I thought I was done with you, dear readers for this year...
But I have a Christmas gift for you - and for myself as well!
I was barely out of jetlag after my trip to Paris, that I had to go to Melbourne, for the first Australian HiFi Show in 20 years!
And as an added bonus, I was invited to post my report on 6moons,
so I am over the moon, so to speak!
Here is the link: http://www.6moons.com/industryfeatures/melbourne2011/1.html
Good reading, and come back here in the New Year, as we will back more into focus with a visit to two vintage hifi shops in Paris, a private listening session of the Cabasse Ocean, and a scoop product review...
This is specially for my Australian readers.
Australian HiFi Magazine in its December issue has published my report on the Show over 5 pages. I am pretty chuffed about that, I have to say!
So rush to your local Newsagent and grab a copy or "if it's not at your local, move!"
Good reading and all the best for the Festive Season.
This might well be my last post before Christmas, as I am flying to California on Sunday for a well deserved holiday - and a detour via the CES and T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas in January. Stay tuned!
Audiolineaire - Choose your leather - A "Haute Couture" speaker
There is no end to people's creativity when it comes to designing speaker: timber, glass, acrylic, stone and now leather...
Obviously it is only a wrap around or more precisely a snap on cover - you can see the decorative panels at the back of the photo left.
These are really well made speakers and reasonably simple in design, with two 16cm woofers and a ribbon tweeter in a bass-reflex enclosure, and are specified as a 2.5 way, which means the bottom woofer is used only in the low frequencies and the top one is used as a full range.
The whole thing works quite well, very balanced, with an accurate reproduction of the timbres of instruments. The ribbon tweeter is delicate and the manufacturer claims 96dB/1W/1m efficiency.
It was certainly one of the good surprises of the Show
Atohm - One of my favorite brand of French speakers
Thierry Comte, the amiable owner of Atohm used to be the Technical Director at Triangle for many years, until he decided he could have more freedom to design speakers his own way.
Thierry makes his own drivers, and very good ones at that, and he is happy to sell them to other manufacturers (Waterfall Audio is one of his good clients and friends) and also to the DIY market at La Maison du Haut-Parleur - I will write a report on my visit to their Paris store soon on my "Interviews" page.
And he is not inventing new speakers every year - the GT1, GT2 and GT3 having around for a while and are not going anywhere any time soon. Why change something that works bloody well indeed?
The GT3 in particular is quite a complex object on the inside, although looking quite mundane on the outside, but close your eyes and you can enjoy music - efficiency, low coloration, very low level of distortion in particular in the bass make for a very accurate, energetic, feet tapping experience. I am a fan!
And as you can see in the photo left, I am not the only one!
Antelope Audio - Pro DAC and Atomic Clock for your CDs
This is not for the faint hearted! And it is fitting for my last post reviewing this Show.
This company makes products closed to my heart, as I used to be a Time & Frequency expert, as well as quite versed in A to D and D to A conversion during my 15 years at Hewlett-Packard selling Test & Measurement equipment (Now Agilent Technologies).
Antelope designs Rubidium clocks to drive accurately and steadily ADCs and DACs for the professional audio, video and cinema markets.
If you go to a good movie, or if you own some recent Blu-Ray DVDs, chances are, Antelope would have been used at some stage of the process - see video below:
You might have read my ramblings in previous posts about the ineptitude of upsampling a native 16bit/44.1kHz file as you are not going to extract any new information in the process. There might be a small benefit in the smoothing of the resulting signal, but it will not be more accurate.
Improving the clock's stability and jitter performance however will result in a more accurate reading of that same native file, hence the raison d'etre of Antelope products.
When you then apply upsampling to a 16/44.1 file, or if you can correctly convert a native 24/96 (Qobuz anyone???) or 24/192 file (Blu-ray DVD), then you have a winner. And this is exactly what the various DACs in the Antelope range will provide you with.
Added value: they were using a Bryston 4B amp to drive British PMC MB2i speakers, so no wonder the result was quite striking.
I could have talked to you about the amazing demo of the JBL Everest where I discovered the Michael Jackson posthumous "This is it" Blu-Ray DVD - a must have - or the new B&W Diamond speakers or the new iPod-based systems from Yamaha or a myriad of other products, but I chose to review the products that I liked, or that intrigued me or surprised me, or the products that were presented by passionate, honest and amiable people. At the end of the day, you will find a lot more information about this Show on the Web, but this my personal take on the things that I value most at that particular phase of my HiFi journey.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my prose as much as I had pleasure writing these articles.
I have a few more surprises in store for you over the next week or two, my Christmas gift(s) to you.
I will then leave you in peace for a month or so, as I am going away to California with my family to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in San Francisco where we got married, with a quick detour by Las Vegas to attend the CES and report back to you.
Thanks for keep coming back to my site and Merry Christmas and all the best for 2012.
Dan D'Agostino - The Momentum amplifier
What do you do when you leave the business you helped create 30 years ago?
