January 1, 2009
Ultra Audios Products of the Year
for 2008: Reference 3A Grand Veena Loudspeakers and Weiss Minerva Digital-to-Analog
Reference 3A Grand Veena Loudspeakers
No ones stereo is perfect. We all
try to make the most of the gear we have, which in large part is defined by what our
wallets can afford. But its often hard to be content with our lot as real-world
audiophiles, particularly when we read reviews of outstanding equipment that costs more
than most of us pay for a car -- or a condo. The result is that we often feel we
cant enjoy the really good stuff because we just cant ante up enough to
play in that game.
So when a loudspeaker offers world-class performance for a
mere $7995 USD per pair, its good news indeed. The Grand Veena, from Ontario speaker
maker Reference 3A, costs less to own than the price of leasing a new economy car for
three years, which makes it an extraordinary value thats affordable for many of us
who are seriously committed to high-end audio.
As for its sound, the Grand Veena scales heights that most
loudspeakers cant even begin to climb. In pursuit of the outer limits of
performance, it incorporates new technology (an ultrasonic transducer) that expands what
we knew about the replication of high frequencies, and older technology (a midrange driver
coupled directly to the speaker cables without a crossover) that reproduces midrange
frequencies about as purely as they can be.
Furthermore, much of the design and construction is done
in-house, with an eye toward creating a state-of-the-art product at a practical price.
Reference 3A builds its own drivers based on venerable designs from French audio designer
Daniel Dehay, but uses new, expensive, high-tech materials -- yet the companys
speaker cabinets are a clever combination of relatively low-cost materials designed to
reduce resonances. Clearly, theyre committed to high performance and high
Much of the thinking behind the Grand Veena was done by
Tash Goka, president of Divergent Technologies and director of Reference 3As
operations. Kudos to him, and congratulations to the entire Reference 3A team. The
Reference 3A Grand Veena is really good stuff, and one of Ultra Audios Products
of the Year for 2008.
. . . Albert Bellg
There are times when searching the
list of products weve reviewed in a given year, looking for those that stand out
from the pack, is an exercise in frustration. Some years, there are so many great products
that rereading our reviews and trying pick just one or two can make my eyes glaze over.
2008, however, was a snap. Looking back over the products
the Ultra Audio team has reviewed, there were two clear choices: the Reference 3A
Grand Veena loudspeaker, which Albert Bellg writes about above, and the Weiss Minerva
digital-to-analog converter ($4500), a sample of which spent time in my hi-fi system.
Daniel Weiss has long been recognized in the consumer and
pro-audio worlds as something of a digital guru. Its not hard to find a professional
recording studio that uses his equipment, and it seems his products are becoming more
popular every day, as audiophiles look for the best digital sound available.
So by the time I received a review sample of the Minerva
D/A converter, Weisss reputation alone had led me to expect it to be good. What I
didnt expect was that it would perfectly mate with my Apple MacBook -- and
high-resolution recordings -- to create the best digital sound Ive heard from my
audio system. As I said in the October 1 installment of my "The Worlds Best
Audio System" column: "This is what high-end audio should be about, and where
the Minerva really shone. I could listen deep into this recording, hearing such
details as tinkling bells with absolute clarity -- something Ive not heard bettered
by any system. It has whetted my appetite for more. If youve not heard this
degree of resolution over a really good audio system, you owe it to yourself to do so --
though you might then be spoiled for anything else."
In my experience, the Weiss Minerva is the high-water mark
of digital sound. Sure, you can spend more money -- but unless you do a head-to-head
comparison with the Minerva, I wouldnt be at all confident that you could better its
sound, even for substantially more money. Give it shot -- you might have a musical
revelation a lot like mine.
. . . Jeff Fritz