I thought the Raidho D-1 loudspeaker ($28,000/pair, including stands), was among the most interesting and musically impressive new products at SSI. Raidho, a Danish company known for their work with ultra-lightweight ceramics, has developed a process for bonding to their speaker diaphragms a thin coat of industrial diamond, conferring even greater stiffness and freedom from unwanted resonances. Paired with a Jeff Rowland Aeris D/A converter and Jeff Rowland 625 power amplifier, the Raidhos were impressive on a variety of material. We’ve all heard demonstrations where we came away saying, “I can’t believe they got so much bass out of such little loudspeakers,” but in terms of the sheer quality and scale of that bass, the Raidho/Rowland combination was on another plane altogether.
Lars Kristensen of Denmark’s Raidho Acoustics, who has yet to overcome his shyness, presented the Raidho/Rowland system with all of the good cheer and powers of persuasion for which he is known and admired in our industry.
Despite its unfortunate physical resemblance to an electric shoe-shine machine, the Leedh E loudspeaker sounded open and airy during my visit to the room sponsored by Conceptas Sound and Engineering. I was prevented, by the language barrier, from learning anything about the E or its companion Lua brand electronics, including prices; one of two people running the room handed me some information sheets, but the other person snatched them away. I requested and was given more, but my moment of triumph was dashed when I saw that all of the literature was in French. All I have deciphered from it so far is that the Leedh E weighs less than “a dozen kilos” (I think), and one of its drivers is 17cm in diameter.
Another very listenable sub-$5000 system consisted of a pair of Bob Reina's favorite Monitor Audio RX-6s ($1600/pair), NAD X356 integrated amp ($800), NAD C515EE CD player ($400), and $340's worth of cables, at a total price of $3140.
Dynaudio took a decidedly computer-oriented approach to providing a system for under $5000, with a choice between two powered wireless speakers: the Xeo 3 ($2300/pair) and the Xeo 5 (at $4500/pair, just under the $5000 limit). And these speakers are serious high-end products, not built-to-a-price budget offerings. You save on not having to buy an amplifier or cables (not always a trivial amount). The only catch is that there is no source component included; it's assumed that the consumer already has a suitable computer and/or iPod, iPad, or similar device.
Atoll paired up with ProAc, assembling a system that, knowing something about these brands, I would guess would be a fine-sounding one, but it was only on passive display. Not the most effective way to attract new consumers, I'd say. The star of this system was the ProAc Tablette Anniversary ($2295/pair), the latest version of a speaker that has had enormous following over the years, and was combined with the Atoll CD30 CD player ($899) and Atoll IN30 itegrated amp ($799).
Rega comes to affordable audio products honestly: that's the only kind they make. For $5000, the system assembled at SSI 2013 included the Brio-R integrated amp ($900), Apollo-R CD player ($1095), and RS7 speakers ($3195/pair). You can substitute a DAC or a turntable for the same price. If you do the math you'll find that this comes out to $200 more than the limit, but I was told that the dealer will offer a discount that brings the price down to $5000, and will even include some cables. A very easy-on-the-ears system, and obviously good value.
The management of SSI requested exhibiting manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to set upin addition to whatever equipment they wanted to demonstratean entry-level system, with a total price of $5,000 or less. Some high-end audio manufacturers had nothing that would qualify, but others stepped up to the plate. Totem and Creek had a nifty little system that featured a pair of Totem Arros, Creek CD player and integrated amp, which have a combined price of $4,100, leaving $900 for cables, etc.
The folks at the Montreal Emile Berliner museum always bring to SSI some fascinating vintage audio equipment. The item in the picture is a "Personal Disco" component, Velo Model DK-990 (R), circa 1986, and it has everything you might want for your next disco party: two cassette players, radio, equalizers, four speakers, and a claimed output of 100W. Stephen, here's the subject for your next "Entry Level" column!
Finnish company Gradient is known for its unusual-looking speakers (they have a model that always reminds me of one of those ergonomically-designed office chairs), and unconventionalbut effectiveapproach to bass response. At SSI 2013, they introduced an interesting new small speaker, the Gradient 5.0 ($2000/pair), which features the same coincident mid-tweeter driver used in their larger speakers, and a passive radiator for the bass that looks like a mini-version of the famed KEF B139 woofer.
Designed by Hans Deutsch (no relation), made in Vienna, Brodmann Acoustics speakers come from the "musical instrument" rather than the "sound reproducer" tradition, rejecting the use of filters and damping materials to minimize distortion and unwanted speaker cabinet resonances. The theory may be controversial, but the Brodmann VC 7 ($25,000/pair) , with Electrocompaniet electronics, sounded superb, with great clarity, precise imaging, and, yes, a very "musical" sound.
Gershman is getting into the component support/vibration control business. The LEC Levitation device ($240 for a set of four), shown here by Ofra Gershman, uses the repulsion of two magnetic poles to provide isolation of the component from the surface it's placed on. Improvements in clarity, soundstage, imaging, and bass response are promised.
The first Gershman speaker I heard was the GAP 828 (maybe in 2004). The GAP 828 has been tweaked over the years, but this is the first time that the changes resulted in a change in model designation: it's now called the GAP 888 ($25,000/pair). The midrange and the tweeter are the same, but there's a new woofer, and consequent changes in the crossover, with some changes in the use of stuffing in the speaker. I've always enjoyed the sound of the GAP, but this was the best that I've heard it soundand the associated components were moderately-priced Quad electronics and CD player.
Not being fully up on the names of the various Sonus Faber speakers, I asked one of the reps the name of the giants on demo. "Ida" was his answer. Come again? "Ida! Sonus Faber gives their speakers names that have a musical connection, like the titles of operas." But how could that be? The only remotely relevant opera connection that I'm aware of for "Ida" is Gilbert & Sullivan's "Princess Ida," and somehow I doubt if the Italian designers of Sonus Faber speakers would name the speaker after this not-all-that-popular English operetta.
And then I got it. The speaker was named after Aïda, pronounced "eye-ee-duh," the well-know opera by Verdi.
Arcam, the British company that brought to market the first outboard D/A converter for domestic-audio applications in 1989, exhibited a couple of their newest variations on the digital-processor theme. Seen on static display in the room of Erikson Consumer AudioCanadian distributors for Arcam and Missionwas the new Arcam airDAC (left, ca $750), which uses AirPlay to allow perfectionist-quality wireless streaming from iPads, iPhones, and iPods. On the right is the similarly new Arcam irDAC (price to be determined), a remote-control 24/192 D/A whose innards are based on those of the company’s popular D33 processor.