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Owner: Vinnie Rossi
Digital: Red Wine Audio modified Olive Symphony "All-Battery" modification
Integrated Amp: Red Wine Audio Signature 30
Speakers: Omega Speaker Systems Open Baffle Prototype
Cables: Omegaudio 'R' interconnects and speaker cable
Power Conditioner: n/a -all battery-powered system
Room size: 14' x 14' x 9' (the side walls go up 5 feet and then the angle travels up to the top ceiling which is 9 feet tall and approximately 2 feet wide)
Listener: Michael Lavorgna

Exit 5: Batteries included
Vinnie Rossi moved his home and Red Wine Audio manufacturing from Massachusetts to Connecticut earlier this year. I caught up with Vinnie at his lovely new home for a day of music, fat free hot dogs, Bubba burgers, blue corn chips, salsa and beer. In most new neighborhoods like Vinnie's, power has gone underground. No transformers hanging off tar covered poles. When I was a kid, we used to race between those poles but I suppose there are new markers for the more imaginative. Things change. They evolve.

Vinnie's rig is 100% off the grid. Connecticut Light & Power can keep their grunge and you can add power conditioners, power strips and fatter-than-snakes-on-a-plane power cords to the evolutionary waste heap. What that also means is that you can skip any system-induced noise.

No music playing at Vinnie's means silence. Well, in theory that is. Our listening session coincided with a visit from Louis Chochos of Omega Speaker Systems and Tom Hills of Hudson Audio and Audiopath Cables. These guys know each other well and have collaborated on shows and systems - the recent VTV Show, Montreal's Le Festival Son et Image and last year's RMAF which introduced the Lotus line from Red Wine and Omega, wired with Audiopath cables. The Red Wine/Omega gear sported matching Omega-crafted wraps around the Red Wine Lotus amp and Passive Preamp and the Omega Aperiodic 8 speakers. I reviewed this system for 6moons back in December of last year and today's visit encounters a very interesting evolution of that system.

Red Wine Audio Signature 30
The Signature 30 is Vinnie's latest and -- according to Srajan and many very satisfied customers -- greatest amp to date. Featuring the standard Red Wine SLA battery power, the Sig 30 is 30 excessively clean watts of Tripath power housed in a laser-etched black powder-coated aluminum chassis. Premium parts are used throughout, including a DACT CT2 stepped attenuator for volume, paper-in-oil signal caps and solid-core, OCC processed copper for all signal path wiring. Every 30 is hand-built by Vinnie Rossi and uses a custom designed, hand-soldered surface mount circuit board. I got a close-up view of this tiny wonder. Suffice it to say that it would be easier for me to force a lime-eating camel through the neck of a Corona than slinging solder at those near-microscopic joins. A remote volume control is optional and there's a pair of volume-controlled RCA outs (think passive sub or bi-amping) in addition to a pair of RCA inputs.

I reviewed Vinnie's first Clari-T amp and Custom Clari-T over a year ago and found the Custom outperformed the stock unit in spades. Next was the Lotus which worked very well in the Omega/Red Wine system but was also a clear improvement over the Custom. With the Signature 30, it seems to me that Vinnie has taken a giant leap up the Rossi evolutionary sonic ladder. It's as if the move to Connecticut afforded Vinnie the opportunity to make a clean break with his own modder past and stake out some fresh ground of his own. For the in-depth skinny on the Sig 30, check out Srajan's review and the Sig's Blue Moon Award. Realsization indeed!

In keeping true to form, Louis is offering an Omega-wrap for the Signature 30 so you can match your 30 to your Omega Open Baffles. This version will also come with a custom stand. Just remember, synergy is not only skin deep with these guys as I've now heard on two separate occasions. And for those multi-sourcers, Vinnie is cooking up a source-select switch box (the Signature 3S) so stay tuned to the Red Wine website.

