In one sense, Richard Vandersteen has been the victim of his own success. His Model 2 loudspeaker (footnote 1), introduced at the 1977 Consumer Electronics Show, put his company on the map but proved a hard product to improve on. Based on the idea that the HF and midrange drive-units should have the minimal baffle area in their acoustic vicinity, both to optimize lateral dispersion and to eliminate the effects of diffraction from the baffle edges, the Model 2 also used a combination of a sloped-back driver array and first-order crossover filters to give a time-coincident wavefront launch.
As I wrote in my review of the Bricasti M1 D/A processor in February 2012, it seemed a good idea in the late 1980s: upgrade the performance of your CD player by feeding its digital output to an outboard digital/analog processor. British manufacturer Arcam, one of the first companies to see the opportunities in this strategy, introduced their Black Box in 1988. When I reviewed the Black Box in February 1989, I found that its low-level linearity was among the best I had measured at that time for a product featuring the 16-bit Philips TDA1541 DAC chip set. However, that linearity still wasn't very good in absolute terms. Back then, it required heroic and expensive engineering to obtain D/A performance that did justice to the 16-bit CD. These days, however, the semiconductor foundries produce a plethora of relatively inexpensive D/A processor chips that both handle 16-bit data with ease and wrest full resolution from 24-bit data.
I walked into BSG's room at the Newport Beach Show in June 2012 unsure of what I was going to hear. I was well aware of this new company's qøl Signal Completion Stage ($3995), but didn't know if it was a genuine step forward in audio reproduction, or just another example of the hokum found on the fringes of our hobby. I took my listening seat, and BSG's CEO Larry Kay, cofounder and erstwhile publisher of Fi magazine, performed A/B comparisons with the qøl's processing in and out of circuit.
Bill Thomas at CES with the ground-breaking coaxial HF/MF unit designed by Jim Thiel (Photo: John Atkinson)
We reported last November that Thiel Audio Products, the Kentucky-based speaker manufacturer founded by Kathy Gornik and the late Jim Thiel, had been had been acquired by a private equity firm based in Nashville, TN, and that Gornik was no longer with the company. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, held January 811 in Las Vegas, the Thiel display at the Sands Convention Center was packed. I met up with Thiel's new CEO, 55-year old Bill Thomas, and asked him what had led him and his two partners to acquire the company.
The Phoenix, a large, attractive-looking three-way design with ceramic-diaphragm drivers, can be had in passive form for $75,000/pair or in active form for $95,000/pair. The active form includes a 500W class-D amplifier for the woofers and incorporates the Rives PARC low-frequency equalization. Demmed with VAC amplification driving the HF and MF sections, the active Phoenixes worked well on Charles Mingus Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus album, the low end sounding more evenly balanced than in most other rooms.
Listening to the big MartinLogan CLX full-range electrostatics ($25,495/pair) at the June 2012 Newport Beach Show had been a high point for me, though they were being demmed in too large a room. At CES, the CLXes were in a smaller room, and were being supported by a pair of MartinLogan's Balanced Force 210 subwoofers. Amplification was by Cello and the source included Berkeley's Alpha DAC. I sat down to listen to a 176.4kHz file of Respighi orchestral music from Referenece Recordings, but sadly it was not possible to form much of an impression, due to the conversations competing with the music.
I had auditioned the Estelon X-Diamond speakers ($65,000/pair) at the 2012 Newport Beach Show, but the room there was not allowing the speakers to sound at their best. Driven by top-of-the-line, class-A Vitus amplification, these speakers, which use the 1.2" Accuton inverted diamond-dome tweeter, along with a 7" Accuton ceramic-cone midrange unit and an 11" Accuton ceramic-cone woofer, sounded much better at CES, even though the dem room was one of the infamous split-level rooms at the Venetian.
Erick Lichte was very impressed with the Marten Django XL loudspeaker when he reviewed it last September. The three-way Django costs $15,000/pair, but CES saw the debut of the two-way Django L, at a more affordable $9000/pair. A 1" Accuton tweeter is married to two 8" woofers and the sound on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was much better-integrated than I would have expected.
Using the same treble and upper-midrange Air-Motion Transformer units as the Class Column 3 that Bob Deutsch writes about in the next story, the much more expensive Tensor Beta Mk.2 ($35,000/pair) adds new lower midrange unit and woofers, all with Hexacone diaphragms. The massive, cross-braced MDF enclosure features a 22mm-thick aluminum baffle and the interior walls are faced with a unique plastic-honeycomb substance with the cells filled with steel shot. The shot very effectively absorbs vibrations.
Distributed in the US by Colleen Cardas Imports, the new Moos Mini Aero speakers ($2499/pair) represent a serious attempt to get good sound from powered wireless speakers. Founder of the Australian company, Tom Celinski, shown in the photo and once with Linn, told me that the two drive-units are ScanSpeak Revelators and, in fact, the speakers are assembled by ScanSpeak. A USB2.0 interface guarantees bit-accurate transmission of digital audio at up to 24bit/96kHz. The wireless data are fed to a DSP-based digital crossover running on Analog Devices SHARC floating-point chips. Thee crossover in turn feeds the data for each drive-unit to a quad mono differential Wolfson DAC which drives a Hypex 200W class-D amplifier module. The sound was open and spacious. The speaker, which was honored with an International CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Award, is scheduled to start shipping in April.