our esteemed publisher (affectionately known in-house as Steverino) was
systematically covering this year’s venues, I took a more focused and selective
approach with the idea of identifying innovative and cool new products, and in
general looking for industry trends on the threshold of the new
millennium. A “satellite show” is
certainly the politically correct designation for The Home Entertainment Show
(T.H.E Show) at the St. Tropez, a mere half block from the Alexis Park Hotel
(the official CES High-End venue). However, at least from my perspective, it
was almost a case of equals, as I ended up spending about half of my time at
T.H.E Show. It seems that much of the interesting stuff had been siphoned off
from the Alexis Park. The atmosphere at the St. Tropez was also more congenial
and reminiscent of the good old days when a gathering of high-end audio’s elite
felt more like a family affair. That was clearly the case at the St. Tropez
around noontime. There is such a thing as a free lunch, just ask T.H.E Show’s
The Digital Wars
It is ironic that Sony, the folks that introduced the first
CD player I the US some 18 years ago with the promise of perfect sound forever,
are now touting the super audio CD format (SACD) as a means to expand the
high-end market. Sony recently introduced the SCD-777ES, its second SACD
player, which incorporates most of the key technologies of the Sony reference
standard, the SCD-1, at a US retail price of $3,500. Philips and Marantz also
announced plans to introduce SACD to the USA in the second quarter of 2000.
While Marantz is targeting the high-end market, Philips is targeting a more affordable
price point with a SACD player that includes DVD-Video.
The Sony player is able to read the three disc variations
associated with the SACD format: a single high-density layer disc; a disc with
dual high-density layers for increased recording time, and a hybrid disc that
combines a high-density layer and a standard-density (CD) layer. Of course, all
standard CD and SACD players will be able to play the hybrid disc. I believe
that this is a critical compatibility issue. Ensuring that the standard CD as
well as the hybrid CD is compatible with any existing CD player, will give SACD
viability in the market place. Although I tend to agree with Telarc’s Robert
Wood, who is quoted as saying that SACD represents a staggering improvement
over what we have now, the public at large has not been complaining about and
clamoring for better CD audio quality. The hybrid CD, at least has a chance of
being stocked by mainstream music stores, as it can be played on any of the
over 600 million CD players out there, yet has the added value of SACD sound
capability. Philips also seems to think so, as they are gearing up hybrid disc
production next month, with full production slated for the second quarter of
this year at the Sonopress factory in Europe.
The Accuphase Laboratory is scheduled to release its model
DP-100 SACD transport this spring. An optional High-Speed Link board will
provide a flexible interface capable of accommodating any digital source: SACD
(1bit/2.8224 MHz), DVD-Audio (24bit/192 kHz, 24bit/ 96 kHz), and conventional
digital standards such as CD, MD and DAT. A matching processor will also be
introduced. The DP-100 will also be compatible with the new DP-75V CD player
via the HS-Link. The DP-75V is a new generation CD player that uses six 24-bit
Delta-Sigma converters per channel in parallel for ultra low distortion and
state-of-the-art resolution. For the ultimate in analog and digital
integration, you should seriously check out the DC-330 – the world’s first SACD
and DVD-Audio ready digital preamp. It offers a wide range of digital and
analog input and output boards to allow the user to meet any conceivable
digital and analog needs. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
An exciting development at the other extreme of the price
range is the Perpetual Technologies P-3A DAC. It is priced at $599 and will be
available in March - direct to the consumer - at www.perpetualtechnologies.com.
The P-3A is said to use the latest Crystal SemiConductor CS4397 chipset, a
high-performance 24-bit 44.1/48/96/192 kHz stereo DAC. The output stage is
built around a Burr-Brown op-amp operated in class A. According to president
Mark L. Schifter, the P-3A represents the best affordable DAC made and he
believes that it should compare favorably to units costing $3,000 or $4,000.
The Perpetual Technologies P-1A ($950) is an affordable DSP-based correction
engine, which in its basic form upgrades the sound of standard CDs to 24-bit/96
kHz resolution by combining a software-based interpolation scheme with
hardware-based upsampling. Software upgrades allow more functionality by
implementing specific speaker and room corrections.
Audio Note UK is creating quite a stir with their Direct
from Disc ™ 1xoversampling™ circuit. The name is an intentional oxymoron, and
is meant to highlight the fact that their DAC does NOT use a digital filter
with oversampling. The claim is that the oversampling, digital filtering and
noise shaping everyone is using in their converters hurts sound quality, and
according to Audio Note is a major stumbling block for standard 16-bit CD
sound. The briefest of auditions convinced me that there is something to this.
All I can tell you right now is to stay tuned to Enjoy the Music.com for some
startling revelations in the near future.
The Renaissance of the Full-Range Driver
In what appears to be a belated resurgence of the full-range
driver, several companies showcased minimalist speakers. By that I mean designs
that use a single driver over a wide bandwidth, often over the range from 100
Hz to 10 kHz, and usually (but not always) with help from a super tweeter or
subwoofer at the frequency extremes. The popularity of the format stems from
the realization by a wider audience that even expensive multi-way speakers lack
the coherency and dynamics of a good full-range. A case in point is the new
Moth Audio loudspeaker, designed by Bruce Edgar, which uses the Reps R-1
full-range driver – Frank Reps’ exquisite version of the Lowther PM2A. The
“Pagoda” styling is certainly unique; I personally witnessed a couple of women
just go gaga over its exotic looks.
Moth Audio’s Craig Uthus beaming over the new 2A3-based power amplifier ($1,695
– output tubes not included) outfitted with the magnificent Vaic tube. Note the
curtain in the background. And behind curtain No.1 is hidden Edgar’s gigantic
and very industrial bass horn that provides the system’s bass kick below 90 Hz.
It was about this time that I realized that I might just be
was allergic to 1-inch dome tweeters. It seems to me that so many designers
these days push such tweeters outside their comfort zone, down to 2 kHz or even
lower. The motivation is to better integrate the upper midrange transition from
mid/woofer and to maintain better dispersion around the crossover. But there is
a price to pay. Even though the tweeter might be able to safely sink power over
its bandwidth, the distortion spectrum rises significantly when it is hit hard
below say 3 kHz. I typically hear compression and harshness creep in with so
many modern designs that I’m nervous about sitting down in front of any
loudspeaker featuring a 1-inch dome. It may be that many audiophiles are
insensitive or even prefer a bright and “lively” (in other words: harsh and
edgy) upper midrange. For me, however, it’s a kiss of death.
from the compromise inherent in crossing over a tweeter anywhere in the
midrange, full-range drivers tend to reproduce the entire mid band with much
greater dynamics, coherency, and far less distortion. That’s not to say that
full-range drivers don’t encounter problems in this range. Problems arise when
such drivers are used in folded horns where reflections and resonances are
created, especially in the throat of the horn. In addition, many of these
drivers are literally paper-thin and are prone to breakup in the presence
region with attendant harshness. To be successful, a full-range driver design
needs to address such issues with the greatest of care. This appears to be the
case with the ReTHM loudspeaker (Sanskrit for harmony) from Vector Research
(Tel.: 213-624-6908; e-mail: email@example.com), designed by
Jacob George. The enclosure has been designed
to eliminate back-wave reflections that might impact the driver. The geometry
of the enclosure aids in minimizing standing waves and baffle diffraction
effects. In addition, the Lowther DX-4 driver has been modified by the addition
of a floating paper cone just outside the whizzer cone to quiet presence region
resonances. Driven by the Diva Seduction amplifier ($2,800), the ReTHM sounded
absolutely delicious with a nice blend of delicacy and dynamics. Information
about Diva Classic Audio may be had at: http://web.singnet.com.sg/~seahss.
(www.lothx.com) has also made a serious
investment in full-range driver technology with the Stamm driver, a tri-cone
design featuring three paper cones driven by a single lightweight voice coil.
The paper cones are coated with a resin, which incorporates an anti-fungal
compound, protecting the driver from deterioration in humid tropical climates.
Hence, Loth-X speakers come with a 20-year warranty. High-flux density Alnico
magnets are used to generate an efficiency in excess of 100 dB. The Stamm
driver is typically used in conjunction with a back-loaded horn. In particular,
I liked the Loth-X Azimuth, which is rated at a sensitivity of 104 db and is
intended for low-power, single-ended triode applications.
