You will probably agree that I have milked the CES franchise for a bit too long as the CES 2013 is in a couple of days...
So I thought I would recap here what speakers I really liked or discovered at the Show. I am not going this year, as I am going for a short trip to France to see my family and take care of my children that are or will be in Paris for their studies on an exchange from their Australian Universities.
Hopefully, I will have some time (between Cotes-du-Rhone and Camembert...) to research there some more French vintage products and I can entertain you again "on topic!
And to stay on my favourite brand, here is a shot of the new Thiel speakers on the Bryston stand (ah,ah, you didn't see this one coming, did you?).
The combination of Bryston amplification, 24/192 multichannel live recordings from iTrax and matching Thiel monitors and subwoofers ended up being one of the most sensational demos at the Show.
We are all familiar with the beautiful Nordic sound of Electrocompaniet electronics.
They evemn make their own version of the OPPO player.
But what is less known is their recent foray into loudspeaker design.
These fine little monsters are a very capable team and are built as two separate cabinets, my favourite arrangement, just in case you have not noticed already...
Very good demo and great conversation with the Director all the way from Scandinavia, who happens to know my ex-distributor in Norway, Martin Viktorin - small world!
Kondo + Audio Note Japan - Reincarnation of an ancient art
Beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to, beautiful to talk about...
It is the nirvana for a lot of audiophiles in Japan, and for some of us, mere mortals, elsewhere in the World as well.
The closest system I have heard from the Pierre Riffaud/Tosca/Ocelia combo (punt intended...) I listened to at Point Musiques in Paris over my last trip.
It is craftmanship of the highest order, as well as technically very sound and painstakingly researched and executed.
A few kilograms of finesse in a world of brutes - better than chocolate? You tell me.
Nothing to do with mushrooms, although these shapes...
Morel is an Israeli company more famous for their drivers (I am about to trial one of their tweeters...) than for their speakers, but hopefully this will change as these beautifully crafted products sound as good as they look. Stay tuned!
REGA - Another first for BMRs in High End speakers
First spotted in Paris on an unofficial release, these speakers are taking advantage of the wide bandwidth of a 4.5" BMR driver to work from 300Hz to 6kHz. Rega has engineered a new tweeter just for the purpose to improve the high end over the BMRs that can go up to 22kHz, but tend to have some ringing over 5kHz.
In the bass, they use two drivers of different sizes in separate enclosures for a smooth and extended bass response. Again the BMRs have trouble getting the right level below 120Hz, hence the separate subwoofer arrangement.
Copmared to Naim, who decided to reengineer the BMR drivers, REGA uses a standard unit and spent the money on a complex filter and beautiful cabinet. And BTW, it sounds great as well!
Waterfall Audio + Tributaries cables
Waterfall Audio have a very good business in the US of A, thanks to a good distributor who pushes the WAF factor into the CEDIA type market and also gets a lot of press in lifestyle and decoration magazines.
They teamed up with Tributaries, a relatively new range of high-end cables, where my friend Helma Paulson (ex Export Manager for Audioacess and Harman Kardon) is doing a very good sales job (she could sell ice to Eskimos, really...) and she almost convinced me that these cables were actually make a difference! Maybe I should ask for some samples....
Audiolineaire, Focal and other French ambassadors
Audiolineaire were present with their leathered speakers (unfortunately my photos don't do them justice...so, I won't post any) Focal were hiding in a private suite at the Mirage and couldn't find them (mind you it was lunch time whenI got there, so maybe that's where they were hiding...) and Cabasse were absent but for their Japanese distributor who distributes Devialet in the US - go figure!
In the New Year, I will give you a (short...) report on T.H.E. Show which is held concurrently at the Flamingos.
In the meantime, I thank all of you that ventured to this site, some more than once - I love Google Analytics - and I wish you a very Happy New Year and many happy returns in 2013.
I will try my best to continue to entertain and inform you. See you in January!
