Although I don't consider myself an expert on headphones by any means, I know that they fall into three basic categories: (1) circumaural (pad around the ear, the back closed or open) (2) supra-aural (pad on the ear), (3) in-the-ear (tightly or loosely fitting). (There were also the Jecklin Float headphones, which involved a pad on top of your head, with the transducers being positioned some distance from the ears. These have never enjoyed widespread success, and I don't think they're being made any more.) However, I was intrigued by one of the pre-CES emails, announcing "ear-free" headphones.
This Kim Kristiansen slide illustrates the effectiveness of Dali's SMC/linear drive magnetic system in reducing distortion. I believe the lowest curve shows the distortion levels of this the wooferbuilt completely in-housethat uses the linear drive magnetic system with SMC.
The business card of Dali's Kim Kristiansen states his position as "Director, Innovation." And, to judge by the illustrated talk he gave, Kristiansen and his associates at Dali have been working hard at producing innovations. The drivers for their latest speakers have a new linear drive magnetic system that uses a soft magnetic compound (SMC), which radically reduces distortion. Listening to the well-known recording of Misa Criolla on the demo system with the Epicon 6s (Primare CD player and electronics), which incorporates all the latest advances, I was impressed by the clarity and precise focus on the voice of José Carreras.
Checking out the Reference 3A speakers (Grand Veena, MM de Capo i, etc.) in Divergent Technologies' room at T.H.E. Show, I noticed that the center of the midrange and mid-bass drivers looked different. Divergent's Tash Goka was not in the room, but the person who was there introduced himself as the one responsible for the modification of these drivers. He's Ricky Schultz, inventor of the Surreal Acoustic Driver Lens, a small plastic device that is glued to the drive's dustcap, and has the effect of broadening the dispersion. The Surreal Acoustic Driver Lens is being incorporated into the production of all Reference 3A speakers. It's an OEM product, not available to consumers, and, according to Schultz, it has the potential to improve the performance of many loudspeaker drivers. He proceeded to provide me with the explanation of how the device works, but it quickly went over my head.
Stephen Mejias has written about Anssi Hyvönen of Amphion, who believes that music reproduction doesn't have to be loud to be effective, and that, in fact, the hallmark of a really good speaker is its ability to be involving at low levels. Amphion's demos always provide for a soothing experience at shows, and so it was at CES 2012, this time using the new Argon7Ls ($5999/pair) with Nuforce electronics.
My show report assignment was speakers under $15,000/pair, whereas John Atkinson would be reporting on speakers over $15,000/pair. But what about a speaker costing exactly $15,000? That was the dilemma I faced when, on my visit to T.H.E. Show, Peter Bichel Noerbaek told me about his latest speaker, the PBN Liberty (named after his daughter, age 9), which has a list price of $15,000/pair. I told him about the problem this presented for me, and he quickly responded by changing the price to $14,999/pair! The Liberty is a floorstanding three-way that uses what Noerbaek calls "inechoic" (not "unechoic") construction. The cabinet weighs 140 lbs. and is made of 48 layers of MDF.
PSB's Synchrony One ($5000/pair) is listed in Class A (Restricted Extreme LF) of Recommended Components, and their Imagine T ($2199/pair) is in Class B. At the 2012 CES, PSB introduced the Imagine T2 ($3500/pair), which, according to Paul Barton (seen in my photo), applies the technology of the Synchrony series to the Imagine T. Like the Synchrony One, the Imagine T2 has three woofers, each in a separate compartment, which are driven together at the low end, and as we go higher in the frequency range the second and third woofer are rolled off gradually at the bottom. As with Paul Barton's other designs, the tweeter is mounted below the midrange. Driven by an NAD C390 all-digital integrated amplifier, the sound had superb clarity and detail, with excellent imaging.
Totem is expanding their Element line, which features bass drivers running full-range up to the tweeter’s passband. The latest speaker in this line is the Ember ($4200/pair) a two-way using a 6" Torrent driver designed and made by Totem. Driven by Boulder electronics, a pair of Embers produced a full-range sound, with the sort of bass that made you wonder if there was a subwoofer in the system. Not bad for a 6" driver!
Somebody should do a study, categorizing the names of audio manufacturers. The most common approach is to name the company after the designer, or to use his initials. And then there are all those names that incorporate the word "audio," "sound," "music," and variations thereof. There are names that give no indication of the nature of the company's products, but are just memorable.