Salk Signature Sound was showing off the new Exotica 3 ($11,995), wearing some different veneers over the last time I saw it at CAF. This is latest exotic permutation derived form the SEAS Exotica line, and quite frankly, I think it’s designer Jim Salk’s best work to date. There’s not a lot of info around the speaker, but what is obvious from first listen is that the big mid/woofer is doing something quite remarkable and special. I’ve been a big fan of the Accuton-drivers that Jim Salk has been using in his reference SoundScape line for years — which I first heard at a CAF some 5 years ago. But there’s something altogether more inviting about this driver complement. There’s this very believable tone and sense of dynamic capability that just gets me all tingly. Anyway, I can’t dissect this too much other than to say that this is a really interesting direction that Salk has taken here, and I for one want to hear a lot more of it.
The Transcendence 9 tube preamplifier (starting at $1,399) from Frank Van Alstine’s AVA line was also new. Replacing the T8+, the T9 has been completely reworked and the result was different enough that it demanded a new name. Interestingly, happily and conveniently, the new circuits are available as upgrades over those found in the T8 series — as always, just call Frank with questions. The T9 features six inputs, tape in/out, a new built-in headphone amplifier output, and can be configured with an optional HT bypass, RIAA phono, and remote. The tube complement is a pair of 6CG7.
Not shown at the show was Frank’s newest, the AVA Vision phono pre ($599). This is a brand new/totally old design that Frank’s kept in the cupboard for years while modern IC technology got dramatically better (where “better” = “quieter” and “more linear”). The new design is a solid-state “split passive EQ”, a two-stage, extremely quiet, and direct coupled, input to output. It’s also available as $249 option on the T9.
I can’t say enough good things about these two fine gents. They’ve been “doing” direct-to-consumer hi-fi for several decades longer than I’ve cared about hi-fi, and if anything, they’re pretty much at the top of their game right now. The fact that their prices are still on the approachable side of the fence is the best surprise of all.