TAVES 2014: Part 2

I'm drawn to the idea of having a single transducer reproduce all the frequencies, but I appreciate the difficulties of this approach. Generally, the larger the driver, the better it is at reproducing low frequencies, and the worse at reproducing the highs. Thus, I was intrigued when I walked into the demo room of R2R Audio, a new Canadian manufacturer, which featured a single-driver system, with the driver having a 15" diameter, used in a dipole configuration. Can a driver like that reproduce anything other than the bass?

I sat down and listened. Well, yes, there was full-range sound, with no lack of treble. The system also sounded very fast and dynamic, with the outstanding imaging that I expect from a single driver. I asked the gentleman doing the demo—whose name I did not catch, but who is apparently the designer of the speaker—how he managed to get treble out of a 15" driver, and answered: "DSP." I see on the website that there is also some special technology used in the production of the driver. Claimed sensitivity is 104dB, and the frequency response graphs in their literature show admirable linearity.

And the price? $50,000/pair. I wish R2R Audio luck, but there's a lot of competition in the market at that price point, from well-established companies, and the perceived value of a speaker that uses just a single driver makes for a difficult sell. I understand that the production of the speaker is very time-consuming and labor-intensive, but I hope that they're able to develop the technology to make it more cost-effective.

Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Reference 3A continues to make improvements in their minimalist crossover designs. The compact Dulcet BE ($1999/pair) now has a new carbon-cone woofer; the Taksim ($6500/pair), demoed to good effect at TAVES, has Reference 3A's beryllium-dome tweeter, with direct-coupled main driver, and the top of the line Sema Zen ($22,000/pair) incorporates all the technical improvements that Reference 3A developed through the years. The photo shows designer Tosh Goka, looking appropriately serious.

The Bowhead Alpha Five Seven ($28,632/pair) is a new speaker from a small company based in Kitchener, Ontario. It's billed as an "8-way active full-range loudspeaker," and features three 5" high frequency drivers, four 5" midrange units, and two 8" woofers, each driver having its own class-D amplifier, through an 8-way crossover. The high- and mid-frequency drivers are actually the same; they're just crossed over differently. It's certainly an ambitious design, and, given the number of drivers, amplifiers, and complex crossover network, the asking price seems reasonable. It's also quite an attractive speaker, and gives the impression of being a well-established product rather than a first attempt. (I was told that the "Five Seven" of the speaker model name referred to the fact that they went through 57 iterations—some built, some simulated on a computer—in the development of the speaker.) The sound was promising, but I had the feeling that the acoustics of their room at TAVES did not allow the speaker to show the speaker's performance at its best.

Cocktail Audio is a Korean company whose products are imported by Audio Plus Services/Plurison. They had two new products: the XL12 ($899), a music server with database, CD ripper, DAC, network streamer, and 60Wpc amplifier, pictured above. . .

. . . and the X40, a high-end model priced at $2795, which is improved in a number of ways compared to its predecessor, the X30, including a better DAC, balanced circuitry, but foregoes the built-in amplifier.

Most of the McIntosh range was on demo by Toronto-area retailer, Audio Excellence. McIntosh makes some giant speakers, but Audio Excellence decided—wisely, in my opinion—to demo with one of the smaller ones, the XR-50 ($4500/pair). You may notice my favorite MC275 amp lurking in the corner.

The "smaller is better" mantra was also followed by Update TV & Stereo's demo room featuring ASW Genius 310 speakers ($3600/pair), along with a Unico CD player and Unison Research 4150 integrated amplifier—a system that was simply easy on the ears, without striving for a "spectacular" effect. Update Audio's David Susilo—who must be the only THX/ISF/CEDIA calibration technologist with a Ph.D.—told me that they first tried larger speakers, but it quickly became apparent that the match with the room was much better with the smaller ones.

The smallest speaker in the line was also featured in Update TV & Stereo's MBL demo. The MBL-126 ($15,000/pair) is the "baby" of the line, and is seldom demonstrated at shows, its big brothers typically stealing the limelight. Demoed with MBL's more affordable (for MBL) Corona CD player and electronics, The MBL-126 had the same sort of open sound that characterizes their the higher-end models. The couple in the photo are Stacey Sniderman (right) and Trevor Wong (left) of Update TV & Stereo.

Paradigm remains as one of the very few North American loudspeaker manufacturers that actually make their own loudspeaker drivers. Their literature proudly states that the new Prestige line is "designed and crafted right here in our Canadian facility." The aluminum tweeter previously used by Paradigm has been revised extensively, and now sports a perforated cover and solid center phase plate. I'm generally suspicious of tweeter covers, having found that speakers tend to sound better with the tweeter cover removed. However, Rob Armstrong of Paradigm assured me that this cover/phase plate is an integral part of the tweeter design, with no sonic penalty, and, in fact, results in higher output and lower distortion.

Simaudio did not have a demo room of their own, but their products were scattered throughout the show, including demonstrations of Nordost products. I missed the Nordost demo, but I overheard one attendee say "That Simaudio equipment must be really good if it allows the differences between the various component supports to be heard so easily."

The one piece of Simaudio equipment that caught my eye is shown in the photo above. It's a one-off sample of the 810LP phono stage ($13,000), featuring the logo of the band, Rush. They can include any photograph or graphic design into the top of the chassis.

Allen Fant's picture

Great coverage. I would like to read about the cd/sacd players that were represented.

Robert Deutsch's picture

I'm afraid standalone CD/SACD players are becoming something of a niche item. I didn't see any new ones at TAVES 2014.

Artur's picture

Hello Robert,
Thanks a lot for visiting me during the show and for your comments. Appreciated.
Artur, President of R2R Audio.

SVinTO's picture

I also went to the demo of the top item in your report and I asked the designer how he was only using a CD player to demo the speakers and he showed me that each speaker includes massive 700 watt amps mounted behind the driver. But there's only one input so if you have more than one source, you'd need a preamp--which he felt would deteriorate from the sound. He said switching the cables between a turntable and a CD player would be preferable. Uh, not if I paid $50K, but okay. Very purist.

Artur's picture

Dear Friends,
R2R Audio most technologically advanced speakers are a turnkey system that has been fully optimized already and is for the most discerning audiophiles and audio professionals, most of whom are not interested or inclined to take the time to tweak what is already close to perfection. Our product is for the type of high end customer who understands that every part makes a difference and that everything in this system has been matched by some of the best acoustical engineers in the world who have taken hundreds if not thousands of hours to offer a system that is the best that money can buy at a reasonable cost considering what it would take to even come close to it's capabilities with existing consumer equipment. Usually we instruct the user that the system is turnkey optimized and should be used "as is" with suggested parts and settings, but we accept that people will do things their way, incorporating things they already have, or change things as they become curious. Sure, there will always be the hobbyists, but our product is more for the informed perfectionist who simply wants the very best musical reproduction with the lowest investment of time.
Artur, President
R2R Audio Ltd.