KEF showed their $140,000/pair Muon "concept" loudspeaker in a suite at the Hilton at the 2008 CES, but my assignment for the show report blog was electronics, so I so I passed on visiting the KEF suite. Big mistake! As the show went on, I heard several of my Stereophile colleagues raving about the KEF Muon, but by that time it would have been too inconvenient to go back the Hilton. But when I heard that KEF would be demonstrating the Muon at FSI, I was sure to check them out.
One of the things I look forward to at these shows is a visit to the Wilson Audio room, and the chance to listen to master recordings made by Peter McGrath. The system at this year's FSI, in the room sponsored by dealer Coup de Foudre, featured the WATT Puppy 8s and Watchdog subs, VTL TL-6.5 preamp and MB-450 amps, with Nordost interconnects and Transparent speaker cables. (I guess they didn't want to be accused of favoritism when it came to cable choice.) As usual, the sound was clean and dynamic, with a deep soundstage, and voices sounding very natural. Peter played a recording he had made of Renee Fleming singing Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs heartbreakingly beautiful. Luke Manley (VTL, left) and Peter McGrath (Wilson, right) are looking appropriately pleased.
Is $140,000 the new price point for loudspeakers? No, that's not quite right—unlike the KEF Muon, the price of the GamuT S9 El Superiores is "only" $130,000/pair. Like the KEF model, this is intended to push the boundaries of what's possible in loudspeaker design, but the two speakers bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. GamuT's speakers use the principle of distributed resonance in the design of their speaker cabinets, allowing the natural resonance of each part of the cabined to decay undamped, but distributing these resonances over such a wide are that the overall frequency response remains linear, but without what designer Lars Goller's feels is the "unmusical" sound of highly damped enclosures. Here's Lars with the S9. And, yes, the speakers did sound quite wonderful.
GamuT makes electronics as well as speakers, and they introduced a new model at the show. The Si100 is a $120Wpc integrated, similar in design—and, they claim, sound—to their $11,000 Di150, but priced at $6200. (I was going to say "only," but, of course, $6200 is still a good bit of change for most people.)
After seeing $140,000 speakers, it's always good to encounter products that really are affordable by almost any standard. I expect these $250/pair Scandyna Micropod SE speakers to say "Take Me To Your Leader," and I'd like to have a pair if only because they're just so cute. No idea of the sound, but they have an impeccable pedigree, with links to the legendary B&W Nautilus.
Never mind all those fancy audio components; this is all you need. Well, maybe not if you're the typical Stereophile reader or FSI attendee. This RCA console stereo (model SFA 1091) is circa-1968, and I note that it's "All Transistor." It was a part of a display of vintage audio equipment at FSI from the Emile Berliner exhibit at the Montreal Musee des Ondes.
"Cinema—musique—beaux-arts." That's what it says on Mario Boisvert's business card. His Montreal store, Le Ren Art Bleu, sells LPs, CDs, original art, and Blu-ray discs. How is that for diversification? He had some of each at FSI—with just about the lowest priced I've seen for Blu-ray discs.
It is to be expected at Shows that cost-no-object systems will sound great. But it is also a joy to listen to modest systems that over-achieve. In one of the two rooms sponsored by Bluebird Music, a pair of Neat Motive 2 tower speakers (CDN $2195/paor) made sweet sounds driven by the Exposure 2010S integrated amplifier that had so impressed Art Dudley in November 2005 and the English company's matching 2010S CD player. System price with Chord Company Chameleon Silver Plus interconnect and Carnival 2 speaker cable was a very affordable CDN $5274. I listened to my recording of Hyperion Knight playing the three Gershwin Preludes and was impressed by the balance of performance on offer.
Not too long after I got my first audio magazine job in 1976, I reported on the founding of a new speaker company, Harbeth, featuring the designs from ex-BBC engineer Dudley Harwood, who had pioneered the use of polypropylene as a cone material. Dudley is long since retired but I have followed his company's progress with interest since it was acquired by Alan Shaw, and the little Harbeth HL-P3ES2 has long been a favorite of mine. Harbeth's Canadian distributor, Planet Sound, was demonstrating the larger Super HL5 speakers (around $5000/pair), the next step up from the Compact 7ES-3 that has been a favorite of both John Marks and Sam Tellig in Stereophile's pages. The sound with Audio Research electronics (CD3 Mk.3 player, LS26 preamp, and Ref.110 power amplifier) suffered a bit from a rather boomy room acoustic, but Ella Fitzgerald dueting with Louis Armstrong worked her magic.
I was as impressed as Robert Deutsch had been with KEF's $140k/pair Muons, and enjoyed a couple of tracks from the late Joe Zawinul's Faces & Places CD, Musical Fidelity's new 750k Supercharger monoblocks driving the speakers to satisfyingly high levels. Except there was no CD playing. It turned out I was listening to a 320kbps AAC file on an iPod sitting in the Wadia dock you can see in the photo. This takes an I2S digital output from a late-generation iPod and KEF were using the S/PDIF datastream to drive the digital input of the Musical Fidelity CD player at the top of the equipment stack. Given how much ink I have spilled recently on the dangers of lossy-compressed file formats, my face must have been as red as the room’s illumination had been at the time.
Dynaudio's 30th-anniversary Sapphire speakers had impressed the heck out of the magazine's scribes at other Shows, so I made a point of taking a listen in the room the Danish manufacturer was sharing at FSI with home-team electronics manufacturer Simaudio. The system included Simaudio's Moon SuperNova CD player, Moon P-7 preamplifier, and Moon W-7 power amplifier, all wired with Siltech cable. The speakers are not that large, visually, and use a pair of 8" woofers per side, but they appear to have excellent bass performance, to judge by the ease they reproduced some subterranean stirring on a performance of Miles Davis' "So What" from a Flanger CD called Midnight Sounds. Then I noticed that there wasn't a CD playing!
In a show that is distinguished by very good signage, Blue Circle's room is marked by what designer Gilbert Yeung proclaimed "the ugliest signs in the show." Yeung, an indefatigable self-promote, arrived at FSI, only to discover the show had provided no signs for the room. Yeung ran with the concept, deliberately lettering his own signs in a childish "Chinglish."
Yeung was demonstrating a few new Blue Circle products, an inexpensive USB DAc and the $4895 95Wpc FtTH integrated amplifier. Yeung calls the FtTH his "statement" preamp, saying that it employs Blue Circle's True Balanced Audio technology, which, he says, "drives both the positive and the negative output terminals for better control of the loudspeakers."
The slot-loaded two-way JM Reynaud Duet loudspeaker ($1525/pair) sounded quite special, driven by the Blue Circle FtTH. "That was surprising," the Reynaud rep explained. "We had Gilbert's top-of-the-line preamplifier and a pair of Blue Moon monoblocks, which we had intended to use. While we were setting up, we connected the FtTH and the synergy between that amp and these speakers was just magical—so we knew what to do."