Pawlik of Apex (Tel.: 415-897-5616) is the French Connection – the US and
Canadian distributor of J.C. Verdier, PHY-HP, and Ocellia loudspeakers by
Acoustique & Lutherie. The J. C. Verdier line is relatively well known in the
US, especially for its innovative turntable designs. The other two lines
clearly deserve wider recognition. Let’s start with PHY-HP (Haute parleurs), a
manufacturer of full-range drivers, as well as a tweeter and cable. The
designer, Mr. Salabert, takes great pride in his hand-crafted manufacturing
process, as each driver is quality controlled from start to finish to very
close tolerances. Matched pairs of woofers are selected after a considerable
break-in period and are matched to a tolerance of 0.1 gram on moving mass, 0.1
ohm on DC resistance, and 1 Hz on resonant frequency. The drivers carry a
lifetime guarantee to the first owner. Shown here is the KM-30 coaxial driver
with truly coincident acoustic centers. The main cone covers the range from 45 Hz
to about 10 kHz. The TW-37 piezo electric tweeter takes over at 11 kHz and is
flat to 30 kHz. Note the stunning bronze basket. The magnetic system features
mild steel pole pieces with an Alnico magnet. Sensitivity is 97 dB with a
nominal impedance of 16 ohms.
Ocellia line of speakers features the PHY-HP full-range drivers. But there’s
more to the story. Flying in the face of conventional wisdom and practice,
Ocellia systematically uses thin-walled cabinets. Construction techniques that
rely on mass-loading, bracing, and damping are rejected on the basis that they
can never entirely eliminate vibrational energy, and that such methods produce
residual narrow-band, slowly decaying cabinet modes that smears musical detail.
Instead, Ocellia’s Samuel Furon (on right, with Mr. Salabert of PHY-HP) seeks
to treat the cabinet much like a musical instrument. The frame is made of
strips of solid beech wood, dovetailed together, while the panels much like a
violin soundboard are made of spruce. The panels are of differing thicknesses
and are allowed to vibrate independently. The idea is to achieve a balanced
acoustic output that has a very quick time signature. I can testify that the
end result is quite musical.
The Horn Guys
clearest path to recapturing the excitement of live music is a good horn-based
loudspeaker. It’s a shame that we grow up listening to highly compressed audio
on TV and radio broadcasts. Radio stations are notorious for using compression
to increase signal strength. The end result is a dynamic range approaching zero
dB. Because we are exposed to it so often during our formative years, we become
conditioned to accept compression as a fact of life. And since most audiophile
systems dissipate the dynamics of live music through built-in driver
compression, most listeners are literally unprepared for the horn experience.
Just ask the Horn Guys at Avantgarde-USA (firstname.lastname@example.org).
They would certainly ask that you to “buckle-up” before auditioning an
Avantgarde Acoustic loudspeaker. The full technical details are to be found at www.avantgarde-usa.com, but suffice
it to say for now that the line uses an active subwoofer and two or more horns
to cover the frequency range. It’s true; I spent a considerable amount
auditioning the Duo 2.0 at the St. Tropez, courtesy of Avantgarde-USA’s Jim
Smith. The combination of clarity, lack of distortion, and stupendous dynamics
was most impressive. Easily, Best Sound at Show, and I mean anywhere in Las
showcased their reference statement Titan Horn System ($11,900/pr direct) which
features the Edgarhorn round tractrix horn driven by a TAD 4001 compression
driver with a 28-pound alnico magnet. Also on display was as the affordable
Slimline Horn ($1,800/pr), coupled with Cyrus Brenneman Audio amplification.
Here Dr. Edgar seems quite pleased, as I am, with the Slimline, which partners
very nicely with the Brenneman Audio Cavalier, a single-ended cathode follower
stereo power amplifier ($2,995).
The Cavalier uses a triode-connected EL-34 and a 6BM8 driver
per channel. What you get is10 wpc of clean and sweet Class A power. The
cathode follower output stage uses proprietary Electra-Print output transformers
and yields excellent damping factor for a single-ended design.
You may contact Edgarhorn via e-mail (email@example.com) or by phone:
310-782-8076. Cyrus Brenneman Audio may be reached at 22113 S. Vermont Ave.,
Torrance, CA 90502, or by phone: 818-349-5402.
