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RMAF 2014: Sonist still smokin’, with George-Warren and deHavilland

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Logo - Blue VectorJonny Wilson has resaddled the Sonist and brought the brand back to market, now a couple of years since the passing of founder Randy Bankert. And that is a mighty fine thing.

The thing in question is “compact, high-efficiency loudspeakers”. Interestingly, this is no longer a widespread thing — which is a shame, because low(-er) power amplifiers, especially tubed ones, are still really interesting.

What we saw here at RMAF was their bookending products. At the high-end, the Concerto 4 ($6,495/pair) is a floor-standing 97dB loudspeaker capable of 27Hz in the down-low. On the other end, the new Recital 2 ($2,295/pair) is a stand-mount 91dB loudspeaker that can hit 45Hz. The speakers shown here were in matched “Mahogany Red” cabinets — and yes, that’s real wood and not a veneer.

On top of the rack was the clever and comely George-Warren turntable ($4,850). This table is pretty nifty — it’s a dual-plinth suspended system, with each plinth completely de-coupled from each other, and the whole of it is really quite compact. The motor, a Maxon DC, works with a built-in strobe to adjust and maintain proper speeds. It’s actually cantilevered, resting on only two feet and leaning away from the platter. That lean provides the tension on the pulley. The platter is a mass-loaded acrylic, and there’s a variety of hardwoods that you can choose from for the plinths.

I’m told that it was fitted here with a Mørch DP8 tonearm ($4,995) and a cactus-needle cantilevered Hyperion cartridge from Soundsmith ($7,500).

The electronics all came from deHavilland, and featured the new 444 preamp ($1,695). This pre uses tube rectification and regulation and comes in about as simple a box as you can get. A pair of KE-50A mono block amplifiers ($10,800/pair), sat in equally prosaic cases, flanking the speakers. These amps, which feature interstage transformers, manage to drive the KT88 output tubes in full triode mode for 40 watts. A choke-input power supply and dual power transformers speak to a pleasantly overbuilt design.

Snake River Audio‘s proprietary blend of precious metals (gold, silver and copper) in an 85% air dielectric, pulled all the bits together.

As to the sound? Deep and luscious. Air and full color. And that was just with the little Recitals (I missed the bigger guys).

Quite frankly, this room was one of my favorites at the show. Every brand in here is a boutique operation, and operating well within the confines of expensive-but-not-absurd. Not “entry-level”, by any means. But each element here struck me as what someone could aspire to  one, maybe two steps past that — and rest content with their heirloom-like piece. That makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. C’mon, ya’ll! It’s huggin’ time!

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