LA Audio Show 2017: Spatial speakers and Vinnie Rossi LIO – literally made for each other

Sonic Matchmakers.


One of the often-elusive challenges in this hobby is finding components that work together so spectacularly that the aural result borders on magical.

You’d think choosing products from the same company would increase your chances of pulling this feat off, but not always. Sure, same-brand equipment may sound good, but it still could come up somewhat short of spine-tingling. And not every manufacturer makes both electronics and speakers.

The wave of the future in gear-matching may have come to shore at the Los Angeles Audio Show. There, in a large room near the end of a long hallway, electronics guru Vinnie Rossi and speaker-maker Spatial Audio were showing a match that, if not made in heaven, definitely was carefully crafted in the respective labs of the two independent businesses.

X1 with Anticables.

Not long ago, Rossi became so intrigued with the sound of Spatial’s open-baffle speakers that he built a special module to meld his LIO Super Integrated amp ($11,880 USD as shown in LA) to designer Clayton Shaw’s new floor-standing X1 ($14,000 USD a pair with a painted finish or $17,500 USD in wood veneer).

The combination of the two products, as I heard them, displayed the stunning synergy that audiophiles search so long and hard for.

Rossi’s integrated, to start, is unlike anything else on the market.

LIO Super Integrated.

“I created a totally modular platform,” he explained. “There’s a high-current, Class A/B MOSFET amp module and you can upgrade the line stage, add a phono stage, remote cartridge loading, DAC or headphone amp.”

Perhaps part of the “special sauce” in Rossi’s design is the patent-pending ultra-capacitor power supply. Rossi has a long history with battery-driven components, going back to predecessor company Red Wine Audio, and his latest ideas overcome some of the hurdles to making such units convenient.

DHT line stage, Ultracapacitor power supply of LIO.

As for dialling-in the integrated for the Spatial X1, Rossi customized an amp module with active-domain crossover and equalization (both analog). The unit outputs 25 watts on each of four channels to power the 110 db-efficient X1’s left and right bass and treble.

That solid-state output was paired with Rossi’s directly heated triode Class A, OTL and zero-feedback preamp module.

Those design choices play to the strengths of Shaw’s X1s.

“These loudspeakers extend the boundaries of an open-baffle design,” Shaw said while a classical piece began to play from a MacBook running Roon.

18-inche dipole woofer assembly.

Shaw uses a “time-coherent, unity-wave” dipole compression driver to produce the audio spectrum from 300 Hz up. An 18-inch dipole woofer (with a 40-pound motor assembly) handles frequencies down to 18 Hz. Both high-quality units are made by outside firms to Shaw’s specifications and then tweaked at Spatial’s Utah factory,

The idea is for the point-source main driver to allow the overall transducer to “speak with one voice,” while the woofer adds palpable oomph below. Setting the crossover so low helps avoid a disconnect between the extremely fast upper driver and the very large low-frequency unit, Shaw said.

laas-2017-triode-banner4The combination of Rossi’s electronic wizardry and Shaw’s innovative speakers did create a spooky sense of realism that was noticeably different from most traditional high-end systems.

Demo tracks such as the classical selection and tunes by Tori Amos and Dire Straits revealed a presentation that was close to what I imagine it would have been like to be sitting in the studio during recording.

Captivated audience.

Voices had electrostatic-like clarity and reverb trails seemed to hang in the air forever. Instruments were clearly defined and located precisely on a wide, deep soundstage. In addition, soft passages still had weight and clarity, while louder moments remained free from congestion and glare.

In particular, Amos’ piano was extraordinarily live-sounding, while Knopfler’s electric guitar had an especially beautiful tone. Overall, there was a cohesiveness across the audio spectrum that multiple-cone box speakers can struggle to achieve.

Audiophiles with existing favorite electronics still can run Spatial X1s if they have two stereo amps or four monoblocks. They will, however, need to purchase a crossover/EQ unit such as those offered by DEQX (starting at $3,495). Also, Rossi plans to offer that portion of his module as a stand-alone box this fall.

Meanwhile, Rossi’s Super Integrated can be ordered with a standard amp that accommodates a broad range of speakers.

Still, I could see why buyers, after they had a listen, might opt to go with the matched set of Rossi and Spatial products. The combo, while not cheap, certainly seems to offer good value and performance for the money.

Indeed, the total price of the rig was less than what I’d seen for wire alone in a number of systems at the LA show — and the Rossi-Spatial room did more things right than some of those megabuck exhibits.

Anticables supply the go juice.

Speaking of wire, the Rossi integrated was connected to the X1s with Paul Speltz’s amazing Anticables. Speltz recently introduced his Level 3.1 Reference Series copper speaker wires ($340 for a 10-foot pair). He also is breaking into the premium market with his new Level 5 Signature silver-gold speaker cable ($3,500 for a 10-foot pair).

Rossi and Shaw used runs of the 3.1 for bi-amping the X1’s woofer and the silver-gold Level 5 for the compression driver.

Other Anticables in the system included the Level 3.1 Reference USB digital interconnect ($390) and the Level 3 Reference power cords ($330 each).

Speltz may not have designed those cables specifically for the Rossi and Spatial gear, but they sounded like they could have been.

Together, the components came together to create a rare musical alchemy. That’s something special that you need to hear yourself.

About John Stancavage 196 Articles
Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile