I began writing this essay on New Year's Day 2007. The passing of the old year reminded me that I am now in the 21st year of editing Stereophile, my 25th of being the editor-in-chief of a mainstream audio magazine, and my 31st of working full-time as an audio journalist. (Prior to joining Stereophile in 1986, I had worked for 10 years at British magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review, the final four as its editor.) Back in the innocent 1970s, reviewers and editors generally picked and chose what products to review based on their own interest and what they felt appropriate for their readers to know about. Back then, there was only a tiny fraction of the audio brands now available to the audiophile, and even with fewer review pages than we now have, it was possible each year to cover a representative sample of the products being offered our readers. But such was the explosion in high-end audio throughout the 1980s that, by 1989, I felt it necessary to impose some restrictions on what products we choose for full review coverage in Stereophile.
The AVM electronics were being used to bi-amp the midrange and treble units of the enormous Legacy Helix speakers ($48,000/pair), which use 750W ICE-powered 15" subwoofers and a digital-domain crossover with room correction, like its smaller and less expensive cousin, the Whisper XD. The big speakers lack the Whisper's unique cardioid woofers, however. The classic Radka Toneef performance of Jimmy Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" sounded suitably delicate, but the bass on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" sounded ponderous, due, I think, to the sub-optimal acoustics of the air-wall ballroom.
Legacy's large Whisper speakers ($20,900/pair with digital-domain crossover and four channels of ICE-Power amplification for the woofers) had been one of my best sounds of the 2010 Axpona in Florida. However, the Whisper hadn't sounded as good as I was anticipating at this year's Montreal Show, where they were being demmed in too small a room and loading up the room with low frequencies as a result, even with room correction applied and the speaker's unique woofer alignment. At the 2011 Axpona, the Whisper, seen here with designer Bill Dudleston who is showing off one of the speaker's dual-woofer cardioid bass sections, the company had the opposite problem, witht he speakers being demmed in an enormous, live-sounding room. Even so, driven by Coda CX amplifiers, a Coda CL preamplifier, and an Ayon tubed CD player, the Whispers almost managed to fill that room with high-quality sound.
Definitely one of my two best sounds at Axpona, along with the BAT-Scaena room, was the Orion 4 dipole speaker (from $14,750/pair with analog line-level crossover), designed by Siegfried Linkwitz and with custom enclosures made by Wood Artistry. Quad-amped with two Bryston 9B four-channel amplifiers, a Pass Labs preamp, and a Marantz CD player, the "William Tell" section from Shostakovich's Symphony 15 had superb dynamic range, with a "quiet" quality that seemed like there was a lower level of spurious behavior from the room. This allowed a wealth of detail to be perceived even when the music was itself quiet.
Each Orion 4 weighs 85 lbs and uses five SEAS drive-units: two soft-dome tweeters, a magnesium-cone midrange unit, and two long-throw 10" woofers especially developed by SEAS for the open-baffle loading used by Linkwitz. The crossover frequencies are 90Hz and 1440Hz and the tweeters, the midrange unit, and each woofer are driven independently, though the woofers can be paralleled to allow tri-amping if only six amplifier channels are available.
Graham Nash auditioned the new gibbon X speakers in the DeVore Fidelity room, which featured an LP player with the longest Well-Tempered Tonearm made, at 18". It was great to see veteran designer William Firebaugh at the 2016 show, 30 years after his unique tonearm made its debut at CES, and still actively involved in high-end audio.
I first auditioned an open-baffle Granada speaker at the 2011 Show, which used a single Feastrex driver to cover the range above 200Hz and was being driven by a solid-state Musical Fidelity amplifier. For 2012, the Lotus Group was showing the less expensive G2 ($75,000/pair), which uses a more conventional midrange unit and tweeter, but still on an open baffle, still with a digital-domain crossover and room calibration realized in DSP. Amplification this year was provided by the humongous Audio Power Labs 833T amplifier that had impressed Larry Greenhill elsewhere at the Show.
Turning the bits into music in the Channel D room was this $2495 standalone D/A converter, the Hilo from high-end soundcard manufacturer Lynx. Offering USB2.0, ADAT, S/PDIF, and AES/EBU inputs, the Hilo features a 4.3" LCD touchscreen to allow navigation of its menu system as well as, when the music is playing, a choice of peak bargraph or VU meters, as shown here. The Hilo supports 24-bit word lengths and sample rates up to 192kHz and can be used with both Windows machines and Macs.
The Mårten Django represented a new direction for the Swedish speaker manufacturer, in that at $15,000/pair, it is considerably more affordable than the Mårten Coltrane speakers shown at earlier Shows. It still uses a ceramic tweeter and a ceramic-cone midrange unit, with three aluminum-cone 8" woofers, but in a less complex enclosure than the more expensive speakers. Downward-firing posts reflex-load the woofers. Set up across the room's diagonal, and flanked by Swedish SMT acoustic panels, the Jacques Loussier Trio performing an arrangement of an Eric Satie Gymnopedie was reproduced with superb low-frequency weight and definition. Amplification was Mårten's own M-Amp, with an MSB digital source. The Djangos were also being used in US importer Dan Meinwald's room, where they were being driven by EAR tube amps and a prototype EAR SACD player to great effect.
Magico's Alon Wolf shows off his new Q1 stand-mounted speaker ($24,950/pair), which marries the beryllium-dome tweeter from the Q3 and Q5 floorstanders with a 7" Nano-Tec–cone woofer. The sealed, hard-anodized aluminum enclosure is braced and damped to minimize resonances. Despite its relatively diminutive sizeit measures 14.2" H by 9" W by 14.2" Dthe Q1 weighs 60 lbs.
Driven in Chicago retailer Musical Artisans' room by by BAlabo amplification, a Zanden phono stage, a Clearaudio turntable, and a Bottlehead-modded Nagra open-reel deck to play Tape Project tapes, the Q1s produced a full-range sound that flattered female vocals without sounding mellow or lacking in transparency.