December
2021

Country of Origin

Latvia

Contra 200F

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Denafrips Terminator+ clock-synced to Gaia reclocker, Avatar CD transport, Soundaware D100Pro SD card transport; Preamp: icOn 4Pro SE; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos; Headamp: Kinki Studio; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Aurai Audio Lieutenant with sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio 'medium' footers, Audio Physic Codex Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D300Ref SD transport; DAC: Denafrips Terminator; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/80Hz hi-low pass;
Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Dyaudio 18S subwoofer; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win7/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: COS Engineering H1; Headphones: Final D-8000; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 150
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: Soundaware A280 SD transport; Integrated amplifiers: Schiit Jotunheim R, Bakoon AMP-13R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model 1, Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Simon AudioLoudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120, Zu Submission subwoofer; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail in UK: €46'500/pr for Contra 350F, £20'500/pr for Contra 200F, £7'250 for Contra 100F

Aristotle distinguished between the aretai ethikai or moral and aretai dianoetikai or intellectual virtues.

For audiophile excellences, he might have stuck to just Aretai had the country of Latvia and its small speaker house founded in 2018 by one Janis Irbe existed back then.

One aural key to Janis the speaker designer is complete LF extension coupled to big dynamic punch. In playback these two virtues are often at loggerheads. You get either one but not both. He noticed this whilst attending the Munich 2013 show. To combine them cost him 5 years of R&D which ended in an asymmetrical dual-woofer solution. Front and rear bass driver tune differently so stagger in 3.5-way fashion for his two ported floorstanders. The sealed monitor becomes a 2.5-way.

Christening their 3-deep line Contra [Janis at right, with his industrial designer to the left of him] is another indication about which hifi virtues are dearest to Janis' heart. In fact the numbers in his model names reflect power handling. That calls out 350 watts for the 93dB flagship, 200 watts for the 92dB middle unit, 100 watts for the 85dB compact. Add published -3dB bass figures of 20Hz, 22Hz and 32Hz respectively. We won't be shocked to learn that he favors DubStep to Nora Jones. That he demoed Kraftwerk during the last Munich Hifi Deluxe show with a 12wpc triode amp also shows good educational skills.

That it's not all about bass becomes clear when we look at the horn/waveguide integration of midrange and tweeter. During his earlier show survey before turning exhibitor himself, Janis had often noticed very obvious phase aberrations across the presence region. So he learnt just how sensitive he is to said aspect.

When their Annija Kristina Sirma emailed me a surprise Happy Holidays! note with a "looking towards our future collaboration in 2022!" closer in big 'n' bold, I knew how soon we'd have a still clearer view on these Nordic speakers from Kipsala island on Riga's water front of the Daugava river. The last company we profiled 4 years ago from this city was DIMD with their PP-10 Stereo valve amp.

With a Zoom meet booked to interview Janis about his speaker designs…

In the window reflections we get to make out the rear woofers.

… here's a first look at Aretai's smallest. Should I sign up for that or the middle model?

… to be continued…