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Rhapsody At Rhapsody!

Rhapsody At Rhapsody!

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Bob Visintainer of Rhapsody Audio in NYC several weeks ago. Going to a NY City audio store is not like checking out your average brick-and-mortar stereo retailer. Many NYC audio boutiques are by appointment only and serve only one client at a time, with the demo space having been prepared beforehand with whatever equipment was discussed in the pre-consultation phone call. Music servers are preloaded with requested playlists and serious time is set aside for you—and only you. You arrive at the building, are greeted by a bellman, and sent up by elevator to wander a long hallway until you come to the correct suite. In this case, Suite No. 506 was my destination, and I was met at an open door by a corona-virus-masked gentleman much taller than I am. (To be honest, since I’m a towering 5* 6**, being much taller than me is not difficult.) The masks, a necessity during the pandemic, stayed on for my entire visit (except for a few photo ops where I asked Bob to take his off). And in standard Covid protocol, we skipped the perfunctory handshake, which I have come to desperately miss. When we can actually start touching each other, I will never take that simple, wonderful moment of interpersonal salutation for granted again. As I walked around the corner I was surrounded by LPs, CDs, old gear, and many many guitars (a passion of Bob’s), before I entered the main listening room. Bob is blessed with (actually has worked quite hard to attain) a very wealthy clientele, and Bob’s showroom represents some of the most exquisite and exotic audio gear this side of Hong Kong.

I’m pretty sure Bob Visintainer has been in the audio industry since man invented fire or the wheel, I’m not sure which. He is an importer, distributor, retailer, and purveyor of audio fineries that scintillate the eye, titillate the ear, and mesmerize the soul. He specializes in the unique, and since my visit was focused on speakers he was able to deliver in spades. His preference is for boxless speakers, although he is a Magico dealer and supports its products ferociously. His three primary speaker lines are AlsyVox ribbons, Diesis Audio open-baffle/horn hybrids, and Bayz Audio omnidirectionals.

I will admit that my visit was inspired by reading about and watching videos on the Bayz Audio Counterpoint and Courante at HiFi Deluxe in Munich. The speaker (see photos) looks like a giant carbon-fiber link in a chain, with a truly one-of-a-kind driver in a brilliantly implemented two-way system. I had to hear them! I wasn’t expecting to be treated to two other world-class contenders when the time finally came. Man, I love my job!

As I sat down and prepared myself for some truly tasty audio treats, Bob pointed out that, with his shop closed for Covid-19, he’d been spending time fine-tuning his digital front end and testing Ethernet switches. He had attained very good results with JCAT switches, power supplies, and cables, and I can vouch for his findings. I mentioned in my review of the Innuos Statement that the entire digital chain matters. And Bob’s attention to detail here proved that point. If you rely on streaming audio as a source, I urge you to look into any one of the new audiophile-grade Ethernet routers, switches, and cables. They matter, and the investment does not need to be significant to reap the rewards. Tighter, cleaner, deeper bass, wider staging, and more tonal complexity in the mids await you. If you don’t know where to start, call Bob; but be warned…his solutions are exceptional but don’t come cheap.

This is not a full review of any of the gear I heard, just a tasting. Bob started by offering a summary of the supporting equipment:

Analog: AirForce One Premium/Graham Elite ’arm/Etna SL/Zesto Tessera phonostage/CMS Maxxum rack ($200k with all mentioned pieces)
Network: Verizon Fios router to Edge Router ($100) to JCAT M12 Gold switch ($4600) to JCAT Optimo 3 Duo LPS for both JCAT switches ($1800) to Taiko Audio Extreme server with Taiko Audio Diaza platforms ($1k each) under every piece of equipment in the system.
Cables: TelluriumQ Statement cables throughout the system (cables, $12k/3m, spades; ICs, $5400/1m pair); all-copper JCAT LAN cables ($700 each); fiber-only coming into the Verizon GPON/modem.
Electronics: Extreme music server ($26k); Aqua Formula xHD DAC($17k); Pilium Alexander dual-chassis preamp ($40k); Pilium Achilles 300W stereo amp ($40k).
Speakers (in order of listening): Alsyvox Botticelli X ($91k base Botticelli, $30k for the pair of acrylic Xovers, $40k for pair of aluminum Xovers); Diesis Audio Roma Triode ($180k); Bayz Counterpoint ($160k).

Our journey began with a single test track from his wonderful analog rig—I believe to set a standard and to show how good his digital streaming system, which we used for the remainder of the audition, sounds. Dead Combo E As Cordas Da Má Fama set the bar, and boy did it set it. We went from high jump to pole vault instantly! First speakers set up were the simply magical Alsyvox Botticelli X hand-built ribbon speakers with supporting external crossovers priced at approximately $130k. We then settled into a repeating playlist of five songs for all three speakers, selected by Bob and sourced from Tidal and Qobuz: “Duke’s Place,” Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington, The Great Sessions—Complete Sessions/Deluxe Edition; “Talk To Your Daughter,” Hans Theessink and Terry Evans, Visions; “Out of Dawn,” Yellow, Touch Yellow; “Hang on to Your Love,” Sade, Diamond Life; “Everybody,” Mac Miller, Circles (Deluxe).

