I’ve known Don Rhule, the Canadian distributor for Kimber Kable and Quadraspire, for over 30 years. We originally met at a car stereo shop that we both used to frequent. The shop was a touch sketchy, but the proprietor was a fun character, and to this day we like to joke that we used to have the same fence. People tend not to get it, thinking we mean that we were neighbors, having shared the same backyard fence. We then explain the joke and laugh uproariously.
For eight years, Rhule was also the Canadian distributor for PS Audio, but he recently handed over the reins to Peter Fan of Nexus International. Rhule is hanging around for a while to help with the transition.
Jason Thorpe (left) with Don Rhule
So I met Rhule in the hallway at Audiofest. For years now he’s known the SoundStage! angle: new gear—we need new gear for our reports. “New DAC and speaker in the PS Audio room,” he told me. “Speak to Travis Townes. He’ll give you the lowdown.”
I found Townes, PS Audio’s international sales manager, just outside the room and hit him up for the details on the new gear. Turns out the speaker is the Aspen FR20 ($26,600-per-pair CAD). The FR20 is the little brother to PS Audio’s Aspen FR30. According to Townes, Montreal Audiofest is the world premiere for this speaker. The FR20 is quite fetching in its Pearl White finish—a giant medicinal lozenge, I thought as I looked at it. Easy to swallow as long as you get the rounded edge down first. The FR20 is also available in Sable Black.
According to Townes, the FR20 is exactly what it looks like—a slightly scaled-down FR30. Whereas the FR30 is armed with four 8″ woofers and four side-mounted 10″ passive radiators, the FR20 has two woofers and two passive radiators. For the highs, the FR20 has one 2.5″ planar-magnetic tweeter, whereas the FR30 has two of them. Both speakers share the same 10″ planar-magnetic midrange driver.
Also brand-spanking-new was the $7999 (in USD) PerfectWave DirectStream DAC MK2, which will ship in May. The new DAC is so fully updated that it’s not possible to upgrade from the MK1 model. Everything in the MK2 is upgraded and doubled down—fully updated hardware, more capacitance, and, new to this version, full galvanic isolation.
I sat down for a listen. At my request, Travis pulled the Tragically Hip’s “Courage” out of the ether. The FR20s projected a juicy, solid central image with an easeful midrange and silky, extended highs. This track is fairly two-dimensional, without much recorded depth, but the FR20s squeezed all of the dynamic contrasts out of this snappy, dynamic number.
At the tail end of this short but fun listening session, Rhule walked in and slid an ice-cold beer into my hand. Just like old times.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!