1970 - ELIPSON
Elipson is 100% responsible for my involvement with speaker design, period. Many of my contemporaries designers were all in awe with these speakers and we all tried to emulate their design and the magical sound they were capable of. It was a labor of love by artisan Joseph Leon and his team. I had the chance to compare these oldies with the new 4260s, but no match!
The 4260s are hifi speakers, the 4050s are musical instruments. Often imitated, never equalled!
1980 - THE GOLDEN DECADE - AW AUDIO
AW Audio started at the same time as Microphase and lasted a lot longer, up until 1995 with the introduction of the TRANSPARENCE, which unfortunately was not a commercial success.
Alain Wacquet, the designer for these amazing looking open baffle speakers, was, and still is, a great amateur of jazz and a great musician himself, still composing and up until recently involved in radio programs promoting the most modern of music genres. Alain is a perfectionist and his demos were some of the most spectacular I had a chance to listen to. He had a keen ear and a good understanding of getting the most amazing result out of the speakers. His demos of percussion instruments were legendary, specially considering the lack of real bottom end to these panels. We became friends - and still are - because we shared the same design objectives, time alignment, impulse response and respect of timbres, a must to reproduce music, not hifi...
1990 - SONUS FABER Guarneri Homage
This was and still is one of my favourite speakers. Still relatively compact, beautifully crafted, Italian with all its elegance and flamboyance, it is more a musical instrument than a hifi speaker.
Again here, phase, time alignement, dynamics and low cabinet resonances give precedence to the music, well deserving their name as an homage to the violin makers of Cremona.
2000 - MARTIN LOGAN - Summit X
I could have chosen a number of models fromMartin Logan, but I think the Summit X was the first one to be the best at matching the electrostatic panel and the integral subwoofer. I could happily live with a pair of these if I had a larger living room. Their speed, imaging, transparence - both visual and auditive - as well as going low enough without becoming boomy are the reason why I would have chosen them as my favourite speakers at the time and some of the best irrespective of time. They are also spouse friendly enough to be enjoyed with your partner.
2010 - KYRON AUDIO - Kronos
This was a revelation at the first HiFi Show in Melbourne after 16 years of absence. I was not going to miss that show, although I had just returned from the Paris HiFi Show, I managed to go
So glad to meet Leon Suter and Lee Gray and listen to their hifi journey. The Gaia was their first commercial attempt at open baffle speakers, but they employed the heavy artillery, using the best drivers, the best class D amplifiers and the best DSP in the form of the locally designed DEXQ. There are NOT spouse friendly at all, but the sound, even in such bad sounding room was amazing. I was the first to write ecstatically about these marvels of design, engineering and musical performance. I still remember the look of amazement on visitors' faces, circling the beasts as if it had just landed from Mars. And maybe they had...
A couple of years later, Leon and Lee were at it again, with what I believe are even better speakers at half the price and much more aesthetically pleasing. The DEXQ software had improved, Hypex had released new class D amplifiers with an almost non-existent level of distortion and a much better slew rate. The drivers are more or less the same, but this time the mayonnaise has gelled and those are the best speakers I have ever listened to, in over five decades of addiction! I was vindicated at the recent Melbourne Show, when Michael Fremer, a vinyl and analog aficionado, who has his own blog - Analog Planet - and has been writing for Stereophile for decades visited the Kyron Audio stand, he was mesmerised and I will quote only one sentence from his article:
"There was nothing 'digital' about the presentation. Nothing." Exactly my point...
In 1987, Alain Wacquet introduced the third and unfortunately last installment of his EA series of electrodynamic panels.
He would later introduce a "Transparence" upgrade, but this product never became a proper commercial reality. I understand Alain still have a few pairs of these magic panels. If anybody is interested, let me know via our "Contact Us" page and we will put you in touch with Alain.
But back to the EA 16 now!
Alain sent me a copy of a review of these products in HIFI Video, June 1987 issue, and I will try to extract the useful information out of it for you in English. I will also give you access to the original text.
So, it is confirmed, as I have suspected from day one, that EA 16, stands for 16 drivers, which implies that the EA 11 and EA 12 had, guess how many, 11 and 12 drivers respectively...
We also get confirmation that all the drivers are in a single vertical line, and in the EA 16 at least, the midrange and tweeter are further back from the woofers. From the impedance curve, we can derive that the panel has its main resonance around 70Hz, which correlates well with the lack of rock-bottom bass. However, because of the small diameter of the drivers, the 94dB/1W/1m efficiency, and the proper time alignement, the impulse response and the dynamic range are second to none.
I have found recently that the AUDAX WTF12 is the main driver. Its efficiency is 90dB/1w/1m and its free air resonance 87Hz, which confirms the above, and which shows up in the impedance curve below.
Even the best electrostatic panels have difficulty to compete with the EA16s, not a mince feast. The closest I have found are actually the Magnepan panels.
Alain is a jazz music guru, and these panels are certainly very well equipped to properly render the small jazz ensembles and the intimate venues that are usually associated with them.
I don't think I have ever heard percussions, and primarily skins rendered with such accuracy and realism.