The Alsyvox Botticelli X is “a dipole line source panel speaker using a push-pull ribbon (planar) woofer and an exclusive compact unit of ribbon mid/tweeter and ribbon supertweeter with a frequency response well beyond the audio-frequency top limit. Extremely powerful magnets allow high sensitivity and dynamics. The ribbon woofers merge the typical wide surface of planar speakers with the long stroke of cone speakers. This makes for incredibly powerful low-frequency response, together with all the typical benefits of planar speakers in speed and micro-dynamics.” These hand-crafted beauties are fabricated using a heavy-gauge steel superstructure along with copious amounts of acrylic, PVC, and teak wood to improve sonics and decrease resonances. The crossover uses enough Mundorf parts to fill a small suitcase, all hand-wired and lovingly crafted. The Botticelli X boasts a 94dB sensitivity and low-frequency extension to 22Hz—from a single panel!

How did they sound? One word…soulful. But one word doesn’t do it. They were also lightning fast and bottomless—so fast and so bottomless. The stage was massive, easily six to eight feet deep and floor to ceiling, as expected of a panel of its size. I didn’t get the dispersion laterally I was expecting, but I have no doubt that, with a nudge of toe-out, that would have changed. I was sitting right up front in the audience. (Bob splurged for front row seats to this performance.) The Alsyvoxes’ soulfulness came with a beautifully complex decay and luscious harmonic overtones that gave so much information about the vocals and instruments. A lone guitar twang was clean, proper, and tight; was that Bob on one of his guitars or the Alysvox playing tricks on me? I did, admittedly, detect a touch too much sizzle on some tracks. Overall a very natural presentation. The Alysvoxes are emotionally engaging speakers with wonderful pace and rhythm. I had a foot-tapping good time!

The Diesis Audio Roma Triode speakers are a hybrid design incorporating an open-baffle woofer panel with a supertweeter and a horn-loaded mid. All components are built by hand. The lower section utilizes two 15-inch dipole drivers anchored with a brass plate Totalfix damping system. The Alnico magnets are shielded and damped with wool. A silver 24-ohm coil is utilized, and a cellulose cone and cotton membrane are implemented for extremely light weight. The supporting open-baffle structure is Clad 58 (cement, resins, mineral powders) damped with four different types of materials (brass, ebony wood, pure wool, and leather). The horn is in ebony wood with an aluminum support. The mid section uses a 2** midrange paper driver with a solid brass ring fully damped with pure wool, and a casing carved from solid Italian walnut. The treble section uses a tweeter with 16mm titanium voice coil in a solid brass trumpet. The crossover components are wired in air-filled resin in special carved solid-walnut shells, for a total absence of vibration. Wiring is with Kondo silver cable. The Roma Triode’s minimum impedance is 10 ohms with a sensitivity of 98.5dB. Frequency response in-room is from 27Hz to 40kHz ±3dB. The speaker is absolutely unique in appearance and meticulous in its Italian craftsmanship.

While the Alysvox were painting with a brush in broad strokes, the Diesis were surgeons operating with a scalpel. Clean. Accurate. Meticulous. Tight. Yet equally toe-tapping. The visual statement is undeniable. They are beautiful to behold, front and back, and to audition. Someone took serious pride in fabricating these $180k audio masterpieces.

After the first two tracks, it was obvious that these speakers became one with the room. They energized the listening space completely differently than the panels did. Imaging was tighter and more accurate; the stage was a bit less deep, but wider (due, I think, to their seamless integration with the room); bass wasn’t as deep, but it was well rounded and, again, felt better integrated into the room. My notes say, “These are simply part of the room.” I felt they were a bit hot on top, but Bob used the resistor that keeps them hot. He feels it suits the speaker and is how he wants to sell it. There are four different options easily changed by screwing different resistors in. I only heard the one setting. I’m sure Bob knows his customers, and although the Roma Triodes teetered at times on “too much,” they spent most of the time at “just right,” and frequently at “holy cow!”

The typical horn shout was there, but never offensive. In the case of the Diesis, it mostly helped accentuates the brass and winds in the right way, giving brass the bite it occasionally demands and strings the twang of lifelike plucks. The baffle is made of a concrete slurry amalgam, which gives the woofers their speed. It is hard to get an open-baffle woofer to sound this fast, but with a few hundred pounds of concrete to dampen vibration, mission accomplished!

The Bayz Counterpoint (and smaller $60k Courante, which sat on display) win my vote as the most unconventional speaker I’ve ever seen. This was why I was here! I was giddy like a school boy. Seriously. Giddy.

