British Naim Audio showed an adorable new product in their room at this year’s CES. The appropriately named Unitiqute (pronounced Unitycute, $2500) is an all-in-one streamer, DAC, preamp, amp, FM tuner and headphone amp. The Unitiqute also has the ability to pull the datastream off an iPod and be controlled by an iPad or iPod. The amplifier section puts out 30Wpc into 8 ohms and has just one button on its front plate. I thought the Unitiqute struck the perfect balance of functionality, cuteness and elegance.
Simaudio also showed its newest preamplifier, the flagship Moon 850P ($25,000). The 850P is a two-chassis preamp that is designed to damp all vibrations through the use of an eight-point floating suspension for critical parts of the circuit. Like its predecessor, the Moon P-8, it separates the functions into a “clean” boxamplificationand a “dirty” boxdisplay, power supply, etc.
From left: Klipsch Reference RB-61 II ($529/pair), RB-51 II ($329/pair), and RB-41 II ($279/pair). I spotted this handsome family of Klipsch Reference loudspeakers on static display at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Each is a bass-reflex design with a rear-firing port and each utilizes a 1” titanium diaphragm compression driver mated to Klipsch’s Tractrix horn. As you go up the line in size and price, you gain greater bass extension and sensitivity.
Earlier in the week, back at the Venetian, Klipsch’s Mark Casavant and Chris Aiello gave me an introduction to Klipsch’s history, philosophy, and latest products...
Without a doubt, the four-way, five-driver Magico Q5 that Michael Fremer reviewed last November was one of my loudspeaker high points of 2010. But at $59,950/pair, the Q5 is definitely a speaker aimed at the deep-in-pocket. Magico's Alon Wolf proudly showed his new Q3 at CES, which, at $34,000/pair, is going to appeal to a somewhat wider market.
A three-way sealed-box with three 7" Nano-teccone woofers, the 47"-tall floor-standing Q3 uses the same proprietary beryllium-dome tweeter as the Q5 in the same type of space-frame enclosure, with a 6" Nano-tec midrange unit. The lower woofers roll off earlier than the upper one, to optimize the crossover to the midrange unit. Frequency response is specified as 20Hz50kHz, sensitivity as 90dB (which is significantly higher than the Q5's 86dB), and impedance as 5 ohms.
I auditioned the Q3s in a system comprising Soulution pre- and power amps hooked up with MIT's new cables, and listening first to a Red Book file of Patricia Barber, then to a Jordi Savall/Hespèrion XXI recording of a baroque double-violin concerto, this was one of the best sounds I heard at CES, with excellent LF extension and definition, if a touch on the mellow side.
Magico were showing a prototype of the Q1 stand-mount in a back room, which they will be introducing at the 2011 Munich Show. This combines the beryllium-dome tweeter with a single Nano-tec midrange-woofer, but the price has yet to be decided upon.
“Biggest. Tube. Ever.” I said, in my best Comicbook Guy voice. The Kronzilla DX Mk.II ($32,000/pair) from KR audio of the Czech Republic uses two T1610 output tubes in parallel to achieve 100Wpc of triode power. The amp also uses zero negative feedback.
Monster Cable press conferences are always fun to attend, Noel Lee (left) demonstrating the enthusiasm that I’m sure has been a major contributor to his company’s success in the business. His son, Elbert, who did some of the presentations, looks like a chip of the old block. Sure, Monster's press conferences have a strong blow-your-own-horn element, but that’s true for all press conferences.
And they had a lot of new products to introduce. I’ll leave the description of these products to my colleague, Jason Victor Serinus, whose show report assignment is accessories, but I’ll note that Monster is introducing a line of car-care products.
For the record: the swag from Monster was a Micro HDMI-to-HDMI cable. I don’t have anything that can use this, so I passed on it.
Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand. The home of the Maori, Kiwi birds, an upcoming shoot for Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit, and Plinius Audio. On display in the Plinius room was the Hiato integrated amplifier ($9100). The Hiato is a 300Wpc integrated, able to kick out peaks of 50A of current. The amp is a high-biased class-A/B design that allows the first few important watts to benefit from class-A purity and then switch over A/B for greater efficiency and maximum power. The Hiato had me grooving to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on, Reggae Woman” and stopped me in my tracks playing a live duet version of Johnny Cash singing “Don’t Take You Guns to Town” with none other than Willy Nelson. The Hiato can also be installed with an optional phono preamp which brings the price up to $11,000.
The audiophile community was greatly shocked by the death, in September, 2009, of speaker designer Jim Thiel. My acquaintance with him was restricted to brief chats at shows, but he has always impressed me as a modest, gentle man, with a singular devotion to the pursuit of making the most accurate and musically pleasing speakers. Somehow, I thought he would always be around.