The EA 16 compare in size with the Martin Logan CLX and the KS-10 from KingSound (out of Honk Kong) at 90cm wide by 140cm high (vs 178.6cm × 65.4cm for the ML and 196cm x 76cm for the KS)
To emphasize that the balance, dynamic range and impulse response are more important to the auditive result than a perfectly flat and extended measured response, it is interesting to note that this is the case for the EA16s.
A slight emphasis in the 200 to 300Hz region improves the subjective impression of enough bass, specially when teamed up with a dip in the midrange and a controlled cut-off in the treble (the curve below may not be accurate in the treble due to the large size of the panel and the positioning of the measuring microphone, however it correlates well with the listening experience...)
These were expensive speakers at the time and also because of their size would sound best in a large room where you could have them well away from all walls, but then you would be rewarded by one, an extraordinary wide, stable and accurate image and two, a dynamic range and timbral accuracy second to none.
The reviewer at HIFI Video concludes: "The system has the efficiency and energy of a compression speaker, the tonal balance of the best electrodynamic system and the "finesse" of an electrostatic panel."
The best of all worlds then? Maybe not, but certainly one of most rewarding listening experience in my book!
see original review below.
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!
Today, I will review the two brands/products that have most impressed me in terms of speaker design and new to me.
Atohm and Waterfall Audio are kind of cousins as Thierry Comte is a partner in Waterfall, and the main driver (sic...) behind Atohm.
Besides, Waterfall Audio uses almost exclusively Atohm speakers.
Both companies have created a range of speakers that have some design criteria in common, but have achieved very different products out of some of the same components.
Atohm drivers are all high efficiency and both bass and midrange drivers have a metal membrane. Their top of the range tweeter however has a silk membrane and a 28mm diameter coil small enough to always stay within the humongous magnetic field of more than 17000 Gauss, resulting in a massive 98db/w/m efficiency.
We were exposed to their top model, the GT 3.0, a so-called 3.5 way freestanding speaker beautifully finished and equipped with 2 7inch bass drivers, 1 6inch medium with a phase plug and the above mentioned supertweeter.
The crossover frequencies are 100, 150 and 2500Hz, hence the 3.5 way name.
All filter slopes are 6db and the tweeter is time aligned.
The midrange driver has its own chamber fitted with an internal conical structure aimed at taming the standing waves and reflections inside that cabinet. This is reminiscent of the structure in the B&W Nautilus, but inverted inside the cabinet.
The bass drivers are installed in a bass reflex enclosure with a laminated vent at the base of the speaker's cabinet (like in our Microphase SWS subwoofer, this arrangement removes most of the potential problems linked with the floor structure and the position within the room).
The very well conducted demo showed the accuracy, speed and time alignment of this speaker, highly respecting the timbres of instruments and at 92db efficiency and 300W power capacity, reproducing the music with a realistic level and a total absence of distortion. Definitely in my top five at the show.
Their cost of 7,900 euros + seems to be the norm at that level of quality (Elipson 4260, Vienna Acoustics, or my favourite Martin Logans are twice the price...)
Waterfall Audio has taken a different approach, using some of the same drivers, in their top model, the Niagara.
First of all, Waterfall has made a name for themselves by introducing glass cabinets for their speakers.
We all know that glass is a very inert material, but being transparent, one cannot hide much inside the cabinet. Besides, it is quite a difficult material to process and assemble, more so once you add the complexity of a horn in front of the tweeter!
But Cedric Aubriot and Thierry Combe are not the types to refuse a challenge, and they came up with a number of innovative ideas to make this speaker a "chef d'oeuvre" in the sense of the Compagnons in the Middle Ages.
The result is a beautiful objet with a very high WAF - they have their Export Manager, Nadine, as their first judge, and she has convinced women (and men, I am sure...) in 30 countries to agree with her and buy this wonderful object!
Having said that, the auditive result is totaly in tune with the aesthetics of the product, proving once more that form should follow function if one wants to achieve the best possible results in any field. Electroacoustics are still full of "black magic" and in this case a transparent one: the filter is hidden in the base of the speaker, and so is the larger passive bass driver. Again, the midrange driver has its own enclosure baptised Acoustic Damping Tube, and the bass is generated mainly by a second 7inch driver. The tweeter is a 21mm diameter with a silk cone behind the proprietary glass horn. All drivers are bespoke versions of Atohm drivers.
The sound is solid, accurate and neutral. At 89db and 200w power handling, the output is realistic with a very nice, precise soundstage.
At 27,000 euros, this is not for the faint hearted, but a tenth of the price of a Focal Utopia and a lot easier to fit in one's living room. And with all due respect to Jacques Mahul, a much more lively proposition, more engaging with the source material, and, after a relatively short audition, certainly not less accurate.
It is to be noted here that Len Wallis (of Len Wallis Audio fame in Sydney) has given me access for a full morning to the Utopia in his showroom with two of his most knowledgeable sales people (and vinyl enthusiasts on top...) as my 60th birthday present...and so, my opinion of the Utopia is based on a much longer listening session on my own material. Although we had probably hal a million dollars of equipment in that room, I cannot say I was totally convinced mainly because it was almost surgical and lack the passion to engage my senses totally.
So, if I had a spare 40,000A$, I would certainly consider the Niagara!
I would like to try them with my Bryston amp and a Michell turntable and Grado Signature cartridge. Maybe the Aussie distributor of Waterfall Audio can organise that for me ( I will BYO my amp!!!)
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.