and
all amplification is by Manley -- the Shrimp preamplifier, Snapper monoblocks
and Neo-Classic 250 monoblocks.
The third Audiopathic room brings the big Innersound Speakers, the
Kaya hybrid electrostatics ($20,000 US including the crossover amp) bi-amplified
by a pair of the gorgeous Innersound DPR 500 Reference Stereo amplifiers
($14,000 US each). The Kaya’s 10” woofer is coupled with a separate bass
amplifier and electronic crossover amplifier. An
Immersive Symmetry DVD Universal Player provides the digital source, feeding
into an Innersound iControl preamp. Wes Bender, himself a fairly big guy,
gives you a sense of the size of the Kaya speakers. The sound excels in this
room, but again, for the best sound, sit in the hot spot.
Mark O’Brien of Rogue Audio, Adrian Butts of Tetra Speakers and Joe
Kubala of Kubala-Sosna Cable pose by the Tetra Live 405 in gloss finish ($5250
US or $6900 Cdn), the US made Rogue Metis preamplifier ($995 US) and Atlas
wired together with Kubala-Sosna Emotion cables. I absolutely could not resist
the Tetra Manhattan speaker in the custom Juanita finish. Could you?
Click here for part 3