CAF 2014: Luminous Audio steps on the Gas, swings a big Beam

Tim Stinson of Luminous Audio and Mike Bettinger of GAS Audio have teamed up to create a new phono preamplifier, the Arion, which will be sold under the Luminous Audio brand. Mike’s $5,995 design has been a good while in the making and tweaking — I first heard about the project at Mini-CAF a little while back, but this was my first chance to see and hear the finished product.

As you probably know, a phono preamp is probably the hardest thing to make and make it sound right. It is, in essence, an amplifier, but one that must take minuscule signals and render them fulsome and gorgeous — and do that without noise. It’s a challenge.

The Arion choses the solid-state route, leveraging a “cascoded/paralled JFET topology” to get the low noise, and spends a seemingly disproportionate focus (and chassis space) on the lab-grade C-core transformers. Separate trannies are used for the +/- supplies. It’s a single-ended-only pre. More info will be available at launch, which should be shortly.

Luminous Audio also makes a full line of audio cables, which were used here at CAF, including digital, power and analog signal cables. Their Axiom passive preamp is something I’ve taken a look at in the past — here at CAF, Tim was showing off the new top-of-the-line passive — the Axiom III. This new pre includes a remote control, which is different. A dual-mono design with 60dB of channel separation, the relay-driven metal film ladder has 64 steps of attenuation driven by an opto-encoder. The price for all this audio goodness is $1,895 and it should be available soon.

Below the table sat a GAS Audio rebuild of an old Ampzilla stereo amplifier, which brings me to another point — GAS Audio, out of Chesterfield, VA, has been reconditioning audio gear for the last 30 years, focusing primarily on the GAS Audio/Ampzilla and Sumo designs, but able to handle just about anything. Having an excellent tech in your back pocket is an incredibly useful thing, folks. This is a good reference to hang on to.

Sitting to the side of the Luminous stack was a VPI Scout 2 turntable, a much beefier version of the Scout I reviewed in TAS last year, and one I’d really like to look at more closely. A much stouter all-metal platter is the most obvious upgrade here, and it includes a separate, physically separated sub chassis for the motor pod. A JMW tonearm swung here, mounted with a Lyra cartridge.

Fern & Roby are new-to-me speaker makers, and were here showing off their floor-standing offering, The Beam. The name is, I think, a reference not to the sonics but rather to the construction — the entire cabinet is a reclaimed heart-pine beam. That is, it’s not “made from real wood”, like the cabinets from Daedalus Audio, but rather that the cabinet is solid wood. There are spaces hollowed out for mounting the drivers (including a sweet-looking waveguide for the tweeter) and the binding posts, but that’s about it. Each speaker will, obviously, be completely unique. The overall aesthetic? Oh, yeah. I’m a fan. $4,500/pair nets you your own.

The design is a vented two-way with 1st order crossovers. An 8″ Scanspeak mid/woofer gets mated to a 1″ SEAS aluminum dome tweeter that forgoes ferro-fluid cooling/damping.  More specs:

  • Overall Impedance: 4Ω
  • Overall Efficiency: 90.5 db
  • Maximum Power Rating: 200 watts
  • Nominal Power Rating: 150 watts
  • Frequency response: 35-20k hz (+/- 3 db).
  • Dimensions: 43″H x 9″W x 11.5″D

A much smaller pair, called The Cube ($850/pair), made with a similar solid-wood approach, were sitting on stands off to the side; I didn’t get a chance to hear them, but they sure looked nifty. The Beam speakers however, driven by the VPI and Luminous Audio and GAS gear, sounded really fine. Coherence was excellent, tone was spot-on. Altogether, an excellent demo and one I’d like to explore more fully back at the Bat Cave.

An excellent debut on several fronts, here!