Michel Plante, previously co-producer of SSI, and now doing marketing for Audio Plus/Plurison, sent me an invitation to a special Press Breakfast on Friday morning, at which a new project involving Rega turntables would be introduced. He seemed most disappointed when I told him that I would not be at the show until Friday afternoon, so I would not be able to attend the event. Fortunately, Art Dudley was there in time, and he has posted a report. All I can do is provide another picture.
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.
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.
Carat Audio's products are sufficiently new to North America that the only prices available are still in Euros. (They do have distribution.) Designed in France and made in China, the A57 integrated amp (80Wpc, 899 Euros), C57 CD player (649 Euros), and T57 tuner (349 Euros) look like anything but budget products, resembling products from Primare or YBA. An indication of the quality of the design is that the power output of the A57 nearly doubles into 4 ohms (80 into 8 ohms, 150 into 4 ohms)—very unusual at this price level.
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.
Another interesting product featured in the Canada Pavilion was the exaSound e18DAC ($1999). It is, as the name implies, a DAC, but it's much more than that. Featuring a maximum 384kHz/32-bit sample rate and bit depth, it can function in stereo and 8-channel modes, and has a formidable list of technical specifications, including a 0.13ps master clock with 3 precision quartz oscillators, 17 power filtering stages, galvanic isolation between the USB subsystem and the DAC circuits, true asynchronous USB interface, hardware volume control implemented by the DAC chip for the highest S/N ratio, and has a high-quality headphone amplifier.
The Elac FS 609 XP-1 is a speaker that has intrigued me since I first saw it, but somehow never got a chance to listen to it. On the Friday, my first day at FSI, I was in the room where they had a pair of these speakers, but, wouldn't you know it, they were not the ones being played. Then, on Sunday morning, I saw Vince Scalzitti, the importer, and said "Vince, do you by any chance..." but he didn't let me finish. "You want to hear the bigger Elacs, right? They're playing in the room next door." And indeed they were. Demo'd by the genial Jack Bakerdjian of Audio Gallery, a Toronto Elac dealer, the FS 609 XP-1 (catchy name, what?) driven by Korato tube electronics sounded quite promising, with a very spacious sound, even though the room was almost certainly too small for them. The FS 609 XP-1 ($17,000) uses an improved version of the famous Heil driver, with an omnidirectional supertweeter on top.
I like the idea of a speaker using a single full-range driver, requiring no crossover, so when Michael Tang of Michael Tang Audio emailed me, saying that one of the interesting products he's importing is the Japanese Feastrex driver, I made sure to check it out at SSI. There are two versions of this driver: the NF-5 ($2000), with uses an Alnico magnet, and the NF-5EX, with uses a field-coil magnet ($3000), requiring an external DC power supply. (Michael says he's used a car battery for this purpose.)
Fidelio Records, based in Montreal, has an impeccable—um—record of producing CDs and SACDs of the highest technical and artistic quality. Their latest SACD of the Nemesis percussion ensemble, played back on Verity Parsifal Ovation speakers ($24,000), with a gaggle of Nagra electronics and Esoteric SACD player, made one of the best sounds I heard at the show. Fidelio recording engineer René Laflamme did a comparison for me of the SACD and the backup analog master (Nagra open-reel), and I have to admit I preferred the clarity of the SACD.