Over the two days I forced-marched through the show, I actually got to hear three pairs with the first bing the most affordable: the new $2,995 Aurora. The Aurora has a bandwidth of 36Hz – 23KHz, is 4Ω nominal, and has 89dB sensitivity, all wrapped in a stand-mount package. The design has an elegantly sculpted, swept-back fascia with a swooping back and a horn-loaded ceramic tweeter, a departure from the RAAL driver in the other designs demoed here. A matching stand rounds out the package.
The second pair was in the same room, but on a different visit: the Cirrus White. Here was the RAAL tweeter, paired with a 6.5″ Accuton driver. Specs show 60Hz – 23kHz (Accuton drivers don’t travel that much, so there’s just going to be less oompah in the bass, given the same surface area with a non-ceramic), 8Ω, and a 91dB sensitivity. Despite the bass roll-off, the sound of this speaker is pretty great — I like this driver pairing quite a bit. The $5,895 Arcus model and the top-of-the-line 3-way $8,995 Joule Black, also at the show, I unfortunately did not get a chance to hear.
The source featured in this room was an Overdrive DAC from Empirical Audio. This DAC is a two-box solution (external PSU), and is offered with a huge variety of additional-cost options. Standard package includes:
- Low jitter Clocks
- Low jitter 192 Async USB interface module
- Ultra-Simple pure Class-A analog Path
- D/A Volume Control
- Ultra-Linear Output Stage
- Fully Balanced Analog Path
- Black-Gate capacitors
Mal Kenny, my volunteer eyes and ears given that I had to fly the coop so unexpectedly, had this impression of the Overdrive:
The digital in the room was spectacular. Empirical is pretty close in the running for “best I’ve heard.” It’s clean, it’s detailed, it doesn’t present a ton of artifacts, and it’s non-fatiguing.
Arte Forma, a Taiwanese manufacturer specializing in high quality affordable audio. A Perla preamp and a 40wpc Due Volte 805-based monoblock pair rounded out the components.
- Empirical Overdrive SE DAC: prices start at $5,999
- Arte Forma Perla preamplifier: $1,800
- Arte Forma 805 SE Monoblock Amplifiers: $4,000/pair
- Vapor Audio Aurora speakers: $2,995/pair
- Vapor Audio Cirrus White loudspeakers: $5,495
The second room featured all solid-state gear from BMC Audio. I’m a fan of Carlos Candeias’ work — the look and feel are superlative and the technology is innovative. I’m not going to explain it — not when Carlos can do it himself:
- Vapor Audio Cirrus Black loudspeakers: $3,995/pair
- BMC M2 monoblock amps: $15,980/pair
- BMC BDCD1.1 belt-drive CD transport: $4,990
- BMC DAC1 preamp: $5,690
- Antipodes Music Server: prices start at $2,300
I’ve never heard of Antipodes, but the server shown here does feature a Linux-based OS, customized for music playback, called VortexBox. The server also uses a specialty USB output from SoTM to generate some of the cleanest signals possible from a computer-server today. A linear PSU (considered a significant upgrade) is also an option for the server, as is the battery-pack, which I believe is how it was shown here.
The Cirrus Black loudspeaker had a rather distinctive finish, but whatever. Anyway, the RAAL tweeter was mated to a 7″ driver to generate the following rather impressive-for-a-stand-mount specs: 35Hz – 26kHz frequency response, 8Ω and 90dB sensitivity. The sound was a bit clean but I wasn’t really able to hang out, so a more detailed impression will have to wait. A pair of Joule Black loudspeakers held up the sidewall (not really, but that sounds better than “they just leered at me from the sidelines” … okay, maybe it doesn’t) while I was there, though I’m told they were in the rotation throughout the weekend.
I did a little research on Vapor after the show, and learned that each loudspeaker has a lot of options. A lot of options. Different wire, different posts, different drivers, different veneer levels, different everything. This is something of a challenge for me as it says that the clientele are either demanding that level of DIY flexibility or that the designers don’t really have an opinion. Hmm. Something to ask. I’d be curious to see what the “standard” vs the “commonly chosen upgrade” vs “the all-out” would do to the sound quality, actually, because these nifty little tweaks can add up fast — a fully tricked out Cirrus Black, for example, can be almost twice the price of the base model.
All in all, an impressive showing for a new-to-me loudspeaker manufacturer. Looking forward to seeing this brand evolve and settle.