There's been a lot of concern expressed about the difficulties experienced by bricks-and-mortar audio retailers, and I guess these concerns are well founded, but some retailers continue to not only survive but thrive.
One such retailer is American Sound of Canada, located in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill. Owned and managed by Angie Lisi (known to all her customers as just "Angie"), American Sound was founded in 1970, and has recently opened a second location a few miles up the road, called Angie's Audio Corner, specializing in their higher-end lines. Angie's very capable assistants, Leyland and Arnold, now look after the Richmond Hill store, and Angie's Audio Corner is Angie's baby. Converted from an old residential property, Angie's Audio Corner has a more sophisticated upscale boutique vibe than the Richmond Hill store, but, with Angie in charge, the atmosphere is still welcoming rather than stuffy.
Angie's Audio Corner had an event on February 28 to introduce some of their new lines, including Joseph Audio speakers, the latest Meridian Sooloos music server, Brinkmann turntables, and Zesto Audio line stage and phono stage.
Active speakersie, those that that have built-in amplifiersare generally unpopular with audiophiles. One well-known speaker designer working on his state-of-the-art speaker contender told me at CES that he would like it to be active but marketing told him that it wouldn’t sell, so he’s staying with the passive design. I guess Precision Transducer Engineering (PTE) didn’t get the memoor maybe they wrote their own . . .
Invented by Oskar Heil and made popular by speakers under the ESS name in the ‘70s, the Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter and midrange have lost popularity for a while, but have made a major comeback in speakers made by a number of manufacturers, including ADAM Audio in Germany. The Column Mk.3 ($7000pair), reviewed by Kal Rubinson in August 2012 was used by Cary Audio at CES, and had what I now think is a sonic signature that’s apparent in a variety of loudspeaker designs: low in coloration and detailed without being overly bright.
Although a number of speaker manufacturers use Heil AMT drivers, only one company has the rights to use the name of the original speaker company that used Heil drivers: ESS. Headquartered in South El Monte, CA, ESS Laboratories LLC (which we might call “ESS Reborn”) also owns the rights to the original slogan, “Sound As Clear As Light.” Unlike the speakers by ADAM Audio, GoldenEar, etc., these speakers look just like the original ones from ESS. President and CEO of ESS, Ricky “Rico” Caudillo, seen in the photo, told me that he wanted to stay with the original, highly-successful designs, but in recreating these designs managed to improve them in a number of ways, most notably in producing wider dispersion. A brief listen to the LD12 ($3295/pair), modeled on the original ESS Monitor, left me with a very positive impression.
T+A (Theory and Application) is a German audio company best known in North America for their electronics and source components, not their speakers. That’s about to change with the appointment of Dynaudio as T+A’s North American distributor, and the introduction of the T+A Criterion line of loudspeakers. Asked whether Dynaudiowhich, of course, is a loudspeaker manufacturerhas collaborated with T+A on the design and/or manufacturing of their speakers, Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis quickly assured me that Dynaudio functions only as the distributor for T+A; the T+A speakers are manufactured entirely in the T+A factory in Herford, Germany. Dynaudio makes loudspeaker drivers that are used by quite a few speaker manufacturers, but T+A is not among them.
At every CES, I seem to find out on the last day that there was something I should have checked out. And, sure enough, on Friday afternoon, I’m talking to Wayne Schuurman of the Audio Advisor, who mentions that Magico has a new speaker that’s about $13,000/pair.
Promoted as "the first pocket-sized portable speaker good enough for the audio purist,” the Soundmatters FoxLv2 has had endorsements from renowned speaker designersincluding Michael Kelly (Aerial Acoustics), Gayle Sanders (MartinLogan), and Peter Tribeman (Atlantic Technology)and a rave review by Michael Fremer on AudioStream. There are three models, the price ranging from $149 to $229, the basic model accepting analog input only, the other two connected with Bluetooth (including aptX technology) as well. The top Platinum model has a longer battery life (20 hours vs 12 for the other two) and includes an AudioQuest interconnect. I have some interest in portable speakers, and have listened to a fair number of them, including the audiophile-oriented offerings from B&W, Arcam, and B&O, but somehow the FoxLv2 was not among them. CES 2013 gave me an opportunity to remedy this omission. The Soundmatters booth was in the iLounge section of the Convention Center, and when I got there it was surrounded by a full TV crew. There is apparently a lot of interest in this product.
And then there were five. At the end of the show on Friday evening, the remaining members of the Stereophile crew met for dinner at the same BLT Burger restaurant at the Mirage where they had eaten the night before the Show opened. Larry Greenhill, Michael Fremer, Kal Rubinson, Jon Iverson, Tyll Hertsens, and Jason Victor Serinus had already departed, so remaining were (left to right) myself, John Atkinson, Michael Lavorgna (AudioStream.com), Stephen Mejias, and Tom Norton (Home Theater, erstwhile Technical Editor for Stereophile). We don’t even look too tired!
Have you ever attended one of those speaker demos where a large pair of floorstanding speakers were supposedly playing, and then it was revealed that the speakers playing were small hidden ones? (I recall Joseph Audio doing one of these.) Well, it was something like that in the Totem room, but not intentionally. The speakers that I thought were playing were the Metal floorstanders ($12,000/pair) and I was particularly impressed by the deep, dynamic bass produced by these speakers.
And then . . . in discussing the performance of the speakers with designer Vince Bruzzese, I found out that the speakers playing were not the Metals but the much smaller bookself-type Fires ($6000/pair) . . .
Morel had two setups at CES: one featuring a pair of Soundspot SP 3 satellites and 8” bass unit ($1799/pair) and, in another room, a pair of Sopran floorstanders, the latter winner of the 2013 CES Design and Engineering Innovations award. The Sopran ($12,000/pair} is one-down from the $34,000/pairand, in my opinion, unfortunately-namedFat Lady. The Sopran is a three-way, five-driver speaker, proprietary drivers and a molded carbon-fiber composite cabinet that I find a refreshing change from the usual wooden box.