It’s both rewarding and disconcerting to regularly discover fabulous albums that have been around for decades yet remained unknown to you until some chance encounter brought them to your attention. The “rewarding” part of that statement is self-evident; the “disconcerting” part is the realization that there must be many other such gems out there that you will never chance upon, but that you would also consider essential.
The same could be said about high-end audio manufacturers. Right at this minute there must be many amazing-sounding products that I’m completely unaware of. There are so many companies and so little time to sample their products that it’s natural that some firms fall off the radar for years—until a chance encounter compels further exploration.
It was just such a chance encounter that led me to this review of the Crescendo preamplifier and Concerto power amplifier from Connecticut-based Viola Audio Laboratories. During a trip to France a couple of years ago to tour Focal and Micromega I visited the home of Micromega’s owner where I heard an extraordinary system of all-Viola electronics driving the Kharma Exquisite Extreme Grand loudspeakers (with Kharma’s massive subwoofer thrown in for good measure). The sound was spectacular in every way. The system’s owner, who was not bound by price constraints, considered many electronics brands before choosing Viola. (The company apparently enjoys a strong reputation in Europe and Asia despite its low North American profile.) At the time, I knew almost nothing about Viola and had never heard its products.
Six months later at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show I had another positive encounter with Viola, this time with its Crescendo and Concerto preamplifier/power-amplifier pair. The products’ user interface was unlike any I’d seen before, and the new units, while not inexpensive at $22,000 each, were priced lower than other products in Viola’s line.
At the show I also learned about the background of the company’s founders, Paul Jayson and Tom Colangelo. They had been designers at the original Mark Levinson Audio Systems company in the late 1970s, and had contributed to many of that company’s landmark products. In 1984 when Mark Levinson left to form Cello, Jayson and Colangelo went with him. With Jayson as Engineering Manager and Colangelo as the head of R&D, they comprised the engineering team behind that company’s highly regarded offerings, including the Audio Palette, which remains the best product of its kind every created. Cello folded in 2000, leading Jayson and Colangelo to form their own company, Viola Audio Laboratories. Colangelo passed away in 2007 after 30 years designing high-end audio, 27 of them with Jayson.