John Devore was using this diminutive integrated amplifier, the German-manufactured Acoustic Plan Mag Amp, to drive his new high-sensitivity loudspeakers. According to Jonathan Halpern, the US importer, the Mag Amp uses a tubed voltage-gain stage and an output stage comprised of two small transformers with dual primaries. He described it as the "world's first switching integrated amplifier, and added that it was designed by Lars Lundahl in the 1960s. The 19 kg stereo chassis offers 15Wpc into 8 ohms and will cost $18,500. It played both a 1980s recording of Ella Fitzgerald and one of Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite with great dynamics, speed, and detail. This is the kind of odd and fascinating gem one can uncover at the end of a day when one is too tired to rush out of an exhibit room, and instead collapses on the couch to listen.
"Go and hear the KEF Concept Blade Loudspeaker," encouraged John Atkinson, "it’s their current statement on the state of loudspeaker art." For reasons unclear, KEF selected a hard-to-find Hilton Hotel suite for their exhibit, far away from the high-end exhibits in the Venetian Hotel. But when I whispered the word "Blade," I was ushered into a dark room where the set of twin loudspeakers, looking like aircraft wings, were standing. The cabinet curvature eliminates cabinet resonances, I was told. The KEF engineer explained that the company had not set a price on the Blade because they regarded it like a concept car, a one-off, handbuilt test model.
John Atkinson introduced me to English engineer Laurence Dickie, who was sharing our ride up the elevators to the 34th floor of the Venetian Hotel. Mr. Dickie is a well-known loudspeaker designer, responsible for the original B&W 800 and B&W Nautilus loudspeaker designs, and as well as the cute little Blue Room Minipods, and is now creating new products for South African company Vivid from his design studio in Brighton, England. "Dick," as he is known to his friends, designed the G1 flagship for Vivid, which retails now for $65,000/pair and was being demonstrated in the Convergence Audio suite with, among other things, the piano recordings John Atkinson made and wrote about in the February issue’s “As We See It.” Laurence is shown here with the smaller G2, which was being demmed in the Halcro room and so impressed Erick Lichte.
Vandersteen's $45,000/pair, time- and phase-correct, four-way, floorstanding, Model Seven loudspeaker made its debut at the 2009 CES but is now in production. I sat with Richard Vandersteen in his suite at the Venetian, and listened intently to his description of how he designed the Model Seven. He started by saying, "I didn't really understand the advantages of carbon-fiber as a material that could help speaker design until I built my own airplane." From there, he described how he developed a patent-pending sandwich of high-Young’s Modulus carbon-fiber skins bonded to a balsa-wood core for the mid-bass, midrange, and tweeter diaphragms, which combines very high stiffness for proper pistonic operation, with high self-damping. Carbon-fiber construction for the enclosure also allowed him to restrict the cabinet resonance to very high frequencies, where they will have no effect on sound quality. The drive-units use Vandersteen’s patented method of avoiding rear reflections from the magnet structure. The powered 12" subwoofer fires down at the floor. All this was evident when he played a vinyl recording of Holst's The Planets. The Model Seven, driven by Aesthetix amplification, played with unusual clarity and definition, and I could easily follow different motifs in this orchestral selection that I had not been aware of at home. From what I heard at the Show, I anticipate the Model Seven doing very well in the review scheduled to run in the March, 2010 issue of Stereophile.
B&W's openng day press conference at the LVCC revealed an entirely new line of Diamond Series loudspeakers in a new piano-black finish. This new vintage comes from the line of monitors that included the Diamond Silver Signature ,an $18,000/pair high-end two-way that had been produced in a limited run of 1000 pairs. The smallest member of this speaker line is a two-way, stand-mounted monitor called the B&W 805 Series Diamond, a strong value at $5000/pair. The stands are extra, but are now available in black.
On the first day of the Show, B&W announced the sixth generation of their flagship, full-range, three-way floorstanding 800 loudspeaker. The new 800 costs $24,000/pair and includes a transmission line-loaded, diamond-dome tweeter with a quad-magnet motor to increase sensitivity and dynamic range. Other features include a dual-magnet motor for the woofers, B&W's proprietary Kevlar FST midrange driver, a matrix enclosure and a crossover that includes silver, gold and oil construction Mundorf capacitors.
The Type A has served as Snell Acoustics' flagship loudspeaker since 1974. The Type A Reference System reviewed here is the sixth update of the late Peter Snell's original three-way floorstanding design, and is the most radical departure from Snell's original. Gone is the pair of "upright bricks of polished wood and stretched cloth" (footnote 1) that delighted decorators because they functioned best against a wall. Today's Type A Reference $18,999 price tag (footnote 2) purchases two tall midrange-tweeter towers, two huge subwoofers, two short but heavy enclosures housing the outboard passive crossover networks, and a small electronic crossover.
The No.331 is the latest iteration in a series of Mark Levinson 100Wpc, solid-state, stereo power amplifiers. Extensive cosmetic alterations, internal structural changes, and new circuit designs make it quite different from the No.27 and No.27.5 models that preceded it. These design refinements emanate from Madrigal Audio Laboratories' latest flagship amplifier, the $32,000/pair, 300W RMS Mark Levinson No.33 Reference.
Bryston's first CD player, the $2695 BCD-1, is a drawer-loading player with a front panel of polished aluminum. The slim disc drawer, engraved with the Bryston logo, sits in the panel's center. To the drawer's left are an infrared sensor and Open/Close button, then a two-line, 16-character alphanumeric display. To the drawer's right are the usual transport controls and a power On/Off button. All of these functions are also accessible via the BCD-1's remote control, as well as two more: Back and Forward. Hold down either and the player moves through the selected track at several times normal speed until the button is released.
It's always fun to visit the Burmester Audio suite at the annual Consumer Electronic Show. Founder Dieter Burmester and CEO Udo Besser are upbeat, fun-loving personalities who enjoy demonstrating their latest home audio gearthat is, when they're not working on the latest updates to their sound system for the $2.1 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 supercar. This past year they introduced their new B25 loudspeaker, an 88-lb floorstander. This "baby" Burmester's suggested retail price of $12,000/pair is only one-sixth that of Burmester's flagship speaker, the B100, only one-fourth its weight, and half its height. The design goals for the B25 were a less expensive, lighter speaker that was easier to set up, while retaining Burmester products' high-quality sound and good looks. Playing my own CDs through the B25s at the 2008 CES, I found them notably smooth and detailed; they also imaged well, and were particularly good at reproducing male voices.