High-end audio is in some ways a dynastic beast, though without as many "begats." One of the world's most successful loudspeaker manufacturers in the years following World War II was the Wharfedale company, from Yorkshire in the North of England. Wharfedale was founded by Gilbert Briggs in 1932, who in the 1950s handed over the reins of Technical Director to fellow Yorkshireman Raymond Cooke. Cooke left Wharfedale in 1961 to found KEF Electronics Ltd., where he subsequently appointed Goodmans designer Laurie Fincham as Chief Engineer in 1968. Fincham led a team of young engineers, including Mike Gough, who eventually joined B&W, and Yorkshire-born Andrew Jones, who became KEF's Chief Engineer in 1989, before Fincham was lured to Harman's Infinity division, in Northridge, California, in 1993. Jones followed Fincham across the Atlantic, where he worked on Infinity's Prelude, Overture, and Reference Series speakers, before joining Pioneer in 1997. The Japanese company had established a state-of-the-art speaker-design facility in Southern California, and Jones was invited to lead the design team.
All-new from TAD at the 2012 CES was a more affordable line of components than the 600 series and electronics and Reference loudspeakers. The Evolution Series E1 speaker ($29,800/pair, right) still uses a concentric tweeter and midrange unit, like its more expensive Reference One sibling (left), but while the tweeter dome is still beryllium, the midrange diaphragm is now magnesium rather than beryllium and the unit is built on a 5" rather than a 6" chassis. Twin 7" woofers are used, but still with the highly linear corrugated surrounds and with a 2.5: voice-coil. Bass extension is specified into the low 30s, anechoic. I auditioned so much music on this system, I thought I was outstaying my welcome, but the sound of the E1 system, at $76,800 including the new M2500 500Wpc power amplification and the C2000 D/A preamp driven by asynchronous USB from a MacBook Air and all sitting on a Finite Elemente rack was open, natural, and uncolored, with superb low-frequency definition and weight. I couldn't imagine how the sound of a a 176.4kHz/24-bit transfer of Rebecca Pidgeon singing "Spanish Harlem" could be bettereduntil TAD's Andrew Jones switched to the TAD Reference system (see next story).
TAD didn't appear to be demonstrating anything new in their large penthouse suite at the Venetian, but designer Andrew Jones was getting such an enormously involving sound from the Compact Reference CR-1 stand-mounts ($37,500/pair plus $1800/pair for stands) that I had to stop to take an extended listen. Jones had some of HDTracks' new 24/192 files that he was playing with Amarra and one track, featuring Hammond organ, double bass and drums, had the audience stumped. (The fellow in front of me even held up his iPhone and ran a song ID app, only for the screen to flash "No Match.") Then I twigged: it was a jazz arrangement of Pink Floyd's "Money," with sound to die for. DAC, preamp, and power amps were also from TAD.
Best sound apart from violinist Arturo Delmoni, that is. I am reviewing TAD's Compact Reference CR-1 three-way stand-mounts ($37,500/pair plus $1800/pair for stands) for a Fall issue of the magazine so I was interested in seeing what kind of sound TAD's chief engineer Andrew Jones was getting from the CR-1s in the room TAD was sharing with its New York dealer, Triode Picture+Sound. Though there were a pair of Atma-Sphere tube monoblocks in the room, the speakers were being driven by TAD's solid-state amplifier with the source Andrew's MacBook Air running Decibel and feeding data to a TAD DAC via USB. I listened to several hi-rez recordings at 176.4kHz and 192kHz from Chesky and ex-Sheffield Labs engineer Bill Schnee, whose recording for Bravura Records of a band led by drummer Simon Phillips had one of the best recorded drum sounds I have heard. Even in the cramped and crowded hotel room, it was obvious that these speakers, with their coaxial, beryllium-diaphragm midrange/tweeter and reflex-loaded 8" woofer with a 4" voice-coil, were doing something out of the ordinary with respect to freedom from compression.
. . . stand-mounted speaker is hardly compact but it is a reference. TAD's Andrew Jones was showing off the speaker, which combines a hi-tech coaxial tweeter/midrange array with a port-loaded, high-excursion woofer, with all-TAD electronics, including an asynchronous USB DAC and 600W-into-4 ohms solid-state monoblocks. What did I think of the sound? Well, for that all I will say is that it echoed what I will be writing in my January 2012 review.
On passive show were TAD's new entry-level E1 floorstanding speaker. Scheduled to cost $27,000/pair, the E1 uses a beryllium-dome tweeter and is a more refined development of the Pioneer S1-EX that so impressed Kal Rubinson a few years ago.
TAD premiered its new E1 floorstander ($29,800/pair) at the 2012 CES in January, but THE Show Newport Beach was the new speaker's first public outing. Trickling down the technology from TAD's massive Reference One (now being used for monitoring at London's famed AIR Studio) and Compact Reference CR 1, the E1 still uses a coaxial drive-unit with a beryllium-dome tweeter for the treble and midrange, but with the midrange cone now magnesium rather than beryllium.
In this issue you can find a full report from the 2000 International Consumer Electronics Show, held last January in Las Vegas. By contrast to the 1999 CES, the Y2K Consumer Electronics Show was considerably more upbeat, both according to my own observations and to those experts who specialize in judging the size of Las Vegas conventions: the city's taxi drivers. Yes, there were some rooms where lonely exhibitors were more than usually pleased to welcome a visitor from the press, but to judge from the home-theater exhibits at the Las Vegas Hilton's Convention Center and the specialty audio exhibits at the Alexis Park Resort Hotel, as well as the companies exhibiting at the splinter T.H.E. Show at the St. Tropez, the joint was jumping.
The Phoenix, a large, attractive-looking three-way design with ceramic-diaphragm drivers, can be had in passive form for $75,000/pair or in active form for $95,000/pair. The active form includes a 500W class-D amplifier for the woofers and incorporates the Rives PARC low-frequency equalization. Demmed with VAC amplification driving the HF and MF sections, the active Phoenixes worked well on Charles Mingus Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus album, the low end sounding more evenly balanced than in most other rooms.
The Talon loudspeaker brand has been revitalized since it was purchased by Richard Rives Bird. Richard is see here with the new Phoenix, a floor-standing three-way with ceramic drive-units. The Phoenix costs $72,000/pair in passive form, which is what was being demmed at CES, driven by VAC amplification. The crossover is mounted in a separate compartment at the rear of the woofer section and an upgrade (approximate price $15,000) is planned whereby the passive crossover module can be replaced by one containing a line-level crossover, Rives' PARC bass equalizer to provide room correction, and a class-D amplifier to drive the woofers.
As fascinating as the design of high-end hardware can be, it goes without question that without musical software (or firmware, as our more computer-minded readers would have it) of an appropriately high standard, the whole business would be pointless. Stereophile's interviews have therefore often featured engineers and producers whose recorded work reveals sound quality to be a major concern. I interviewed Performance Recordings' James Boyk back in Vol.9 No.6; J. Gordon Holt spoke in Vol.10 No.3 with Doug Sax and Lincoln Mayorga, of Sheffield Lab, and with Keith Johnson of Reference Recordings, about their history-making Moscow sessions; JGH also discussed Brad Miller's and Lou Dorren's Colossus digital project in Vol.10 No.1 and Vol.11 No.4; while last month Dick Olsher interviewed Peter McGrath, responsible for some superb-sounding recordings for Harmonia Mundi USA as well as for his own Audiofon label.