More from T.H.E. Show: Sasha Matson's Day Three (Part One)

There's more than one way to skin a cat—a profusion of ways to hook together audio components in the high-end world of today—and my hunch is that the number of dedicated cabling companies has increased within the past decade, and now exceeds that of any other audio-hardware category. But there are also those companies that have been around the block for a number of years, and have displayed consistent design approaches of their own—such as Wireworld Cable Technology in Davie, Florida.

On the 10th floor of Hotel Irvine I caught up with Wireworld Designer/Owner David Salz, whose dictum is: "Fidelity is preservation." In discussing the proper way to make observations and to objectively evaluate cabling effects, Salz spoke of "results which are unpredictable, because we don't have the real information on what they do to the sound…and the only thing that works is comparing the sound before and after it went through that cable." He also suggested that improvements and degradations to “frequency [extremes] at both ends, and [to] spatial effects, are the most noticeable.” We were so busy discussing and taking notes that no listening got done!

My head hurting from so much engineering talk, I headed next door to a room hosted by Kyron Audio, hailing from Adelaide, Australia, and spoke with designer and co-owner Leon Suter. A relatively new member of the worldwide high-end community, Kyron Audio has hit the ground running, building open-baffled powered loudspeaker systems at the highest apparent levels of technological innovation. The Kyron Kronos Dipole Loudspeaker System ($112,000/pair, with various upcharge finishing options), is described by Kyron as a "3-way DSP-controlled active dipole." It's quite an impressively large cabinet, open to the elements at the rear, housing two 12" woofers, one 7" mid-woofer, and a ring-radiator tweeter. The lower woofer cabinetry is physically separate from the upper-driver unit. Doubled sets of mono amplifiers, a total of six for the system, produce a whopping 2800Wpc. Also included is a stereo preamplifier with all sorts of digital and analog input flexibility. (The front end of the system I heard was not for sale.) Frequency response is given as 30Hz–40kHz. A lot of the technology here is taken from the even larger and more powerful Gaia loudspeaker system previously offered by Kyron. I asked designer Leon Suter, who is a classical clarinetist as well as a designer, to name me three things that are most important to him in his design goals. Leon answered without hesitation: "Transients, complete neutrality, and no resonances."

Time for listening: I was treated to a fine excerpt from Grieg's Holberg Suite 1, fittingly performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. And I do mean treated: This was spectacular sound. Leon chose for contrast an unidentified modern percussion-ensemble work—and I could hear why he picked it: the track showed off the ability of this system to create, in an almost unnerving manner, a soundfield that was way beyond the term "stage." It just seemed endless. On the way out, I told Leon Suter that I felt as though I had been sitting alone in the middle of the Australian outback. Absolutely superior music recreation.

If there is a pop star of high-end audio right now, it must be designer Andrew Jones of Elac, a German company that also has "a dedicated Southern California engineering facility." Having recently stealth-bombed the industry with very small, low-cost, high-quality loudspeakers, Elac is now expanding their offerings with larger packages (and other categories of gear).

In development for some time and reportedly "shipping now" is the new Elac UF5 loudspeaker ($1,000/pair) from the company's Uni-Fi series. This three-way, rear-ported floorstander boasts three 5" woofers and a 4" midrange driver with a 1" concentric tweeter. Efficiency is given as 85dB—with regard to which Jones stated in his presentation, "I sacrifice efficiency to get bass and extension." Also part of this system was an Elac Discovery DS-S101 music server ($1,099). I could not stay too long, but I did get to hear some of David Chesky's The Zephyrtine—A Ballet Story, and the recreation of the full range of percussion here, from little tiny tinkles to full-bore whacks, was marvelous. Anyone who's paying the slightest attention cannot help but see that this is one of the best cost/quality ratios in today's loudspeaker field.

DEQX High Definition Audio has tasked themselves with making products that use sophisticated DSP to correct or enhance the performance of other audio-system elements: kick that ball further down the field, turn that double, get into overtime—choose your sports metaphor. In my in-room introduction I was told that DEQX was all about "measuring speaker and driver and correcting frequency." DEQX offers several models, including their DEQX PreMate processor ($5,995) and the DEQX HDP-5 preamp/processor ($6,495). There are complete crossovers and preamps within—I was told you could use any passive loudspeaker and simply go from there—along with what are described as the most evolved DSP capabilities on the planet. You don't have to take my word for it: as John Atkinson wrote in his coverage of DEQX at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, "Color me gob-smacked!"

It was good to once again hear Constellation Audio components with Von Schweikert Audio loudspeakers, abetted by Critical Mass Systems platforms. (Some manufacturer's gear just seems to fit best with others.) I got to hear the premiere of the Constellation Centaur II Stereo amplifier ($40,000), which puts out 250Wpc. This new Constellation baby was supported by other Constellation siblings—the Cygnus Media Player DAC ($38,000), and the Virgo III Preamplifier ($32,000). The last two pieces were fitted with optional DC Filters ($6,000 each). Hardware also included an AudioQuest Niagara 7000 power conditioner ($8,000). Final stop was a pair of superb-looking and -sounding Von Schweikert Aktive VR55 loudspeakers ($60,000/pair). The Von Schweikerts are dignified, handsome, fairly large three-way floorstanders, with a full array of drivers—two 8" woofers, one 6.5" mid-woofer, and a Beryllium-dome tweeter. The lower woofers are powered by onboard 525W mono amps, with the final flourish being a rear-firing "Ambience retrieval driver," which is a 75mm ribbon tweeter. I was lucky to hear a chunk of Stravinsky's L'Histoire Du Soldat, and Igor's circus-troupe-like masterpiece had wonderful, juicy depth.