Dan D'Agostino, involved with Krell for three decades designing some of the most famous amplifiers, didn't take long to answer this question: he started to think of his next amplifier, the 300W mono amplifier he called the Momentum.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to listen to it as it was only on static display at the Show.
But allow me to quote Ken Kessler, in his review of the product in the July issue of HiFi News in his typical style:
"What occured was atypical. The gear arrives, I hook it up, I switch it on, I set the CD player to "repeat whole disc" and leave it to cook for a day or two. Yes, I usually have that kind of willpower. But as I was leaving the room,the bottom end of the first track on Keb' Mo's Peace (Back by Popular Demand) curled around my ankles and held me in place. With my back to the bloody system, no less, I knew, I just knew that I was in presence of something so rare, so special, that I had to stay, protracted warm-up be damned".
And this is coming from the most seasoned HiFi reviewer in the World. So go and get to your closest dealer for a listen, and if there is not one in your vicinity, then move!
Canor - an interesting surprise from Slovakia
Canor is not very well know in Western Europe, so it was an interesting surprise to find out that they have been developing and manufacturing high-end audio products for more than fifteen years.
CANOR is a tube specialist, the prototype of yheir first serially produced TP101 integrated tube amplifier was presented at the exhibition in Brno (Czech Republic) in April 1995, as stated on their website.
They were feeding a pair of Neilos speakers from Pascal Louvet, and fed by either their own valve CD player, or the vintage Audioanalyse Lurne turntable, a private possession of Pascal Louvet.
It was certainly a very good combination, resulting in music being played, rather than being exposed to a HiFi system.
Cabasse - Honey, I shrunk the Ocean!
Cabasse was having almost a static display at the show, showing only their in-ceiling and small speakers offering for the Home Cinema market.
A shame, as I had the chance to listen to a pair of Ocean, demoed by the man himself, Christophe Cabasse in Melbourne on my return. Stay tuned, as I will share a video of this event on my Interviews page soon.
Trust me, that was a real treat!
Elipson: 60 years of French Innovation in Pro & Consumer Audio
What can I say? You know they are my favorite brand of French speakers, no less because they started me on my journey, were an inspiration for my own designs (and of a number of other people in the industry) and have survived many avatars and incarnations since Joseph Leon passed away.
There was a minimum amount of new products in the range this year, concentrating their marketing efforts on the Planet L and the new smaller M version (are we to expect an XL and S versions???) and their new Music Center, squarely aimed at the iPod generation.
Fortunately, Cedric Leon (not related...) was still conducting great demos of the 4260 and other products in the range, but only from digital sources this year - Mitchell turntable absent unfortunately...
Added bonus though, the re-issue of the BS50/Chambord, my sister-in-law and Interior Architect Extraordinaire (based in Perth - WA) icon speaker who is currently saving for a pair!
After the Show, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Violet from www.passion-elipson.com who happens to work there and responsible for the look of the new 4260.
We had a ball (or should I say a sphere...) comparing a pair of 4040 and 4260 around a cup of coffee and a great chocolate cake specially baked by Mme Violet!
Watch out for my full report soon on our "Interviews" page.
Pascal Louvet has been at it since 1976, and it shows.
His new venture, the Neilos, is quite a grand affair: 4 drivers, 4 way filter and 38 kgs of grand design.
Interestingly enough, the bass is handled by two different drivers; a 20 cm Kevlar unit from Davis in a transmission line, a 17 cm in carbon, also from Davis in a bass reflex enclosure, then a 17 cm in paper from PHL Audio in an open box, and a Fostex tweeter.
This gives the speaker a 93dB/1W/!m sensitivity and a beautiful generous sound, definitely well driven by the Canor valve electronics and his own Audioanalyse Lurne turntable.
I need to go and visit him next year, as his atelier is near Bordeaux, hopefully amongst the vines!
LEEDH C - Gilles Milot - Acoustical Beauty
Gilles Milot has a long tradition of innovation in speaker design, first at Leedh in the 80s, then as the Technical Director of Audax, after Philippe Lesage's tenure.
In his new venture, Acoustical Beauty, Gilles has reinvented the driver itself, by totally removing the iron from the motor - using very powerful neodymium magnets in an attempt to get rid of a large source of distortion, and then going even further by replacing the suspension with what we could call a ferrofluid bath.
The membrane is also unconventional, as it is very small and rigid being made of a carbon alloy almost as rigid as diamond and beryllium, but at a fraction of the cost.
Gilles compares his invention to the same technological leap that saw the TV set becoming a flat screen.
The results are particularly good in the mid and high range, not so convincing in the bass, but Gilles promises us a new version with more little bass barrels - see conceptual drawing below.
KEF: 50 years of acoustic design culminating with The Blade
Ken Kessler was there signing his reference book on 50 years of KEF innovation - see below. It is a beautiful coffee table book that any serious audiophile should have...(and no, I am not paid for the plug!).
The bigger piece of news was indeed the first public showing of "The Blade", an extra-ordinary piece of technologie, ticking all the boxes of good acoustic design:
* Form follows function (think Elipson 4260 in one box...)
