Besides my 20th wedding anniversary and the 15th anniversary of Listener magazine's first issue, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Roksan Audio Ltd., easily one of the most innovative design and manufacturing firms in British audio. Before Roksan came upon the scene in 1985, none of us had ever seen a loudspeaker whose tweeter was isolated from its surroundings by a sprung suspension. Or a commercial phono preamplifier designed to fit inside a turntable, just a centimeter away from the tonearm base. And who among us could have guessed that the Linn LP12's hegemonyamong flat-earthers, I meanwould be broken by a turntable from outside of Scotland? Yet the Roksan Darius loudspeaker, Artaxerxes phono stage, and, above all, Xerxes turntable accomplished those things and more, to the genuine surprise of nearly everyoneand to the benefit of our industry at large, as other firms took those ideas and ran with them.
Although LPs remain, for me, the high-end medium of choice, I'm not terribly interested in today's high-end record players. Most of them, from the 1980s through the present, have been soulless, uninspired, me-too products that utterly fail to communicate the presence, momentum, and punch of recorded music. And in certain waysexpense, complexity, size, cosmeticssome have been, quite simply, ridiculous.
For a journalist at a trade show, few things are more awkward than entering a room and finding that the exhibitor and his staff are the only people there: No dealers. No customers. Just a few desperate souls ready to pin their last half-hope on a man with a badgeand the badge says Press.
Cable manufacturer JPS Labs is now connected (sorry) with the Canadian importer AudioScape Canada, which also distributes amplifiers and CD players from PrimaLuna, turntables from Dual, loudspeakers from Usher, and other delights. At Salon Son et Image, Joe Skubinski of JPS unveiled a new version of his popular Digital AC power cord, now called Digital AC-X. The cable's filter network has now been upgraded to handle higher frequencies than before, but the price remains the same: $399 for a 2-meter run. Sweet!
With so many lookalike, workalike remote handsets littering the ring-stained table of our hobby, new ones seldom stand outor work better than the old ones. Pioneer has finally produced a breakthrough: Anyone who buys a new Pioneer VSX-1020 receiver (expected to go on sale in America in June, for approximately $800) will have the opportunity to download a virtual handset from the Apple apps site, for use with his or her iPod Touch or iPhone. The finished product looksand worksexactly like the knobs and switches on the amp's front panel. Here's one remote control that will probably never get lost under the couch or dropped in the toilet. (Don't ask.)
As a Quad ESL enthusiast, I know how difficult it is to blend subwoofers with very good, very fast loudspeakers. Consequently, I was impressed with the new A225-M powered subwoofer from the Swiss company PSI, on demonstration at the Simplifi Audio room. Used with the Gradient Helsinki loudspeaker, of which I also have some experience, a pair of PSI subs ($4500 each) provided lots of deep, impactful bass with no apparent change in the Gradients' timbral character: very impressive. The subwoofer was housed within one of the the same IKEA units as Simplifi's Tim Ryan was using for component stands, to show that high-quality sound can still be domestically acceptable.
As last year, Totem Acoustics had by far the show's most aesthetically sophisticated exhibit: a trippy mix of shapes and textures both organic and industrial, in which lights, flowers, textiles, and scents shared senses with the sound. The latter, also in typical Totem form, was exceptionally involvingespecially the Beatles' "Within You, Without You," Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness," and "lua" by Dudu (no relation) Salinas. At SSI Totem also introduced a product that's still in concept stage, called Totem Skin: a removable sock-style cover that transformed cabinetry into artliterally. Among the company's goals for this show, according to the Totem rep with whom I spoke, was to gauge consumer response to the Skins, and the reaction so far is positive.
Maybe I don't know everything after all. In all candor, Legacy loudspeakers had never struck me as the sorts of things I might like. But here at FSI, driven by an attractive Ayon Triton integrated amplifier ($8500), itself fed by an Ayon CD-5 CD player ($9450), I very much enjoyed the big Legacy Whisper XD speakers ($20,000/pair). I wasn't surprised by the punchy, wide-range presentation, but there was a lot more realistic texture and timbral color than I ever expected. And the very nice young couple who ran the suite were patient with my seemingly limitless supply of inane questions. A fine experience.