Would you like to take "your high-end system to a whole new level of accuracy, from high-fidelity to acoustic fidelity?" That's what the Trinnov ST2-HiFi loudspeaker/room optimizer ($6200) promises. And it looks like a pretty sophisticated device, measuring the impulse response of the loudspeaker in the room, analyzing the room modes, and automatically computing FIR and IIR filters to improve the dominance of direct sound over late reverberation, equalizing the response in both frequency and time domains. The ST-2-HiFi is supplied with a calibrated microphone array; once that's placed in the listening area, all you have to do is press a button and the ST-2-HiFi does the rest. Comparing the sound of a pair of Sonodyne amplified speakers before/after Trinnov ST-2-Hi-Fi correction, I noticed that the imaging became considerable more precise after the ST-2-Hi-Fi processing, and the bass seemed tighter.
My first encounter with the Acarian Alón IV was at the 1992 Las Vegas WCES. I was doing the show report dealing with speakers, and there was already enough advance buzz about the Alón IV that I put it on my "Speakers I Must Listen To" list. And listen I did, at some length, and came away impressed with their open quality and well-defined soundstage. In discussing reviewing assignments with John Atkinson, I told him that the Alón IV was one of the speakers I wouldn't mind spending some time with. (The list also includes the WAMM, the MartinLogan Statement, and the Apogee Grand, but I'm not holding my breath.)
Adam Professional Audio is a German company that makes loudspeakers aimed at, as the name suggests, the professional market; their list of users include Abbey Road Studios and Lincoln Center. They're now poised to enter home audio. They had several of their speakers on display, but the only ones actually playing were in a large home theater demo room. The demonstration piece was the "chase" scene from the latest James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and all I can say about the sound was that it was loud. (Putting on my ultimateavmag.com hat, I can also say that the projector's color saturation was set too high.) However, reading the product literature, it's clear that the speakers represent a formidable amount of technology. The tweeter and midrange driver are based on the Air Motion Transformer principle developed by the late Oskar Heil, called Accelerated Ribbon Technology (A.R.T.) in Adam's implementation. (Klaus Heinz, Adam's chief engineer, worked with Heil.) The woofers have a honeycomb-structure diaphragm. The Adam Tensor Betas that served as the front L and R speakers use two 11" woofers and a 7" one, plus two midrange units and a tweeter. Powered with B&O ICE module. class-D amplifiers, a pair of Beta Tensors cost $60,000. There are two other speakers in the Tensor series, all semi- or fully active, the prices varying from $30k to $80k.
The Adam is yet another loudspeaker manufacturer that uses drivers that are descendants of the Heil AMT tweeter. Adam's Classic Mk.3 uses what they call Accelerated Ribbon Technology (X-ART) for the midrange as well as the tweeter, and 2x7.5" HexaCone midwoofers. The Classic Mk.3 is available in passive ($7000)/pair or active ($10,000/pair) form, the latter for the studio professional market. A brief demowith Cary Audio electronicssounded convincingly full-range and dynamic. I understand that Kal Rubinson is getting a pair of these for review in Stereophile.
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.
Although the component that actually produces the sound is obviously the loudspeaker, audiophiles know that everything in the system—digital or analog source, preamplifier, amplifier, cables, room acoustics—has an influence on sound quality. No matter how good the speaker, its performance depends on the quality of the signal, the speaker's acoustical environment, and how the speaker is set up in that environment. I've heard speakers that I knew to be topnotch performers sound dreadful at audio shows and in dealers' listening rooms.
Larry Greenhill has reported on Revel's Ultima2 Salon, which, at $22,000/pair, is well beyond my CES coverage limit of $15,000,. But I can tell you about Revel's more affordably-priced offerings. Speakers in the new Performa3 series started shipping in December, the price range starting at $1500/pair (M105 bookshelf-type) to the top-of-the-line $5000/pair F208 floorstanders. The speakers feature new transducer designs, next-generation tweeter waveguides, stylish enclosures, and low-distortion ports. The design process of Revel speakers utilizes position-independent double-blind listening tests.
As usual with shows of this type, many of the systems demoed at FSI cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, Angie Lisi of Audiopathic, distributor of some stratospherically-priced equipment, made it a point to assemble a relatively affordable yet highly musical-sounding system, consisting of the Manley Stingray integrated amp ($2250), Totem Rainmaker speakers ($1198/pair), and an Accuphase CD player. Oh, did you want to know the price of the CD player? Umm—$6995. When I pointed out to Angie the incongruousness of having this expensive CD player as part of the system, she replied—somewhat sheepishly, I thought—"It was the cheapest CD player I had around."
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.
dCS is known for its superb-sounding but stratospherically-priced digital source components—prices in the $50k+ range for a transport/DAC combination. While their new Puccini one-box CD/SACD player won't be a candidate for Budget Component of the Year, its $22,000 price represents low end for dCS. But don't start spending all the money you've saved by buying the Puccini rather than the more expensive dCS offerings: there is a matching external clock component upgrade that will be available in the near future. No price has been determined yet, but you can be sure that it will not be in three figures.