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Gryphon Diablo 300

Ultra Audio's site platform was changed in August 2010. For equipment reviews previous to that, use this link to transfer to the old site.

My first experience with open-baffle speakers was a few years ago, in Bangalore, India, in the showroom of ARN Systems, which then distributed the speakers made by Emerald Physics. I recall the sound of Emerald’s CS2.3 speakers as being exceptionally dynamic, nearing concert-level realism with a humongous soundstage that filled the large room. The Emerald CS2.3 was designed by Clayton Shaw, who has since moved on and now is the principal of Spatial Audio, based in Park City, Utah. (ARN is Spatial’s Indian distributor.)

Reviewers' ChoiceAspiration. Audiophiles and reviewers have it in spades. We aspire to extract ever more from our audio systems: higher levels of performance, greater realism, more emotional connection with the music. Audiophiles are derided (often with justification) for the upgrade merry-go-round that can result from an unchecked conviction that the sound can always be improved; but if we keep system synergies and overall balance in mind, the thoughtful incorporation of new components can indeed give us more of what we aspire to.

In 2012, when Bryston launched their first loudspeaker, the Model T, I raised an eyebrow. I wasn’t sure what to expect -- a one-off product that would end up as a back-catalog offering? Or the start of something larger for the Canadian electronics company? Three years later, the answer is clear: Bryston now offers 16 loudspeaker models, including subwoofers, center-channels, surrounds, on- and in-walls, and, of course, floorstanding and stand-mount designs. This wide array of speakers -- it would be impressive for a company that made only speakers -- comprises two lines, T and A. The T models have 8” bass drivers, the A speakers 6.5” woofers. In model-for-model comparisons, the Ts are larger, play louder and lower in the bass, and cost a bit more. I chose to review the second model from the top of the T line, the Middle T ($5400 USD per pair).

At the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, Vienna Acoustics introduced their flagship loudspeaker, the Music. As the top dog in their top line, the Klimt Series, the Music embodied several new design innovations, most obvious of which was a 7” midrange driver of Vienna’s Flat-Spider-Cone design (see below), replete with a newfangled silk-dome tweeter at its center. These coincident drivers, aligned in time and phase, were housed in an independent, pivoting cabinet atop the larger main cabinet, itself home to three transparent 9” Spider-Cone woofers. The adaptable cabinet architecture was intended to permit ideal alignment of both driver arrays in a room and, almost overnight, proved so successful for Vienna Acoustics that, less than two years later, the company began thinking of ways to offer these design principles for much lower prices. At CES 2014, Vienna introduced their realization of this vision, the first speaker derived from the Klimt Music: the Imperial Liszt.

Hardly any other name in the history of high-end digital audio components is as storied as Wadia Digital. If you’ve been around high-end circles for any number of years, you’ve no doubt known an owner of a Wadia DAC, transport, or player. Maybe you’ve owned one yourself.

These are interesting times for an aficionado of high-end audio gear. Consider this: ESS Technology’s Sabre Reference ES9018 DAC chip can be found in products costing over $30,000 that are claimed to be the state of the art -- and just may be. You can find the same chip in products costing under $1000.

Last summer, Sharath Chandran, the highly knowledgeable proprietor of audio dealership Audire, in Chennai, India, where I live, invited me to attend an audition of the flagship loudspeaker made by German manufacturer Ascendo GmbH, which Audire distributes in India: the M-S Special Edition, with external crossovers. These humongous, man-sized speakers were impeccably finished and visually arresting. I was spellbound by their superb transparency and dynamic capability, and would rank them among the top few speakers that I have heard. They cost a staggering $74,880 USD per pair, and their girth means that they’ll work well only in larger listening rooms. However, as with any other manufacturer, technologies from these vanguard products ultimately trickle down to smaller, more affordable models, and it was one of those -- the Ascendo C6 -- that Sharath Chandran recommended that I review.

Hegel HD12Reviewers' ChoiceNowadays, to get noticed in the entertainment industry, you have to do something flashy or downright bizarre. At least, that’s how it looks from the outside. Take, for instance, the antics of pop-music stars, whose behavior seems to find new lows each week. The argument goes that any press is good press, so these people seem to fabricate ways to get a Yahoo! story written about them -- often ways that most of us would find humiliating and degrading. The interesting thing is that these people seem to revel in the attention, making no distinction between whether their actions are considered positive, negative, or just plain stupid.

Esoteric P1/D1Reviewers' ChoiceAlmost every month, I hear about a new, midpriced digital-to-analog converter that’s supposedly taking the audiophile world by storm. These flavors of the month typically include the latest, greatest conversion chips and cost $2000-$3500 USD -- sometimes much less. They almost always come with a story about a guy who bought one, got better sound than he was getting with his $125,000 multibox digital stack, sold the latter, and laughed all the way to the bank.

It was just after I’d had a conversation with an audiophile friend about a $500 flavor-of-the-month DAC that Scott Sefton, Esoteric’s marketing specialist, offered to send me for review samples of the company’s new statement models. At the time, the Grandioso line comprised the M1 monoblock amplifier ($21,000 each), the two-box P1 SACD/CD transport ($40,000), and the D1 mono DAC ($20,000 each). There is also, now, the Grandioso C1, a two-box preamplifier ($40,000).

Blue Circle Audio BC60X1I considered myself lucky. I’d finished reviewing Blue Circle Audio’s PLC Thingee FX-2 six-outlet power conditioner with XOe low-frequency filter module (affectionately known as the 3PO), which enlightened me as to what a well-designed, well-thought-out $500 power conditioner could do. The FX-2 cleaned up the incoming power and made the very best of what I had to plug into it sound better than it had any right to. This at a time when I was having trouble getting my money’s worth after having invested so much of it, and time, in power-line conditioners (PLCs) of various prices but never finding anything that performed to my total satisfaction. I was all set to buy the FX-2 -- I saw no reason not to spend $500 USD for a PLC that performed as well as it did. (See my review of the Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 for a description, and for everything I had to say about its sound.)