Meridian pioneered the integration of digital crossovers and D/A converters in a powered loudspeaker and the first room I visited at the 2013 CES featured the DSP7200 speaker ($38,000/pair). The has anew tweeter, said to be smoother and more open-sounding than the HF units used in earlier speakers, but perhaps more importantly, the 7200's crossover now compensates for the low-frequency group delay associated with the high-order alignment. This is difficult to do, as it conventionally demands a very long digital, computationally intense filter. However, Meridian's engineering team came up with a solution that only adds around 40 milliseconds of latency. While this might make video synchronization tricky, the added clarity at low frequencies was impressively audible. Bass started and stopped as it should, with none of the feeling of the lows being detached from the upper ranges that is typical of high-order woofer alignments.
Jeff Joseph was demming his new Pearl3 floorstanding speakers ($28,100/pair) in an all Bel Canto system (including their new USB converters), hooked up with Cardas cables. Jeff's music choice was decidedly idiosyncratic a duet for marimba and double bass, a recording of an African singer and sax player made in his backyard, Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hallbut with every kind of music, the Pearls allowed the music to speak most effectively.
"The synergy is palpable between Triode Corporation's Japanese-made electronics and Acoustic Zen's loudspeakers and cables," wrote Jason Serinus earlier in this blog and I just wanted to add my 2 cents. As I had in many rooms at CES, I auditioned my recording of pianist Hyperion Knight performing Gershwin on the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers ($16,000/pair). The sound of the Steinway was sweetperhaps a little too sweet?and the soundstage was wide, deep, and stable.
Audio critic Myles Astor was playing Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells"the LP that launched a thousand virgins," he quippedwhen i walked into YG's large room. Whether it was the Dan D'Agostino Momentum amplifiers, the Veloce LS-1 battery-powered preamp, the Kubula-Sosna Elation! cables, or the Scheu Analog Das Laufwerk 1 turntable with Scheu 12" Tacco arm and Scheu Ruby 3 cartridge, but the sound in this room was stunning. Or perhaps it was YG's new flagship speaker, the Sonja 1.3 ($106,800/pair)!
Larry Greenhill, who was covering expensive amplification at CES for Stereophilealready blogged about the Constellation preamp and power amplifiers that were being used to bi-amp Magico's top-of-the-line Q7 loudspeakers ($185,000/pair). But here's a photo of the speaker, which was connected with MIT cables. AC conditioning was courtesy of Shunyata, racks by HRS. The sound in this room was magnificent, whether it was Lyle Lovett's "The Boys from North Dakota," Leonard Cohen's 10 New Songs, or my own live recording of Cantus performing Curtis Mayfield's "It's Alright." Oh my!
At every CES, I seem to find out on the last day that there was something I should have checked out. And, sure enough, on Friday afternoon, I’m talking to Wayne Schuurman of the Audio Advisor, who mentions that Magico has a new speaker that’s about $13,000/pair.
Distributed in the US by Colleen Cardas Imports, the new Moos Mini Aero speakers ($2499/pair) represent a serious attempt to get good sound from powered wireless speakers. Founder of the Australian company, Tom Celinski, shown in the photo and once with Linn, told me that the two drive-units are ScanSpeak Revelators and, in fact, the speakers are assembled by ScanSpeak. A USB2.0 interface guarantees bit-accurate transmission of digital audio at up to 24bit/96kHz. The wireless data are fed to a DSP-based digital crossover running on Analog Devices SHARC floating-point chips. Thee crossover in turn feeds the data for each drive-unit to a quad mono differential Wolfson DAC which drives a Hypex 200W class-D amplifier module. The sound was open and spacious. The speaker, which was honored with an International CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Award, is scheduled to start shipping in April.
