Continuing my game of guess-the-nationality-of-the-manufacturer, I walked into a demo room that had a very-nice-sounding system with the brandname Nightingale. My thought was British (I recall vaguely a British speaker designed by John Jeffries many years ago bearing that name) or Japanese (as in the Emperor’s Nightingale). However, the answer was Italian. They make electronics as well as speakers: they were demming the prototype PTS-03 battery-operated preamp ($8000), the Gala power amp ($6000), and the new CTR-2 speakers ($9000/pair). I also saw what I thought was another power amp (the one on the right in the picture), so I asked about it, and was told that it was actually the power supply for the amp. I wasn’t doing too well in my guessing here!
As much as I had hoped to write about new companies at T.H.E. Show this time around, I keep finding myself drawn to "old friends" for one overriding reason: their sound is the best I encounter. Such was the case with veteran audio designer Peter Ledermann's Soundsmith. Despite Peter's 1960s-holdover proclivity to turn his consistently impressive, housed-in-wood electronics into multi-colored light shows—thank God you can dim the lights or turn them off entirely—the former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation continues to astound with the sound of his phono cartridges and the amazing frequency response of his small Firefly speakers.
The prototype speaker I shamelessly coveted at the 2007 RMAF, the Harbeth 40.1, resurfaced in final form at THE Show’s Alexis Park location. Paired with Resolution Audio’s exceptional-sounding components, it again made my mouth water. Now positioned on new, lower stands (which, in my not-so-humble opinion, look far more attractive, and far less like a funeral casket, when not draped in black cloth), the full-range 40.1 monitors have an immensely detailed, beautifully layered, extremely controlled midrange whose harmonic richness is hard to resist. Toed-in toward the listener, the speakers' high end was equally compelling.
It was great to again encounter Andy Payor of Rockport Technologies and hear the stunning 200 lb Ankaa loudspeaker ($26,500/pair). Of all the speakers I heard on the first two days of T.H.E. Show, the Ankaa produced images so large and lifelike that it made other speakers (including several wonderful-sounding models I’ve already discussed) seem like pipsqueaks. I have no doubt that the expensive, neutral-sounding Gryphon Antileon Signature stereo amplifier ($31,000 for 150Wpc) and Mirage preamplifier ($25,000), as well as the debuting Purist Audio Design Proteus Provectus cabling had a lot to do with Andy's triumph. As he rather selflessly noted, "The real reason for a good image lies in the collaboration."
The KEF Muon, dreamed up by idiosyncratic industrial designer, Ross Lovegrove, is unlike any other speaker I know. At $140,000/pair, it should be special. KEF's Marketing Director, Johan Coorg, explained that the Muon started out as an attempt to create the absolute best possible speaker, and evolved into something more"a work of modern art, like a Henry Moore sculpture."
Empirical Audio's Pace-Car Reclocker ($1100—2300, depending on number of clocks installed) is designed to reduce the jitter of any source to "inaudible levels." Empirical's Steve Nugent said the device is primarily intended for USB, WiFi, and network devices such as the Sonos and Squeezebox. "The pace-Car is inserted between source and DAC, it can either provide a master clock to the source or accept the source's data stream and 'bracket' the rate of the stream. No modifications to the source are required."
"We wanted to do something special to celebrate our 30th anniversary in business," said Dynaudio's Michael Manousselis, "so we created the limited edition—only 1000 will be made—$16,500/pair, three-way, four-driver, floorstanding Sapphire loudspeaker. The Sapphire uses our finest technology in drivers, including the soft-dome Esotar2 tweeter and two 8” Evidence-grade woofers with magnesium-silicate diaphragms. The cabinet is designed to have no parallel surface, with the two-toned cabinet featuring 12 distinct surface planes and twenty-four adjoining lines"
I've never heard of Navision Audio, and when I looked at their amps and preamps, all featuring wooden chassis, I automatically thought "Italian." Well, it turns out that they're actually designed and manufactured in Viet Nam. Whatever their country of origin, they're beautiful pieces (the wood is "Barian kingwood," whatever that is), the NVS-211PSE power amp ($21800/pair) offering 80W of parallel single-ended triode using two 211s, and the NVS-003G ($8900/pair) an OTL design using the 6C33C.
Erin Binal of Bicome finished his lecture on Thielnet by stripping off the front grillw on the small, two-way, IP-addressable, powered SCS4D loudspeaker. There are twin ports above and below the coaxial driver. With the grille on or off, the SCS4D is rated with a frequency response of 48Hz–20kHz, ±3dB. Pricing was not specified. And yes, those are WiFi antennae.
"Our Asian and Pacific clients were strongly requesting it," said Mark Levinson's Walter Schofield, VP of Sales and Marketing, "so we designed an amplifier in the older Mark Levinson tradition with external heats."
While Day 1 at the Venetian was all hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at the Las Vegas Hilton was something different, was almost contemplative. Navigating the Venetian halls was an exercise in agility. I found myself weaving in and out of massive traffic with a skill perhaps common only to a weary New Yorker, making quick and random stops to chat friends and colleagues. But when I arrived at the Hilton, the silenceas we like to saywas palpable.