As Wes Phillips reported a day or so ago, The folks at PS Audio have been extremely busy of late. There have all new designs for power-line conditioners, some of them descendants of the highly-successful Power Plant active devices, others passive filter designs. An impressive couple of demonstrations by Paul McGowan showed how a competing power-line conditioner was unable to cope with a power surge that was handled with aplomb by the PS Audio product, and, similarly, a competitor’s product (with the name taped over to protect the innocent) did almost nothing to power line noise that was effectively filtered by the PS Audio product. The loving couple in the picture are PS's Terri and Paul McGowan.
One of my favorite records—which I selected as a Record To Die For a few years ago—is Sure Thing, songs by Jerome Kern sung by Sylvia McNair, accompanied by Andre Previn on the piano, with David Finck on string bass. When I walked into the Siltech room, they were playing another recording by Sylvia McNair, with accompaniment by Previn and Finck, this one songs by Harold Arlen, a recording that I have somehow missed getting. The recording sounded quite lovely through Siltech's new speakers (still in prototype form), and I commented on it to the gentleman doing the demo. "I engineered that recording," he said. It turns out that John Newton (left), president of Siltech America, engineered not only Sylvia McNair's Harold Arlen's CD but also her Jerome Kern album. We chatted about the recordings, not the technical but the musical aspects, which served as a most welcome reminder of the interest in music that at a fundamental level forms the basis of this hobby. On the right of picture is yours truly (not Sylvia).
In my opinion, the relation between speaker size and performance tends to be a curvilinear one: performance improves with size up to a point (assuming good design), but when speakers are really big they’re often disappointing, sounding merely "impressive" but not natural. I’m always delighted, therefore, to find an exception to this rule, and that was the case with the PBN Audio Montana Master Reference speakers at the outboarding THE Show at the San Tropez Resort. These speakers are 84" tall, weigh 500 lbs, and feature two 18” subwoofers, two 10" woofers, two 5.25" midrange units, and one 1.125" tweeter. Demoed by PBN President/Designer Peter Noerbaek and Vice-President Patty Noerbaek, these speakers, driven by PBN's own amplifiers, sounded impressive and natural. The price is $65,000/pair, but you do get a lot of speaker for the money. Peter Noerbaek says they sold four pairs last year—to people with baronial homes, I’m sure.
Canadian manufacturer Simaudio is on a roll, with product introductions at just about every CES and Home Entertainment Show. This time, it was the Moon P5.3 preamplifier ($3500), with numerous "trickle-down" design features from the flagship Moon P7 and P8, and the Moon W5.3 amplifier (150Wpc, $4800). I managed to catch VP Marketing Lionel Goodfield with a less-serious-than-usual expression by telling him to imagine that they got a letter from Best Buy, saying that they want to carry the high-end Simaudio brand in all their stores and will pay full retail price just to have this privilege. :-)
The Australian Ambience Reference 1800 ribbon hybrid loudspeakers ($13,995) use ribbons of their own design, combined with a vented bass section. The cabinet is sleek, with a narrowing toward the top. I quite enjoyed listening to these speakers, and, ever on the lookout for a cost-effective components, I was impressed by the fact that they were being driven by relatively inexpensive Vincent electronics (SAT-1 preamp, $1495, SAT-100 monoblock power amps, $2495/pair). Designer Tony Moore was on hand to demo the speakers.
Divergent Technologies’ Tash Goka introduced a new top speaker in the Reference 3A line: the Grand Veena ($7500/pair), which, in addition to two woofers, a midrange and a tweeter, also has a Murata supertweeter that covers the range from 20kHz to 100kHz. The sonic contribution of the supertweeter is acknowledged to be "not easily detectable by conventional means," but is said to improve the speaker’s spatial quality and have positive effects outside of its nominal operating range. The Grand Veenas sounded mighty nice driven by Antique Sound Labs' new Cadenza amps ($6500/pair).
When it comes to directivity in loudspeaker frequency response, the trend has been to make them less directional, both vertically and horizontally, so that the speakers would be less sensitive to seating position and allow more then one person to enjoy the same tonal balance. The new Copernicus II ($21,000/pair with powered subwoofers and digital equalization/phase correction) from Alltronics Technical Systems takes the opposite approach, going for maximum directionality/focus. The drivers form a vertical line source with a concave curve, the speakers being "aimed" at a seated listener. Not only that, but there's a motorized control moving the speaker up and down to match the exact height of the listener's ears when seated. These are what I'd call "bachelor’s speakers!" They are certainly not designed for listening by couples, but the upside is the the soundstage can be extremely precise and three-dimensional, and the sound itself was well-balanced and dynamic. Here’s designer Dennis Althar with his baby.
People whose memories go back a long way may remember Dick Sequerra’s highly-regarded Metronome Seven loudspeakers. They haven't been made for some years, but the importers of Thorens products have prevailed on Dick Sequerra to start making them, and a pair of these (serial No.3) was being used in a system that included a Thorens turntable (natch), Ron Sutherland’s PhD phono stage and Direct Line Stage, and new $15,000/pair Thorens monoblocks. The speakers are designated Metronome 7.7 Mk.6, and are priced at $1995/pair. Very nice sound, especially considering the fact that the system was in one of the Venetian rooms with ceilings that are much higher than any normal home. Here are Ron Sutherland and Thorens importer Chuck Kennedy, kneeling at the altar of High Fidelity.
The rooms at the Venetian Hotel that are named after famous Venetians (Marco Polo, Galileo, Bellini, et al), with their ultra-high ceiling, are proving to be a definite challenge for exhibitors. (The rooms in the Venetian Tower, which I haven’t visited yet, are said to be better.) One of the more successful in taming these rooms’ acoustical challenges was Lyngdorf. Of course, this is the all-singing, all-dancing, DSP-corrected RoomPerfectTM system, which is designed to deal with room anomalies. And that it did, the sound from the "2+2" system (two main speakers out from the wall and two subwoofers against the wall) sounding uncommonly well-balanced. Designer Jan A. Pedersen is looking pleased, as well he should be.
Convergent Audio Technologies' SL-1, in its various iterations, has been my reference preamp for some time. When the SL-1 Ultimate came out, I kidded designer Ken Stevens about the fact this designation implied that there was simply no way to improve it, so what was he going to do when—inevitably, in my view—he found ways to tweak the design? Well, sure enough, the SL-1 Ultimate is now the SL-1 Ultimate Mk.II, and Ken has a new preamp called the Legend, which is said to be even better. Improvements over the Ultimate Mk.II include a Teflon circuit board, Black Gate electrolytic capacitors, separate left and right volume controls, and a constrained-layer aluminum/steel bottom plate. An interesting feature is that the AV bypass works even without the preamp being turned on, saving tube life. The price is $15,995, which makes the $7995 for the Ultimate Mk.II seem like a positive bargain.