Studio Review: S.A.P. Quartette Loudspeakers First Look
Newport 2011: Legacy
Legacy, famous for their bang for buck designs was of course also at Newport...
Newport 2011: Tonian Labs
Tonian Labs' new high efficiency speakers (with custom woofers mated to ribbon tweeters) were begging for better amplification and a bigger room. Tonian's speakers always feature wild, in you face sonics and his new gave the same good stuff, only better. Pricing is just over $5k for the pair.
Preview: Zu Audio Presence
The Perfect FinishTraditionally, speakers have always been finished in some sort of wood veneer. Historically, this dates back to the days when speakers were large, boxy and thus had to resemble some sort of furniture piece in order to fit into the decor of the home. As the years went by however, loudspeaker manufacturers quickly realized that offering finishes other than veneer was becoming a viable option for more consumers.
Salagar @ CES
Vegas 08: Marten and E.A.R.
Tim De Paravacini is the Gandalf of hi-fi. The man behind E.A.R. Yoshino and the go-to guy for anything tube amp related is, without a doubt, one of the world's greatest sorcerers of sound. In Vegas, I had breakfast with the man and, after a 45 minute narrated adventure through the inner workings of a Technics reel-to-reel, it dawned on me that my brain is simply not large enough to handle Mr. Tim's wisdom. I shook his hand and had to go watch some American Idol before returning to CES lest my skull explode with tech talk.
In any case, it should come as no surprise the E.A.R. room with Marten Design loudspeakers was one of my favorites. Tim's now-famous Acute CD player and Disc Master turntable did duty for the new Marten Form speakers.
These new speakers, as you can see in the pic above, are triangular in shape and jaw-droppingly gorgeous. At $6500/pair, the smallish Form speakers immediately struck me as perfect high-performance speakers for the design-conscious hi-fi fan. Edgy Euro-styled faux-industrial loft-living your thing? Your new speakers have arrived.
As for sound, I didn't get a huge amount of listening in, though the Marten speakers are, from past experience, in the Intense group while the E.A.R. components fit roughly into the Vivid camp. This E.A.R. and Marten pairing is a perfect match that leans more to the Vivid side than, say, into the Precise or Intense groups. The speakers being svelte two-ways made for excellent room/speaker interaction that was, to my ears, excellent.
The Form speakers feature the same Accuton ceramic woofer as the far more expensive Marten speakers, but now with a ribbon tweeter instead of the ceramic or diamond tweeters of the bigger brothers. To my ears, the ribbon was a great choice and did, in some ways, create a more appealing every-day response than the stiff domes. Having heard the Marten Birds, Miles IIIs, Coltrane Supremes and Dukes, I think the new Form speakers are my favorite Martens far. Of course, I may just be in love with the looks, hard to say.
The bass response via the bottom-firing port was tremendous. Marten added a subwoofer a few days into CES, but when I was first there listening sans-sub, the bass was anything but shy. The Form speakers, as the perfect design-conscious speakers they are, don't need a sub for satisfying high-performance, every-day listening. Expect to see more about these triangular Jessica Albas in the near future here on the 'Flare.
Visit our EAR/Marten gallery here for more flattering photos.
Vegas 08: Davone Audio
Davone Audio out of Denmark demoed their new Rithm speakers in the large, open convention area at CES. While we usually don't cover products that aren't sold in the states, these Davone Rithm speakers are just too cool to pass up. What you're looking at is a 28" tall speaker with a 8" coax driver (tweeter inside woofer) that's bottom ported out the front. A classy (and patented) multi-ply construction makes up the flowing baffle (big pic next page) and binding posts are hidden in the tail area. I love speakers with excellent industrial design and Davone's Eames-worthy pieces are true to the increasingly popular mid-century design aesthetic.
From what I could tell, the sound was nice, despite the massive room with unfortunate background noise. Here's hoping a US distributor picks up these speakers for the design-conscious American hi-fi fans. Price is, I'm told, roughly $6000 a pair.
