In our November 2012 issue, Michael Fremer reviewed the Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable ($25,000) with its complementary Centroid tonearm ($6000), an interesting unipivot design that places the pivot point and stylus in the same plane to increase the system’s overall stability. At CES, Spiral Groove showed the new universal version of the Centroid tonearm, a 10” arm with a standard mount. With the supplied setup jig and the Centroid’s easily accessible pivot point, users should be able to determine the correct spindle-to-pivot distance and “accurately set the geometry for overhang and offset angle,” said Immedia’s Stirling Trayle. The universal version of the Centroid tonearm is available now; price remains $6000.
While the sound and music in Philip O’Hanlon’s On A Higher Note systems is uniformly excellent, I had an especially good time listening to his smaller desktop system: MacBook running Audirvana, a pair of passive Eclipse desktop speakers, and Luxman’s new DA-200 USB DAC/preamp and M-200 stereo amp ($2790 each).
Over the last several years, whenever I’ve run into High Water Sound’s Jeffrey Catalano at a show, he reminds me that I have an invitation to visit his NYC salon for a proper listen. I smile, thank him, and honestly agree: Yes, we definitely have to get together soon. It’s gotten to the point now that we don’t even have to talk about it. I know what he’s going to say, he knows what I’m going to say. For no good reason at all, I still haven’t made it down to 274 Water Street.
I sought out Manley Labs, manufacturer of tube amplifiers and preamplifiers, at CES. The system in their room included a Music Hall mmf-2.2le turntable, the Chinook phono stage that impressed Michael Fremer last August ($2250), a Steelhead phono preamplifier ($8000), a pair of Snapper monoblock 100Wpc tube amplifiers ($7650/pair), which use four EL34 output tubes, driving Neat Acoustic Ultimatum XLS speakers. EveAnna Manley mentioned after the show that she was working on a secret, prototype1 DAC that promises "to beat all comers." I greatly enjoyed the audio I heard in the Manley Labs room at CES. I had to agree with the saying on the rug that appears at every Manley abs exhibit: "Tubes Rule!"
Active speakersie, those that that have built-in amplifiersare generally unpopular with audiophiles. One well-known speaker designer working on his state-of-the-art speaker contender told me at CES that he would like it to be active but marketing told him that it wouldn’t sell, so he’s staying with the passive design. I guess Precision Transducer Engineering (PTE) didn’t get the memoor maybe they wrote their own . . .
The Phoenix, a large, attractive-looking three-way design with ceramic-diaphragm drivers, can be had in passive form for $75,000/pair or in active form for $95,000/pair. The active form includes a 500W class-D amplifier for the woofers and incorporates the Rives PARC low-frequency equalization. Demmed with VAC amplification driving the HF and MF sections, the active Phoenixes worked well on Charles Mingus Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus album, the low end sounding more evenly balanced than in most other rooms.
Listening to the big MartinLogan CLX full-range electrostatics ($25,495/pair) at the June 2012 Newport Beach Show had been a high point for me, though they were being demmed in too large a room. At CES, the CLXes were in a smaller room, and were being supported by a pair of MartinLogan's Balanced Force 210 subwoofers. Amplification was by Cello and the source included Berkeley's Alpha DAC. I sat down to listen to a 176.4kHz file of Respighi orchestral music from Referenece Recordings, but sadly it was not possible to form much of an impression, due to the conversations competing with the music.
I had auditioned the Estelon X-Diamond speakers ($65,000/pair) at the 2012 Newport Beach Show, but the room there was not allowing the speakers to sound at their best. Driven by top-of-the-line, class-A Vitus amplification, these speakers, which use the 1.2" Accuton inverted diamond-dome tweeter, along with a 7" Accuton ceramic-cone midrange unit and an 11" Accuton ceramic-cone woofer, sounded much better at CES, even though the dem room was one of the infamous split-level rooms at the Venetian.
Erick Lichte was very impressed with the Marten Django XL loudspeaker when he reviewed it last September. The three-way Django costs $15,000/pair, but CES saw the debut of the two-way Django L, at a more affordable $9000/pair. A 1" Accuton tweeter is married to two 8" woofers and the sound on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was much better-integrated than I would have expected.
Invented by Oskar Heil and made popular by speakers under the ESS name in the ‘70s, the Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter and midrange have lost popularity for a while, but have made a major comeback in speakers made by a number of manufacturers, including ADAM Audio in Germany. The Column Mk.3 ($7000pair), reviewed by Kal Rubinson in August 2012 was used by Cary Audio at CES, and had what I now think is a sonic signature that’s apparent in a variety of loudspeaker designs: low in coloration and detailed without being overly bright.
Using the same treble and upper-midrange Air-Motion Transformer units as the Class Column 3 that Bob Deutsch writes about in the next story, the much more expensive Tensor Beta Mk.2 ($35,000/pair) adds new lower midrange unit and woofers, all with Hexacone diaphragms. The massive, cross-braced MDF enclosure features a 22mm-thick aluminum baffle and the interior walls are faced with a unique plastic-honeycomb substance with the cells filled with steel shot. The shot very effectively absorbs vibrations.
Although a number of speaker manufacturers use Heil AMT drivers, only one company has the rights to use the name of the original speaker company that used Heil drivers: ESS. Headquartered in South El Monte, CA, ESS Laboratories LLC (which we might call “ESS Reborn”) also owns the rights to the original slogan, “Sound As Clear As Light.” Unlike the speakers by ADAM Audio, GoldenEar, etc., these speakers look just like the original ones from ESS. President and CEO of ESS, Ricky “Rico” Caudillo, seen in the photo, told me that he wanted to stay with the original, highly-successful designs, but in recreating these designs managed to improve them in a number of ways, most notably in producing wider dispersion. A brief listen to the LD12 ($3295/pair), modeled on the original ESS Monitor, left me with a very positive impression.
T+A (Theory and Application) is a German audio company best known in North America for their electronics and source components, not their speakers. That’s about to change with the appointment of Dynaudio as T+A’s North American distributor, and the introduction of the T+A Criterion line of loudspeakers. Asked whether Dynaudiowhich, of course, is a loudspeaker manufacturerhas collaborated with T+A on the design and/or manufacturing of their speakers, Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis quickly assured me that Dynaudio functions only as the distributor for T+A; the T+A speakers are manufactured entirely in the T+A factory in Herford, Germany. Dynaudio makes loudspeaker drivers that are used by quite a few speaker manufacturers, but T+A is not among them.
Distributed in the US by Colleen Cardas Imports, the new Moos Mini Aero speakers ($2499/pair) represent a serious attempt to get good sound from powered wireless speakers. Founder of the Australian company, Tom Celinski, shown in the photo and once with Linn, told me that the two drive-units are ScanSpeak Revelators and, in fact, the speakers are assembled by ScanSpeak. A USB2.0 interface guarantees bit-accurate transmission of digital audio at up to 24bit/96kHz. The wireless data are fed to a DSP-based digital crossover running on Analog Devices SHARC floating-point chips. Thee crossover in turn feeds the data for each drive-unit to a quad mono differential Wolfson DAC which drives a Hypex 200W class-D amplifier module. The sound was open and spacious. The speaker, which was honored with an International CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Award, is scheduled to start shipping in April.
At every CES, I seem to find out on the last day that there was something I should have checked out. And, sure enough, on Friday afternoon, I’m talking to Wayne Schuurman of the Audio Advisor, who mentions that Magico has a new speaker that’s about $13,000/pair.