Zoltán Bay has created the Bay Radial Speaker (BRS), an omni-directional radiator that emits a phase-coherent 360 degree pulse with incredibly low distortion. He matched this completely new speaker design with ultra-fast 9½” woofers, which are inverted (baskets exposed), with the BRS set in between the drivers’ magnets. The enclosure is an entirely carbon-fiber tube custom-fabricated by a race car manufacturer who specializes in carbon-fiber monocoques. This creates a long, narrow ellipse. Each woofer has a separate specially tuned half-tube, which is ported on the back, just above the binding posts. There is a granite base and small posts to stabilize the speakers upright and provide vibration isolation. (Without pictures, I’m sure you still have no idea what they look like; so check them out in all of their modern carbon-fiber glory in the photos. And drool on your screen, just like I did!)

The speakers are a 4-ohm nominal load, I believe 94dB sensitive, and go down well into the low 20Hz range. The smaller Courante is essentially a scaled down version with 6” woofers (which go down to 28Hz), a nominal 4-ohm load, and 90dB sensitivity. The big price difference between Counterpoint and Courante is a simple matter of the insane complexity of fabricating the larger, and might I add fantastic, carbon-fiber chassis. These speakers belong on display in the MOMA or on the front cover of Architectural Digest. They are simply spectacular visually.

Sonically, they are equally spectacular. Tonal reproduction is dead-on right, with natural and subtle timbre expressed almost magically and with the delicacy of a glass sculptor. They are a two-way design, with the driver cohesion that only two-ways can provide—seamless integration of the BRS and woofers. The midrange was well rounded and natural, no dips or peaks with a smooth transition into the upper bass. The bass is insane. Bob’s very large room was energized with low frequencies that never got loose or sloppy. These speakers need a LOT of room to breathe. Pushing these babies up against a wall is not an option. To be honest, even pushing them near the front wall is not an option.

The stage was trapezoidal with the wide edge behind as opposed to most other speakers, with wide edge in front. The BRSes are big, but they vanish. Omnis…go figure. These speakers make a wide open sound, but image density is maintained and image specificity is reproduced more like the best box speaker, which is not normal for an omni. If all other speakers are 16×9, these speakers are CinemaScope!

The Counterpoints are powerful and dynamic. They are not as “clean” as the Diesis, but have more midrange density and texturing, and airier high frequencies. They sound like a great dynamic driver speaker, but they are omnis. Best of both worlds? Yes or no, the Counterpoints were exhilarating. In many ways, they are an anti-audiophile speaker. Listen to listen, not to conduct analysis.

Yes, they have a meticulous leading and trailing edges. Yes, they are essentially distortion free. Yes, they are clean and accurate. They accomplish all of this with enormous height, scale, and dynamics. I kept asking myself if the Counterpoint is a lifestyle speaker trying to be an audiophile speaker, or an audiophile speaker trying to be a lifestyle speaker? Truth be told, they are both. There is nothing these speakers did wrong, and so much they did right! If I could find a single fault, it might be that they are too exuberant. Not that they can’t be subtle and demure, but they want to play big. Like driving an 800hp car, you’re not going to look for school zones and speed bumps. You’re going to look for wide open roads and mash the throttle.

I went through my entire personal Tidal and Qobuz play list while listening to the Counterpoints. Bob informed me that the “more affordable” Courante 2.0 (did I mention that both speakers are in their second generation?) would shortly have longer riser tubes to bring their BRSes to ear height. He also told me that he expects the smaller model to perform almost as well in a smaller room, with little sacrificed other than extreme bottom end. I can’t wait to hear those!

As an aside, I realized when I was done and about to leave that I gave no thought or notice to the Pilium Achilles stereo amp (which looks like a Borg Cube) and the Alexander two-chassis preamp while listening. The three speakers I heard could not have sounded more different, yet the amp and preamp changed like a chameleon with the speakers’ voicing, allowing each to bare its soul. This is the mark of truly exceptional electronics. I shall most assuredly learn more about the Pilium equipment, but my encounter today has me seriously impressed. Bob could not restrain his excitement when I inquired about them. He feels the Pilium equipment is statement level and can tangle with the best that the world has to offer. Who am I to argue?

Thank you Bob, for a wonderful day. I’m glad I could share it with our readers.

27 West 24th Street, STE 506
New York, NY 10010
(212) 229-1842

“Rhapsody Audio is a high-end audio retailer located in lower midtown/Flatiron District of Manhattan, and has been in the same location since 2001. We provide unique and special speaker offerings with complimenting electronic components and systems from some of the world’s most exotic and exclusive manufacturers.

Rhapsody offers complete system design, installations, calibrations, and long term support, and regularly works with the client’s designer, consultant, and architect.”

—Bob Visintainer

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