Ultra Systems' Robert Stein cornered me—in the nicest way possible—at the Stereophile/Home Theater party Wednesday night, telling me that he had a great new acoustical damping product that I should check out in his booth. I was going to give this one a pass until he mentioned that it's small, easy-to-install, and inexpensive.
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).
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.
Press conferences can sometimes be tedious affairs, with the presenter going on-and-on about his company's past accomplishments, and how even greater things are coming in the future. But this description did not apply to the press conference for Usher Audio Technology at this year’s CES. This was more like an informal party for friends than the prototypical press conference. People stood around and chatted for a while, and then Atul Kanagat of MusikMatters, Usher’s North American distributor, talked briefly about how Usher’s line of high-value/high-performance loudspeakers is intended to bring more music lovers into the hobby. We then listened to some music through some very-nice-sounding Usher speakers. Pictured are PR consultant Jonathan Scull (whose name should be familiar to Stereophile readers, Usher chief engineer Joe D’Appolito (whose name should be familiar to students of speaker design), Tsai Lien-Shui (President of Usher), and Atul Kanagat.
I’m not fond of using earplugs, so I haven’t really investigated listening to music with in-the-ear-canal type earphones. However, I've read reports from the likes of Wes Phillips and John Atkinson, extolling the virtues of these type of earphones, so when I saw the sign at the Shure booth that they had some new models in this series, I thought I'd give them a listen. The ones I tried were the top-of-the-line SE530 ($449.99), which are described as "triple TruAcoustic microspeakers," with a separate tweeter and two woofers. I listened to "Nessun Dorma" sung by Pavarotti—the source was an iPod—and was quite blown away with the effortless ease and natural quality of the sound. Maybe there is something to earphone listening after all...
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.
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).
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.
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. :-)
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.