The big guns: Sonus Faber’s new flagship loudspeaker, the Aida, with electronics from Audio Research.
The early bird catches the worm, but the well-warmed playback system is another thing altogether: So it was when I visited New York’s Stereo Exchange on the morning of April 13, mere minutes after they opened their doors for the day. Nevertheless, the ever-genial David Wasserman and his staff hit the ground running, cheek-to-jowl with eager customers and representatives from 11 equipment suppliers, whose presence had at least something to do with the New York Audio and AV Show.
North American distributors Rutherford Audio were on hand with the latest full-range loudspeaker from the German company ELAC, with celebrates its 86th anniversary this year. (Brit-fi fans such as myself will remember ELAC as the manufacturer of the silky-smooth aluminum-dome tweeter from the first and best version of the Acoustic Energy AE-1.) Their new 249 BE loudspeaker ($8000/pair), the woofer cones of which are faceted for rigidity, sounded fine with Burmester electronics. Bruno de Lorimier of Rutherford Audio invited us to guess if the singers on one recording in particular were wearing boxers or briefs; the answer, of course, was "yes."
One of my favorite parental duties is dispensing advice that's calculated to make me sound wiser than I am. Among those pearls: Every so often you should change your point of viewyour philosophiesjust to see if your opinions can stand the strain. In doing so, you may discover a few things that are better than you expected them to be!
Hawaii-based Emerald Physicsa company I hadn't heard of until RMAF 2012demonstrated their own US-built loudspeakers and electronics with a Peachtree Audio novaPre preampD/A converter playing music files from a laptop computer. Emerald's CS2P open-baffle loudspeaker ($2990/pair) works as a dipole below 1000 Hz, with a 15" woofer and a horn-loaded 1" tweeter. The retail price of the system I heard, including the Peachtree unit; the Emerald Physics CS2P loudspeakers; Emerald's DSP2.4 active outboard crossover/EQ unit ($850); and the company's EPI100.2 100Wpc digital amplifier ($1600) was under $7000, not including computer and playback software. While far from perfectthe bass wasn't especially taut, and there was little in the way of the sorts of texture and tone I cravethe performance was clean, spacious, and satisfying.
I tried but failed to photograph the on-screen image from the home-theater dem in one of the two Emotiva rooms, so you’ll have to take my word: Eric Clapton wore a black short-sleeved shirt and a pair of ripped and faded jeans (shame how some of these rock stars just frittered away their millions), and played a baby-blue Fender Stratocaster. But the real stars of this slick and commendably spare-sounding band were the three backup singers, who were sufficiently passionate to convince me that they had, working together, indeed murdered a sheriff somewhere. The excitement of it all was delivered by Emotiva electronics and loudspeakers, including XPA-2 and XPA-5 amplifiers ($679 and $764, respectively), UMC-1 surround-sound processor ($594), ERT-3 floorstanding loudspeakers ($1278/pair), and ERD-1 stand-mounted surround speakers ($319/pair). The sound was quite decent by any measureand exceptionally good for the money.
I finally got to meet one of my audio heroes, John Tucker: founder of Exemplar Audio and co-designer of the legendary Exemplar Horn loudspeaker system. Tucker, who spent the early part of his career working for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, is an engineer and software designer who keeps a distinctly open mind when it comes to the audible effects of seemingly anomalous mechanismsfrom acoustic resonators to powered cables. (John is also featured in an article of mine that will appear in the Autumn, 2012 issue of The Fretboard Journal.) These days, Exemplar's products include a heavily modified version of the Oppo 95 disc player ($3500, including base Oppo unit) and a line of active interconnect and speaker cables called Portals.
Yet another of the best systems I've ever heard at a hi-fi show was an exhibit by some former distributors for the English manufacturer Exposure Electronics, at a Chicago Consumer Electronics Show in the late 1980s. The exhibitors seemed to believe it was better to impress with a humble product than to overwhelm with a full-bore assault, because they limited their display to a single amplifier: the then-new Exposure X (as in "10") integrated, mated to a record player comprising a Linn LP12 turntable, Ekos tonearm, and Troika cartridge, and a pair of Linn Kan loudspeakers.
Three years ago, the idea of a solid-state integrated amplifier that sold for only $1250 yet combined some of the best performance aspects of a Naim Nait and a Dynaco Stereo 70 seemed likely to resonate with consumers and critics alike. And it did: Introduced in early 2005, the British-built Exposure 2010S was an unequivocal hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and remains in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components." Deservedly.
As a Quad ESL enthusiast, I know how difficult it is to blend subwoofers with very good, very fast loudspeakers. Consequently, I was impressed with the new A225-M powered subwoofer from the Swiss company PSI, on demonstration at the Simplifi Audio room. Used with the Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker, of which I also have some experience, a pair of PSI subs ($4500 each) provided lots of deep, impactful bass with no apparent change in the Gradients' timbral character: very impressive. The subwoofer was housed within one of the the same IKEA units as Simplifi's Tim Ryan was using for component stands, to show that high-quality sound can still be domestically acceptable.
Like a Studebaker Avantior perhaps even the Concordethe shape of an Elipson loudspeaker from 60 years ago is jarring, albeit impressively so, in its anacronicity: The French design and manufacturing firm has been ahead of the curve for that long. At SSI they had a number of fetching designs on static display, including the Planet L seen here, a two-way coaxial design that's now manufactured in China. For 2013 a pair of Planet Ls can be bundled with a similarly stylish (round, of course) amplifier/CD player for $2500, with stands adding another $300.