Symposium Acoustics has released its upgraded Turntable Top Aircell Level ($1499). Designed to be used with Symposium’s visually arresting Isis Rack, the Turntable Top provides isolation and damping through four AirCell isolators that are level-adjustable for off-center loads. This means that if you have a table or transport with a heavy motor or power supply on one side, you can still level the shelf. Leveling is accomplished via four small underside holes, one in each corner quadrant of the platform, that are accessed with a supplied 1/8” Allen key.
Do you hate box speakers, and can’t abide planars, either? Well, a company called Everything But The Box (EBTB), based in Bulgaria, has some products that might be just what you want. Their speaker cabinets are all rounded, made of aluminum and polyester resin. (The drivers look conventional, though.) Some, like the $3000/pair Venus in the photo, are designed to hang from the ceiling via steel cables. The speakers are finished in high gloss lacquer, available in 16,000 (!) custom colors.
I was very impressed with the Monitor Audio PL200 that I reviewed last April; apparently, so were a lot of other audiophiles, but many were put off purchasing the speakers by the $8000/pair price. The new Monitor Audio Gold GX series is intended to appeal to these folks. The GX series offers most of the technology and aesthetic appeal of the Platinum, but at substantially lower prices. The GX300 is broadly similar in appearance and driver complement to the PL200, but costs an easier-on-the-wallet $5500/pair. It was making fine sounds at CES with Simaudio electronics and Simaudio digital source.
Made in Germany, available in 12 color combinations, the Lindemann Birdland series of loudspeakers is intended to appeal to the consumer who appreciates not only great sound but also stylish industrial design and German craftsmanship. Components include German-made ceramic drivers, German copper-foil inductors, cryogenically treated Swiss-made copper terminals, and various other audiophile goodies. The demo system featured the Dixie!, the smallest speaker in the series, with Lindemann digital source and electronics. The speakers had a sound that was notably free of cabinet resonances, and had much greater dynamic freedom than I would expect from a speaker of such relatively modest size. The speakers were not fazed even by Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man: the lowest octave was missing, but the sound did not otherwise lack in body or dynamic punch. At $9900/pair, the Birdland Dixie! cannot be considered a bargain, but it’s one of the best-sounding small speakers that I’ve heard.
There’s a kind of hierarchy of prestige among speaker manufacturers (which may or may not have anything to do with the sound quality of their offerings). At the bottom you have manufacturers that use off-the-shelf drivers which are available to any hobbyist, and don’t do anything other than mount these speakers in an enclosure and connect the drivers to a crossover (which may also be an off-the-shelf unit). Then you have manufacturers that start off with an off-the-shelf unit but modify this unit to their purposes. (The modification can be as simple as adding a bit of mass to the cone or adding a foam ring around the tweeter cone.) The next higher level in the hierarchy are speaker manufacturers that have the drivers made to their specifications by a specialist manufacturer of speaker drivers. And at the very top of the hierarchy are the speaker manufacturers that make their own drivers. This allows them to not only control of every step of the manufacturing process but also the ability produce drivers that are proprietary.
It is this top level of speaker manufacturer hierarchy that Totem has reached with the new Element series, shown in JA's photo with designer Vince Bruzzese. The 7” woofers used in the Element Series are of the Canadian’s company’s own design, manufactured in-house, which requires three hours of machining and more than four hours of assembly. I don’t know enough about loudspeaker driver design to talk with any authority about how the new Totem woofer differs from other woofer designs (the magnetic design was inspired by something called the Halbach array); suffice it to say that it has a free-air resonance of 1617Hz, and its mechanical top end frequency rolloff is such that it’s matched with the tweeter without any crossover components in the woofer path. The top-of-the-line Metal ($12,995/pair) sounded good in a brief listen. I look forward to having more of an opportunity to listen to these new Totems at the 2011 Montreal show.
I took this picture of a room at T.H.E. Show just because I thought it looked cool. The system featured old Apogees, long out of production. The music playing was pleasant. But what were these people selling? Maybe cables. Everyone sells cables. And then I looked at the sign on the door: N.F.S. Audio. N.F.S. Not For Sale. Here’s what a Google search turned up:
“We are a couple of Las Vegas audiophiles who love good music and wine. This will be our sixth year at T.H.E. Show. We hope to provide a fun and relaxing listening experience for show exhibitors and patrons alike. We'll have plenty of music and libations. Every year we bring an excitingly different stereo system with interesting visual effects. Come visit! . . . we'll pour you a glass. . ."
One of my more pleasant duties at this year’s CES was substituting for John Atkinson at a dinner for the press held by DTS. (JA had not arrived yet from New York.) What I was particularly looking forward toin addition to dinner at Nobu, one of Las Vegas’ best Japanese restaurantswas the opportunity to meet the legendary “JJ”: James Johnston (left), audio researcher, who has been called “the father of perceptual coding” for his work while at Bell Labs on MP3 and MP4. JJ is Chief Scientist at DTS, and also a Forum contributor at stereophile.com, occasionally jousting with those who make claims about sound reproduction that he feels have no scientific basis.
