It's a common audiophile failing to remember the past as being much better than it actually was. (Though, of course, some things were better.) I remember the first time I heard a pair of Acoustic Research LST loudspeakers, in 1974 or thereabouts. Compared with the Wharfedales I used in my own system and the various Goodmans, Celestions, and home-brews I heard at friends' homes, the sound of classical orchestral recordings on the ARs was about as close to the real thing as I could imagine. And the AR ads reinforced my experience, telling me that musicians such as Herbert von Karajan also used LSTs. I never heard those speakers again, but occasionally I wonder how they would hold up today (footnote 1).
One aspect of audio Shows that I love is the software pavilion, where audiophiles can browse new, old, are rare vinyl to their hearts' content. Acoustic Sounds’ Chad Kassem wanted to show me some of his new Analog Productions releases, but ended up telling me about his recent purchase of 30,000 sealed LPs—one and a half 53' trailer's worth—that had been in storage since 1981, the stash assembled by an eccentric collector long since passed away.
"The synergy is palpable between Triode Corporation's Japanese-made electronics and Acoustic Zen's loudspeakers and cables," wrote Jason Serinus earlier in this blog and I just wanted to add my 2 cents. As I had in many rooms at CES, I auditioned my recording of pianist Hyperion Knight performing Gershwin on the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers ($16,000/pair). The sound of the Steinway was sweetperhaps a little too sweet?and the soundstage was wide, deep, and stable.
So said the flyer drawing attention to Room 1022 at the Hilton. Intrigued, I went in, to see two pairs of Acoustic Zen Adagio mounted side-by-side, driven by an inexpensive Samsung DVD player and a Rotel amplifier. The sound was good rather than great, but considering the sub-optimal arrangement side-by-side speakers with widely spaced pairs of tweeter, no acoustic treatment, very inexpensive ancillaries, etc the sound was very much better than I was expecting, with precise stereo imaging. It turned out that the speakers' interaction with the room was optimized with a digital-signal processing unit, but no further details were forthcoming.
I have never been a fan of transmission-line speakers. My experience has been that too often resonant problems in the line color the speaker's upper bass. But I didn't hear any such problems with the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers ($16,000/pair), seen here with designer Robert Lee. The Crescendo combines two 5" midrange units with magnesium-impregnated paper cones placed either side of a horn-loaded tweeter with two 8" woofers that use ceramic-coated "non-pressed" paper cones, these loaded with a transmission line venting at the speaker's base. Driven by a Triode Corporation 20Wpc TRV-845SE integrated amplifier ($6000), which uses two 845 output tubes running in class-A, and a Triode TRV-CD4SE CD player, the sound in this room was uncolored and extended at both frequency extremes, revealed by a superb recording of a female singer accompanied by a double bass.
Using the same treble and upper-midrange Air-Motion Transformer units as the Class Column 3 that Bob Deutsch writes about in the next story, the much more expensive Tensor Beta Mk.2 ($35,000/pair) adds new lower midrange unit and woofers, all with Hexacone diaphragms. The massive, cross-braced MDF enclosure features a 22mm-thick aluminum baffle and the interior walls are faced with a unique plastic-honeycomb substance with the cells filled with steel shot. The shot very effectively absorbs vibrations.
I have made a point of visiting rooms at Shows featuring speakers from the Adam, the German manufacturer successfully extending their expertise with professional monitor loudspeakers into the world of consumer audio. In the room at Axpona, strategically treated with RealTraps, Adam were showing off their Tensor Beta towers ($31,000/pair) with Accuphase amplification and CD player via Transparent cable. The speaker's two Hexacone woofers are mounted on the front and back of the lower enclosure and driven by an internal amplifier. The midrange and treble enclosure is decoupled from the woofer cabinet with three sand-filled leather bags and both double-walled enclosures have the space between the walls filled with sand. The glory of this speaker is. . .
Speaker designer Bill Roberts talks so fast, I could only write down every third word as he explained the design principles behind the Advanced Transduction Directorate loudspeaker. A four-piece, three-way system with an outboard crossover and line-loaded woofers, the 600lb Directorate has a very high claimed sensitivity of 96dB/W/m and bass extension of 3dB at 14Hz. Price is $30,000/system in light-oak veneer, or $25,000/system unfinished, as shown in the photo. With left and right speakers each driven by a 125Wpc Power Modules Belles 150A Reference stereo power amplifier ($2300), and a front end of CD files played with Sony Sound Forge running on a PC sent as digital audio to a Belles DAC and the new tubed Belles 22A preamplifier ($2500), the sound, even in an acoustically challenged room, had superb balance, dynamics, and transparency.
It was an audacious demonstration. For the launch of Aerial's 20T loudspeaker at the end of 2002, Aerial's head honcho and designer, Michael Kelly, had arranged to compare the speakers reproducing the recorded sound of virtuoso violinist Arturo Delmoni with the real thing. The setting was the ornate dining room of one of Newport, Rhode Island's many mansions, and, given the inevitable differencesdue to the facts that a violin has a very different radiation pattern from a loudspeaker and thus excites the room differently, and that the recording inevitably gives the listener a double dose of the room's acousticthe demo was successful. There was much subsequent argy-bargying between Stereophile's reviewers about who would review the Aerial 20T, but it was Michael Fremer who eventually wrote about it in April 2004.
One of the most impressive speakers I have auditioned in the past few years was the three-way Aerial 20T, which was reviewed by Michael Fremer in April 2004. I spoke to Aerial's Michael Kelly a while back about getting a pair for a Follow-Up review, but he declined, saying that he was working on an improved version.