I like to joke about big speakers being some kind of compensation thing, but the truth is, they have a distinctive sonic presence that’s just impossible to fake. They sound, not to put too fine a point on it, big.
In some respects, there’s just no getting around displacement — big drivers make big sound. But that’s not quite it. Big drivers in big cabinets make big sound. Big, cavernous, effortlessly abyssal sound. Which brings me to the Focal Grande Utopia EM ($195k/pair). These things are absolutely colossal. In fact, they’re so big I’m going to have to grab my thesaurus in order to keep up with the requisite adjectives. It’s a four-way, which is interesting, with a 16″ woofer, an 11″ mid-woofer, and two 6.5″ midranges. Oh, and there’s that beryllium tweeter, too. Frequency response is a dominating 18Hz-40kHz, and the nominal impedance is 8Ω, with a 94dB of sensitivity. I say all this, because reading it over, my first thought was “hey, that sounds fairly tube-friendly”. Which was an interesting thought, given that the pairing electronics all came from VAC.
The Statement Line preamplifier ($66k), Statement Phono Preamplifier ($70,000), and Statement 450 iQ Power Amplifiers ($116,000 per pair), fronted the monsters from Focal. These amps feature the ball-bearing isolation system which means you can shake ’em and watch ’em jiggle. VAC headmaster Kevin Hayes loves that particular trick, and it still freaks me (and the other exhibitors) right the hell out when he indulges.
The amps feature the VAC iQ Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System feature Kevin first described to me at CES in 2013, which means that the amps are always delivering exactly full power, regardless of load — load which happens to vary during playback. I can’t vouch for the technicals here, other than to say that the sound of these amps, paired with whatever speaker he cares to show with, sound phenomenal. Now, whether or not 450 watts/channel were actually needed was another question entirely, but it sure was fun to have them!
The marvelously minimal Bergmann Audio Sindre Turntable ($28,000), with its air bearing tonearm, was playing the tunes when I came and went.
Kevin pointed out that the newest VAC, the Master Signature preamplifier (announced at CES), was also now available, offering a “trickle down” of Statement IQ technology at the more affordable price of $40k with the phono stage, and $26,500 without.
Sadly, almost all this kit is out of my personal reach, which is a shame because I’d really like to get my mitts all over it. This room was an early contender for Best in Show.