Newport 2012: FritzSpeakers, Electra-Fidelity, Zesto Audio, WyWires

I love monitor speakers, and it isn’t just because they’re easy to lug, toss, and move around your listening room. Though that is part of it. Just not all of it. There is something special, something wonderful, about the imaging that a small 2-way pulls off. They simply vanish and out of the air a tapestry of sound manifests … or something. Anyway, the “vanishing act” is something that all good speakers aspire to, but precious few pull off. That is, except for monitors — that’s their specialty.

Enter FritzSpeakers. I’ve been lucky enough to get a pair of his Grove speakers in last year and I had a ball with them. In that review, I think I called Fritz the “hardest working man in the business” — and if I didn’t, well, it was an oversight. Fritz is a machine, crazy busy, building, demoing, and inventing ever-new combinations for his fans. It was refreshing to see him relax for once!

And well he should — he had a new baby to show off here at Newport: the Rev 7. Priced at $2,500/pair, these speakers are about the same as the Grove, but significantly bigger than the Rev 5, which they supplement — not replace. The “Rev” part of the name refers to the main driver, a Revelator from Scanspeak. The number, perhaps not so obviously, refers to the size of the driver and not a revision or version.

The Rev 7 is a stunner. But that wasn’t the story here. No, here, Fritz reached a bit deeper into his bag of magical toys and pulled out a 7″ Illuminator, a seriously top-shelf aluminum driver, also from Scanspeak. He paired that with a Scanspeak beryllium tweeter, wrapped it all up in a zebra mahogany veneer, and the result … well, spank my *** and call me Charlie! I thought they were the cat’s meow. Or his pajamas. Something to do with cats. Anyway, these are outstanding sounding speakers. I think he’s calling these the Illuminator7Be, but whatever the name, I’m hoping he’s going to send them to me … but I think some smart ass bought them right off the show floor. Sneaky bastard!

There’s an audio chestnut a lot of us audiophiles love to trot out about amplifier and speaker matching. It goes like this — with middling-low sensitivity, you need power. Lots of power. Well, maybe not lots. But not none. And SET amplifiers, well, that kinda qualifies as “none”.

Settle down, there, Skippy, I was just making a point. Continuing ….

Okay, so — 8wpc isn’t nothing, but it is pretty damn close. That is, according to accepted “audiophile wisdom”, that is. That same wisdom holds that your best bet would be a speaker with a sensitivity of 96dB or better for such an anemic amp, not 87dB.

Wow, this is a long way to go to say the following — this is complete bollocks!

In this room, with these speakers, this very pretty $5,995 A3-500 300b monoblock amplifier from Electra-Fidelity, with its fancy chrome top-plate and camera-defying brass transformer covers, not only seemed to play with full frequency and without grain, but also to play without strain.

Huh. Go figure.

Zesto Audio’s $3,900 Andros PS-1 phono-preamplifier was on hand to pull tunes out the turntable.

Digital tracks came courtesy of the very textured Resolution Audio Cantata, but it wasn’t playing while I was in the room. I still have a near-compulsive urge to run my hand over the top of this casework, which looks like a rain-dimpled lake. I say “still” because that’s exactly what I did while I was in the room. Yup. I’m weak.

At this point in the room, my roving camera-eye came across my old nemesis. A mirrored finish. Drat — foiled again!

I am seriously considering bringing along a white drop-cloth with me when I go a’-shooting. Grr. Anyway, I twisted myself up in a bunch to try and catch as much of the Electra fidelity amp as I could — the carpet was especially “hotel-ish”, which is to say, “I’m sure they got a good deal on it.”

Anyway, this E.A.R. 868 preamp, which is $7,995 when ordered with the optional phono stage, is a study in chrome and brass — just like the amp, which made them a nice aesthetic pairing.

A new-to-me turntable from George-Warren was up top spinning the vinyl. Pricing starts at $4,200, but the walnut finish pictured here brings it up to $4,850.

The platter is acrylic — hard to see in this picture — but it’s 10 pockets are filled with lead shot for stability and mass. The turntable has a split-plinth — the lower has an air-dampened spring mechanism to isolate the table as a whole, and the upper plinth is rotated 60˚, using visco-elastics for further dampening.

The tonearm is included, and

comes standard with a Moth Arm2 Incognito wired tone arm. This is the latest 3-point mounting method as found on an RB700 tone arm. The Incognito wiring features a continuous cable run from cartridge tags to phono plug. The heart of the assembly is a gold plated aluminum slug, situated at the base of the arm pillar, to which all the tone arm components are grounded.

Included with the tone arm is our exclusive VTA adjustment clips which raise the tone arm without unplugging and disassembling the tone arm from the arm board. Just loosen the screws and slide in the spacing clips.

A Soundsmith cartridge did all the groove-dancing.

Here’s a lineup for you. From the right is a Fritz Rev7 ($2,500), a Carbon 7 ($1,895) and a Rev5 ($2,100).

The Revelator drivers are supposedly known for speed and detail, where the Carbon driver for a rich, tonally complex mid-range. Yous picks your poisons.

Of the three, I think the 7″ Revelator is the most interesting — and the one I’m most interested in bringing home. That, or the Illuminator. But it’s the Carbon 7 that most folks go ga-ga over. Big, warm, fleshy sound with that driver!

Other bits in this room — WyWires Blue Series cables.

  • Speaker cables: $449/8′ pair
  • Interconnects: $469/4′ pair
  • Digital cables: from $249
  • Power cords: $249

What is “blue”?

WyWires Blue series represents a “trickle down” approach, taking what we have learned during the ongoing development of the Silver series of cables and applying that knowledge to offer a more economical product line. The Blue Series offers much of the performance attributes as the Silver albeit in a simplified and less luxurious offering, at entry-level pricing.

Alex tells me that this means it’s the same wire as the more expensive lines, but in a slightly different/simpler geometry, and paired with a non-Teflon dialectric.