Raidho 2.1 Speaker Premieres as Naim Streams
Unique circumstances conspired to make the March 15 US debut of Raidho's handsome 2.1, 2.5-way floorstanding loudspeaker ($28,000/pair) at AudioVision San Francisco an unusual event. Despite ample planning on everyone's part, US Customs, which has never been known for putting audiophiles first, held up delivery of Raidho's new babies until the afternoon of the demo. Did they perhaps think that the "Raid" in Raidho was code for a terrorist plot?
Due to this unforeseeable snafu, what a very full house of eager audiophiles heard was not the Raidho 2.1 in all its glory, but a literally out-of-the-crate speaker whose drivers, capacitors, and circuits, by all accounts, had undergone only something like 5 hours of break-in. There was nothing that even Nordost's Lars Christensen, creator of the most masterfully conceived and executed audio demos I have ever witnessed, could do about the fact that the speaker could only provide an tantalizing albeit incomplete indication of its ultimate potential.
The demonstration paired the Raidho 2.1s with Naim electronics, put through its paces by Jenny Smith of the Sound Organization (pictured above), and Nordost cabling. Together, they produced a far warmer, more illumined sound than heard when AudioVision recently paired the KEF Blade, in its West Coast debut, with Simaudio electronics and Shunyata cabling.
The 2.1 demo used Christensen's highly eclectic mix of pop music. While we heard a track by Lambchop, another by Supertramp that had enough audiophile bells and whistles and prodigious bass to tempt one to overlook that it was plastic to the core, Tom Russell's "I'm an American Primitive Man," a version of "Unchained Melody" performed by Lang Lang and a Chinese vocalist, Elvis' aborted first take of "Are You Lonesome Tonight," Kraftwerk's "I'm the Operator with my Pocket Calculator," and an unpronounceable track by a wild Danish band, all forms of acoustic jazz and classical were absent.
The system produced an exceedingly large soundstage marked by warm, inviting sound and impressive bass. The bass wasn't anywhere near as powerful as I've heard with fully broken-in drivers at other Raidho/Nordost demos, but what bass the speaker did produce was more in control than that emitted by the Blade in the same space.
The evening also provided the most convincing demo possible of what happens when you dem a loudspeaker without sufficient break-in. The drivers' lack of pliability produced, to these ears, sound that was impressive in its fullness yet strangely untouchable. No matter how inviting the music, it failed to reach beyond the beguilingly large soundstage and impact me emotionally. It was as though the heart of the speaker had not yet opened up enough to bare its soul.
This, again, was not the fault of the speaker. Insufficient break-in, in this case beyond anyone's control, is a phenomenon all too frequently encountered at audio demos, especially at shows. Equipment looks great, but it's so new out of the box that it cannot yet either show its full potential or elicit a deep emotional response. At least nothing played during this particular demo sounded bright, edgy, hooty, or covered, which is too often the case with electronics that lack sufficient break-in.
The Raidho 2.1 is a most impressive undertaking. All drivers are proprietary, the result of five years of research and development, and are manufactured in Denmark. (Only the cabinets, constructed from high-quality MDF, are made in China). Christensen claims that Raidho's ceramic mid/bass drivers, shown above, have no resonances of their own, and that one of them is more expensive than all the drivers in the Wilson MAXX 3 combined. (I cannot confirm that). As for its planar ribbon tweeter, Christensen claims it is "the fastest tweeter ever made." Capacitors are a combination of Mundorf and Raidho's proprietary copper-foil babies. The speaker is also the first in the world whose internal wiring is a combination of Nordost Valhalla and Odin.
In AudioVision's smaller, equally packed showroom, Michael Taylor of Nordost (shown above with Lars Christensen) used Raidho's new, not-yet-broken in 1.1 loudspeaker to compare the sound of stock power cords to Nordost's Blue Heaven, Heimdall 2, and Frey 2 power cords. Though I wasn't present, I've heard this same demonstration at audio shows, and can attest to the improved sound of Nordost's new cables lines, which includes significant enhancement of bass response and midrange weight. In a system that also featured Nordost's Quantum Qx4 power purifier/QBASE 8 power distribution system, Taylor helped clarify the difference that good cables and power treatment can make.
Naim's Impressive Streamer
Jenny Smith was on hand to tout the technical advances of one of Great Britain's original high-end companies, Naim. At the heart of the system sat the Naim UnitiServe ($3345), a server that rips and stores music to its internal 1TB hard drive. As a network server, it is available to any player on the network (not just Naim's), and works with any UPnP streamer.
Naim's NDX network streaming player ($5145), together with its 555PS power supply ($9345), was the source component. The NDX saw the music on the UnitiServe, streamed it over the network, and then performed D/A conversion before sending the signal to the preamp. The NDX can see, access, and play music stored on any device on the network (such as a computer) that is available for streaming via UPnP. Other components were Naim's NAC552 preamp w/external 552PS power supply ($27,495) and NAP500 power amp w/external 500PS power supply ($27,495).
"Streaming is not the future," she declared. "It really is the present."
Once again offering only pop music, Smith controlled the system with an iPad, pictured above, and, after its battery died, an iPhone. Using the NDS, she wirelessly streamed some mightily impressive tracks from a MacBook Pro located in the next room. Once again, there was no music that sounded as though it was naturally recorded, or anything that presented the kind of complex load that a Mahler symphony can provide. Nonetheless, the first piece, which I believe was in 24/192 format, had a thrilling three-dimensionality that turned heads.
Smith compared a WAV file of music ripped directly from iTunes by the MacBook Pro to the same music track ripped to WAV by the UnitiServe using Naim's proprietary ripping software. (Smith chose the WAV format because she claims that FLAC cannot yield bit-perfect copies of WAV files). Naim's ripping algorithm is clearly special, because the NDX-ripped version sounded so much better than the iTunes rip that no one bothered to ask for a second comparison.