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!
Nuforce - all you need for your desktop audio
Nuforce is one of those myriad companies that breathe by hooking up with Apple iPods, iPhones and iPads and provide a superior audio experience out of these trendy/fancy devices.
Nuforce produces a suite of stylish and high performance DACs and desktop headphones and speakers amps.
Their specifications are quite high and their prices quite reasonable, so it is definitely a product that has found a niche in a crowded market.
They can bundle up their products with Tangent Audio EVO speakers, a great team indeed!
NAD - no it does not mean Noise And Distortion...
It is no big secret that I am a fan...
Over the years, I have owned a NAD 7140 receiver - now retired after 23 years of good service - and now a NAD turntable (a clone of the REGA P1) a NAD phono stage PP3i and a NAD C326BEE, used only as a preamp to drive my Bryston 3B, and a second hand tuner 4150.
So it was fitting to see NAD exhibiting a triphonic speaker system, very Microphase-like indeed!
That is certainly a piece of equipment I will not buy, but it would certainly a good buy for someone not as biaised as myself...
Qobuz - the buzz
Qobuz was the buzz at the Show, with a constant stream (sic!) of visitors to their static display.
The best description of Qobuz is an avatar of iTunes for people wanting the best quality music download/streaming at native 16/44.1 quality for a monthly subscription of 29euros a month - there is a discount for a yearly subscription.
On top, you can download some 24/96 files called Qobuz Studio Masters, a direct access to the digital master tapes of the participating record companies ((Plus Loin Music, Bee Jaz, Ambronay Editions, Zig Zag Territoires, ECM, Mirare, Aeolus, Ondine, Winter & Winter, Laborie etc...).
As a "loss leader", you can download a sample of these files for free as a visitor to the Show. Please get in touch if you want access. I have save them on a USB stick and tried to play them on my Blu-Ray Samsung player, which is capable of reading 24/192 files, but which refuses to recognise the Qobuz format.
Playing them on my PC thru my ordinary audio card and the Qobuz player feeding my extraordinary Senheiser HD212 Pro headphones gives a taste of the possibilities, but falls short of my expectations.
I will have to acquire an Oppo player...see below
As an aside, and to illustrate my point, I am currently listening to a direct broadcast from the Adelaide, a concert celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ASO - Adelaide Symphony Orchestra - on ABC Classic FM, my local FM station, streaming via the same set-up mentioned above in 24/96 and it is sublime...
Pro-Ject - Back to analogue in style
Pro-Ject was celebrating their 20th birthday with a complete line up of their current range, including some special edition for the occasion with decorated platter by famous artists.
You may have noticed that I am a Rega fan, primarily because of the quality of the RB 300 arm and its cousins.
In terms of the turnatles themselves, there is a lot of similarities between the two product lines, so I will let you debate of the respective virtues of both - why not start a thread on our recently opened Forum ?
In any case this was a beautiful display, complemented by a static display of their electronics on the other side of the alley.
Pierre Riffaud - Vinyl replay for the Kings
Well, I have to say that, in the realm of "money is no object" hifi gear, I have a sweet spot for Pierre Riffaud's contraptions...
He is the designer behind the "Epure" turntable now marketed by Micromega, and you can't prevent such a mind to get back to the drawing board and invent something even more outrageous than the Epure.
Sure, if you do not have an open cheque book, you can still buy a "Classique" turntable, or a revamped Garrard 401, one of Pierre's hobbies, but if you are anything but serious about vinyl replay, then you need a "Heritage".
If you ask for the price, then you cannot afford it!
Mass for the transport and unipivot for the arm are the keywords here, as well as the beautiful craftsmanship. We are par with the best of the best here, like the Clearaudio Statement for instance.
Point Musiques - the glue between Pierre Riffaud, Ocellia, Tosca and a few others...
Point Musiques is a very special place, and its owner, Jean-Jacques Capello, an extra ordinary man.
He spent his life educating young French people about music and HiFi during his working life as a Principal of various High Schools around France.
Now retired comfortably in the family house near Beauvais, an hour away north west of Paris, he continues to educate you and I on beautiful music reproduction systems, some more affordable than others, but all capable of disappearing to reveal the beauty of the music and the talent of the musicians, whether recorded on one the 4000 vinyls or CDs in his collection, all documented on his MacBook, but interestingly not saved in digital format in iTunes.
He was instrumental in bringing Tosca, Pierre Riffaud, Ocellia and Metronome Technologie together on a shared stand at the Show. Quite an achievement!
To pay tribute to people like Jean-Jacques Capello, I am starting a new page on this site called "Interviews & Reviews" where I will write longer articles featuring HiFi shops I visited, products I had a chance to listen too in more details - we may even start measuring some of them - or dissect a technical topic, like ADC and DAC conversion...so stay tunesd and come back to visit this new page.
