Lotus Group “Granada” and SMc Audio “VRE-1″ Impress Audio Group

BAAS members ventured up to lovely Marin County for a day of music played on a truly ‘reference-quality’ system.

Hosted in the lab of Sausalito Audio, we were treated to a stunning example of open-baffle speaker design and engineering. For most members, this was an introduction to this unique speaker architecture. The use of a custom DSP-based crossover/EQ device was also a first for BAAS. The words that I heard from members re the Granada’s included “accurate,” “articulate,” and “balanced.”

Of course, significant credit for the sound must go to the SMc VRE-1 preamplifier. A signature piece from SMc, this solid state design was found by members to be crisp, dynamic, and color-free.

But as good as the music and equipment was, an equal highlight was the chance for BAAS members to interact with the system’s designers:

  • Joe Cohen – CEO of importer/distributor Lotus Group, Joe set the vision for the Granada speakers – from the uber-high-end Feastrex drivers to the provocative open baffle form factor.
  • Steve McCormack – CEO of SMc and designer of the VRE-1, the fruits of Steve’s skills have enhanced amplification in many a listening room. We expect power amps and a phono amp from SMc in the future.
  • Manny LaCarrubba – CEO of Sausalito Audio and chief architect of the Granada. Many audiophiles will recognize Manny as the design talent behind several highly successful Bang & Olafsen audio products.

On behalf of BAAS – Thanks, guys, for some great listening!


Saturday, June 5th, 2010 Audiophile, Bob, Equipment, Events

4 Comments to Lotus Group “Granada” and SMc Audio “VRE-1″ Impress Audio Group

  1. Bob,
    Thanks for organizing this! As always, sharing the music enriches my enjoyement of it and my connection to my own system!
    Thanks Manny for being such a great host and having us all in your laboratory.
    See you next time.

  2. anomaly7 on June 6th, 2010
  3. I appreciated the opportunity to listen to very expensive high-end speakers and I thank the organizers for making it happen.

    I wish to give my impressions of the sound quality of the Lotus Group “Granada” speakers and some comments about the overall listening experience (the part that doesn’t have anything to do with the sound quality).

    I came to this event with very high anticipation of super great sound.

    Overall I was disappointed. The speakers performed extremely well with some sounds. Instruments that produced sounds in the upper treble regions sounded extremely good. Those sounds had super high resolution and sounded like the actual instrument was right there in front of you. The problem was that sounds in the lower treble regions were too loud relative to everything else. This region sometimes went into that of the female voice. For me what was worse than that was something I noticed right away and hoped would not be present with other music selections. There was a “honkyness” (someone else there came up with that word) horn sounding quality to the upper midrange/lower treble. I though that I was listening to the kind of horns that you might hear at a typical club with the exception of the better quality upper treble sounds I already referred to. A better way to describe the sound is to imagine a really good dome tweeter with a cone or tube placed in front of it. I explained this to my wife as like the difference between just talking to her in a normal way and placing my hands in front of my mouth shaped like a tube and speaking through that. This is the first time I have heard a cone driver have a sound characteristic common to horns. Yet, it seemed strange that that characteristic occurred at all and at just a certain frequency range.

    The speakers have an enveloping large sound to them, although I noticed that the bass didn’t have the tight kick that I’ve gotten used to hearing in full bass enclosures. We were advised beforehand that the bass would have a different characteristic. We didn’t get a chance to hear them closer to the back wall as the Lotus Group spokesperson recommended that they be positioned a good 6 feet from a back wall. I think they were 7 feet from the back wall.

    Yet some people said that they sounded great and didn’t voice any complaints. Earlier in the listening session we switched seating positions and I ended up sitting next to a young couple probably not into their 30’s yet. I mentioned to them that I like the sound except for the brightness and overly forward treble. They immediately agreed. I am 50 years old and stopped going to rock concerts and other amplified events about 25 years ago because I wanted to preserve my hearing. Most of the people there were over 55 years old and the preference of many of the older than 65 year olds was to want to listen at rock concert sound pressure levels. I had asked early-on if we could test the sound at modest sound levels once and a while. My request was ignored or perhaps not heard. I really think that those older guys must be near deaf. How in the world could they really enjoy the music played that loudly unless they are partly deaf? My ears were stunned like as if I came out of club or rock concert. I hope I got no permanent hearing damage as a result.

    In the end I did bring up this subject and mentioned that the person who can afford such a set of speakers is probably an older man who has had a long successful career and because of his age and hearing loss will probably enjoy the sound from these speakers but young people that still have not damaged their hearing are probably not going to enjoy them. I talked to the young couple again afterwards and got a reconfirmation of my thesis about why the older people didn’t find the sound objectionable in the above-mentioned area. Furthermore, the guy told me that he has heard those Feastrex field-coil drivers before and that hollow honking sound was present in the others too.

    When I was giving my criticisms before the group, other people stopped being so sheepish and a couple others started to voice similar statements. One from a guy who said that he was 55 and noticed a too strong “presence.” I asked someone about that word and he described it as meaning different frequencies to different people but generally something in the 1,000 to 3,500 Hz regions, as I recall.