* Time coherence - coaxial midrange and tweeter
* Smart bass drivers arrangement
* Stiff cabinet
* Good WAF
Dubbed the "the world’s first Single Apparent Source loudspeaker", it is an unusual bundle of smart ideas, some tried and tested with the 140K$ Muon, now in a slightly more affordable and easy to own package at 45K$.
What I like the most about this speaker is its coherence: you really get the sensation of a point source with an extraordinary wide and still pinpoint accurate image. The bass foundation is rock solid, and the details higher up in the frequency range are very delicate and precise. KEF claims .5% distortion from 40Hz to 100kHz, and .2% from 200Hz to 10kHz, and it sounds like it! The McIntosh amplification certainly helped as well...
One of the best listening pleasures at the Show, for sure!
JMB Acoustique: Bertrand Valere, the gentleman of the trade
Who can spend months designing a speaker in "Hommage" to Andre Charlin, and then sell a pair for 1500 euros in 28 different finishes!
The "Colonne JMB Accoustique" is a modern take on the famous electrostatic hybrid columns, one of the few systems I had a chance to listen to and wonder about at the start of my HiFi journey.
It sports a ribbon tweeter, and a 165mm bass-midrange firing up and loaded by the column, delivering 90.5dB efficiency and a frequency range of 41Hz to 22kHz, and it sounds delicate and powerfull - I would happily live with a pair of them!
Bertrand and I shared a "steak frites" and a glass of red wine near his office on my way to Point Musiques on my last day in Paris, and it was a delight to share that French staple of a lunch in the company of a man living his passion and quite "out there" in his design propositions and certainly a gentleman.
If you look at "La Chose" (meaning "The Object" roughly...), it is a very clever design of the open baffle variety, and quite a sculpture - may be not of every body taste - but amazing nevertheless, and very rare, as only 50 pairs will be ever sold - so hurry up and order one!
Micromega: from the best of analogue to HD Audio digital
Micromega became famous in the 80s for being the umbrella for some of the most amazing products of the time, namely the LEEDH speakers by Gilles Milot, and the Epure turntable, designed by Pierre Riffaud and still in production.
Gilles Milot is now the brains behind Acoustical Beauty, with some very innovative new speakers - see further article.
Didier Hamdi, the new owner of Micromedia has stirred the ship towards more digital products (but still making amps and an FM Tuner, a rarity in today's market) and was beautifully demonstrating his new wifi streamer and D/A converter: the Aria AirStream. He was also using one of the most amazing speakers: The AvantGarde acoustic Duos
But the most important part of his demos was the fact that he was very convincingly proving that a native 16bit/44.1kHz file - whether streamed or out of a Red Book CD - was actually a better sounding proposition than an up sampled version of it (24/96 0r 24/192), as there is no way to extract more information from that format, whichever clever electronic trick you put out of your D/A converter hat!
I am planning to write an in depth article on this subject in the New Year, so stay tuned.
Micromegaa is promising to get you the best out of your iTunes library by carefully designing power supplies, sampling clock(s), and analog circuitry with a choice of XLR balanced outputs or Cinch unbalanced ones.
Metronome Technologie: the best CD player on the planet?
After working on CD players and their related electronics since 1987, Metronome Technologie believe they have the best machine on the market in the shape of their money is no object Kalista and Kalista Reference, both using a Philips Pro CD transport and external electronics. You could a weekly dinner for 18 months at Guy Savoy , or once a year for the rest of your natural life for the price of one of these futuristic acrylic and metal contraption. But if your are more of an HiFi freak than a gourmet, the Kalista will provide you with hours of unadulterated sonic pleasures. If you still want to afford Guy Savoy some time, then Metronome has released some more affordable versions of their player. This year, they were introducing the CD8, a one box solution based on the same transport and a simplified set of valve and solid state electronics and a more reasonable price ( 7700 euros/11000$).
It comes with an USB input into the 24/192 D/A converter.
Martin Logan - less expensive as the years go by...
You probably know that I have a sweet tooth for the brand and specially for the Ethos released 18 months ago. (photo)
Well, it seems they really want each and every one of us to own a pair of these fabulous electrostatic panels, as they just introduced the new Electromotion series at a fraction of the price of the Ethos (about 1000$ on Amazon...)
I have not have a chance to listen to them, but it is certainly something to investigate!
And yes, they still look stunning with their very high WAF index!
Magnepan - the electrodynamic cousin of the Martin Logans
Introducing a quasi ribbon technology speaker, Magnepan is competing directly with Martin Logan and in the same price range (2000$ a pair in the US of A). The breakthrough is that the ribbon is now backed by a mylar film giving a strength to the ribbon, improving power handling and probably reducing distortion.
It is to be noted that due to the large emissive surface of the speaker, it does not need an extra subwoofer and claims to go down to 40Hz on its own.
It was only on static display, so I cannot confirm if these claims are legitimate.
However, Magnepan has been in business for 41 years: it speaks volumes (sic!)
McIntosh: the Rolls Royce of the amplifiers world?
What an impressive display of power!
You need to be very confident of your position in the marketplace to dare having only a static display - albeit of epic proportions!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.