Amplification Par Excellence
One of the most refined and musical rooms at the Alexis Park
featured the Accuphase/Air Tight/Koetsu/Odeon partnership.
Mr. Muira, Air Tight’s designer discusses the new ATM-300 ($5,500), a 300B
based single-ended stereo amplifier. In the background is the Odeon Tosca
loudspeaker, which is being bi-amped using the new Accuphase F25 active
crossover. I also liked the front end, which included the Accuphase DP-75V CD
player and a magical Koetsu Hirushi Gold phono cartridge. Contact AXISS
distribution for more information, 17800 S. Main Street, Gardena, CA 90248
this? “A 1-watt (into 4-ohms) personal amp,” says Dave. An intense David Berning
displays the new micro-ZOTL ($680 – direct sale only), an AC/battery powered
that uses a 6SN7 as a push-pull output stage. The circuit uses the patented
Berning ZH OTL, output transformerless, impedance conversion technology.
Intended applications are as a headphone amp, small bedroom or office system,
as a tweeter amp, or even as the main amp in a high-efficiency horn-loaded
system. More information is available at www.davidberning.com.
Audio’s Gordon Rankin appears to contemplate the magic of the Napoleon Mono
Block Amplifiers, New Century Edition Shotgun Speaker Cables by Nirvana Audio,
and the AvantGarde Uno loudspeakers. For more information, check out their
website at: website: www.WavelengthAudio.com
Boss Lady: Manley Labs’ EveAnna Manley, decked out in her high-school band
uniform and showing she’s in control.
Don’t try this at home: the Manley Labs 250 Monoblocks are built tough
enough to pass the EveAnna test. I also liked the Stingray integrated amp
designed from the bottom up by the Boss lady. For more info surf over to: http://www.manleylabs.com.
Coincident’s Israel Blume is beaming over the coupling of
his superb Super Eclipse loudspeaker ($5,499/pr) with the Manley Labs 250
Monoblocks. Very good sound indeed. While you only see three drivers on the
front baffle, an additional set of three 8-inch woofers is mounted on the side
panels. Nominal impedance is 14 ohms and the sensitivity is 92 dB – sounds like
a good match for a 10 wpc single-ended amp. For more information, check out
their Website at: http://www.coincidentspeaker.com.
Mr. Hank Wolcott, the progenitor of Wolcott Audio is proudly
displaying the Presence ($8,495/pr), an innovative 220 wpc tube monoblock
amplifier that can sink full power into a 2-ohm load. Positive current feedback
is used to produce zero output impedance and hence an infinite damping factor
for exceptional bass performance. An octet of EL34s is used per side. These are
biased automatically at turn-on by a controller board. Nice. No need to
purchase specially matched tube sets. The Presence was doing a wonderful job
driving the Sound Lab A-1 loudspeakers – a speaker load from hell that gives
most amplifiers fits. Wolcott Audio may be contacted at: 2250 North Bigelow
Ave., Simi Valley, CA 93065 (Tel.: 805-527-8842).
special award for the best sounding solid-state amplification goes to Silicon
Arts Design (e-mail: (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mr. Masataka Tsuda’s designs simply come alive, in a way that none of the
mainstream solid-state gear does. In partnership with Audio Machine &
Design accessories (e-mail: email@example.com),
and the Cazden Audio (Tel.: 606-277-5019) Caravelle loudspeaker ($1,995/pr) I
was treated to some of the best sound at the Show. In fact, the system sound
with the modestly priced Caravelle was outstanding with excellent bass
definition. The Caravelle is a two-way design using a 7-inch polypropylene
woofer and a 1-inch metal dome tweeter. Nothing here seems out of the ordinary,
but I’ve never heard smoother more listenable sound from a metal dome. The
designer, Dave Cazden, is really on to something very special here.
Volks Amp is coming soon. Founded with the intention of
bringing some of Nelson Pass’s current designs to a wider audience, Volks Amp
has obtained a license to the Aleph series of single-ended Class A amplifiers
as well as the Zen series DIY project which has been published in Audio
Electronics Magazine. Expect significant price reductions relative to the Pass
Labs offerings. The first amp to be released will be the Aleph 30, which is
similar in specifications to the original Aleph 3 at 30 wpc. For more
information check out: www.volksamp.com.