Red Wine Audio Olive Symphony "all-battery" modification
The Symphony music server from Olive is built on the IBM Power PC platform. It comes with an internal 80 GB hard drive, Panasonic CD-R/RW drive, internal DAC utilizing an Analog Devices chip, wired and wireless connections, USB ports (so you can copy tunes to your iPod or daisy chain as many external USB hard drives as your music library requires), and RCA and digital out. The Olive also comes with a 2 million track database and will auto-search the Internet when your CD data is not found internally. This neat little feature works surprisingly well and even some of the more esoteric stuff we played popped up on screen in seconds.

The Red Wine makeover is a full reworking soup to nuts. From the Red Wine website: "The stock output opamp stages (3 opamps per channel), associated coupling caps, resistors, circuit board traces and output relay are completely removed in favor of a direct connection from the Analog Devices converter chip to the RCA output jacks via Black Gate NX-Hi-Q coupling caps. We literally solder one lead of the cap directly to the board and the other lead directly to the RCA jack....for the shortest, cleanest possible connection."

There are hosts of additional upgrades like a true 75-ohm digital BNC output jack and of course the sealed lead acid battery for power. Having a battery-powered transport and/or hard drive-based player is about as cool as it gets for digital in my book. You can also stream Internet radio to your Olive offering access to a world of news, music and more, burn your own CDs to that Panasonic CD-R/RW drive and listen to your headphones through the volume-controlled jack. The only disappointment was the hot milk frother. It was a bit tepid for cappuccino or latte.

Look out for an upcoming review of the Red Wine Olive mod from Jeff Day in the coming months, with a second opinion by Srajan who bought one for personal use.

Omega Speaker Systems Open Baffle prototype
"The Gravity Well of a DarkStar" thread on Audio Circles became self-aware on July 4, 2006. It has taken over the US Department of Defense missile silos and targeted DC. Or is that AC? I always confuse those two. Going on 900+ replies and nearly 63,000 views, isn't it fascinating that one of the byproducts of so much creative energy and shared enthusiasm is this seemingly simple single driver speaker without a box?

I said "seemingly simple" because the number of variations on the open baffle theme is limitless. Baffle sizes, shapes, material choices, bracing, rigidity, flare... you can spend months (even years) of your time and materials experimenting - and some people have done just that. And shared their experiences within this thread. Feel free to dive into the Darkstar and wade through its entertaining and deep waters. I'd like to mention (again) the source of this particular flow of ideas as none other than Dmason. Dan can be viewed as the underground wellspring that nourished the roots of this phenomenon. And Dan is still an active participant, dropping in to plant a seed that seems to inevitably sprout a host of new ideas and responses.

The Omega Open Baffle prototype is based on the Visaton B200 driver. The B200 Art. No. 1350 is a 6 Ohm, 8" driver from Germany made of a light weight paper diaphragm and a pleated fabric surround with a 25mm voice coil. The voice coil carrier is vented and the basket is die cast aluminum. Louis at Omega uses birch plywood for the baffle proper and piano hinges to connect the wings. This allows for a potentially mind-numbing number of possible configurations. Louis will also offer a wide variety of laminate finishes; Vinnie's pair is covered in a Maple real wood veneer, front and back just like Kurt Schwitters' Anna Blume "thou art from the back, as the front: A-N-N-A.".In terms of taste, I like the look of these OBs plenty and the craft of Louis is once again clearly visible in the fit'n'finish.

The exact details of the production version are being finalized and a few refinements are already in the works. On the sound front, those adjustable wings allow for some very effective room interaction tweaking. Want more bass? More air? Focus? Flap those wings till your ears and heart soar.

Omegaudio Cables
Speaker cable and interconnects are the Omegaudio 'R' cables. Details from Vinnie:

  • 2-wire OFC continuous cast twisted copper (stranded)
  • Rope-type separator between the twists
  • Polyethelyne jacket
  • For the speaker cables,Vampire banana jacks or Cardas spades
  • soldered with silver solder
  • For the interconnects, Eichman copper Bullet plug RCAs

Vinnie's pair of speaker cables are hard-wired directly to the Visaton B200s. This may be an option for the production version of the Omega OBs and makes a lot of sense to me. The Omegaudio cables, manufactured by Tom Hills, are another piece to this value-packed puzzle. The concept of synergy can extend to cost as well and the overall balance of this system owes some of its sass to these wires.