T+A (Theory and Application) is a German audio company best known in North America for their electronics and source components, not their speakers. That’s about to change with the appointment of Dynaudio as T+A’s North American distributor, and the introduction of the T+A Criterion line of loudspeakers. Asked whether Dynaudiowhich, of course, is a loudspeaker manufacturerhas collaborated with T+A on the design and/or manufacturing of their speakers, Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis quickly assured me that Dynaudio functions only as the distributor for T+A; the T+A speakers are manufactured entirely in the T+A factory in Herford, Germany. Dynaudio makes loudspeaker drivers that are used by quite a few speaker manufacturers, but T+A is not among them.
Although a number of speaker manufacturers use Heil AMT drivers, only one company has the rights to use the name of the original speaker company that used Heil drivers: ESS. Headquartered in South El Monte, CA, ESS Laboratories LLC (which we might call “ESS Reborn”) also owns the rights to the original slogan, “Sound As Clear As Light.” Unlike the speakers by ADAM Audio, GoldenEar, etc., these speakers look just like the original ones from ESS. President and CEO of ESS, Ricky “Rico” Caudillo, seen in the photo, told me that he wanted to stay with the original, highly-successful designs, but in recreating these designs managed to improve them in a number of ways, most notably in producing wider dispersion. A brief listen to the LD12 ($3295/pair), modeled on the original ESS Monitor, left me with a very positive impression.
Using the same treble and upper-midrange Air-Motion Transformer units as the Class Column 3 that Bob Deutsch writes about in the next story, the much more expensive Tensor Beta Mk.2 ($35,000/pair) adds new lower midrange unit and woofers, all with Hexacone diaphragms. The massive, cross-braced MDF enclosure features a 22mm-thick aluminum baffle and the interior walls are faced with a unique plastic-honeycomb substance with the cells filled with steel shot. The shot very effectively absorbs vibrations.
Invented by Oskar Heil and made popular by speakers under the ESS name in the ‘70s, the Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter and midrange have lost popularity for a while, but have made a major comeback in speakers made by a number of manufacturers, including ADAM Audio in Germany. The Column Mk.3 ($7000pair), reviewed by Kal Rubinson in August 2012 was used by Cary Audio at CES, and had what I now think is a sonic signature that’s apparent in a variety of loudspeaker designs: low in coloration and detailed without being overly bright.
Erick Lichte was very impressed with the Marten Django XL loudspeaker when he reviewed it last September. The three-way Django costs $15,000/pair, but CES saw the debut of the two-way Django L, at a more affordable $9000/pair. A 1" Accuton tweeter is married to two 8" woofers and the sound on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was much better-integrated than I would have expected.
I had auditioned the Estelon X-Diamond speakers ($65,000/pair) at the 2012 Newport Beach Show, but the room there was not allowing the speakers to sound at their best. Driven by top-of-the-line, class-A Vitus amplification, these speakers, which use the 1.2" Accuton inverted diamond-dome tweeter, along with a 7" Accuton ceramic-cone midrange unit and an 11" Accuton ceramic-cone woofer, sounded much better at CES, even though the dem room was one of the infamous split-level rooms at the Venetian.
Listening to the big MartinLogan CLX full-range electrostatics ($25,495/pair) at the June 2012 Newport Beach Show had been a high point for me, though they were being demmed in too large a room. At CES, the CLXes were in a smaller room, and were being supported by a pair of MartinLogan's Balanced Force 210 subwoofers. Amplification was by Cello and the source included Berkeley's Alpha DAC. I sat down to listen to a 176.4kHz file of Respighi orchestral music from Referenece Recordings, but sadly it was not possible to form much of an impression, due to the conversations competing with the music.
The Phoenix, a large, attractive-looking three-way design with ceramic-diaphragm drivers, can be had in passive form for $75,000/pair or in active form for $95,000/pair. The active form includes a 500W class-D amplifier for the woofers and incorporates the Rives PARC low-frequency equalization. Demmed with VAC amplification driving the HF and MF sections, the active Phoenixes worked well on Charles Mingus Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus album, the low end sounding more evenly balanced than in most other rooms.