Vegas 08: Devore Fidelity and Vegas After Hours
Save the best for last, I'm told. I'm glad I did. By the time I arrived at Devore's monkey house, CES show-goers were already heading for the airport with hangovers and broken eardrums leaving me plenty of quiet time to listen to my demo disc on Devore's big Silverback speakers.
The night before, John (Devore), John (Halpern of Shindo, EMT, Leben), John (Hughes of VRS), Mike Lavorgna (6Moons) and I partied at the "Not For Sale" mini-rave among other hip hi-fi manufacturers, dealers and journalists. The NFS guys are weekend alcohol alchemists, crafting liquor from a variety of exotic ingredients (the active element in absinth being one).
John (one of the three, don't exactly remember) put a small plastic shot glass filled with glowing liquid in my hand and said, "Yo, you gotta try this!" I was about to knock it back like the good post frat boy I am, but they were like, "No, man, sip it." I later found out another main ingredient was Everclear. Upon reflection, either that little shot was liquid plutonium or John, John, John and Mike are the funniest people in hi-fi. Or both.
Check out Jon's (Iverson of Stereophile) great shots (2, 3) of the NFS room complete with trippy FX lighting. Sadly, I wasn't able to grab a pic of the hot tub filled with beer, wine and hard alcohol on ice. Next year I'll make sure I bring my camera and stay conscious long enough to snap some shots. Who said audiophiles are boring? Vegas After Hours is what hi-fi is all about.
As for the sound in the Devore room, well, it was one of the most enjoyable at the show. The sound falls roughly into the Smooth group -- absolutely zero harsh, etched, nasty notes while offering worlds of bass and attack. Power to the Devore Silverback Reference speakers ($15k) was provided by a beefy Ayre amp rather than low watt tubes of years past.
Where the show's euro Intense-style speakers have a cooler presentation and sharper dynamics, the Devore's sound was warmer and far more friendly. Compared to Refined-type speakers, the Devores offered a more lively midrange, especially on vocals. It's just a different style, one that I particularly like. It's up to you, of course, what kind of sound you prefer, but now I finally understand why Devore speakers are often called "high performance everyday speakers." There are only a handful of speakers that, to my ears, are designed with a lifestyle in mind -- Devore's are clearly designed with a love of the good life.
Check out our Devore gallery for more pics of the big system and the new Gibbon 5 LCR speakers featuring coax drivers using the same woofer from the Gibbon 8. The 5.1, with their double ports, are said to put out bass equal to the bigger 8. Pictured above are the Gibbon Nines next to the Gibbon Super 8.
SonicFlare Top Speakers of 2007
Sports cars have nothing on hi-fi. Each year, hi-fi manufacturers create new speakers and components with more space-age tech and bling than Bugatti. To show you what hi-fi is all about, we decided to present our Top Speakers of 2007 with their corresponding super car identities. After all, racy looks and extreme performance is what hi-fi is all about.
We chose these loudspeakers based on the buzz they received over the course of 2007. While there were many new and exciting prototype products this year, the loudspeakers on our list are all commercially available and showing up in rock star and hi-fi fan's living rooms everywhere.
Hi-fi, like sports cars, is made up of numerous fantastic speakers, each with their own unique strengths. So if you’re new to the glorious world of hi-fi, forget plastic speakers and find out what “sports cars for your living room” is all about.
RMAF 07: Sjofn Guru AV Speaker System
If you haven't heard of the Sjofn (pronounced: "shoe-fen") Guru system yet, be prepared for reviews coming your way from every magazine. In fact, SonicFlare's own Robert Learner has the Guru system in home. So what's the big deal? Big bass, little box. Believe me, you've never heard deeper bass from a smaller cabinet (or driver) before. The best part is the Guru is designed as a system. Combine huge bass, small size and great sound for $3000 and you have yourself a Show Superstar.
First of all, Sjofn Hi-Fi is the Swedish parent company putting together the pieces: the Guru QM10 speakers ($1995), Xindak integrated and CD player ($400 each), and Supra cables for a package price of $3000. At RMAF, they also showed their $9,995 QM40 speakers with Xindak equipment for their $14k system. Speakers shown were either matte or gloss black, though other colors will be available in the future. Additionally, I was told by Sjofn's finance man that a number of retail stores are in the works with the first in the Denver and the next in Vegas. Single-brand hi-fi stores are a rarity, but if anyone can do it, it'll be the Sjofn.
