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The Perfect Speakers for the Connected Home?

Jul 25, 2007 12:05 PM, By Jason Bovberg

Incredible build quality at a reasonable price


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Last fall, sort of on a lark, I decided to attend the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival with one of my long-time audio buddies. We figured we’d spend that Saturday drooling copiously to the gorgeous intonations of all the ultra-high-end audio systems on display—and boy, did we ever! There were sublime experiences to be had throughout the three or four hotel floors devoted to the festival. One speaker vendor’s latest offering was an impressive tower bedecked with at least a dozen alien-looking tweeters up and down its entire length. In another room, a pair of powerful, heavy loudspeakers huddled like organic things, screaming melodically at their captive audience of a dozen or so audiophiles. In another, larger room, my bowels nearly loosened during a demonstration of a pair of nearly ceiling-high speakers throbbing to the rich notes of Louis Armstrong on vinyl.

It was a fun, ridiculous day, during which we—for once—just ignored price tags and soaked in the high-end potential of carefully engineered speaker hardware to deliver unspeakably rich audio presentations. At home, my buddy and I have both devoted quite a bit of cash to our audio setups over the years. He’s more of a traditionalist, with his great, vintage Carver amplifiers and a couple of top-end Polks from the early 1990s, whereas I’ve more heartily embraced surround sound over the past decade, first trying out a Klipsch setup before ending up with my favorite home-theater speaker setup so far—a Denon 5800 A/V receiver married to the Atlantic Technology 350 series.

These systems have served us well. So, it was with a sense of amused detachment that we entered the festival and beheld all the dream setups. Many of these systems could only be described as preposterous. Some of the price tags would match those of sports cars or even small homes. We developed a little routine: Walk into a room, bask in the demo of a certain setup—muscular amps, elite CD players, and hulking speakers, all connected by absurdly thick, ropy cabling—and finally glance at the price sheet with a kind of glazed amazement. Several rooms were devoted to turntables that seemed as if they were trying to outdo one another in there sheer bizarreness—and, again, in the outrageousness of their price tags.

By the end of the day, our ears were nearly exhausted, our brains filled with the echoes of music samples. We agreed that we had seen everything there was to see. It was time to go home and savor the memories of perfect, ludicrous sound.

But we were drawn into one more room by the simple attraction of a comfy couch and a nice, low-key presentation. In this modest room, tucked away at the end of a corridor, we got our first taste of the most impressive speaker setup of the show. To our absolute amazement, it was also the cheapest speaker at the show. It was the Era Design 5.

The Era Design 5

I know what you’re thinking. It’s folly, you might say, to even begin to equate a relatively inexpensive bookshelf speaker with, say, that monstrous $50,000 behemoth downstairs that made Louis Armstrong sound alive and well and right beside us, singing lovingly just for the benefit of our ears. And I’ll admit that knowing the pricing structure of the Era Design 5 system influenced my judgment. How could it not? I’d spent the day in dreamland, listening to speakers that I knew I would never own or even think about owning. My day at the festival was supposed to be only a lark, a way to fantasize and, at most, check out where we were in the evolution of speaker technology. I never would have imagined that the show would feature a system that not only incorporated top-tier engineering and craftsmanship but also fit in my budget.

My buddy and I walked into the room, sat down on the lone sofa, which faced a large plasma TV, diminutive left and right speakers, a center channel, and—off to the right, nearly hidden away in a corner—a compact yet dense Sub 8 subwoofer. A small group had gathered, and shortly we were introduced to Signal Path International representatives David Solomon and John Spainhour, who led a low-key but supremely confident demonstration of the system. Needless to say, we were wowed.



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