Audio life in Santa Barbara is picking up recently, judging from a room hosted by Voss Audio, based in that fine California community. How recent? When I went to look at the Voss Audio website I read that "This site will be fully functional by the time our revolutionary audio amplification products are ready for market." In the handout I received from Voss they also describe themselves as "an analog revolution" and "a retro revolution." These revolutionaries are off to a good start with their Voss Audio stereo amplifier ($50,000), a MOSFET design that puts out 160Wpc and is housed in a retro-worthy solid copper casing. The Voss preamplifier ($40,000) is described as "Lithium-powered class-A."

Exhibiting with Voss was David Shreve, who has a long history of working on the (analog) front ends of things. Mr. Shreve modified the Rega 25 turntable I heard, replacing the stock Rega tonearm with his own linear tracking Shreve-Rabco tonearm ($4,000), fitted with a Triangle Arts Zeus moving-coil cartridge ($4,000), feeding an Audio Note Level 2 phono stage (price not given). Audio Note loudspeakers—unfortunately, I missed the model names/numbers—were also in use. Information may be have been a bit sketchy, and resumes brand new, but there was nothing missing in the sound I heard. From David Shreve's hot-rodded turntable came "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," from the album An Evening with George Shearing and Mel Torme. (Me want!) After hearing that and a Live Simon and Garfunkel number, I was sold on this system: it was time to sign up, take an oath, and head for the Santa Barbara hills.

daveyf's picture

The Voss gear is $40K and $50K...does anyone else shake their head and wonder who in their right mind would even contemplate such asinine pricing ( and NOT just for this particular brand, but for so much of the stuff brought to our attention here). My friend ( a true a'phile) is worth over $100 Million and he remarked to me this..."anyone who plunks down this kind of cash for this kind of gear is NOT going to be worth much money in the future IF they blow money like that,,,,and I'm certainly able to do so more than almost anyone!!" Something to think about boys!!

jwh9's picture

I second that. I was at this show. I can't say that the best sound has really moved on much the past 15 or so years (maybe digital a little) but the prices certainly have. When I see gear with such opulent finishes (i.e. gold finishes or carbon fiber placards or unnecc ornamentation) I first think, well this looks a bit cheesy, and second.. what are they overcompensating for as these details certainly don't make the thing sound better! I can't but help think these companies must just be competing rabidly for a few tasteless customers while simultaneously pricing themselves into extinction.

jwh9's picture

..that while I am not convinced the VR55 speakers are 1500% better than the VR4's (price v performance) I had many years ago, I have a lot of respect for Albert.. and yes they are certainly, at least, better. I did enjoy that room with Constellation electronics.

la musique's picture

those companies know there is a market for fools who want to show of there new gadget with gold etc...
Those fools are not interested in Music, but only in (ME ME ME)
so lets push the price to the max, and let the suckers pay.

michaelavorgna's picture

Look at the Elac UF5 loudspeaker. $1,000? Are you kidding me? Anything over $999 for a piece of hi-fi gear is pure madness.

Michael Lavorgna

Sababa's picture

That´s like saying that a car over $5000 is pure madness!
Any car will take you from A to B, but there are different levels you know???

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Take a look at who posted that comment. April Fools!

michaelavorgna's picture

...meant to point out the absurdity of thinking someone can tell everyone what's "too much". I figured by using the example of $1,000 being too much, while $999 wasn't, would drive the joke home.

Michael Lavorgna

JRT's picture
Michael Lavorgna Editor, wrote:

"Look at the Elac UF5 loudspeaker. $1,000? Are you kidding me? Anything over $999 for a piece of hi-fi gear is pure madness."

Michael Lavorgna Editor, wrote:

"...meant to point out the absurdity of thinking someone can tell everyone what's "too much". I figured by using the example of $1,000 being too much, while $999 wasn't, would drive the joke home."

Still more amusing, at least to me, is the fact that two of the authorized online retailers currently list the ELAC UF5 loudspeaker at US$499 each with free shipping (CONUS), which is US$998 per pair delivered to the door, slightly under the aforementioned threshold of $999.

It is early yet, and no retailer currently has any in inventory, so none can currently deliver on a retail sales transaction, but one of those online retailers is accepting pre-orders.

I'm not really in the market for retail consumer loudspeakers, but I may order a pair of these to play with, hear how they sound, see how they measure, not just on-axis, but also the polars and maybe some focused measurement on the diffraction effects and cavity resonance in the region of the coax.

At $499 each, they will be a great value. I fully expect that AJ did a very good job and am confident that these likely perform well.

michaelavorgna's picture

...that fully expecting Andrew Jones did a very good job is a good expectation. Expecting him to do a bad job seems, um, unlikely ;-)

HammerSandwich's picture

This also describes more than a few audiophiles I've known.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

that you can't stow them in your luggage when you fly.

CraigS's picture

Did Mr. Jones mention any timeline for the active UB5's?

findcount's picture

good to see there are still new ''fly-by-night'' companies that sell speakers at crazy prices.......