Made in Germany, available in 12 color combinations, the Lindemann Birdland series of loudspeakers is intended to appeal to the consumer who appreciates not only great sound but also stylish industrial design and German craftsmanship. Components include German-made ceramic drivers, German copper-foil inductors, cryogenically treated Swiss-made copper terminals, and various other audiophile goodies. The demo system featured the Dixie!, the smallest speaker in the series, with Lindemann digital source and electronics. The speakers had a sound that was notably free of cabinet resonances, and had much greater dynamic freedom than I would expect from a speaker of such relatively modest size. The speakers were not fazed even by Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man: the lowest octave was missing, but the sound did not otherwise lack in body or dynamic punch. At $9900/pair, the Birdland Dixie! cannot be considered a bargain, but it’s one of the best-sounding small speakers that I’ve heard.
I was very impressed with the Monitor Audio PL200 that I reviewed last April; apparently, so were a lot of other audiophiles, but many were put off purchasing the speakers by the $8000/pair price. The new Monitor Audio Gold GX series is intended to appeal to these folks. The GX series offers most of the technology and aesthetic appeal of the Platinum, but at substantially lower prices. The GX300 is broadly similar in appearance and driver complement to the PL200, but costs an easier-on-the-wallet $5500/pair. It was making fine sounds at CES with Simaudio electronics and Simaudio digital source.
Do you hate box speakers, and can’t abide planars, either? Well, a company called Everything But The Box (EBTB), based in Bulgaria, has some products that might be just what you want. Their speaker cabinets are all rounded, made of aluminum and polyester resin. (The drivers look conventional, though.) Some, like the $3000/pair Venus in the photo, are designed to hang from the ceiling via steel cables. The speakers are finished in high gloss lacquer, available in 16,000 (!) custom colors.
Symposium Acoustics has released its upgraded Turntable Top Aircell Level ($1499). Designed to be used with Symposium’s visually arresting Isis Rack, the Turntable Top provides isolation and damping through four AirCell isolators that are level-adjustable for off-center loads. This means that if you have a table or transport with a heavy motor or power supply on one side, you can still level the shelf. Leveling is accomplished via four small underside holes, one in each corner quadrant of the platform, that are accessed with a supplied 1/8” Allen key.
Several weeks before CES, I got an email from PS Audio, inviting me to a press conference that will be held during CES but not as part of the official CES itself. They promised to provide transportation from the Venetian to the Wynn, where PS Audio had a suite. I knew that PS Audio was very much into computer-based audio, an area that for the most part I’ve stayed away from, so I wasn’t all that interested in that part of their presentation; however, I’ve reviewed, and use in my system, PS Audio’s Power Plant Premier AC power regenerator, so I was intrigued by word that they would have information on the successor to the Power Plant Premier.
It turns out that they have two successors, both representing substantial reworking of the product while staying with the principle of “regenerating” rather than merely “conditioning” power. Alas, the “power plant” terminologywhich I’ve always thought was quite aptis gone: the two products are called PerfectWave P5 ($2999) and P10 ($4499). They differ mostly in terms of the amount of maximum current they can produce, the P5 putting out 1000VA and the P10 1200VA. The bigger unit also has more zones. Output impedance is lower than ever, and so is distortion.
Cambridge has created the NP30 (the bottom product in this photo) as the bridge between your digital media and a stereo system. As such, it has a built-in Wolfson 24bit/96kHz DAC, two USB connectors, Wifi, Ethernet and SPDIF coax and optical outputs. It can handle most audio file formats and also stream internet radio. I was surprised that it did not have an SPDIF input of any kind.
There is a small display on the front and you can also control the NP30 with your iPhone and their app. Price is $649 and it is available now.
Qsonix has been providing a touchscreen-based product line for several years, and have recently teamed up with Wadia to collaborate on the DAC side. The Q205 is a one box single zone system with either 1TB or 2TB of storage, and a touchscreen ranging in size from 15" to 19". Price ranges from $7,450 to $8,250 and comes in six configurations.
The Q210 is a one box five zone system with the same screen and storage options and ranges in price from $7,750 to $8,450. The company also has a standalone server without the touschscreen (but can be controlled by the qsonix app) for $6,650 to $7,150 depending on storage and number of zones.