Blumenstein Audio - Orca fullrange
I will finish my review of the Show with my favourite products: loudspeakers and the cutest and smallest one on the left by Blumenstein Audio, the Orca full range, made out of bamboo ply (even the rear port!) and hand crafted in Seattle, USA. At 595$ a pair on their online store, these have to be the most minimalist, ecofriendly (only 6% waste of ply on the entire production...) and inexpensive on the market.
They use a single driver made by Feastrex in Japan.
Unfortunately, they were not live at the Show, so I cannot give you a listening review, but my experience with Fostex single driver designs makes me confortable with saying that they have to be amazing. I will try to get a pair home for a proper review later in 2013. They are distributed in Australia by Audio Salon.
Coming from Austria, it is another famous brand of piano makers coming into loudspeaker design!
Obviously, they have got the right tools for the cabinets, but in this case they also have come up with an inventive design.
I first noticed them during my rushed visit of T.H.E Show in Vegas last January but didn't have the time for a proper listen. This time I had a double audition and a chat by both the Technical Director and the Export Sales Director. The originality of the design is in the fact that only the tweeter is on the front baffle and the midrange and woofer are on the side of the cabinet. Although unorthodox, it does work and gives a very nice holographic image.
Amazing small speaker from Dynaudio, dubbed the World's first wireless high-end speaker, it includes its own class D amplifier and a wireless receiver compatible with your mp3 player, tablet, smartphone, computer or regular hifi system via a proprietary transmitter. Each pair of speakers come with its own remote, so building a multizone system is child's play. The speakers come in several configurations to suit your space, from the small one shown left to bigger floorstanding versions for a larger room. Quite clever and delivering a great sound
One of the finest sounding systems at the Show, also awarded best sounding speaker at the RMAF in Denver. Very smart combination of traditional drivers with adjustable RAAL ribbon tweeter in a magnificent cabinet - made in Germany. The other drivers are made by Audiotechnology in Denmark, Amazing!
Also well driven by the Thrax tube amplifiers reviewed earlier.
A beautiful looking and sounding combination.
These speakers might not be the WAF friendly design out there, but you have to admit that they do the job!
As a serious implementation of the open baffle principles, complete with class D amplifiers and DSP equalisation, they are a serious rival to the Ocean and Sphere from our French friends at Cabasse, and in the same price range. They share with Cabasse and Wisdom (see below) the Palme d'Or for anti-WAF design, Wisdom being the worse of the lot but the sweetest and most amazing of the three...
But you have to command the guys at Kyron for being passionate, persistent and professional.
They certainly deserve a listen and plenty goodwill, as they have spend a good deal of research, time and money on this fabulous piece of engineering.
NAIM's BMR speakers - Ovation
New technology and proprietary drivers called BMRs - Balanced Mode Radiators. This is the first speaker on the market based on fully customised BMRs, a technology originally designed by NXT/HiWave and refined for Naim by Fink Audio Consulting. I encourage you to visit their website and read the white paper you can find there.
These are mighty speakers by a reputable company which made its name with amazing amplification in the 80s, often paired with Linn turnable and speakers.
NAIM is now French (ah, ah...) as it is owned by Focal, but rest assured the local management is still very Scottish: just listen to Doug, the Sales Manager (in the photo) and try to decipher his lovely Glaswegian accent... It is just another example of the rekindling of the Auld Alliance between the French and the Scotts against the English.
I have done so some 30 years ago by marrying into the Cassidy clan!
I have to admit that I have a sweet tooth for these speakers and for the i90 in particular.
It helps that the boss is always there, cheerful, knowledgeable, informative and patient, conducting his demos with enthusiasm, technical insight and passion, ready to take an order on the spot.
Some of the larger speakers are less convincing that the smaller ones, but I am biased as I will always trade bass extension for imaging and transient response...
