There are two stops I plan to make at every show. The first is whatever room is haunted by Tony Chipelo of Electra-Fidelity and his amps. The second, when the rare opportunity presents itself, is wherever Duke LeJeune’s AudioKinesis is showing its speakers. This Newport show made that easy. They were both in the same room.
This is actually a fairly curious pairing as AudioKinesis and Electra-Fidelity both share some pretty odd similarities. Both are hi-fi dealers with wide product ranges. Both are manufacturers. Electra Fidelity serves as the commercial side and marketing operation for the consumer friendly designs from Jack Elliano’s legendary Electra-Print, while AudioKinesis manufactures bass cabs and hi-fi speakers by Duke LeJeune and his design partner James Romeyn.
The last similarity, not usually shared by other manufacturers or dealers, is the high esteem in which Jack, Duke and James are held by the DIY community. These guys don’t usually blow smoke.
This particular room saw Tony Chilepo and James Romeyn sharing duties at the helm of the stereo. Tony was showing off Electra-Fidelity’s A3-500 monoblocks ($10,000 per pair), 300b amps with 10 watts of power and tons of stomp. James was there to pull the curtain back on AudioKinesis’s new Zephrin 46 speaker ($4500 per pair), one of the freshest designs loudspeakers have seen in years.
The Zephrin makes use of what AudioKinesis calls a “Late Ceiling Splash” driver arrangement, in which the front firing drivers are augmented by an upfiring driver array located on the bottom rear of the speaker. This is intended to better recreate the recorded acoustic space by dealing with room reflections in a sensible way.
I know you’re all thinking “I heard that crap from Bose.” You can stop now. You probably didn’t. The LCS method has little to do with anything you remember from Bose’s sound. James and Duke discuss the implementation details quite thoroughly on their forum at AudioCircle.
What you’ll see up front is a two-way, MTM layout. The ‘T’ there is a waveguide loaded compression driver, and the radiation pattern is set to minimize room reflections. The rear array has another two 6″ bass drivers (of much lower efficiency) and an array of dome tweeters.
Rooms in the Hilton usually sound just plain bad. This room sounded just plain good, with excellent dynamics and detail and little hint of the usual room bloat. This was due in part to the Zephrin’s ability to be customized on site. Besides impedance and sensitivity, the bass porting can be tuned at will.
Tony and James tried to make me listen to the speaker with the rear array turned off — as though that were some kind of desirable feature. I’m pretty sure I shouted profanity at them until they turned it back on. It was less “night and day” and more “why did you idiots break the speakers?” In other words, the demo was convincing.
Associated gear in the room consisted of a Resolution Audio Cantata for digital. It can lean into unpleasant brightness when cold, and it did so here, making me pine for the rolled off treble of lesser tube amps. Infinitely better was Tony’s modified Otari 5050 playing through the tape-head preamp built into his Atma-Sphere MP3 Mk III.2 preamplifier. The sound may have been a touch lean while I was there, but it was a precise, musical, and refreshingly dynamic sound in the kind of enveloping soundstage that simply should not exist in a crappy airport hotel room.
It’s safe to say that the Zephrin 46 left an impression on me. It’s a radically new design, a unique look, and, at $4500, approaches what the hi-fi world euphemistically calls “real world pricing.” I’m glad I got to hear it first in a system this well sorted.