When I reported in our report from the 2009 RMAF that I perceived a degradation when Ted Denney of cable manufacturer Synergistic Research removed his tiny ART devices from the room, it triggered a debate that raged not just in the comments following that report but also in our website forum right up to today. The fact is that these small metal bowls are too small to have a significant effect on the acoustics of a room at frequencies below 10kHz or so, yet they seem to improve the accuracy and stability of stereo imaging and even tighten up the sounds of bass instruments. It is a mystery, therefore, how these devices can work. I have conjectured that perhaps they have an effect on the listener’s state of mind rather than the acoustics, but if so, then I don’t comprehend how that effect can be both repeatable and demonstrable. Whatever they doif they do anything, that istherefore, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into my final room at the 2010 RMAF, the Synergistic room.
There was no information available on this cute tube integrated from Italy, the Synthesis Flame, except that it has remote control and costs between $1500 and $3000. But it sure is pretty! Check out www.synthesis.co.it.
The German T+A brand is now being distributed in the US by Dynaudio North America and having only been aware of their electronic products, I was surprised when I went into the T+A room at CES to see a large pair of speakers, the Solitaire CWT2000s ($45,000/pair). However, "I have been designing speakers since the company started," explained T+A's Siegfreid "Siggi" Amft, seen here with his creation.
The speaker features an electrostatic tweeter, 45mm wide but mechanically split into three 15mm-wide sections. as the frequency increases, the crossover increasingly cuts off drive to the outer sections, maintaining lateral dispersion. Adjacent to the tweeter is an array of six 6" cone midrange units, with the higher frequencies mainly being handled by the central units, again to optimize dispersion. Two pairs of 10" woofers complete the driver complem3nt, one pair being mounted each side of the enclosure and driven in-phase so that their reactive forces cancel. The sealed-box alignment is said to give a dB point of 37Hz. Two more, smaller, less expensive Solitaire models will be launched later in the year.
The T+A speakers were bring driven by T+A M10 hybrid monoblocks ($33,000/pair), which use a tube input stage capable of delivering the full output voltage required by the speakers, with then a solid-state current amplifier providing the necessary cone-controlling grunt.
It costs $42,000 but TAD's new C600 solid-state line preamplifier features dual-mono construction, an all-discrete signal path, a separate power supply, and fastidious attention paid to detail in both its design and construction. The amber LED display for example, is DC-powered rather than from the usual multiplexed supply, to eliminate EMI interference. And the sound, in conjunction with the D600 SACD player, M600 monoblocks, Reference One floor-standing speakers, and HRS rack to give a system price of $214,500? I'll leave it to Stephen Mejias to describe in his show wrap. Personally, it was a highlight of the 2012 CES.
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.