Surreal Sound‘s Ralph Hellmer was on showing off his Fifth Row loudspeakers (shown “au naturel” in a Baltic Birch), with their new Heil tweeter (first order, brought in at 3kHz). In case you’ve not heard the bass slam of these speakers, let me reassure you, no animals were harmed during the manufacturing process. I have to say this, because the temptation to use them to stun small animals may well be overwhelming. The bass here comes from a tower of push-pull drivers, driven by an outboard amp and DSP. The mid-range gets it’s own wood-driver from Tang Band, and then there’s that new tweet. Cabinet is pretty solid (ha ha), and to prove it, Ralph had a bottle of water and a nickel sitting on edge during massive drum solos in an effort to get either to do … well … anything. Didn’t happen. I will also say this — the sound was incredibly open and airy.
A VPI Classic Direct, with it’s nifty mag-lev drive system, is still in prototype form — sadly. I want to play with one of these so bad, I could just spit. Anyway, I did hear that the production costs were not exactly inline with recent speculation — we can expect the Direct to come closer to $30k than $20k.
The Arion is a two stage design with the first stage primarily providing gain, which is switchable between 20db or 40db allowing for both MM/MC. The switching is handled by high sensitivity/small signal Omron relays carefully located on the PCB. The second stage provides an additional 24db of gain and the output stage is essentially a class-A design set to run at fairly high bias, operating the output devices in their sweet spot. You might have noted the heatsinks for the power supply and output transistors on the PCB. The gains are set at either 44db or 64db.
It has only one set of inputs.
There’s more: the $4,500 phono is single-input and single-ended only, uses a 4-layer PCB, all the signal path connections are soldered in silver, and that the power supply sports “dual split-bobbin E-I core transformers and Fairchild Stealth rectifiers” with separate transformers used for the +/- supplies. My note here says that there is also a “lack of capacitance on the output”. Like, none. Hello…. Interestingly, there seems to be plans for a second model:
“The loading/capacitance on the base model will be handled by swapping resistors in internal sockets while the all out version will be electronically switchable. “
That model, still in development, will also also include such niceties as “Caddock precision film resistors and higher grade Vishay capacitors in all critcal signal path and EQ applications … Luminous internal wiring; isolation mounts for the PCBs and chassis feet, etc.” Price for that second model is still TBD.
Sounds sweet to me! I would dearly love to fiddle with the Arion. Hopefully, the Luminous Crew will see fit to honor me with some time on it when it starts shipping in a couple of months.
Finally, cables. Ralph had a new prototype power cord using “unusual technology” to filter out RF and EMI noise. He calls it the Morph Cord. Sold direct for $599 for a single outlet, with $100 each for up to for additional outlets. The rest of the cabling was from Luminous Audio, including their top-of-the-line Synchestra Signature speaker cables, with six-9’s pure Ono copper, retailing for a refreshing $40/ft.