While John Atkinson awaits a review sample of Parasound's just-released JC 2 two-channel analog preamp ($4000), photographed here (second from top) with Parasound president Richard Schram by Kalman Rubinson, I took the opportunity to discuss its genesis with Richard.
The penultimate night of CES is traditionally the night of the industry party thrown by Stereophile and Home Theater magazines—the 2007 CES saw the event taking place at Le Cirque club at the Paris Hotel. The good and great in high-end audio can be seen in the photograph and while we will not be giving points for identifying guests, we will kick the game off by pointing to Arcam founder John Dawson, in the white shirt ordering drinks from the bar at the top left. (A larger version of the photograph is posted in our website photo gallery.)
In my opinion, the relation between speaker size and performance tends to be a curvilinear one: performance improves with size up to a point (assuming good design), but when speakers are really big they’re often disappointing, sounding merely "impressive" but not natural. I’m always delighted, therefore, to find an exception to this rule, and that was the case with the PBN Audio Montana Master Reference speakers at the outboarding THE Show at the San Tropez Resort. These speakers are 84" tall, weigh 500 lbs, and feature two 18” subwoofers, two 10" woofers, two 5.25" midrange units, and one 1.125" tweeter. Demoed by PBN President/Designer Peter Noerbaek and Vice-President Patty Noerbaek, these speakers, driven by PBN's own amplifiers, sounded impressive and natural. The price is $65,000/pair, but you do get a lot of speaker for the money. Peter Noerbaek says they sold four pairs last year—to people with baronial homes, I’m sure.
Paul McGowan's $2500 PS Audio Power Plant Premier is radically different from his earlier power regenerating products. "For one thing, it's 85% efficient, which means it runs cooler and uses less energy," McGowan explained. "It has 10 Power Port receptacles with Nano Crystalline filters. It's even remote controlled."
Modern Audio Consultants’ Richard Gerberg showed me a new $6000/pair loudspeaker from English company ProAc, the two-way D28. The 60 lb floorstander, designed by ProAc founder Stewart Tyler , includes a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 6.5" bass/midbass driver. I was able to audition the loudspeakers driven by a new $3000 Sugden 21 SE CD player, a $4000 Sugden 21SC integrated amplifer, and ProAc speaker cable. The D28’s sound was smooth, detailed, and musical. I particulary enjoyed playing Jamie Cullen’s Twenty Something album. Richard told me that the album had been recorded and edited using ProAc loudspeakers. Perhaps that was one reason the D28s sounded so good!
DEQX's PDC3 preamp/processor (price tdb) combines an analog preamplifier with a DAC and measurement-driven DSP. In a hotel room with zero treatment, Jon Iverson and I were enthralled by the three dimensional soundstaging of a pair of B&W 805s and a pair of B&W ASW 700s. Nope, it wasn't because the CD player was fabulous, either—it was solid, but not audiophile approved.
Canadian speaker company PSB has majored in high-performance affordable speakers, with its tiny Alpha, introduced in 1992, becoming on of the best-selling speakers of all time. Designer Paul Barton (above), however, has been working on a flagship PSB speaker, which he demmed at the Lenbrook suite at the Hard Rock Hotel. Yet to be named, the new speaker will cost a still-affordable $4500/pair and spearheads a new line of six models to be introduced in the second quarter this year.
Whenever I have caught up with Ken Kessler (left) at audio shows in the past two years, he has uncharacteristically grumbled about all the work he was doing writing and compiling McIntosh...For the Love of Music. "Every time I interview someone connected with the iconic Binghampton audio company, they tell me about two more people I didn't know existed whom I should interview."
Joseph Audio's Jeff Joseph didn't bring any new goodies to the show this year. He once again demonstrated the $2495/pair Insider. "I'm still trying to demonstrate how incredible an in-wall loudspeaker can sound—if it uses an infinite slope crossover, that is."
Divergent Technologies’ Tash Goka introduced a new top speaker in the Reference 3A line: the Grand Veena ($7500/pair), which, in addition to two woofers, a midrange and a tweeter, also has a Murata supertweeter that covers the range from 20kHz to 100kHz. The sonic contribution of the supertweeter is acknowledged to be "not easily detectable by conventional means," but is said to improve the speaker’s spatial quality and have positive effects outside of its nominal operating range. The Grand Veenas sounded mighty nice driven by Antique Sound Labs' new Cadenza amps ($6500/pair).
After 10 years of selling the $15,000/pair Ultima Salon as its flagship speaker system, Revel introduced a redesign, the $22,000/pair Ultima2 Salon, at CES 2007. When I reviewed the original Salon, I was very pleased by its bass extension and dynamics. What's new in the Mk.2 Salon? It has a more conventional look, and employs all-new drivers that performed better in double-blind tests conducted by the manufacturer. While retaining the basic configuration—a four-way design with one tweeter, one midrange, one mid-woofer and 3 woofers—the Salon 2 no longer has side panels, a rear-firing port, or a rear-firing tweeter. Revel had a pair of the Ultima2 Salons playing in a demo room at the Hilton, driven by a 200Wpc Mark Levinson No.433 amplifier via Transparent speaker cable, a Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier, and a Levinson No.390S CD processor. The loudspeaker played with all the dynamics and excellent LF response of the original Salon, reproducing the powerful deep bass of the organ accompaniment to John Rutter's Requiem. There was also a richness and smoothness that I found very pleasing.
Rives Audio and Talon Audio (now owned by Rives) proudly introduced the Thunderhawk, a $25,000/pair, composite speaker consisting of the $10,000 Hawk positioned atop the Thunder cabinet. The latter’s woofer is available either with a passive crossover, or with the new Rives Sub Parc, fully adjustable active crossover, which includes a 1000W switching amplifier. Said to deliver full-range sound down to 18Hz, the system sounded absolutely seductive playing jazz vocalist Susanne Abbuehl’s Compass (ECM).