RMAF12: Mad for Joseph Audio, Bel Canto, VPI and Sound-Smith

“Only a few find the way, some don’t recognize it when they do — some … don’t ever want to.” ― The Cheshire Cat

It wasn’t a total surprise as Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio let the cat out of the bag less than a week out from Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, but I was stoked nonetheless — a reworked Pearl is news, good news, and news worth shouting about. Everyone, say hello to the new Pearl 3.

If you haven’t heard about the $28,500 flagship from Joseph, that’s understandable. The company doesn’t really “do” much out there — you’ll see a couple of ads, and I think Stereophile has had maybe two of the speakers in for review. Of course, both of those were raves, but neither have focused on Pearl. Which is a shame. Because it’s freakin’ awesome.

You’re welcome to call me a Joseph “fanboi”, and I won’t deny that I am a fan of the brand. Not being a loudspeaker designer, I can only speculate what it is that makes his speakers so different. Steven Stone, of TAS and just about everywhere else, is less mystified — he points directly at the patented Asymmetrical Infinite Slope, a design that Jeff has been fiddling with for the last 20+ years. And here, at RMAF12, Jeff has taken his novel approach to the next level — this Pearl’s crossover is new. I’m assuming the change is, at least in part, due to his latest efforts with the Perspective, a uniquely convincing floorstander that was released a year or so ago, but the result is what Jeff’s calling his “best yet”.

“For the past 20 years I’ve been chasing a sonic goal.  One of the distinguishing qualities of live, unamplified music is its unmistakable presence and clarity.  Yet, at the same time it sounds relaxed and warm.  Most speakers I’ve heard tend to fall to one side or the other.

The Pearl 3’s new technology has allowed me to marry the snap and spark of life to a sense of ease and naturalness that I’ve only experienced at live performances.

I am in the process of writing a Patent application for this technology, so full disclosure will have to wait until I have filed the documents with the USPTO.

But I can say that I’ve been able to exploit a unique property of the Infinite slope technology and through new optimization techniques I’ve been able to effect a significant performance breakthrough., hence the Pearl 3!”

— Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio, RMAF 2012

I wandered by on Day 1 and again on Day 2, just to get my ears around the new tweaks. It’s been a while since I’ve spent any serious time with the Pearl, so I was very curious. I sat down in the sweet spot, which had been helpfully vacated, Jeff queued up a series of unfamiliar tracks.  Okay, so, given that this was “show conditions” and that the associated gear was all different (and it’s been over a year), all I can really say is “whoa”. This is a seriously compelling loudspeaker, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s reference-grade, all-the-way. The sound stage was d – e – e – e – p and wide, and realistically tall. Detail was effortlessly layered into the fabric, and the extremes knit together in a way that gave me goosebumps. I happened to look over at Jeff, who was sporting this smug Cheshire grin as he watched me, so I flipped him the bird. But his grin said it all — he had something and he damn well knew it. And everyone else in the room, yours truly very much included, knew it, too. Whoa indeed. Top 5 for “Best in Show”, without doubt.

On a side note, I did not get a chance to ask Jeff about his plans for a Super-Pearl, for those cost-no-object buyers that Ken Kessler seems to think will utterly consume audio’s high-end, nor did I sneak a question about his plans for a mid-tier product that would slot between Pearl and Perspective. Next time!

Other gear:

There was a demo in this room at various points along the weekend, showing off Bel Canto’s new USB-to-SPDIF converters. This is what they’re offering:

  • mLink: $375
  • uLink: $675
  • REFLink: $1495

So, while I missed it, I’m told the differences were actually audible. Subtle, but audible. More info can be found on the Bel Canto website, in case you need to scratch that itch a bit.

“Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the cat. ‘We’re all mad here.” — Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland

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  1. I think it has to be a combination of crossover and enclosure tuning. The Seas drivers are excellent, but they aren’t magic. I mean look where the Merlin VSM started to where it is now. The drivers in that have changed very little if at all, the rest is down to Bobby just tweaking them over and over until they arrived at their current MXM stage.

    • If you ask Jeff, he’ll tell you it’s “all the above”, however you fill in the term “above”. He has a point, everything matters. If you ask me (which you didn’t), I think the emphasis should probably fall on the crossover. Like you say, the drivers are common, but they are rather expensive — something that drastically restricts their use in mainstream loudspeakers. Those drivers, in a well designed cabinet, with a proprietary crossover, and a boatload of tweaking, gets you a very refined loudspeaker.

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