A good surprise here, with a fabulous implementation of the separate midrange+tweeter cabinet and subwoofer in a very elegant package.
It is fairly similar in concept to my own Microphase and other like the Karla from Siare or our beloved 4260 Elipson.
Their immaculate cabinetry and clever design translate into one of the best sound, image and veracity at the Show.
I could certainly live with a pair of these at home and they have a very high WAF index, an added bonus!
Taking about bonus, here is another photo from the back: it is like cars, isn't it? If you can get the back to look good, then you are in front!
That has to be the most expensive full range driver, and then speaker on the market.
It does make sweet music, specially teamed up with good valve amplification.
I think I still prefer the Ocellias though, and they are cheaper and smaller too...
Finally you can listen to the top of the range Niagara in Australia, thanks to the new distributor, National Audio Group. This is wonderful news for anybody interested in High End speakers with an amazing WAF index. Although not cheap - it takes a week to assemble a pair! - the Niagaras are still quite affordable and competitive.
And they are a real work of love, art and passion.
If they are not at your local, then move and rush to your nearest dealer for a listen!
Waterfall and Focal were the only two French speaker companies at the Show.
This is certainly the less WAF friendly system at the Show, but it was the best sounding system at the Show and although it is not cheap, it is not out of reach at 130K$.
It includes these large planar systems and huge subwoofers.
I have net Jerry, the VP of Sales three times now, in Paris, Vegas and now Sydney.
To come back to the performance of the system, the absence of distortion, the dynamic range, bass extension and overall neutrality are quite outstanding.
The product is destined to custom installers and high-end home theatre installations of audiophile quality.
You know I am biased... Bryston had their big moment with the relatively new 28BSST 100w mono blocks. These Dynaudio speakers had to behave! Brian Russell was there conducting his cool demos and being Bryston ambassador and salesman extraordinaire as usual.
All the Japanese majors were there too, with Marantz with designer Ken Ishiwata in attendance,Yamaha, Onkyo, Denon, Pioneer and Luxman all well represented and some of the British establishment in force with Musical Fidelity, Arcam, Naim and Linn. Not a French company in view like Jadis or YBA, but some great names like BMC, Classe, Parasound, Krell, Burmester, NAD and Ypsilon.
BMC gets my vote for the best looking unit!
And no, I am not talking about the OA series which gave the swedish company Sonab their claim to fame a few decades ago...
One of my clients gifted me a pair of Sonab branded column speakers that I just had a chance to listen to, explore and measure for our own indulgence!
Unfortunately one of the drivers is pretty damaged - I originally thought it would be just cosmetic, but no - and the one speaker in good condition didn't match the expectation from the brand.
I trawled the web in search of a similar product, and it might well be an Australian design, made in the Far-East (which is not that far from Australia after all...) but I can't be sure, so I will not name the potential culprit!
First listening impressions on the "Good Book" by Louis Armstrong are that Louis has lost 20kgs and can't get his voice to come from his belly and the trumpet and drums sound like if we had a bad metal dome tweeter with too much level. So that was the end of my listening session on these speakers, as I quickly reconnected the Microphases and all was back in normal heaven.
But being curious by nature and nerdy by trade, I could not resist taking the stockings off the cabinets and reveal the inside story. Here are some pics that will tell you more than a long discourse:
So far, so good, I hear you say: nice Scandinavian looking tweeter, slightly damaged dust cap, 2-way bass reflex
Well, don't assume anything just yet and let's enter the beast's cavern...
So, I decided to get the AudioTools gear out of the cupboard and my fears were confirmed
Maybe it is worth spending a few bucks on a couple of resistors and replace the defective boomer (19.50$...), as I can find it at my newly discovered supplier, Wagner Electronic Services, in business for almost 30 years and just a few kms up the road from where I live.
I have bought a new woofer and will endeavour to change it and fine tune the filter soon. I will keep you posted!
