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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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) . . .
Sarah Tremblay and Caroline St-Louis, representatives of the Montreal Salon Son & Image (SSI) show were at CES, promoting their upcoming show in March. Visitors to the Montreal show may be expecting to see Sarah and Caroline wearing blue wigs, but they've apparently abandoned that look. They're now dressed up as hockey playersthe Montreal Canadiens, of course. I'll be reporting on SSI 2013, along with, hopefully, Art Dudley. There's a chance that John Atkinson may attend as well. Boys and girls, if you all write to him about how much you would like him to attend SSI, perhaps he can be persuaded.
Wisdom's planar-magnetic drivers are used in some very expensive speakers, and they had a pair of their LS4 floor-to-ceiling wall-mounts at CES, which sounded superb, easily one of the best at the show. (It was in the "if you have to ask" price category.) Of more interest to me was the new Insight series of in-wall speakers, which use the same technology as Wisdom's more cost-no-object offerings. The drive units start at $1250 each (P2i) and go up to $5000 (L8i). That's more my speed!
Larry Greenhill has reported on Revel's Ultima2 Salon, which, at $22,000/pair, is well beyond my CES coverage limit of $15,000,. But I can tell you about Revel's more affordably-priced offerings. Speakers in the new Performa3 series started shipping in December, the price range starting at $1500/pair (M105 bookshelf-type) to the top-of-the-line $5000/pair F208 floorstanders. The speakers feature new transducer designs, next-generation tweeter waveguides, stylish enclosures, and low-distortion ports. The design process of Revel speakers utilizes position-independent double-blind listening tests.