Greeting Showgoers at the Chicago Axpona was this steampunk-style MP.III speaker from Mancave Metal. With its glowing red LEDs around the tweeter and cut and welded steel construction, the MP.III is unlike any other speaker I've encountered. How did it sound? No idea, as it was on passive display.
Axpona runs today and tomorrow at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Chicago suburb Rosemont (5460 North River Road) near O'Hare Airport.
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.
It's been 30 years since I began work on my very first equipment report, of the Goldbug Brier moving-coil phono cartridge, for Hi-Fi News & Record Review. That review appeared in the British magazine's May 1983 issue; I have lost track of how many equipment reviews I've written since then, but my review of the Vandersteen Treo loudspeaker in this issue is at least my 500th.
Since its founding just over ten years ago, Mission Electronics has grown to become one of the largest "real" hi-fi companies in the UK. Although their product line originally consisted of three relatively conventional loudspeakers, it rapidly grew to encompass high-end pre- and power amplifiers, cartridges, tonearms, and turntables, and, in the mid 1980s, a system concept based on CD replay and relatively inexpensive electronics: the Cyrus amplifiers and tuner.
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.
Over dinner one evening at the 2013 CES, I was being grilled by other magazine editors about my measurements of the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF speaker that Michael Fremer reviewed in the January issue. In vain did I point to the XLF's superb in-room response; in vain did I emphasize that no one measurement fully describes a speaker's sound; in vain did I point out that the best way to integrate all the measurements was to listen to the thing. What I should have done was bid my peers to visit the dCS suite on one of the Mirage's penthouse floors where Wilson's Alexia loudspeaker ($48,500/pair), which incorporates much of the XLF's technology, was being demmed with Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblocks and dCS's new Vivaldi digital system, wired up with Transparent Audio cables.
When I walked into the MBL suite in the Venetian, the recording of German pianist Martin Vatter, engineered by MBL's Juergen Reiss, was playing on the MBL 101 X-Treme speaker system ($263,000, 3600 lbs, two 6' subwoofer towers operating below 80Hz, two double-101 omnidirectional upper-frequency towers). I was familiar with this superbly clean hi-rez recording, having auditioned it on MBL systems at other shows and also at home. But I had never heard it sound as though there was an actual grand piano in the room, which is what I experienced at this CES. Driven by two pairs of the massive MBL 9011 monoblock amplifiers that Michael Fremer reviewed in March 2012, this extreme system sounded better at this Show than I had heard it at earlier CESes.
Over at T.H.E. Show, Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem proudly showed me the box and inserts for his new Bill Evans Waltz for Debby reissue, which will be released as a UHQR LP. Kassem's QRP pressing pant has acquired the rights to JVC's 30 year-old LP technology and each 200-gram UHQR pressing, with its flat profile, will be hand-pressed on a Finebilt press and hand-inspected. Back in the 1970s I was told by an EMI executive that that they could have pressed perfect LPs but people would never pay for it. Chad didn't seem to get the memo as he has invested a lot of money in producing LPs the way they should have been all along!