My dear readers, it is time for a well deserved break, as it is both Christmas and our summer holiday here in Australia.
I will be celebrating Christmas at home in Sydney with my wife and children and hopefully Santa Claus will bring me more vinyls to listen to and a tele lens for my Olympus E- PL1, my best photographic investment in my entire life (I started with a 6x9 cm Voiglander in my teens then moved on to a twin lens Rollei, a few Nikons - one that I still use when nostalgic of real film - and 2 Mamiyas 645, one stolen from me, the last one belonging to my ex-employer...). Most of the photos on this site since June are taken with this beautiful micro third four machine.
Then, I will spend a few days in regional Australia with a nice base in Canberra, and return to Sydney for New Year's Eve and its massive fireworks, enjoying a nice meal at Nick's Seafood on King Street Wharf, with some of our closest friends.
Next year, we are planning to bring you more reviews of vintage products, as well as real tests of more modern ones - Waterfall being the first one, as the Australian importer has agreed to loan me a pair for a full investigation.
Hopefully, more French manufacturers will follow suit and we will bring to you even more interesting content (I am dreaming of a comparison between Elipson 4050 and 4260s...)
If anybody from Agilent or Rohde & Schwarz are in a generous mood, I will need an real-time FFT analyser to do justice to these products...
In the meantime, many thanks for reading my prose and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year 2011.
In terms of turntables, all the usual suspects were present( Pro-Ject, Rega, Michell, Linn, Roksan...) but these are gadgets compared with the MASSIVE "Heritage" from Pierre Riffaud!
Some may recall PR was the designer of the famous "Epure" 20 odd years ago.
Epure was sold to Micromega and is still availble today for a mere 12,900 euros...
The new "Heritage" is based on some of the same principles, the main one by Pierre's own admission being MASS
The Epure weights 85Kgs, the Heritage even more...
Pierre has also invented a new 12" unipivot arm customised to suit your cartridge. It is a curious piece of mechanical engineering which looks like a cross between a Russian Church and a minaret (All this doesn't sound very catholic...does it?- Hopefully my French speaking readers will enjoy the punt - apologies to all the other ones).
These two products combined are supposed to be the ultimate vynil reading machine, available on Pierre's money and time (undisclosed...) terms.
Once you engage PR to deliver your ultimate vynil experience, you are in the same realm as when engaging star Australian Architect Glen Murcutt to design your house; You know it is going to be your own and very special possession, but you can't tell when it will be ready to enjoy and how much it is going to cost you, although I suspect it is cheaper to build a Glen Murcut designed house than a Pierre Riffaud turntable ( I am lucky enough to work with Glen - and his son Nicholas - in my professional life...so hopefully Glen will forgive me for this comment...)
Now, if you can't afford the time and money for this "Haute Couture" vynil machine, then maybe you have an old Garrard 401 in need of TLC. PR just happen to have a surgery to bring these oldies to a modern standard, keeping all their original qualities, and getting rid of their original sin(s), and in between fits the more mundane "Classique" turntable, more or less for the price of a Bryston 3B!
Unfortunately, PR had only a static display at the Show and one would have to travel 60kms north of Paris chez Jean-Jacques Capello of "Point Musiques" a very private showroom in a very private "demeure bourgeoise".
The location is way past CDG Airport, so I didn't get a chance of a listen, and it is a shame as JJC has assembled electronics and speakers of French design and very much "outside the square" the main brand being Ocellia.
I will certainly pay Jean-Jacques a visit over my next trip to France (sorry, but you will probaly have to wait until July 2011 for this review...)
This original system was certainly one of the most "out of the square" system at the show. Since it was a static display, trying its luck occasionally by playing at low levels not to upset the neighbours (and the organiser...), it was difficult to assess its quality properly.