Oppo - the most universal video player that also sounds great!
Oppo had only a static display at the Show, hooked up to a new 50' Samsung display - just the image quality by itself was quite stunning.
But I have heard - but not - through the grapevine, that this is also the best sounding affordable CD, SACD and CDHD player!
You can buy one online for about 1000$, and you can get a top of the range model in europe for 1500 euros.
It is certainly more expensive than my Samsung Blu-Ray player, but certainly not out of reach for a number of people.
I can't wait to put one to the aural test of my ageing, but nevertheless quite educated ears!
Ocellia - the most unorthodox speakers
Setting aside all acquired speaker design wisdom, Samuel Furon,
the designer of the Ocellia range, decided to start from a blank canvas and use his regular attendances to live classical music concerts to try to build a full range speaker that would give him the same pleasure and emotion than a live performance.
To achieve his goals, he uses drivers from another French company, PHY-HP, who makes extraordinary full range drivers with very high efficiency. Although quite different in the profile of their paper cones, they do have a sounding familiarity with our beloved Supravox 215RTF. However, they bring another level of performance and subtlety to this vintage icon.
Two drivers 21cm and 16cm conducted Samuel to design a big and a small Ocellia.
The big one can be complemented with one or two piezoelectric tweeters, also from PHY-HP.
The cabinets are very light and act more the case of a cello than the rigid and enclosed designs we are used to. Internally there is some diffraction structures on the sides of the cabinet to prevent unwanted reflections.
There is no filter between the full range driver and the tweeter(s). Wiring is with silver cables designed by Ocellia.
The result is astonishing of transparency, details, dynamic range, absence of coloration.
You completely forget that you are listening to a hifi system, specially when you sit comfortably in an old stone farmhouse of epic proportions, where a chamber orchestra could well be performing live for you.
A must to listen to, if you can find somebody who has such a beautiful instrument!
Tosca is most famous for its range of valve phono stage, preamps and amps. I had a private listening session at Point Musiques, driving Ocellia speakers, and that experience convinced me that these are indeed very rare beasts, extremely quiet and dynamic, but mostly inaudible - a must for any amplifiers, I think...
They need very high efficiency speakers though, as their output power is only 10W or 20W depending on the model.
Continuing their expansion, Tosca has introduced speakers and cables.
I only listened to their Aria 5, teamed up with the Sub 10 subwoofer.
These were driven by the AT5-20W and we used the CD8 from Metronome or the "Classique" turntable as sources, quite a nice set-up, I have to say...
Classified as a mid-range system, it would still set you back a year of most people income!
Tosca use primarily Fostex drivers and in the Aria 5, 4 FX120 and 1 FT96H are used in a d"appolitto configuration and housed in a tear drop shaped metal column. The load is a transmission line design.
These speakers have all the trademark qualities of Fostex speakers, high efficiency, full range, but in
this implementation, I thought the result was pretty disappointing and probably not in line with the
quality of Tosca's electronics. In particular, there was quite a bit of sibilance due to - I think - a
filtering artefact. Also the integration with the subwoofer was far from seamless, although using an
active filter and integrated class D amplifier (in a separate chassis to allow future upgrade).
I wish I had a chance to listen to some of their other speakers, in particular the Recital 12, which is an open baffle 3-way design with an integrated amp to drive the bass driver: intriguing!
Thorens was kind of hidding on their French distributor's stand (DEA International) with a static display - not an ideal set up for such an iconic brand!
Two models were on display, the high end TD 350 and TD 550
Quoting Thorens, "The TD 350 revives the legendary Thorens tradition and concept of the suspended chassis. The construction of the TD 350 ingeniously combines the advantages of a mass platform with those of the suspended chassis. This tried and tested concept as well as traditional manufacturing quality make the TD 350 a record player that will satisfy even the most discerning demands.
The front panel of the TD 550, similarly constructed as the TD 550 which also holds the operational buttons, is available either chrome-plated or with black anodized aluminum finish. The high-grade plinth itself has been refined with finest black piano lacquer.
he TD 550 comes equipped with a suspended chassis and the belt drive around the outer rim of the
platter. The player‘s generous dimensions allow the mounting of 12-inch tonearms also. The tonearm
platform is made from extremely stiff carbon fibre compound which ensures a very rigid coupling of
platter and tonearm".
The TD 350 was fitted with a REGA arm and Ortofon cartridge, the TD550 was fitted with a SME arm.
Being a static display makes it difficult to judge their sonic qualities, but I am sure you will be fine if you choose to buy either of them, or any of the less expensive models, or if you are after looks, then nothing beats the TD 2035 or my favourite, the TD 303...
I was lucky enough to share an interview by the organiser of the Show, Jean-Marie Hubert ( who I have known for a very long time...) with Ken Kessler of HiFi News (and other high profile HiFi magazines) fame.
Click the link to stream the interview:
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.