...use a unique drive-unit concept that provides breathtakingly realistic, silky-smooth treble reproduction. I always try to visit the German manufacturer's room at the end of the Show, to savor the sound of their 101E speakers. Driven by MBL's own amps and digital front-end, with Tara Labs "Zero" vacuum-dielectric cables, these lived up to my expectation, though the Show room was not completely sympatico with the bandpass-loaded woofers, which need a relatively well-damped acoustic to work at their best.
The rebirth of Reference Recordings is one of the feel-good stories of audio. Here’s RR’s Marcia Martin, holding up two of their new releases, from pianist Joel Fan and from Keith Lockhart conducting the Utah Symphony in works by Bernstein.
Loudspeakers based on the Lowther full-range driver have a considerable following—our own Art Dudley included—but most will admit that the driver has its limitations, including some midrange resonant peaks and less-than-impressive bass response. These have been addressed in The Second Rethm by a set of modifications to the driver and the availability of an extension to the cabinet that produces better bass response. I heard a couple of the Rethm speakers (I don’t remember which models) a few years ago at CES, and was not too impressed, but I quite liked the sound of The Second Rethm with the cabinet extension. The extension adds $2000 to the $7500/pair price, but I suspect it’s worth it.
Ask the Editors: the view from the stage. The questions this year did not include the usual ones about which exhibits people liked the most, recommendations about tweaks, and why Stereophile doesn’t do blind testing in all reviews. Instead, there were questions about things like intellectual property rights, the future of various audio formats, and whether multichannel represents a worthwhile enhancement of the music-listening experience. Very polite and friendly.
WLM stands for Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur, and their product literature states that the company’s ambition is "to keep the Viennese heritage of music alive." While this might appear to give short shrift to institutions like the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera, the system featuring WLM Lyra speakers, Audio Aero SACD player and electronics sounded was exceedingly musical in its presentation.
The South African Vivid Audio K1 loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) in the Musical Surroundings room—seen here behind Musical Surroundings’ Garth Leerer (right) and Stereophile’s Michael Fremer at the Sunday afternoon raffle—produced an impressively large, sit-up-and-listen soundstage. A similar case of a soundstage that dwarfed the speakers that produced it awaited in the Gamut room. The L-7 flagship speakers ($14,900/pair), paired with the Di150 180Wpc integrated amp ($9800) and brand new CD3 ($6000), produced an amazing sense of space and depth, as well as some mighty low bass extension. Learning that the system lacked a power conditioner and was powered by stock power cords and $300 Siltech silver cables only increased my admiration. As the audiophile press has affirmed for several years now, Gamut is on to something very, very good.
Jim Thiel's CS3.7 was announced at CES 2006 and even shown—sort of. It wasn't a working model and it was packed with new technological, um, wrinkles, such as its 4.5" aluminum midrange ring with an "undulating, radially ribbed contour." Not to mention the 3.7's new, ribbed 10" woofer and passive radiator, which resemble hubcaps of the "spinner" variety.
Canadian Totem Acoustic specializes in manufacturing loudspeakers that are small is size and price but big in sound. Perhaps no speaker of theirs exemplifies this better than the cheapest model in the line: the $450/pair Dreamcatcher. Here’s designer Vince Bruzzese with the Dreamcatcher.
My first visit on the Show's final day was to the Usher room. After listening to their large BE10 floorstander ($14,400/pair), paired with the 2500 amp, 2200 preamp, and CD player (combined cost $5600) and cables from Shunyata and Stereovox, I was treated to Usher’s new entry-level $400 bookshelf baby. Seen here at the left of their lineup, other Stereophile writers had been impressed. While Usher’s little babies understandably offered less low bass extension than the big floorstander, they delivered far higher sound quality than anyone in their right mind could either expect or hope for at this price point.
Richard Vandersteen can't leave a good thing alone. He got to tinkering with his Quatro ($6995/pair, reviewed by Mikey Fremer in the forthcoming July issue of Stereophile) by replacing the fabric shells with wood, reinforcing the speaker's base with X material, and replacing the tweeter with the model from his 5 Signature. The result is a small, floorstanding loudspeaker with huge sound. The Quatro Woods run $10,000/pair.
11 AM Thursday, my first room at HE2005: I've just spent way over an hour listening to VTL gear in two completely different configurations. The first, in a hotel suite whose dimensions are similar to rooms in many smaller homes or larger apartments, paired the new VTL MB-450 monoblocks, TP6.5 phono preamp, and just upgraded Reference TL-7.5 linestage preamp with the Jadis JD1 Mk.II transport and JS 1 DAC, VPI Aries 3 turntable with JMW 10.5i tonearm and Benz LP cartridge, Wilson Sophia 2s, and Cardas cabling.