When I came into the room, the Guru guys were probably thinking I, like everyone else, had an audiophile demo disc to play. But when my bass heavy tracks came on, their eyes lit up. They were pretty confident about putting out big bass, so I said, "We'll see about that -- crank the suckers up!" After a moment, however, the volume was so high, one of the Guru crew told me I was getting close to "blowing up the speakers." He then said something in Swedish to his coworker who turned the volume down to normal human levels. But before they got a chance to tame the system, I snuck up to the little 5" driver and found it bouncing back and forth more than any 5" driver I've seen before.
In terms of sound, the system falls into the Intense camp (with a slight lean towards the Refined group). The system was cool instead of warm, but not so cool as to turn people off. There's obvious system synergy going on between the Guru speakers and Xindak gear. The differences between the $3k and $14k systems were, clearly, bass output, but also definition in notes and overall clarity. As for how each of the components sound, we'll just have to wait and see.
So how does Guru work its magic? As you can see from the pictures, the speakers are pushed back against the front wall. Play with any speaker for a few minutes and you know the closer to the front wall, the bigger the bass. Also, the closer you sit to the back wall, the bigger the bass.
Now, positively utilizing room gain is nothing new -- Linn did it back in the day, as well as a few other manufacturers at RMAF. But the Guru speakers are the smallest, most powerful I've ever heard. Looking at the speaker the first thought that came to mind was "transmission line." No, I was told, speakers are, in fact, bass reflex with a special design rather than the hole-in-box approach.
Of course, if everyone could get monster bass from pushing their speakers against the wall, they would. So what are the trade offs? The reason the majority of manufacturers design their speakers for mid-room placement is to tame room reflections and increase sound stage. Guru deals with the room reflection issues in a couple of ways. As you can see from the picture below, the front wall is covered with sound-sucking foam. Guru designer Ingvar Ohman explained that high frequency reflections are the major issue with close-wall placement and taking the reflections out of the game is the only way to go.
As for sound stage, while it's hard to tell from the picture, the speakers are slightly farther apart than typical speaker setups and, most importantly, toed in so the tweeter axis converge a few feet in front of the listener. Again, this is nothing new (Audio Kinesis does this) but the effect is really obvious: awesome sound stage with depth, width and, interestingly, stable imaging for any position in the room. Ingvar explained that when you sit, say, to the left of center, the right speaker, now pointing directly at you, sends out a higher, faster frequency that compensates for the delay from the other speaker. While I've never heard it explained like that before, the results speak for themselves.
There is only one trade off that may be a sticking point. The $2000 Guru QM10 doesn't have the clarity and definition as other speakers in this class. My guess is that since the woofers are forced to work extra hard to get the bass, the midrange frequencies lose definition relative to other speakers with less excursion. Ideally, a speaker would have all frequencies coming from the same plane. But when you have a driver with, say, an inch of excursion, the mid frequencies from one moment to the next may be offset by as much as an inch. It's not as if you're experiencing Doppler effect, it's just that the Gurus aren't as defined as other speakers in the same class.
Overall, the Gurus are brilliantly engineered and sound fantastic. While the black cabinets don't scream luxury hi-fi, the Gurus are the ticket for people wanting killer sound without big boxes and huge bass without subwoofers.
RMAF 07: Audio Kinesis & AtmaSphere System
My love for Audio Kinesis began at a Los Angeles expo a few years back where Audio Kinesis showed prototype bookshelf speakers with, if I remember correctly, a half dozen drivers per side. Later, Audio Kinesis released the more conventional looking 2-way Jazz Modules ($4000) and Storm Bringers ($2800). At RMAF, Audio Kinesis's main man Duke LeJune revealed the new Dream Makers ($9000), which take his signature sound and technology to the limit. One Audio Kinesis owner told Duke he should name his new speakers "The Crocs" in deference to my glowing show coverage where I defined the Audio Kinesis sound as having "snap like a croc." Duke, you can still change the name, you know...