Having said that, Jean-Michel Jarre has all the credentials for it to be a very well designed system. He used to be one of our good clients when I was working at HP Test & Measurement (now Agilent) and he was very well equipped to master the engineering subtleties of such a unique product. It is not trying to be the best system in the World, but it is a very honest attempt to deliver the best possible outcome to IPods and iPhones enthusiasts in a very limited space, which fits the young demographics linked to the Apple frenzy, specially if used with uncompressed files. It is also connectable to a USB stick, or another MP3 player or a turntable equipped with an USB output (like Pro-Ject). It claims a 52Hz to 20KHz range, uses a 135mm woofer firing downwards and two 75mm wideband drivers at 120 degrees from each other, covering a surprinsigly wide listening cone of 260 degrees. It is powered by a 60W and 2 30 watts amplifiers, in essence a triphonic system built into a 1100mm high glass tube with stainless grilles and trims. Certainly a very nice and desirable object to fit a modern minimalist interior...
Exploring loudspeakers made of different materials, we move away from timber, glass and plaster on to METAL, in this case Aluminium for this young Swiss outfit Stenheim and steel from a new Parisian designer, Eden de Vismes.
STENHEIM has designed a speaker made of 6mm thick aluminium and fitted a 2-way arrangement into a bass-reflex enclosure. They only had a static display at the show, but I was intrigued enough to go and visit their only Parisian dealer, Sounds & Colors near the Parc Monceau.
Laurent Gelin was kind enough to let me run my own demo as he was busy preparing for the upcoming Monaco Salon.
There, the Stenheim were properly set up in their own room in good company with Ayre amplication and CD player.
With a claimed power handling of 90W and a sensitivity of 90db, "Alumine loudspeakers might not make it to the moon, but they can easily become the stars of your listening room!" as stated on their website!
At 9000 euros a (matched) pair with your own customised finish and 3000 euros for the stand, and electronics to match, you would expect to be blown away.
The short answer is: I was not...
The speakers certainly are very detailed, present a nice, precise, stable image of the music, but it feels somehow restrained, and certainly not like a 90dB speaker.
When pushing the volume to try to get a wider dynamic range, distortion comes up, rather than dynamics. Don't get me wrong, these speakers can be very loud, but then, maybe because the internal damping or the port are not tuned at their best, the main driver is not well controlled enough and distortion raises to a very obvious level.
Another surprise was that the cabinet was still generating vibrations, and you would not expect that from so much aluminium. Having said that, aluminium is also used to make bells...
Another imperfection coming from the port is quite obvious on female voices, occasionally raising some nasality because of the rear wave filtering through the port. I know from experience that this is quite difficult to avoid on a bass-reflex speaker.
These are obviously observations that are minor impediments from an overall very well designed loudspeaker. It is just so that you can spend 12000 euros more wisely and get a much better result even using less expensive electronics.
VISMES, a new outfit run by Eden de Vismes, as you would expect.
Maybe not the best name to export the product, but a very interesting concept altogether: An active loudspeaker with two integrated amplifiers running a full range modified Fostex main driver, reinforced by a down-firing woofer, all this crammed into a steel CUBE (it's the name of the speaker...) of 22cm only!
A real "tour de force"!!!
And then, you sit down and listen, and it is pure joy...
Extreme dynamics, perfect phase, no cabinet resonances, pinpoint image gives you a real musical performance on any of the material Eden chose to get us to listen to.
An iPod (uncompressed files, bien sur...) and two "CUBES" is all you need to break the ice at a party. You can even leave your glass of Champagne on top on these speakers and they will not go anywhere: The Champagne might just get a tad too warm when you are out there dancing to the tune of this extraordinary and unintrusive piece of real HiFi, bringing real music to your living room.
I am a big fan of these speakers, as they are encompassing a lot of the design ideas that I cherish, and the proof is in the pudding.
If you want even more bass, then you can go for the COLONNE(s), but as I was so taken by the CUBE(s) I didn't listen to them: same drivers though, same amps for medium and tweeter plus an enormous amp of 550W to drive the side mounted large woofer (26cm, my guess).
Prices are a very reasonable 3250 euros a pair of CUBEs and 7600 euros for a pair of COLONNEs - that will leave you with some change if you were to buy a 9000 euros pair of METAL speakers...Can I suggest a Michell turntable and a Nagra phono stage???
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.