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Viola Labs: America's 'secret' high-end audio brand

Since Viola Labs' start in 2001, the vast majority of the company's sales have been in Asia and Europe, but Viola is just starting to have a higher profile here in the U.S.

American companies dominate the worldwide high-end audio market, but those brands are known only to the most passionate audiophiles in their home country.

Like most American high-end brands, Viola Labs, based in New Haven, Conn., has just a few retail outlets in the U.S. Audiophiles in Asia and Europe have made up the majority of Viola's customers since 2001.

Viola Labs' Paul Jayson Steve Guttenberg

So chances are most of my readers are in the dark about Viola. That's why I made the trek to New Haven to learn more about the brand. Viola's two original founders, Tom Colangelo and Paul Jayson, worked together for years at Mark Levinson Audio Labs, and there's a definite kinship of design philosophies between the two brands. That is, Mark Levinson and Viola both aim high, and build cost-no-object designs. Listening to the gear at the Viola factory, the sound was highly resolved and pure, with no concern about power limitations. Jayson feels the primary goal for any component is to convey the full emotional power of the music; for him, judging electronics with by-the-numbers measurements is a secondary concern. I agree; if the music doesn't move you, what's the point?

The company offers a range of stereo preamplifiers and power amps, and some of them are large, imposing designs. The stereo 200-watt-per-channel Viola Symphony amp measures 17.5 inches by 17.5 inches by 7.5 inches, and it weighs a hefty 119 pounds. Jayson was showing a prototype of a considerably more compact amp and the sleek iPhone/iPad controlled Crescendo preamp. They should both be in full production early next year. Even by high-end audio standards Viola's build quality is extraordinary. Each piece is a work of art.

Japanese audiophiles are among the world's most demanding perfectionists, and they account for a healthy percentage of Viola's customers. The electronics are assembled in New Haven, and the machined metal chassis parts are sourced from a firm in Colorado.

A closeup of a Viola Cadenza preamplifier's finely tuned metalwork. Wes Bender