The new speakers have all his signature snap and more. The system, paired with top AtmaSphere equipment, lands directly in the Vivid camp. The bass was powerful and tight while the overall presentation was wall to wall and incredibly precise. The AtmaSphere amps and overall speaker tuning was warm with really lively voices. The Jazz Modules claim up to 112dB of output with only 1dB of compression. The Crocs, er, Dream Makers, should put out even more.
The driver compliment is similar to the Jazz Modules I raved about, but feature a very unique second driver compliment on the back of the speaker that radiates in bipole fashion. The bipole feature puts out larger bass and a bigger sense of scale and sound stage. The downside -- if there is one -- is that room placement becomes a little more tricky.
Sourced from famed TAD, the alnico woofer is one of the most expensive drivers in the world. Check out the Audio Kinesis site for a lot more talk about the tech behind these speakers.
RMAF 07: Salagar $7999 Super Speakers
One of my new favorite speakers at the show comes from the new kid on the block, Salagar Speakers. Their Symphony S210 monitors, at $7999, sounded so good, they're taking home the SonicFlare Superstar award for top Precise-type room.
Other than the funky shape, the Salagar S210s feature a bevy of technology. First of all, they're powered with double 200 watt ICEpower modules nestled inside the jellybean enclosures and mated directly to the drivers. Additionally, the speakers feature an "active digital crossover/controller" called X-ACT. X-ACT processes inbound signals at 24bits/96KHz and digitally splits the signal between the 1" tweeter and 10" woofer. X-ACT also features simple room correction controls for tweaking the bass.
The speaker construction and build quality is first rate. Color options are as wide as the rainbow and you can, if you dare, order the front baffles dressed up in leather, 24k gold or mother-of-pearl.
The rest of the system included only the E.A.R. Acute CD player ($5500) with integrated volume control. This system, with just a source and speakers, is as simple as they come and the sound was excellent in part because of the simplicity. Everything is made to work together harmoniously, and the sound was fast and powerful with all the Precise-type qualities but with a touch of warmth. Really great stuff.
Almost as interesting as the speakers is the company behind it. Salagar showed with a double room and I had a chance to speak to both the designers, the marketing man and a variety of other people in the company. Salagar isn't a mom-and-pop operation, but a strong company run by some very intelligent and savvy gents. Keep an eye out for these guys as they quickly expand their product line.
RMAF 07: Tyler Acoustics & Edge
The Tyler Acoustics Woodmere II speakers ($8800) paired with Edge for a really nice Refined-style sound. Tyler is all about custom wood finishes and, with speakers as low as $700, bang-for-your buck designs. The Woodmeres are his top of the line speakers and are designed to compete with other speaker manufacturer's best-of-the-best at a much lower price.
RMAF 07: RL Acoustic + Opera $19k Super System
RL Acoustique partnered with Opera Consonance for an absolutely fantastic Emotional-style room. So good, in fact, their $19,200 system gets my vote for the top Emotional system at the show. The sound was warm and smooth like a world-class Emotional system should be. But the RL Lamhorns ($9500/pair) were also amazingly fast without a lot of the bizarre frequency anomalies that typically turn people away from single driver speakers.
The new Consonance Mini Droplet CD Player ($2500) includes integrated volume and remote while their monoblock amps are the Consonance Cyber 300B ($7200/pair). If you've never seen any of the Cyber series amps up close, just know they're absolutely gorgeous. For the style conscious, the Droplet/Cyber combo is an instant conversation starter (the good kind of conversation).
The RL Acoustique Lamhorns champion the AER MK-1 driver. German AER has made a name for itself in DIY circles as the better-than-Lowther alternative, offering multiple magnet configurations and, interestingly, a field-coil driver. The Opera Cyber amps feature 300B tubes in Single Ended Parallel configuration. The entire Cyber line offers different amps for many flavors of the best tubes out there: 845/211, 300B (in SET, parallel and push/pull configs), and EL34.