The Thiel/Bryston room had a system featuring the Thiel SCS4T ($3690/pair) speakers and a pair of new prototype Thiel USS subwoofers (price and delivery date TBD), partnered with Bryston electronics and digital source. The sound had that famed Thiel clarity, and an astonishing sense of depth on the well-known Misa Criolla recording. The SCS4T is the last speaker that Jim Thiel had a hand in designing: a fitting tribute to one of the greats of the world of audio.
In prior Show reports, we have photographed Tidal's Jörn Janczak standing next to his speakers. But as Jörn stands 6' 8' in his socks, I made him crouch by the Sunray ($151,000/pair). so you can get an idea of how big this bi-amped speaker really is.
As at the 2010 CES, the rest of the system included two BAlabo 500Wpc stereo amps ($77,500 each), and the BAlabo BD-1 24/192 DAC ($37,500). Preamp was the BAlabo BC1 ($60,000) and the source was the Blue Smoke music server. Cabling was by Argento. I listened to a recording that many were playing at CES, piano/bass/drums jazz from the German Tingvall Trio, and was impressed by the effortless sweep of full-range sound produced by this admittedly very expensive system.
Touraj Moghaddam, based in Windsor, UK, near London, manufactures the relatively new TM Systems Pulse cables. The complete line includes tonearm wires and internal wiring for loudspeakers.
Not yet distributed in the US, Moghaddam’s handmade interconnects ($8000$9000/1.1m pair) will be followed in February or March by the machine-made Pulse R interconnects ($4000$5,000), which include special proprietary connectors made of copper alloy. Below them, Pulse B and Pulse C entry-level interconnects are in the works.
Veteran audiophiles will recognize Moghaddam as the 25-year veteran designer of Roksan turntables and loudspeakers. He began designing and manufacturing Pulse cables three years ago after he discovered that some Roksan ‘tables were being used with incompatible cables.
Gary Koh of Genesis, who had invited Moghaddam to exhibit his cables in the Genesis room, noted that they both attended the same college in England 25 years ago. “And now, 25 years later, we discover that we are both making our own cables because of similar concerns, such as their incorrect use by some people as tone controls,” he said.
In a show dominated by forward-racing technologies and innovative solutions to complement the ways in which we consume media, DeVore Fidelity and Tone Imports continue to find inspiration in old-fashioned pleasures...
Joining WireWorld, Thiel, and Bryston in their impressive exhibit in the Sands/Venetian Convention Center was power specialist Plitron. Based in Canada, the company has spent 28 years in R&D and manufacture of toroidal transformers that are utilized by many of the leading companies in the audio industry. Five years ago, Plitron decided to introduce their own Torus Power line to demonstrate their full implementation of their work with toroidal isolation transformers and power conditioning.
Arthur Kelm, formerly chief engineer in a number of recording studios including Record One, the Record Plant, and Skywalker, designed the Torus Power Ground One power conditioner panel that uses Plitron transformers. “I have known that power is the foundation of every audio/video system,” he explained. “It’s also the most misunderstood application you have. People just don’t understand power and its importance.
“The major advantage of using an isolation transformer is that you now have a very low impedance to plug into, and you can rebond neutral and ground which is where 90% of your noise comes from in electrical systems.”
The complete Torus Power line includes units from 2.5 amps up to 300400 amps. The lowest priced unit, the RM 2.5 ($999), handles 2.5A. The company’s most popular units, ideal for dedicated audio systems, are the RM 15 ($2000) and RM 20 ($3000). There is also a custom installation series with 60A and 100A units, plus Ground One panels for use in all-home AV and theatres. Some models include automatic voltage regulation.
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.
"$175,000/pair?" I gulped. I know my beat at the 2011 CES was expensive loudspeakers, but the price of the Trenner & Friedl Duke took my breath away. Yes, the sound in the large room the new Austrian company shared with Cardas, Profundo, and the Jeff Rowland Design Group was superb, but that's a lot of change, even if the manufacturer will fly anywhere in the world to set the speakers up in the customer's home. (The rest of the system comprised a dCS Puccini used as a transport to feed JRDG's new Aeris DAC (the Colorado company's first digital product), $9800; a JRDG Criterion line stage, $18,500; and two JRDG 625 stereo power amplifiers, $13,500; with Cardas Clear cabling.
Each 12" woofer uses a fiber-glassreinforced paper cone and is loaded by what is referred to as "a hybrid form of horn-resonator and bass reflex design." The mid/HF module is coupled to the woofer modules with spheres of varying hardness, to drain vibrations optimally, and can be adjusted to bring the drivers into proper time alignment at the listening position. The midrange unit features a papyrus cone with an elmwood phase plug and an alnico magnet, while the enclosure is filled with wool from "locally raised sheep" to reduce internal reflections being retransmitted through the drive-unit cone. The tweeter uses a titanium nitride dome loaded with a Tractrix-flare horn, while the supertweeter is a diamond-diaphragm type. The upper-range crossover is passive; the woofers are fed via a line-level crossover, and internal wiring is all Cardas Clear.