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.
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...
Jadis: the first amp JA80
Jadis has been at it since 1983 - unlike Samsung, they are not a newbie at using valves!
Andre Calmettes, the founder, invented the JA80 at that time (hence the name, I guess...)
Although certainly not looking Danish, this product produced such an extraordinary sound that it became an instant hit.
Perfectionism is certainly a reason for its success:
The valves are tested and paired before being used in production, components are carefully selected and have been improved over time, and the "piece de resistance" (or should I say "no resistance"...) is the output transformer produced in house and capable of withstanding 2500 watts without distortion!
Currently, the most powerful Jadis amp is rated at 350w, so far away from that specification.
Since then, the product range has grown to include phono stages, preamps, amps, DACs, CD players and cables. And the look! well definitely matching the internal beauty - check the wiring: magnfique!
Jadis was one of the few French companies present in Vegas: good on you!
Check the photos below
When I was at Uni - and still living at home, as most students did at that time - my passion developed further, and I was keen to use my new found knowledge - I was studying for a BSc in Electronics - to build my first hifi system.
Coincidentally, my sister and I were gifted a DUAL 1219 turntable for Christmas, so I decided to get down to work.
My budget being quite limited, and having settled for a full range high efficiency speaker and valve amplifier, I went shopping...
I was confident I could design and build a solid state preamp, so I did, but for a strange reason, I didn't feel confortable designing the amp from scratch, so I went and bought a kit from Cibot Radio and assembled it myself, crossing fingers that I would not put the house on fire on first power up. As I am still here to tell the story, you have your answer...an added bonus though was that my room was
always a couple of degrees Celsius warmer than the rest of the house, as you wouldn't switch that amp off, would you?
It was quite an ugly thing in military green lacquered perforated metal for the cover, but the sound...ah that glow in the valves transcribed itself in velvet music! Even my crude preamp could not ruin the sound...
For the technically inclined, it seems that this was the valve configuration: 2xel84;2x12ax7;ez80, but it is a while back, so I can't be sure.
If anybody has more information let me know via our contact form or the comments function. Thanks in advance.
Now, for the speakers, I used a full range 17cm drive from SIARE in a closed box made of MDF and filled up with wool bed covers kindly given by Mum...
At the time, Michel Visan was the technical director of SIARE. He ended up starting Davis Acoustics, who continues to make some full range speakers inspired by the ones he designed for SIARE - see photo above. We ended up quite good friends and I would use some of his paper cone woofers in future designs, but more on that later.
I have never been a fan of Kevlar which started to be the rage in the 80s, when both Jacques Mahul at Focal (ex technical director of Audax and arch rival of SIARE, and Michel Visan at Davis Acoustics introduced drivers using this "space age" material.
I still believe paper cones have the ability to sound better than any thing else for the midrange, as they respect the timbre of instruments better.
The whole system was housed in a white laminate "structure" with the amp on one side, the preamp and turntable on the other side to avoid picking up rumble from the amp, a desk in the middle and the "legs" containing the speakers at the top and some space at the bottom for records stored vertically (bien sur...). I will try to find a photo from my parents archives or else, I will make a drawing of it
(but do you really care...?).
This system kept me happy for quite a while, until I came across the Elipsons and Supravox. But that will be my next story.
And it started, I guess, because there was always music playing in the house, mum played the piano, my parents used to dance in the living room to the sound of an old gramophone playing LPs but also a very large collection of jazz 78rpms .
And one day, when I was 15, Dad surprised us with one of the most up-to-date piece of technology of the time:
A Grundig Stereo console and black & white TV ( 819 lines SECAM, the now defunct French precursor of HDTV),
complete with a tube receiver and 2 elliptical bicone speakers, all housed in pure 1950s faux lacquered mahogany. It would have cost an absolute fortune, and knowing Dad, it would have been a decision carefully undertaken, with Mum financial blessing. This piece of equipment has been in continuous use from around 1965 until the 80s, including a 4-year stint in Mexico City and back, and then the cabinet was still home of a new transistorised hifi system bought by Dad's colleagues when he retired, and a new colour TV suitably replaced the SECAM unit, obsolete by then. In 1984, I presented him with a pair of speakers of my own design.
More on this later...
It was our first television, and we had had a telephone for just a couple of years, only because Dad was on the road for work most of the week. He was driving around a large territory centered on Tours to inspect large computer installations and ensure their proper performance and maintenance. He ended up being the General Manager of that Division for the whole company for the last five years or so of his employment before retiring at the tender age of 57...
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.