A Swiss company, relatively new, but that has become quite famous quite quickly for its "money is no object" audio solutions with "soul" obviously!
6moons, Hifi News and other experts rave about these electronics, including the recently released 540, a combination of SACD player and HiRes DAC, that will set you back around 35K$
I didn't get a chance to listen to these digital jewels, so I would be quite happy with a 1k$ OPPO player and/or a Metrum DAC in the same price range.
Sooloos by Meridian
I have always had a sweet spot for Meridian products, and their CD players in particular. Their intrusion into "virtual music" by the acquisition of Sooloos add another dimension to their commitment to reproducing digital files.
Martial Hernandez, DJ extraordinaire, was keeping the audience riveted - to their seats - by his intimate knowledge of any of the 4000 CDs ripped on his 2To Sooloos system. He was helped in this exercise by the beautiful Vienna Acoustics speakers. Certainly one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining demos at the Show!
Sonus Faber has a long tradition of good speaker design in fabulously finished cabinets.
Here, the new Guarneri Memento are driven by the PrimaLuna 35W tube amps, a fine combination indeed, which retained a lot of visitors for more than the average time - I certainly was one of them!
It is always difficult to assess the performance of a speaker at a trade show, but some of them - and the Guarneri Memento is one of them - just make you stop and notice the difference.
What does it for me is the sheer balance, dynamic range and accuracy of this splendidly designed and manufactured pair of speakers, and the pleasure it gives me listening to most music you throw at it - even if they cost 15k$!
I would recommend you reading a proper review by Michael Stremer in Stereophile: http://www.stereophile.com/standloudspeakers/807sonus
An innovative music server, and multiroom system, the Maestro proposed by Soledge, one of these new breed of French manufacturers who embrace new technologies, but still respect the main "raison d'etre" of hifi equipment, which is reproducing music.
They had "borrowed' a pair of KEF speakers for their demos, which were driven by their Tenor "remote" amplifiers, the signal being transported via the power lines in a 200 Mhz PLC "envelope", quite an impressive feat!
We are far away from the X-10 PLC systems, used in early home automation systems!
You may remember these nice youngsters who introduced their "CUBE" speaker at the show last year, a steel enclosure with a Fostex full range driver, separate woofer, active filtering and integrated class D amps - one of my favourite products then, and still now...
This year, Eden de Vismes and his partner Laure Kasparian are introducing a series of beautiful control and connector panels, building blocks for designing an elegant multiroom system or connecting local sources to an existing system.
Also new, a range of "invisible" speakers fitted into light fittings, the result of a joint venture with Kreon, a famous Belgian lighting company. I was invited to their common showroom Place des Victoires after the show to experience these great sounding wonders. I am not sure the photos will help you figure out where the sound might come from, but it does sound exceptional good, considering that these speakers use primarily 2in drivers (5cm)
A great "coup" for such a young and amiable team!
Vienna acoustics was once more one of the best sounding speakers around. The new KISS model - shown left - was amazingly demonstrated by DJ "extraordinaire" Martial Hernandez, who has spent the last couple of years transferring all his collection of CDs to a Sooloos system, now part of Meridian.
Martial not only has one of the most extensive libraries of
“dematerialised” music, as well as physical records and CDs, but also knows every track in details, down to where the musicians fit in the studio or live venue. He is like a living encyclopaedia of live jazz recordings and the like and his enthusiasm is infectious: it was funny to watch people ready to move to the next stand, and actually staying for hours on hand because Martial promised them to be blown away by the NEXT piece of music he was about to play – and I fell into his trap as well for my own delight! They are distributed in Australia by Audio Active.
These acoustic panels, distributed in France by Axente and very recently in Australia by Radiance, are actually made in Portugal.
Originally a professional product used extensively in recording studios and movie theaters and other similar venues, they are now becoming popular in Home Theater applications due to their performance obviously, but mainly because of their very high WAF index. architects and Interior Designers alike have no problem specifying them as they are 'invisible" enough, but highly effective in taming these reflexions, resonances and other "nasties' which can kill the performance of the best speakers.
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.