It is obviously an Avalon design but the new Idea loudspeaker ($7995/pair) continues the Colorado company's goals of combining transparency and articulation with expansive soundstaging. All these qualities were in evidence at RMAF, with the Ideas driven by Electrocompaniet monoblocks on cuts from Johnny Cash and Luka Bloom. The Idea combines a 1" dome tweeter with two 7" Nomex-Kevlarcone woofers. The woofers are loaded with a downward-firing port.
During a recent visit to Canada's National Research Council, I noticed stuck to the wall of the prototype IEC listening room a page of results from one of Floyd Toole's seminal papers on the blind testing of loudspeakers. The scoring system was the one that Floyd developed, and that we adopted for Stereophile's continuing series of blind tests. "0" represents the worst sound that could possibly exist, "10" the perfection of live sound—a telephone, for example, rates a "2." The speakers in Floyd's test pretty much covered the range of possible performance, yet their normalized scoring spread, from the worst to the best, was just 1.9 points.
Manhattan retailer Innovative Audio had two rooms at the Show, one active, featuring Wilson Sasha speakers driven by VTL amplification and a dCS digital front-end, the other passive, featuring displays of equipment from companies handled by Innovative, like Dynaudio, Meridian, and, as can be seen in the photo, Dan D'Agostino. Dan, resting his elbow on a Wilson Duette speaker, which will be reviewed in our June issue, took showgoers through the design of his jewel-like Momentum monoblock power amplifier ($50,000/pair), as well as the new stereo amplifier derived from it and the Dan D'Agostino preamplifier, to be launched at next month's Munich Show. One of the joys of high-end audio shows is the accessibility audiophiles can enjoy to superstar engineers like Dan.
The BMC (see next story), Ypsilon, and Lansche brands are distributed in the US by Aaudio Imports. Larry Greenhill has already described the new Ypsilon Aelius monoblock amplifier and I auditioned the amplifier in one of the two Aaudio rooms at the Venetian with the new Model No.7 speakers from Lansche ($100,000/pair in satin-veneer finish; $108,000/pair in high gloss).
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.
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.