HE 2002: Day Two

Wandering around the show, we were struck by how good most of the speakers we were hearing were. Not just the cost-no-logic designs, but pretty much all of them. Are we audiophiles lucky or what?

The 7' Pipedreams with four (count 'em, four) subwoofers were sounding mighty impressive driven by an Audio Aero Capitole CD player ($8500) and a pair of $19,000 Tenor 75Wpc amps (a Plinius 250Wpc amp drove the woofers). The Pipedreams recreated the transient attack of a trumpet with such staggering realism that they could have probably blown out a candle with all that tightly focused air.

At the opposite extreme, the $1095/pair Triangle Xerius sounded natural and dynamic with Cairn's $1595 Fog 24-bit/192kHz upsampling CD player and identically priced 30Wpc 4808A integrated amp. The sound this Sam Tellig-approved $4300 system achieved in a small hotel room was nothing short of magical. Sometimes less is more. Cairn apparently hews closely to this philosophy or so their cute little 80Wpc Loco monoblock amps would have us believe. Priced at $495 each, they look as though two of them could fit in a shoebox.

Another surprise awaited in the North Acoustics room. The company displayed a pair of $8800 Tempest minitowers in drop-dead gorgeous figured sapele veneer—actually, in that veneer, they're probably $10,000. Driving them were brand new electronics from van den Hul: an elegant preamp (VDH A1 Array) and a 100Wpc stereo power amp (VDH Array S1). Also available is a VDH M1 mono 125W power amp. Prices? $3999 each. The sound was big and brawny, with an extremely laid-back top end.

The Tempest sports a 28mm Scan-Speak Revelator tweeter and a pair of Scan-Speak–sourced 7" woofers. The progressive third-order crossover was tuned by ear, designer George Short was quick to point out. The Tempest's transition from midrange to high frequencies was phenomenally seamless, and its 38Hz roll-off seemed much lower.

English manufacturer Wilson-Benesch was here in force, showing both its $8200 isobarically-loaded stand-mounted Discovery, which sounded big and dynamic, and its jewel-like stand-mounted $3200 two-way, the Arc, which sounded spacious and pure. The Arc was mesmerizing. Constructed from steel and carbon fiber, it sports proprietary Wilson-Benesch drivers (a 7" woven composite-cone mid/woofer and a 1" hand-doped silk-dome tweeter), twin ports, and a first-order crossover. When playing, the Arcs completely disappeared into the airy acoustic they rendered. With WB's bespoke stands, the Arcs retail for $3600/pair.

Naim, as always, came up with an unconventional solution to a common problem. The tweeter of the firm's new $7950/pair SL2 is mounted to an arm which extends from an aluminum pillar at the rear of the speaker, passing through the cabinet containing the woofer. Thus the tweeter is completely free from low-frequency interference. The SL2's bass driver fires into the lower cabinet of the speaker, which Naim calls its bass-loading cabinet—the two cabinets are separated by Naim's Precision Acoustic Resistance (PAR), which provides uniform resistance, while the lower cabinet precisely loads the mid/woofer driver, giving the speaker the driving ease of a small speaker, coupled with the power of a large one, or so Naim claims. Playing a CD of acoustic guitar, the SL2s sounded natural and extended—and staggeringly fast.

Hardly new, but sounding amazingly good, were the $1500/pair Epos M15s, which were driven by a pair of balanced Creek 5350 SEs, a Creek 53 CD player, and the Creek P53 Balanced preamplifier—which is new. The $2500 preamplifier is software-driven and sports an impressively designed 80-step resistor-ladder volume control. The P53's software allows the user to set his own "steps," based on what his needs are. The system was dynamic and exciting, and had bass control and response that were wall-shaking.

Musical Fidelity rolled out the M3 line, which features a high-resolution CD player, a preamplifier, and 160Wpc power amp, all priced at about $3000 each. Also on display was a no-holds-barred 150Wpc integrated amp, the A308 (price still to be determined). Musical Fidelity owner Antony Michaelson "reckons" they're "about as good as it gets without spending silly amounts of money."