The Sounds of Silence (sorta)
We spent the better part of our day listening to a wide variety of tunes in Vinnie's dedicated listening room. Yes, King Crimson, Radiohead, Lila Downs, the Lounge Lizards, Cassandra Wilson, Wynton Marsalis, The Allman Brothers, Mississippi John Hurt and a host of others played from the Olive's hard drive and direct from disk. We also spent some time tweaking those wings in addition to the more traditional toe-in/out and room placement routine. With an open baffle, your room effectively becomes the only box you need to contend with. The Visaton's back wave floats to your ears unfettered by box, port, vent or horn.

The sound of an open baffle strikes my ears (and brain) as natural; natural in the sense that the listening experience is relaxed yet involving. And if your room becomes the box (so to speak), then everything in it can be viewed as a speaker component. And with Tom Hills, Louis and Vinnie in this room, I have to say the sound was very often colored. Perhaps peppered would be a better description since these guys can't seem to resist the opportunity to joust and jab. And those opportunities can be triggered by everything from doorknobs (is that a Schlage?) to Vinnie's neighbor's sprinkling habits. But seriously, these guys banter yet audio is the ball that's always in the air. People on Audio Circle have commented on Vinnie's seemingly endless energy. The joke goes that he has a twin chained in the basement. Well, I didn't see any twins but I did see some real camaraderie and friendship which I have to believe helps foster the energy and more importantly the near frenetic pace of growth. The next mod, the next product, the next manufacturing tweak gets the roundtable treatment.

And unlike some of my jokes, the Signature 30 sounds like a mature product. It's everything Srajan described to my ears and in Vinnie's system, the music was natural, balanced and involving. The Red Wine'd Olive server didn't have a hint of digital nasties yet was resolving and involving and the batter- powered Red Wine duo are silent operators. And those Visaton drivers are fast and furious and can take a gut-wrenching Fred Frith-induced pounding (mental note - don't let Tom have the remote). I can only imagine the listening experience at night in the dark to be other-worldly. The whole notion of point-source seems to pale in comparison to the OBs way with your space. I recently had the opportunity to hear a pair of Quad 57s refurbished by Quads Unlimited. The way music emanates from a very palpable 'somewhere' which has little relation to the speaker is something the Omega OBs pull off with similar aplomb.

Coupling; drivers, vents, ports, horns and panels making waves in your room with music to eventually move your ears, mind and body. Fascinating stuff. If I were to generalize, the Red Wine/Omega approach is reductive; simplify and reduce the number of elements until you tap into the source. And the source is the music of course (of course). Removing AC from the audio chain is all upside and removing the box from the speaker strikes me as equally intriguing, involving your room more directly to reflect upon your music.

In the months that have passed since I reviewed the products of the Red Wine/Omega collaboration, one could think little has changed; Tripath-based battery powered amplifier and some Visaton B200-based speakers. But then you'd be missing the whole point. Vinnie's new Signature 30 amp doesn't sound like the Clari-T just as the Omega Open Baffles sound nothing like the Aperiodic 8s. They've evolved. They've grown. They're better. And this new Red Wine/Omega setup really buries the tired topology debates with engaging music. Pure and simple. No tubes, no boxes, no baggage. Hell - no electricity.

And finally there's another side to this Red Wine/Omega coin worth pressing. That's the concept of value. Craft coupled with craftiness or as Srajan dubbed it - the Underground. Affordable killer sound in a simple handsome package. It's a delicate balancing act, marrying reasonably priced handmade gear with success, i.e. quantity. Everything I heard at Vinnie's tells me these knights of the affordable audio roundtable are in for some serious lessons in the business of success. I say it's well deserved, good luck and I look forward to hearing what's next. It seems only fitting to close with a word from Dan Mason - "Let's call this, The Velvet Underground". [Below, Vinnie's first formal review, arranged and framed by his sister for his birthday.]

Red Wine Audio website
Omega Speaker Systems website
Hudson Audio website