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The Audio Zone DAC will appeal to listeners unconcerned with audiophile obsessions such as razor-sharp images or Grand Canyonesque soundstaging but who instead feel their mojo rising from grooving to tunes in as stress-free a manner as possible. They are willing to forgo the last iota of resolution for a dose of suave lounge listening where one relaxes into the music. On the other hand, those listeners who prefer a more vivisectionist rendering will probably not be impressed. Personally, I find the methodology of this filterless technology a fascinating alternative to what 95% of the industry is up to. My ears perceive a fair degree of truth in this approach that grows more and more on me as time progresses. The AZ DAC may not sound like high-end to some, but it sure sounds like music to me. I would not at all be surprised if one of Peter's DACs ended up in my system for good one of these days.

In keeping with the minimalist theme of his amplifier and DAC, George suggested the Omega Super 3R speakers as a simpatico match. George Tordai and Omega's Louis Chochos demoed together in Robin Wyatt's NYC HE2004 room this past spring and with terrific results. Love at first sight as it were, impressing, among others, debonair Art Dudley of Stereophile. Omega has built an excellent underground rep that's beginning to get audible in the mainstream. Our own Stephæn reviewed and subsequently bought a pair of Omega 6 Grandes, our resident astral priest Jim Bosha owns Omegas and Sam Tellig enthused over the Grandes in Stereophile's November 2004 issue.

It just goes to show that if you keep plugging away by offering decent products and top-notch customer service, the word is bound to spread. Word! The Super 3R is a single driver loudspeaker and therefore needs no crossover. The full range driver is a modified shielded Fostex ES cone of 4.5 inches diameter. The R review version loaner features upgraded internal wiring, binding posts and damping material over the standard Super 3.

I placed the Supers on a pair of solid sand-filled metal stands provided by George. Any decent 24" stand should suffice, however Omega recommends custom-built Skylan products and offers various models on their site. My Rs were attractively finished in Cherry and appeared solidly built. My only beef was the grill. It attached to the baffle via little plastic nubs that kept bending. However, all Omega loudspeakers now feature magnetic fastening for ease of use and superior aesthetics. You will want to leave the grills off anyway - the speakers were noticeably more transparent without them.

After burn-in, firing up the Super 3Rs in my main system brought a similarly genuine reaction of disbelief to first hearing Audio Zone's AMP-2/PRE-T1 combo last year. The transparency and directness of musical communication surprised me. I could not believe the speed and dynamics this little speaker dished out. How could this small box with its puny 4.5" driver make music sound so huge, alive and visceral? Considering the handful of single-driver designs I've heard to date, I was frankly expecting something else altogether: sharply rolled-off bass and highs, a peaky midrange. Other than an audibly slightly less than flat frequency response, I was pleasantly surprised and indeed, impressed.

When I swapped back to my Kestrel 2s. it was quite easy to spot their crossover. Music was slightly more recessed and veiled. How could this be? The Kestrels have a minimalist 1st order crossover, excellent drivers and are time-aligned to boot. For the price and compared to non-aligned higher-order speakers, they always struck me as remarkably transparent. It was only after many more comparisons that I began to pin down the differences.

Was this $750 upstart better than my more than twice as dear Kestrels? In some ways, yes. In others, not quite. While the Kestrels or any other similarly priced multi-driver loudspeakers dare not compete with the Supers in transparency, dynamics and upfront excitement, the Kestrels were noticeably smoother in the mids and highs and possessed a firmer, fuller and more developed bass. That won't shock anyone. It's a bigger loudspeaker with larger drivers. The Super 3Rs may have sounded a little lightweight but they were also elegantly light on their feet. They portrayed outstanding coherence, liveliness and dynamic ability. The twin advantages of significantly higher sensitivities and elimination of crossover networks completely won me over. Incidentally, Omega recommends Creative Sound Solutions' CLARUSX10200 subwoofer ($699) for those who crave more bottom end. While I had access to a sub, I frankly did not feel compelled to use one. As crazy as it may seem, the Super 3R with its puny driver does not require a sub to sound full in an appropriately sized room.

Yes, there are a few hills and dales in its frequency response as well as a lack of deep bass. Nevertheless, this speaker was so revealing, transparent and utterly lacking in time smear effects that I did not mind one or two tonal aberrations. Furthermore, keep in mind how these little groove meisters are only a buck shy of $750! I honestly cannot think of another loudspeaker anywhere near this price that would be as much fun and revealing of the artists' intent as this one. Our own Jeff Day has weighed in on the Super 3s in parallel to my efforts and will no doubt offer further details. These are inexpensive, shockingly good speakers worthy of your attention.

How did all of today's subjects fare tied together as a system? If I had a mere two words to characterize it, I'd choose immediacy and transparency. The palpability and impact of drum kit was phenomenal, perhaps lacking in deep extension and power but more than made up for in sheer speed and high-octane transient response.

While reviewing this system, I listened to as wide a range of music as possible to find kinks in its armor. I had to look far: Domingo's Othello [DG 439 805-]), Massive Attack's Mezzanine [Virgin 4559]), Cuarteto Latinamericano's attractively priced box of Villa-Lobos' String Quartets [Brilliant 6634], Rudolf Kempe's Ein Heldenleben [EMI 67892], the flamenco guitar playing of Juan Carlos Romero [Harmonia Mundi 987052], Federico Aubele's Brazilian techno beats on Grand Hotel Buenos Aires [ESL 72] and Kenny Garret's zesty Standard of Language [Warner 48404].

All these CDs added up to a vivacious forward presentation that offered cubits of inner details and subtle nuances for the most part unheard of for a system at this price. Together, these components proved exceptionally revealing of the musical message and provided many hours of compelling listening. Simply put, this system demands your attention. It's distinctly not a setup for casual background listening. The Audio Zone/Omega/Cryoclear combo was bold, direct, emotionally exciting and remarkably free of distortion. Its presentation was very different compared to my more laid-back, smoother and less incisive Kestrel/Stingray combo.

While this system performed exceptionally well with small-scale acoustic music, I was surprised how well it held up with large scale orchestral recordings and hard rock played at crazy loud levels
(which is easy to do with a 93dB sensitivity). Sure, at times dense orchestral music became a trifle pinched and a little hard and beamy, but nowhere as much as I was expecting. It certainly pinched far less than most of the Loth-X and Lowther-based designs I've sampled. I suspect this is the result of the Fostex' small diameter. Larger drivers will surely start to beam sooner. Still, if you live on a steady diet of Wagner or Mahler, you should look elsewhere. However, if you dig Exile On Main Street, Kind Of Blue or Schubert's Octet in F major, you will be in for a shock that's good for your heart.

The CryoClear power cables were an integral part of this system’s sonics. In the absence of power conditioning, the Silver-1 and Silver-2 reduced line hash and noise to bestow greater weight, authority and definition on the bass while minimizing sibilance in the highs.

For the most part, I really enjoyed my time with this system. It was remarkably transparent, fast and dynamic and unearthed tremendous amounts of musical detail. It provides a fascinating alternative to what you would normally expect to find at this price point. It may not be the most refined sound around but nevertheless is surely one of the most emotionally captivating jump-factor systems I have yet experienced. To put it plainly, I have heard systems at three times its cost that were nowhere near as involving and gratifying as this.
Flip the page for second-opinion commentary on the Audio Zone DAC by David Abramson
Audiozone Website
CryoClear Website
Omega Loudspeakers Website