I was one of the very first to talk about these speakers that I discovered at the Paris Hifi show in 2010.
Although their designers come with an impeccable pedigree having worked at "cost is no object" Swiss manufacturer Goldmund, I was not totally convinced even though the woofer is made by long time friend and partner in crime Philippe Lesage (ex Technical Director at Audax and now MD of PHL Audio, as well as fostering a VIFA tweeter that I have learned to love in my own design. You can read my first impressions here:
My impressions were further vindicated by the measurements conducted by Stereophile two years later:
Although the listening tests were somewhat more elogious than mine, the measurements show a more rugged picture, as well as confirming my comments on the cabinet vibrations.
I have just received my copy of the April issue of Hifi News and Ken Kessler mention of Stenheim having exhibited at T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas. It caught my (well-trained...) eye, as the company has now unveiled a subwoofer for the Alumine, a configuration I particularly like (in part for historical Microphase related reasons) but also because it makes perfect technical sense.
Ken doesn't say if he liked them or not but Dave Thomas from Stereo Times, that I had the pleasure to meet in Vegas, says:
"The Stenheim speakers are gorgeously built and executed with clean lines and flawless construction. The sound of the system was extremely musical and dynamic, sounding far bigger and more natural than you’d normally hear under show conditions" Humm...
Spencer Holbert from The Absolute Sound says of the Alumine:
"The Alumine 2 Ways were incredibly tight and fast in the mids and highs thanks to its aluminum enclosure (hence the name, Alumine), and would be perfect for smaller room" Ah, ah...
And over last few days, Stenheim has unveiled a new "REFRENCE" system at the HIGH_END SHOW in Munich, so there is certainly something interesting going on there...
The management has changed, and it seems that the original five designers and founders have been sidelined. Jean Pascal Panchard, the new MD, comes from NAGRA, quite a good pedigree as well!
What can be noted is that the most recent incarnation of the Alumine has a more streamlined front baffle, with a more conventional horn piece for the tweeter - a feature I have personally investigated and found quite satisfactory - and a new midrange, or at least a new chassis from this speaker. I cannot find information whether or not it is still made by PHL Audio, but it looks like more of a carbon or kevlar cone as it looks woven rather cellulose. The bass driver in the subwoofer is made of polypropylene, material that I personally wouldn't use for that application, but as I have not had a chance to listen to this new incarnation, I will have to reserve my judgement. (In short, I will have to just shut up!)
The REFERENCE looks mighty enough and sports my favourite WMTMW arrangement, so I am inclined to say it would have a mighty sound indeed. The ribbon super tweeter is mounted off center, so a pair comes as a mirror image and the MTM part of the speaker can be angled remotely to fine tune the image at the listening position!
This is all extremely well fabricated in probably a very limited quantity, so the price of a pair of satellites (Alumine 2) starts at USD 15,000, add the sub and it jumps at USD 35,000 so you can guesstimate the price for the REFERENCe. Maybe I should design new speakers if there is a market at that price point...Just a thought!
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.
Happy New Year to all my readers, with a special mention for those of you that are about to Celebrate Chinese New Year in a few days.
Las Vegas had it all ready to go last week already, and in typical Vegas extravaganza, the whole garden at the Bellagio was transformed into a Chinese garden complete with bridge, dragon and music kiosk complete with traditional LIVE Chinese music band!
Tons of red lanterns were hung from the ceilings, in every corridor, with special red lighting hung on trees, etc...
It was really quite spectacular. Let see if Sydney can beat it on Saturday night for the opening ceremony of the festivities!
BTW, the 2012 International CES had a record number of exhibitors (3,100) and visitors (more than 153,000!).
The parallel High End Hifi Show, The Home Entertainement Show (T.H.E. Show) was also well attended (and is organised by the Chester Group, responsible for the Melbourne Show...).
I will report in more details on these two Shows over the next few days.
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.