"These speakers get the scale of the sound right," I scribbled in my notebook as I was listening to the Hansen Emperor E speakers ($68,000 Canadian) playing a big band recording. The leather-covered, 61" tall speakers were being driven by Tenor 350M monoblocks, a Tenor Line 1/Power 1 preamplifier, and Phono 1 phono stage, hooked up with Kubala-Sosna Elation series cables. The front-end components were supported on a Critical Mass Systems Maxxum integrated rack and filter system.
I first heard the attractive-looking BMC amplifiers at last April's Axpona in Atlanta, and was impressed enough that I asked Michael Fremer to review one of them (to appear in our May 2012 issue). At CES, BMC launched its first loudspeaker, the Arcadia ($36,300/pair). A three-way design, the bipolar Arcadia is symmetrical in both horizontal planes, there being an 11" woofer on each side and the trio of drive-units on the front are echoed by an identical trio on the rear.
Quintessence was a brand new to me, but it turns out that the company's Shadow V loudspeaker ($35,000/pair) was designed by PBN's Peter Noerbaek. Driven by PBN amplifiers and playing a Nat King Cole track from open-reel tape, this large, elegant 225 lb speaker sounded a little lacking in air at the top, but this may well have been due to the room being larger than optimal for the tweeter's dispersion. The sound was otherwise high quality, with an uncolored midrange and extended lows.
Somebody should do a study, categorizing the names of audio manufacturers. The most common approach is to name the company after the designer, or to use his initials. And then there are all those names that incorporate the word "audio," "sound," "music," and variations thereof. There are names that give no indication of the nature of the company's products, but are just memorable.
My show report assignment was speakers under $15,000/pair, whereas John Atkinson would be reporting on speakers over $15,000/pair. But what about a speaker costing exactly $15,000? That was the dilemma I faced when, on my visit to T.H.E. Show, Peter Bichel Noerbaek told me about his latest speaker, the PBN Liberty (named after his daughter, age 9), which has a list price of $15,000/pair. I told him about the problem this presented for me, and he quickly responded by changing the price to $14,999/pair! The Liberty is a floorstanding three-way that uses what Noerbaek calls "inechoic" (not "unechoic") construction. The cabinet weighs 140 lbs. and is made of 48 layers of MDF.
If the Lamm room in the Venetian with the Wilsons was one of the first I visited at CES, the last room I visited was Tempo Marketing's in the Mirage Penthouse. I reported last October that Tempo had taken over US distribution of this Scandinavian brand. As well as the stand-mounted Cenya ($4000/pair), which I had heard at the 2011 RMAF, Tempo was demming the floorstanding, two-and-a-half-way Sara S ($7995/pair), shown in my photo. The Sara S combines two magnesium-cone SEAS mid-woofers with a SEAS tweeter in an enclosure that comprises a unique construction combining MDF and plywood.
The business card of Dali's Kim Kristiansen states his position as "Director, Innovation." And, to judge by the illustrated talk he gave, Kristiansen and his associates at Dali have been working hard at producing innovations. The drivers for their latest speakers have a new linear drive magnetic system that uses a soft magnetic compound (SMC), which radically reduces distortion. Listening to the well-known recording of Misa Criolla on the demo system with the Epicon 6s (Primare CD player and electronics), which incorporates all the latest advances, I was impressed by the clarity and precise focus on the voice of José Carreras.
The great thing about audio shows is whom you bump into in the corridors. Here is legendary engineer John Curl, who has been designing the superb-sounding Halo series of amplification components for Parasounddig the name badge which, instead of the usual "Exhibitor," "Press," "Sales Representative," or "Consultant," simply and very appropriately says "Engineer."
Episode Audio, exhibiting at T.H.E. Show, had some unusual-looking speakers, with the tweeter set well back from the front of the speaker, presumably to effect time alignment. They also claim wide dispersion horizontally and vertically over a wide range. The Episode-V ($12,500/pair) sounded good despite having a less-than-audiophile-quality Sony DVD/CD player as the source, and modestly-priced Onkyo electronics.
The Tréo ($5995/pair), shown in prototype form at the 2011 CES, is the latest speaker from Vandersteen. Indications are that it offers the same sort of musical accuracy that characterizes all of Richard Vandersteen's designs. It's a three-way design, with a 1" ceramic-coated alloy-dome tweeter, 4.5" tri-woven composite-cone midrange, 6.5" woven fiber-cone woofer, and an 8" subwoofer. Like other Vandersteen speakers, the Treo is time and phase correct. Through the years, Vandersteen has moved away from the strictly functional appearance of the original model 2 and model 3, and the Treo is perhaps a culmination of this trend: the slim, truncated pyramid is stylish as well as functional. My notes on the makeup of the system playing are somewhat difficult to decipher (I need to take a course in remedial handwriting or start to carry an iPad with me), but I can tell you that it used Aesthetix electronics and a turntable source. The LP of Mary Black singing "Babes in the Wood" sounded smooth and engaging.
PSB's Synchrony One ($5000/pair) is listed in Class A (Restricted Extreme LF) of Recommended Components, and their Imagine T ($2199/pair) is in Class B. At the 2012 CES, PSB introduced the Imagine T2 ($3500/pair), which, according to Paul Barton (seen in my photo), applies the technology of the Synchrony series to the Imagine T. Like the Synchrony One, the Imagine T2 has three woofers, each in a separate compartment, which are driven together at the low end, and as we go higher in the frequency range the second and third woofer are rolled off gradually at the bottom. As with Paul Barton's other designs, the tweeter is mounted below the midrange. Driven by an NAD C390 all-digital integrated amplifier, the sound had superb clarity and detail, with excellent imaging.
Checking out the Reference 3A speakers (Grand Veena, MM de Capo i, etc.) in Divergent Technologies' room at T.H.E. Show, I noticed that the center of the midrange and mid-bass drivers looked different. Divergent's Tash Goka was not in the room, but the person who was there introduced himself as the one responsible for the modification of these drivers. He's Ricky Schultz, inventor of the Surreal Acoustic Driver Lens, a small plastic device that is glued to the drive's dustcap, and has the effect of broadening the dispersion. The Surreal Acoustic Driver Lens is being incorporated into the production of all Reference 3A speakers. It's an OEM product, not available to consumers, and, according to Schultz, it has the potential to improve the performance of many loudspeaker drivers. He proceeded to provide me with the explanation of how the device works, but it quickly went over my head.
Robert Deutsch reported below on PBN's $14,999/pair Liberty speaker. My attention in the company's large room at T.,H.E. Show was attracted by the large WAS2 (right), which costs $55,000/pair, with its piano-black lacquer-finished enclosure and mahogany hardwood front baffle, and weighs 1000 lbs/pair. It combines two 15" subwoofers, driven by a 1kW ICE-Power amplifier, two 8" coated paper-cone woofers, two 5.25 Nextel-coated paper-cone midrange units, and a 1.1" soft-dome tweeter. Frequency response is quoted as 18Hz22kHz ±1.5dB and sensitivity is said to be 94dB!
Although I don't consider myself an expert on headphones by any means, I know that they fall into three basic categories: (1) circumaural (pad around the ear, the back closed or open) (2) supra-aural (pad on the ear), (3) in-the-ear (tightly or loosely fitting). (There were also the Jecklin Float headphones, which involved a pad on top of your head, with the transducers being positioned some distance from the ears. These have never enjoyed widespread success, and I don't think they're being made any more.) However, I was intrigued by one of the pre-CES emails, announcing "ear-free" headphones.