Qsonix's Mike Weaver was on hand to demonstrate the company's new iPad app which should be available later this quarter. I found I liked how the app was laid out better than their touchscreen software, and it offered real-time scrolling of album covers for browsing a collection, something I haven't seen in other iPad apps yet.
Bladelius has created a gorgeous product that includes a touch screen on the front and can play discs, stream media and store music. Hand made in Sweden and retailing for around $9,000, the Embla features internal flash memory for storing music (upgradable to 2TB!!), USB and Ethernet on the back, and built-in analog preamplifier.
CES 2011 was the Show of the Android tablet. Once form has followed function into the form of a movable picture in the palm of your hand, buttons have disappeared into the picture, weight trends towards zero, and, like the first wind-tunnel designed cars of the ‘90s, everything looks astonishingly alike.
I don’t know if Archos has the bitchen’ box, but their cred as a long-time portable audio player maker had me going to their booth and not the bazillion others. Their gadget was fun to play with (just like all the other Driods out there), and sure, I’d like to play more with an Android tablet . . . it is cool stuff. I hope Archos does well in the sea of tablet competition, but wow, tablets have been overwhelming this year.
I was sort of shocked to see the Kiso Acoustic HB-1. While I’d never heard of Kiso Acoustics, the speaker looked so darn familiar. The HB-1 is nearly identical in size and shape and design philosophy to the Onkyo D-TK10, a collaboration between Onkyo and guitar-maker Takamine, which I discussed backinlate2006...
The electrostatic Kingsound speakers were hits at 2010 Shows, so I was anticipating good sound in the room where VAC was demming their tubed electronics with the King II speakers ($11,500/pair) and a Spiral Groove SG2 turntable and arm fitted with a Lyra Kleos cartridge. Stands were all-Symposium.)
The bugbears of electrostatic panels have been limited treble dispersion and a lack of low-frequency definition, but listening to Hans Theesink's and Terry Evans' rendition of "You Can't Tell a Book," from the LP Vision, where the guitarist and singer were accompanying themselves with footstomps, the bass remained in control and the top-octave sounded airy and spacious.
The Antique Sound Lab AQ 1003 Mk.II DT integrated amplifier ($1495) is optimized for EL34 tubes and provides 30Wpc. Though the basic design has been in production for over 15 years, the MK.II DT version has been updated with an attractive extruded-aluminum chassis and improved winding technique for the transformers. These same improvements can now also be found in ASL’s 50Wpc AQ 1001 Mk.II DT ($1995), which, according to Divergent Technologies’ Tash Goka, represents the company’s “best value for money.”
The Lotus Group's Granada speaker ($125,000/pair) combines 21st-century technologya digital-domain crossover realized with DSP, including room correctionwith distinctively retro loudspeaker engineeringfrequencies above 200Hz are handled by a single Feastrex unit featuring a field-coil magnet and a paper diaphragm with a coincident "whizzer" cone. The paper used for the diaphragms is sourced from a Japanese "National Treasure" paper maker, Ichibei Iwano, and the surrounds are made from lambs' skin. Two woofer handle the bass and all three drivers are open at the back to give a dipole radiation pattern. There is also a rear-firing 0.75" dome tweeter to maintain the speaker's power response in the top octave. (The treble energy from the whizzer is emitted in a quite narrow frontal beam.)
My photo doesn't do justice to the beauty of this speaker; the rest of the system included Musical Fidelity AMS-50 class-A amplifiers, a Steve McCormack VRE-18 preamp, a Hanss T-10A turntable with phono stage and fitted with Dynavector DRT XV-1t cartridge,with interconnects and power cabling by Pranawire and speaker cabling by Acoustic Revive. Total system costs was $324,245! Listening to Joan Armatrading's "Show Some Emotion" then the Roy DuNann-recorded The Eleven LP by Art Pepper, I was struck by the effortless nature of the sound and the sheer musicality of the system, though I have to admit that instruments didn't quite sound tonally correct.
NuForce’s Jason Lim explained that the people behind NuForce and Oppo have been friends for a long time, and now that friendship has produced the NuForce Edition Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player ($899), scheduled to be available by the end of this month. The NuForce user-upgradeable output board, seen here, will add $400 to the cost of existing Oppo BDP-93 players. “It sounds as good as our CDP-8,” Lim smiled.
An “Extreme” version, featuring synchronous re-clocking of all eight channels, will be available in March for around $1300.