My loudspeaker seminar on Saturday featured Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics (to the left in Jason's photo), John MacDonald of Audience (far right) and Bill Dudleston of Legacy (immediate right with hand raised). The first half of the session featured each panelist discussing what his goals were as a loudspeaker manufacturer, what technical parameters he felt most correlates with good sound, how he balanced all the various aspects of performance to get a good balance at a specific price, and where he felt there was the greatest room for continued improvement in speaker performance. The second half of the seminar consisted of a Q&A session and there was a lively discussion, including mention of the fact that all three companies featured on the panel continue to manufacture their speakers in the US.
As well as listening to hi-rez digital files on the MBL system, I auditioned 15ips open-reel tapes from the Tape Project on a much modified Tascam recorder from United Home Audio. UHA's Greg Beron (that's Greg's hand in the photo) replaces the heads with low-impedance ones sourced from the company that supplies Abbey Road Studios in London, wired with single-crystal cable and silk-dielectric caps. A UHA machine costs $8000$17,000 depending on the level of work the customer needs, and the machine is lined-up to be compatible with Tape Project tapes. Listening to a Decca orchestral recording of Suite Espanole, I was reminded how good analog tape playback could be. Even a mono Thelonious Monk cut from 50 years ago sounded fresh.
We reported a couple of weeks back about the management buyout at English digital specialist dCS. CES saw the first public showing of the new products we wrote about, including the Verdi Encore SACD transport, which upsamples CDs to a DSD stream to feed a dCS DAC, such as the Elgar Plus seen here beneath the transport with both clocked by the dCS Verona that I reviewed a year ago. The rest of the dem system was a pair of Verity Parsifal speakers driven by a VTL S-400 amplifier and VTL's new TL-6.5 line preamp: the sound on a cut from the new Jackson Browne CD that Robert Baird writes about in the January 2006 Stereophile was effortlessly smooth, analog-like in the ease of musical communication. And on the top of the Encore is the award we presented to dCS at CES for the original LaScala transport being one of our two Joint Digital Products of 2005.
Charles Hansen said it best, in a recent e-mail: "People have been holding back from criticizing this technology because they weren't certain that some new discovery hadn't been made." Ayre Acoustics' main man was talking about "upsampling," whereby conventional "Red Book" CD data, sampled at 44.1kHz, are converted to a datastream with a higher sample rate. (Because of its association with DVD-Audio, 96kHz is often chosen as the new rate.)
Walking to the Kimber dem, I heard the familiar sounds of the Beatles' "Come Together" coming from the open door of the Usher room. I had to go in. A pair of the Taiwanese manufacturer's Dancer Be-718 two-ways ($2795/pair) was playing the song, fed by the LP release of Love on an Oracle tonearm/turntable fitted with a Zyx Atmos cartridge, which in turn was feeding the Oracle Temple phono stage, Oracle DAC 1000 preamp, and Usher's R.15 amplifiers. Cabling was all JPS Aluminata. Considering the large room, the relatively small Dancers appeared to have no problem filling it with sound. This is a speaker that deserves review coverage in Stereophile, I feel.
I know audiophiles are not supposed to like Diana Krall. But the singer/pianist has true jazz instincts. Her version of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," played back an open-reel tape on a Right Sound-modified Studer A80, with the Usher Dancer Mini 2 speakers ($4999/pair) driven by Usher amps and connected with JPS Aluminata cables was gripping. Undoubtedly contributing to the quality of the sound was the fact that, like many exhibitors, Usher had made a serious attempt to modify the acoustics of their room at RMAF with acoustic treatments.
Whenever I think of cone speaker systems, I think of three brand names: Snell, Thiel, and Vandersteen. There are many good loudspeakers and many good designers and manufacturers, but it is these three who, in my opinion, consistently produce the best cone loudspeaker systems. All three companies produce full-range systems, transparent systems, and systems which mate well with a wide range of equipment. Their systems can be owned and enjoyed for years. Long after some fad or special feature has given a competing designer brief notoriety, these are the products you turn back to for music.
In one sense, Richard Vandersteen has been the victim of his own success. His Model 2 loudspeaker (footnote 1), introduced at the 1977 Consumer Electronics Show, put his company on the map but proved a hard product to improve on. Based on the idea that the HF and midrange drive-units should have the minimal baffle area in their acoustic vicinity, both to optimize lateral dispersion and to eliminate the effects of diffraction from the baffle edges, the Model 2 also used a combination of a sloped-back driver array and first-order crossover filters to give a time-coincident wavefront launch.
"Dimensional Purity" is the promoted benefit of Richard Vandersteen's approach to speaker design, and in one of the two rooms I went into at RMAF organized by Fort Collins retailer The Audio Alternative, the Vandersteen Tréos ($5990/pair) were living up to that promise. Driven by an Audio Research Vsi60 integrated amplifier ($4495) with the source the Bryston BDP-1 digital player and BDA-1 DAC, all hooked up with AudioQuest cable, Mark Isham's Blue Sun reproduced with excellent bass extension and clarity and a laidback but detailed midrange.