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.
My photograph doesn't do justice to the lustrous blue finish or the immaculate interior construction, but Vandersteen's new M7-HPA power amplifier looks as gorgeous as the Vandersteen Model Seven and 5A loudspeakers with which it is intended to be used. As the HPA in its name implies, the M7-HPA provides a high-pass filtered output (>100Hz) to the upper-frequency drive-units of these two speakers, which have integral powered subwoofers. The amplifier uses a tube input stage and a two single-ended solid-state output amplifier stages operating in what Richard Vandersteen calls "push-push," all mounted with a sprung suspension and kept cool with a liquid cooling system. Price is projected to be between $30,000 and $40,000/pair.
Richard Vandersteen doesn't rush to release new loudspeakers, so given that the top-of-the-line Vandersteen 7 was a hot product at the 2010 CES, I wasn't expecting anything new at the 2011 Show. Talking to Richard in the company's Venetian suite, where they were featuring the Model 7, he casually mentioned that the new Tréo ($5990/pair) was at the Show, just not in his room. So I hustled me along to the Musical Surroundings room, where the Tréos were being demmed with a Clearaudio turntable and Aesthetix electronics.
Basically, the Tréo is similar to the $10k/pair Quatro Wood that Wes Phillips reviewed in December 2007, but replaces that speaker's active, equalized bass unit, with a conventional passive 6.5" woofer and an 8" flat-cone "acoustic coupler." Good sound at an equally good price.
As had happened at the 2008 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, there were so many exhibitors wanting to show their wares at the 2013 show that there was some overflow housed at the nearby Hyatt Regency Tech Center. I'll be writing about the Scaena and Wilson exhibits at the Hyatt in stories to be posted later, but the first room I went into featured speakers from a company of which I had been unaware, Missouri-based Vapor Audio (www.vaporsound.com). The floor-standing Joule Black speakers ($12,995/pair) were being demmed with a BMC preamplifier and monoblock amplification, but beyond that I have nothing to write as no-one in this room seemed interested either in playing me music or giving me any information.
Silicon Valleybased Velodyne was founded in 1983 to develop a range of subwoofers that used servo-control to reduce non-linear distortion to vanishingly small levels. They succeeded in this goal to the extent that Velodyne is now perhaps the best-known subwoofer company in the US, currently employing 65 people. At the 1994 Winter CES, Velodyne launched the subject of this review: the DF-661 ($1800$2600/pair), their first full-range loudspeaker (the "DF" stands for "Distortion-Free").
The three-way DF-661 was designed from the ground up to continue the Velodyne tradition of ultra-low distortion. "We had developed the technology and resources to attack distortion elsewhere in the audio chain," wrote company President David Hall, "and started with the premise that, by definition...distortion in loudspeakers is wrong." (His italics.) "We went to the laboratory for a solution, with the living room as the ultimate goal." Velodyne calls this attention to technological detail "The Silicon Valley approach to sound."