The pre-dinner presentation dealt with the latest surround sound format from DTS: Neo X 11.1, which uses 11 channels. Yes, folks, that’s 11 speakers, 11 channels of amplification, plus a powered subwoofer. There is not definite word on exactly when software and consumer hardware for this format will be available, and DTS admits that an 11.1 channel system is not something the average consumer will likely aspire to. However, a point made by JJ was that even if DTS 11.1 does not reach broad consumer acceptance, the research on 11.1 will lead to a better implementation of surround sound with 5.1 or 7.1 systems. He made an allusion to some work that he’s doing nowwhich he could not discussthat promises sonic virtual reality with a lot fewer than 11 channels.
I did get to meet and chat with JJ, and found him to be very genialnot at all like the doesn’t-suffer-fools-gladly persona that’s sometimes in his Forum postings.
Jim Fosgate’s forthcoming Signature headphone amplifier (right), scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2011, has an industrial design that echoes his Signature phono stage (left). Combining a tube input stage with a solid-state output, it will include a loudness control, spatial enhancement circuit, and built-in DAC. Scheduled for distribution by Musical Surroundings of glorious Oakland, CA, its price has yet to be determined.
Conrad-Johnson introduced their new ET5 line stage preamplifier. According Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, the ET5 is a scaled-down version of the GAT preamp (the silk-screening you see here labeling the ET5 as a GAT is an error). The ET5 shares all of the same parts as the GAT but is a stereo design instead of the GAT’s dual-mono layout. The ET5 uses Vishay resistors, CJD Teflon capacitors, gold plated OFC I/O connectors and vibration-isolated printed circuit boards for the gain circuit. The ET5 ships this month and will cost $9500.
New from E.A.R. USA is the V12 integrated amplifier ($9595), one of the prettier looking and sounding pieces I heard at CES. Many may remember E.A.R.’s V20 integrated, to which the V12 owes some inspiration. The V12’s visual design is also inspired by a Jaguar V12 engine, minus the motor oil stains. The V12 was designed by Tim de Paravicini and uses six EL84 tubes per channel. It puts our 50Wpc in triode mode. The sound, driving Marten speakers and using Jorma cables, was airy yet colorful.
Jason Victor Serinus elaborates on the Jorma cables: Jorma Koski, who owns Jorma Design of Sweden, designs all of his cables. When asked what makes them unique, he initially replied, “It’s the best cables in the world, except that everybody says that.”
The Stello Ai500 integrated amplifier was shown in the April Music room. A 150Wpc integrated with a built-in high resolution DAC, the Ai500 sells for $3500 and ably drove power-hungry Magnepan speakers.
Audio Power Labs was a new name to me, and not without reason. The company was recently started up by a number of audio enthusiasts, including a number of ham radio operators and this was their first showing at a CES. The 833TNT monoblock amplifiers (price not set) use an interesting compliment of tubes, including two 833C tubes that are often used in small AM transmitters and a switching power supply.
Parasound showed off the guts of their new Halo JC 3 Phono Stage ($2300) in the same room as the butt-kicking Atlantic Technology AT-1 loudspeakers. Designed by John Curl, the JC 3’s signal/noise ratio is a high 83dB for moving-magnet cartridges and 73dB for moving-coils. The RIAA curve is said to be accurate to within ±0.1dB and the units are currently shipping. Michael Fremer reviews the JC 3 in the March issue of Stereophile.
Sony has a track record of sporadically producing high-quality loudspeakers, like the SS-M9 that I reviewed in 1997. But as good as these speakers could be, their commercial success was limited. But at the last two Rocky Mountain Audio Fests, Ray Kimber had been getting great sound with a prototype Sony floorstander and the 2011 CES saw the official launch of the Sony SS-AR1 ($27,000/pair).
A three-way design, the SS-AR1 uses Scanspeak drive-units made to Sony's specification, housed in a unique, Japanese-made enclosure. Seen here standing next the basic enclosure, designer Yuki Sugiaro explained that the walls are made from Finnish birch ply and the front baffle from maple ply. The latter is sourced from trees grown in Hokkaido.) The woodworking is so precise that the cabinet shown here is holding itself together without any glue (thoigh glue, of course, is used on the production line).
Driven by Pass Labs amps and an EMM SACD player, the SS-AR1s were demmed in too small and crowded a room for me to pronounce on their sound quality, other than to note that the midrange seemed exceptionally clean and uncolored. But my prior experience at RMAF suggests that this will be a contender.
Availability is said to be "spring" and Sony announced that they have already signed up blue-chip US dealers like Goodwins, Definitive, David Lewis, and Music Lovers.
Sonneteer, a UK audio company, was showing off its new Morpheus Music Center ($4000), an integrated amplifier, DAC, and control center for streaming audio. The amplifier section is rated at 50Wpc and will stream music via WiFi or Ethernet, play Internet radio, and USB input. The Morpheus also has three analog inputs and one analog output so it can send signal to an external power amplifier or subwoofer. Standing by his creation is Sonneteer’s Haider Bahrani.