HI-FI '98 Product Previews, Part Two

Hundreds of manufacturers will be demonstrating state-of-the-art audio products at HI-FI '98---some of which have never before been seen by the public.

We are running several announcements each week leading up to the Show to give you a taste of what to expect. Here is the second assortment:

HI-FI '98 is the launch site for Hales' all-new, $20,000 Alexandra loudspeaker system. This two-way design employs two proprietary 10" aluminum-cone woofers and a forward-firing monopole ribbon transducer that operates from 500Hz to above 50kHz. The 6"-long ribbon diaphragm is only 1/2" wide and weighs 10 times less than a typical dome tweeter while offering four times the surface area. The neodymium magnet assembly, though, weighs more than 60 lbs!

Its high sensitivity of approximately 94dB allows the Alexandra to work with low-power amplifiers, and its forward-firing design means that it is much less sensitive to room placement than other planar models. The Alexandra Reference, a larger three-way model using the same ribbon driver, will appear in late 1998, and at HI-FI '98 Hales will also show, for the first time, the production units of the Transcendence Three ($4500/pair) and Transcendence Five ($6000/pair).

Women in High-End Audio
Moderator Lisa Astor has opened the call for questions to the panel members to also include those submitted by e-mail. You can submit your questions for the panel ahead of time here.

This year's distinguished panel members include: Rondi D'Agostino, President, Krell; Karen Sumner, President, Transparent Audio; Lori Brown, President, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab; Bonnie McKenzie, Equipment Reviewer, Stereophile. Also present will be the emeritus distinguished panel members (panel members from last year), who have agreed to respond to questions: Sheryl Lee Wilson, President, Wilson Audio; EveAnna Manley, aka "The Manley Tube Queen," President, Manley Laboratories; Karen Richardson, Vice President of US Consumer Sales, Bryston.

Two members, Jan Mancuso, Sales and Marketing, Reference Recordings and Janet Dudley, Assistant Editor, Listener Magazine, are not able to attend, but will provide responses to be read at the seminar.

Given the MD's passion for cars, it's not too unusual for Manley Labs to name its newest model the Stingray, which enjoys its debut at HI-FI '98. J. Gordon Holt suggested the name because of the shape, which actually came from a study of optimum component placement.

The Stingray is a fresh-looking, all-tube integrated amplifier that should satisfy those with three normally conflicting requests: it has to look great, it has to sound great, and it has to be affordable. The Stingray comes with four inputs, and volume and balance controls. It uses eight EL84 tubes to deliver 50Wpc in ultralinear mode or 25Wpc in triode mode. The Stingray can be ordered direct from the factory in either operating format.

France's leading loudspeaker manufacturer, exhibiting through Northstar Leading The Way, will launch a new flagship model at HI-FI '98: the Pacific 600 Evolution. Cabasse has long been known for innovative solutions to speaker-design problems, and the Pacific 600 Evolution reflects this in its many details.

Of primary importance is its use of three separate enclosures for the TC21 tweeter, the bass unit, and the crossover itself. The sides of the speaker cabinets are damped with a bitumastic/lead mixture, while the terminals and straps fitted to the rear allow the user to exploit over 20 wiring combinations, from single wiring to four-way multi-amping. Although its $11,000 retail price suggests the need for over-the-top amplification, the Pacific 600 Evolution has been designed to be kind to amplifiers. Regardless of the wiring configuration chosen by the user, the impedance stays between 4 and 8 ohms, while the sensitivity ranges from 92 to 97dB.

Pioneer will mark its 60th anniversary by unveiling the first loudspeaker created by the new American Speaker Development Team. The system, part of the flagship Elite range, consists of two four-way floorstanding speakers with integral powered subwoofers, but the main feature is a new transducer technology called IRIS. (Iso-Radiant Imaging System).

The IRIS transducer is a 4" donut-shaped soft-dome midrange with a dome tweeter fitted in a horn in its center, the sub-system then mounted in a ball isolating it from the main system while allowing a range of adjustments for optimizing the imaging characteristics. The center-channel speaker features an IRIS transducer and two powered 5.5" drivers in a design that will blend into the lines of projection televisions rather than protrude as if it didn't belong there. The surround speakers feature a dome tweeter mounted in a sphere that rotates approximately 180 degrees to allow unlimited placement flexibility; the speakers can be set up to radiate directly at the listener or aimed away to create a diffuse soundfield.

The entire system, expected to sell for $4500, will available in September 1998.

Ambiophonics Institute
Visitors to HI-FI '98 will experience Ambiophonic Sound Reproduction, a new surround-sound technology. Based on binaural technology, the Ambiophonic reproduction paradigm is being offered to the industry as a superior alternative to traditional stereo and/or 5.1 or 7.1 surround speaker arrangements.

Considered a "method," not a product, Ambiophonics can be implemented using a variety of high-end audio products and provides a psychoacoustically correct method for the super-realistic reproduction of standard unencoded two-channel CD, LP, or DVD music recordings. This approach is particularly useful for reproducing the "you are there" soundfields of opera houses, concert halls, and other venues where most of the sound comes from the front.

The Meadowlark's designer, Pat McGinty, decided that only the very best drivers would do for the new Blue Heron. He selected two Audax drivers for midrange and treble: the famous 4" Aerogel unit and the rarely used, very costly, and esoteric nonmagnetic oval gold gas tweeter. Bass duties are handled by dual 7" Scan-Speak carbon-fiber woofers in a transmission line. A very simple first-order network uses premium Infini Seti caps and PerfectLay aircore inductors and is housed in its own sealed sub-enclosure at the base of the main cabinet. Internal wiring is by Cardas, and so are the dual pairs of copper binding posts.

The sloped 2" baffle is decoupled from the drivers and the cabinet with dual layers of a proprietary damping material. This prevents the drivers from interacting with each other or the cabinet, and allows for precise soundstaging and low-level detail. The transmission-line bass loading creates very tuneful and extended bass response and permits the use of an elegant, moderately sized enclosure while creating a very well-braced, inert structure. The Meadowlark is priced from $7000 to $8000 depending on finish; the standard woods include ebony, ash, mahogany, rosewood, and cherry.

Audio Power Industries
Audio Power Industries will be exhibiting a brand new line of AC line conditioners at HI-FI '98, the Power Wedge Ultra series. Created to meet the power-quality challenges of modern audio/video systems, the Power Wedge Ultra offers performance improvements over the Power Wedge, as well as a new look that better complements other high-end equipment.

The Power Wedge Ultra family features independent isolation transformers that can be configured for fully balanced AC or polarized AC, combined with specialized high-frequency filtering on each isolated source outlet to provide the highest level of performance and the widest possible flexibility for any application. The Ultra series also provides surge protection, dedicated high-current amplifier outlets to handle the largest amplifiers, a component-style chassis to support rack-mount installation, and a detachable AC cord utilizing a locking Neutrik connector. Different sizes and outlet configurations will support any system, from the smallest stereos to full home theaters.

Power Wedge Ultra models' suggested retail prices range from $649 to $1499.

New at the Show will be a higher-performance version of the successful PolyCrystal Component Isolators, which have earned distinction in Stereophile's "Recommended Components." PolyCrystal Cable Towers are a new audio cable support/isolation system incorporating ceramics, a semi-conductive glaze, and PolyCrystal coating. The Towers lift audio and AC cables above the electromechanical haze along the floor and further isolate them from this "grunge." The result is enhanced system resolution through a lower noise floor.