Following my review of two high-performance minimonitors last November (footnote 1), I received a letter asking why I recommended a stand-mounted speaker at all when it was possible to buy a floorstanding design with more bass for the same amount of money. Furthermore, the correspondent went on, when you consider that the minimonitor sitting on its stand occupies as much floorspace as the floorstander, it's hard to see why a market for minimonitors exists at all.
Totem was demonstrating its new Element series loudspeakers with the Classé CA-M600 600W monoblocks that I enthusiastically reviewed in the March issue of Stereophile. The three Element modelsthe Fire stand-mount at $5995/pair, the floorstanding Earth at $8995/pair, and Metal at $12,995/pairall use a new 7" woofer designed and manufactured in-house. But what's with the tie around the guy's head in the wall-sized photo?
It has been 20 years since Montreal-based Totem Acoustics made its name with the Model One minimonitor, and the speaker has both remained in production and been featured in Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing all that time. I am working on a follow-up of the current production One, but taking pride of place in Totem's FSI suite was the limited-edition Model One Signature ($3595/pair). Only 2000 pairs will be made, and differences over the regular Model One include upgraded drivers, a bevel-edged, mahogany-veneered cabinet stained "root brown," and the WBT connector panel you can see in my photo. Despite the speakers' diminutive stature, the system, based on an Accuphase CD player, Plinius integrated amplifier, and Totem's own biwire cables, filled the relatively large suite with satisfying sound.
Canadian speaker manufacturer Totem had a rather schizophrenic room, in which they had no fewer than three complete systems being demmed, one based on MBL electronics, the second on McIntosh electronics, and the third on Cary electronics. Totem’s Vince Bruzzese is shown here operating what I felt to be the best-sounding system, featuring a C31 CD player ($9200) and C51 300Wpc integrated amplifier ($11,100) from MBL’s Corona series driving the Earth speaker from Totem’s Element range ($9000/pair) via Clarus cables. The Earth uses the same tweeter and Torrent Technology woofer as the other Element designs, coupled to a passive radiator. There is no crossover in the woofer’s path, leading to an almost preternaturally clear midrange, but with big, almost too big bass.
"$175,000/pair?" I gulped. I know my beat at the 2011 CES was expensive loudspeakers, but the price of the Trenner & Friedl Duke took my breath away. Yes, the sound in the large room the new Austrian company shared with Cardas, Profundo, and the Jeff Rowland Design Group was superb, but that's a lot of change, even if the manufacturer will fly anywhere in the world to set the speakers up in the customer's home. (The rest of the system comprised a dCS Puccini used as a transport to feed JRDG's new Aeris DAC (the Colorado company's first digital product), $9800; a JRDG Criterion line stage, $18,500; and two JRDG 625 stereo power amplifiers, $13,500; with Cardas Clear cabling.
Each 12" woofer uses a fiber-glassreinforced paper cone and is loaded by what is referred to as "a hybrid form of horn-resonator and bass reflex design." The mid/HF module is coupled to the woofer modules with spheres of varying hardness, to drain vibrations optimally, and can be adjusted to bring the drivers into proper time alignment at the listening position. The midrange unit features a papyrus cone with an elmwood phase plug and an alnico magnet, while the enclosure is filled with wool from "locally raised sheep" to reduce internal reflections being retransmitted through the drive-unit cone. The tweeter uses a titanium nitride dome loaded with a Tractrix-flare horn, while the supertweeter is a diamond-diaphragm type. The upper-range crossover is passive; the woofers are fed via a line-level crossover, and internal wiring is all Cardas Clear.
The price of the Duke loudspeaker from Trenner & Friedl$175,000/pairtook my breath away when I heard it at the 2011 CES. The Austrian company’s Isis ($40,000/pair), on display in Profundo's second room, uses the same compression driver for the HF as the Duke but combines it with an 8" paper-cone midrange unit and a 15" paper-cone woofer in a conventional, if large, cabinet. (Each cone is doped with six coats of lacquer.) The sound of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, from the Witches’ Brew RCA LP on a Basis turntable, with the speakers driven by Viva Audio Aurora tube monoblocks ($43,500/pair), had huge dynamics and a natural tonal balance. The image of the solo oboe that represents the cock crow at dawn in this work was superbly well-defined, without any exaggeration of its size.
Most of the time at CES, Stereophile's writers prowl the corridors in solitary fashion. But occasionally we find ourselves in the same room at the same time, which was the case in the Blue Smoke suite at the
Mirage, where we had gathered to check out the company's new server that Jon Iverson blogs about elsewhere in this report. Seen in this photo are (from left to right): Erick Lichte, Jon Iverson, Kalman Rubinson, Larry Greenhill (partially hidden), Blue Smoke's Peter Sills (back to the camera), and someone whose name tag I couldn't see. It gives you an idea of the inquisitorial mode we are in at Shows, desperate for detail but eventually satiated with sound.
As part of this issue's coverage of the recent Consumer Electronics Show (see Sidebar), I report on my dissatisfaction with almost all the surround-sound demonstrations I experienced in Las Vegas. As a music-lover, the last thing I want is to have trumpets and drums attacking me from behind, yet almost without exception, that is what record producers seem to feel is an essential part of the DVD-Audio and SACD experiences.