Back in the Spring of 1988, I was sent a pair of diminutive two-way speakers that totally redefined for me what miniature loudspeakers were supposed to be about. That model, Acoustic Energy's AE1, may have offered short measure in the low-bass department, but its apparently effortless dynamics, musically natural balance, and tangible imaging made it a winner. It also broke the mold of modern audiophile speaker design by featuring a 4.5" woofer with a metal cone just 3.5" in diameter. (Various companies have experimented with metal-cone drive-units in the past, only Ohm and pro-sound company Hartke having had any previous commercial success, though Monitor Audio now also offers a range of speakers with metal-cone woofers, their Studio line.) Since that time, Acoustic Energy has tried to produce a full-range speaker that built on the success of the AE1, but with only limited success, in my opinion. While their AE2 added a second identical woofer, and offered useful increases in bass extension and dynamic range, I felt it to be too colored in the midrange to be a real audiophile contender (see Vol.13 No.2, February 1990, p.134.)
In this issue's "Letters" column, you will find comments from readers who are bothered by what they perceive to be this magazine's emphasis on reviewing very expensive technology. Yes, we do cover a lot of cutting-edge technology, and it is, of necessity, expensive. But our experience has been that that technology invariably trickles down to products that real people can actually afford.
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.
The San Diego manufacturer’s affable Robert Lee was showing his new Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,000/pair), which combines a horn-loaded ribbon tweeter with two 5" midrange units and two 8" woofers in a transmission-line enclosure. Driven by Triode TRX-M845 tubed monoblocks, the Crescendos threw a very wide but somewhat unstable stereo image on a 1962 RCA “Living Stereo” Leopold Stokowksi LP, with rather ill-defined low frequencies. I would have thought that perhaps that sonic signature was due to the recording, but the Crescendos sounded cleaner, with better defined low frequencies and accurate, stable stereo imaging in the Red Dragon Audio room, where they were driven by Red Dragon M500 Mk.II monoblocks ($1598/pair) and helped, I understand, by DSP room acoustic correction.
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. . .