    Unfortunately it is probably impertinent to point out the facts of life of hearing loss to older people and especially if they fancy themselves to be audiophiles. Quite possibly this is what drives many audiophiles – the desire to be able to hear things again like they did in their youth.

    To me speakers must be evaluated at low, modest and loud volume levels because people don’t always listen to music at ear damaging levels and they shouldn’t. Sometimes we just want backgroud music at low levels so that we can do the other things that we do at home and not be too distracted by the music like when we do things on our computers and need to concentrate at what we’re reading.

    The sound level was fine for maybe two or three tracks, all the rest was at harmful levels in my opinion. None of the music was played at low levels. It was not a great experience and I would have left sooner if it wasn’t for an audio enthusiist friend I brought along.

    Vince S.

  4. skepica on June 8th, 2010
  5. While I like to allow for differences in audiophiles tastes, I must take exception to the comments of Vince, our young (50 year old?) BAAS member who felt the need to justify his viewpoint by attempting to use ageism as a means of explaining why others didn’t applaud his criticism of the Granada speakers at the recent BAAS get together at Saucalito Audio. If he’d taken the time to talk more with other BAAS members, as I did, he might have realized his views on the sound quality of the Granada speakers were not that different from many, if not the majority of the others in attendance. That he chose to proclaim at the first opportunity that his evaluation of the speakers was more precise because his ears were not old and deteriorated as most of the other attendees ears must be because they were in the over 55 age group (which I am not,) he might have elicited further discussion that seemed more in agreement with his opinion. Rather, it was because of his abrasive proclamation of disapproval that I myself felt the need to comment on the good points of the speakers.

    Not being deaf myself, the limitations of the Feastrex drivers in the Granadas were easily discerned, but I didn’t feel it was polite to beat our hosts over the head by bluntly pointing out those defects after they had taken the time to host our listening session. I’m not shy when it comes to critical listening and discussion, but I just don’t see the point in being that in your face. Maybe I am older and more mellow? If you invited me to dinner, I wouldn’t point out that some aspect of your cooking sucked midway through the meal and then try to point out that anyone who didn’t agree was too old to notice. I wouldn’t take seconds just to be polite, and I wouldn’t buy the Granada speakers just to be polite either. I might instead inquire as to how you chose the ingredients for your soup, and ask if you’d tried using less Oregano- or different drivers to eliminate the forward presentation of the upper midrange that we heard at the louder volumes, which is where I took exception to the otherwise pleasing sound of the Granadas?

    Vince’s complaint as to the overly loud listening levels at the demo seem to be directly related to the general complaints I heard related to the speakers. No one I talked to mentioned the harshness in the presence range during pieces played at modest volumes, though I’ll agree there were few times where the volume wasn’t at least modestly high. Did I miss something? If Vince only listens to music at very modest levels it may turn out that the Granada speakers are more to his taste than he noticed. In my experience many speakers sound better at one volume over another. JBL’s large speakers come alive at loud volumes. My former Vandersteen’s I purchased because I appreciated their easy rendition of detail at lower volumes. On certain pieces, at loud volumes, the Granada’s were honkish. On other pieces, in my opinion, the playback was sublime.

    Am I old and mostly deaf? I don’t think so, in fact, if I go to rock concerts, and I haven’t given them up, I wear earplugs. If you have to ask why I would go to a concert only to wear earplugs, I’m not going to bother to explain it to you. I also wear earplugs on BART when crossing under the Bay, always when riding my motorcycle, on airplanes, and whenever noise levels seem appropriate. Why spend money on expensive audio gear if you can’t hear to appreciate it?

    Even though OSHA set out standards for objectionable noise levels in the work place, levels many feel are too liberal, hearing and its decline over time are not mapped out in a precise formula. Many audiologists suggest an initial hearing exam beginning at age 50 to evaluate your own hearing acuity and potential susceptibility to early hearing loss. Most sources agree hearing decline begins in the early twenties! However, it can probably be safely said that unless you have some genetically peculiar hearing structure or genetic predisposition to early hearing loss, your hearing was not appreciably damaged during the listening session last Saturday, (not more than it was by the freeway noise on your drive up if you had your windows down). Yes, 85 db is a threshold for damaging music/noise levels when matched with an indeterminate duration, though I don’t imagine you’d see much of a show of hands if you polled the other BAAS members who thought you were telling them anything they didn’t already know when you were explaining the “facts of hearing loss to older people,” so I’d agree that as you wrote that makes your comments impertinent.

    Hearing and audio gear is such a personal thing, but as a health care professional I do suggest that if you feel yourself to be in an environment that is presenting you with potentially harmful sound levels, by all means, remove yourself as I did after a couple of minutes in the home theatre room at the end of the Granada presentation.

    Maybe at the next demo someone could bring a sound level meter?

    David H.

  6. anomaly7 on June 13th, 2010
  7. I thought that some of the material that we listened to was the best that I had ever heard on any system!

    Sure, maybe they were a little hot and that works well for some track and not so well for others but, the beauty of the system is that it can be tuned to your listening preference. It would have been nice see this in action but we really didn’t have the time.

    I would like to see the final production of the DSP units have a toggle switch so the user can switch between 3 different target curves… just a suggestion Manny.

    Thanks to all involved with the event. I thoroughly enjoyed it!


  8. Joe on June 21st, 2010