Microphase SAT Mark II, December 2012
I have not felt the need to upgrade these speakers since their conception 30 years ago. One reason being that I could not find any better driver(s) that would be easy to retrofit mechanically and that would actually provide better results.
Over the last three months though, I had to research new drivers for another entirely new design for which I have been commissioned (and paid...). This new design is based on BMR drivers and at first I was going to reuse the same tweeter from Audax,without a flange for size reasons, the TW10. But my client insisted on a better tweeter to be matched with a 4.5inch BMR, and as I furiously searched the Net for what would be still a smallish tweeter, I came across two flangeless tweeters from VIFA (now made in China by Tymphany) one 1" and one 3/4". I will keep the 3/4" one for the new speaker, but decided to try the 1" as a replacement for the TW51 originally used on the SAT.
Before I reveal to you what improvement (if any...) occured in the process, let me walk you through my newly acquired measurement system:
If you already have an iPad and iOS6, then it will cost you about 700$ between the hardware and the various software modules you pick from quite a vast selection of measuring methods and analysis tools.
It is no HP3582 that we originally used, and certainly not the new Rohde & Schwartz UPV either that I would love to use, but it does a very good job for the price, as it is not only an FFT analyser, oscilloscope , poet meter but also a source in one little package.
You can see on the screen a recalled trace of a measurement using pink noise, a fairly flat response for an in-room measurement (top trace). The bottom trace is the residual street noise (windows open as it is summer here...) and the little spike on the right is the noise from an aircraft on its way to land at Sydney Airport...
Now going back to our listening tests, I need to say that some of the improvements are due to our freshly improved Bryston 3B amplifier, namely the stability and extension of the bass register, and general lowering on the distortion. The drivers are all tightly controlled from the bottom up to the new tweeter.
The silk dome adds extra "silkiness" for sure and also fills up a little dip in the 4 to 5 kHz region, improving timbres for violins and percussions in particular, due to a wider frequency range (up to 30kHz, according from measurements from Tymphany) and opening up the whole soundstage. However, the tweeter being bigger, it affects the directivity and the imaging to a certain extent. I had to adjust the toe-in to compensate.
Below, same measurement with new tweeter, and the two curves together on the same screen.
Our ears are obviously much better at picking details than a microphone...
BTW, I have not done anything to the filter, and probably won't. Your comments and suggestions are most welcome!
Although the first amplifier I built was valve based (EL84 if I remember correctly...), I can't say I am a fan today.
But, I do get the occisional arousal out of looking at soime of the beautiful contraptions that people around the world come up with, using valves (or tubes, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are from...)
This beautiful example here is from Thrax Audio from Bulgaria.
Their claim to fame is the use of DHT, Direct Heated Triodes, and they suitably impressed one of my fellow journalists and tube lover who happened to be visiting the stand at the same time.
I was just in awe with the sheer beauty of the beasts and the sound they provided via a pair of unusual speakers, the Kawero from Kaiser Acoustics (more on these in a later post...)
The French were remarkable by their absence: no Jadis, no Tosca, no Ocellia either...
Below, you will find a gallery of the valve electronics that I was impressed by...
One of my friend and ex-HP colleague is selling his system after 25+ years of good service, because it is supposedly too big for his new "maison de campagne"...
And I thought we had designed it to be the most "WAF" friendly system on the Planet!
"Des gouts et des couleurs, on ne discute point"...
So, if any of you dear readers are interested in a pristine Triton passive system at a bargain price, here is your chance!
If I were not so far away, I would buy it myself, as I do not have this system in my collection. Being in Australia would probably cost me more in shipping than the gear itself, although I am tempted!
Anyway, to do justice to the product and help out my friend Philippe, I have posted a review of this wonderful triphonic system as an add-on to a previous post featuring the active version of this magnificent piece of french vintage hifi!
You will find the review written by Patrick Vercher in the now defunct "Revue du Son" here:
Any enquiries are welcome via our "contact" form
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.