From Japan with love. The WAVAC Audio Lab MD-811
single-ended integrated stereo amp ($4,000) is the best value in the WAVAC
lineup. My ears tell me that it may just be the most harmonically convincing
integrated on this planet. It uses the 811 directly-heated triode, custom
output transformers and WAVAC’s interstage transformer coupling circuit to
generate 15 sweet wpc. US distribution is by tmh audio (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Check out their Web
site for more info: www.tmhaudio.com.
A very serious contender for the best and most cost
effective OTL amplifier on this planet is the Atma-Sphere S-30 Mk.II ($2,700),
a stereo unit featuring five 6AS7G output tubes per channel. Power bandwidth is
an incredible 2 Hz – 75 kHz (+/- 0.5 dB). Power output is 30 wpc into 8 ohms
and 45 wpc into a 16-ohm load. For more information on the Web check out: http://www.atma-sphere.com.
Art Audio introduced a series of new products. A 6-wpc version
of the Symphony will be based on the new KR enterprise PX-25 triode ($4,995).
The Gill Signature is a 15 wpc single-ended stereo amplifier ($3,800) that uses
a pair of EL34 power tubes (connected in triode) and operated in parallel. The
Gill Elise ($6,000) is intended as a reference statement in DAC design and uses
a tube analog output stage.
I shrunk the planar magnetic loudspeaker.” Eminent Technology’s Bruce Thigpen
has produced a baby planar – the LFT-14R2 ($3,900/pr), which at 28”
x 16” should be very quiet and bass shy. In fact, its sensitivity is a
respectable 86 db and I can’t believe it, but I heard it, a –3dB point of 45
Hz. The trick involves improving the impedance match between the diaphragm and
air load, forcing the diaphragm to move in a more pistonic fashion. For more
information via e-mail: email@example.com.
Murata Manufacturing (http://www.murata.co.jp)
introduced a “Spherical Ceramic” speaker in which a piezo-electric ceramic
material shaped like a tennis ball radiates omni-directionally
in the mid and treble. The speaker is a two-way, with a conventional cone
woofer augmenting the response of the piezo ceramic driver in the bass. The
frequency range is from 100 Hz to 30 kHz, but since the speaker is pretty quiet
with a sensitivity of only 70 dB, its main application will most likely be as a
personal speaker in office or bedroom contexts. As an interesting side note,
research reported in 1998 by the Nara University of Education in Japan showed
that this speaker was able to reduce stress in listeners. The testing
apparently involved 112 men and women in the age range between 20 and 50 years.
The subjects listened to three presentations (presumably single blind): live
music, playback through a conventional dynamic speaker, and playback through
Murata’s spherical ceramic speaker. The stress hormone cortisol was measured
before and after each of the three presentations. The dynamic speaker was found
to increase stress level (not a god thing for music listening), while the
ceramic speaker decreased stress level almost as much as did live music.
More Speakers of Note
Berlin, Germany, comes Stefan Sehring – a skillful speaker designer with
interesting ideas and a modular approach to system building. For example, both
the 502 and 602, two-way mini-monitors,
may be turned into a three-way system (model 503 and 603) by the addition of a
bass module, which also doubles as a stand. The model 603 is in my estimation
the best conventional box speaker to have come out of Germany in recent memory.
The Sehring Audio line will be distributed in the US by Hy End Audio Imports,
Inc. (http://www.hyendaudio.com) - the
same folks who import the Lehman Audio Black Box phono stage.
from Electrocompaniet is the Tarkus Loudspeaker, designed by Thomas Abrahamsen.
Despite the multiplicity of drivers on the front baffle, this is a 3-way design
using bass reflex loading. A preliminary version was on display; final
production is several months away. But even at this juncture, I like the
integration and naturalness of this speaker and I predict that it will turn out
to be a major contender. Kudos are in order to the design team for a job well
great idea: Bryston’s Jim Tanner shows off the smallest in a new series of
active compact speakers under the PMC brand. The first product available is the
ALM1, boasting sub-35Hz performance from a cabinet only 8 x 12 x16 inches. The
speaker comes with an integral 120 wpc Bryston power amp and an active
crossover that optimizes the speaker-amplifier interface.
The new design uses a custom-built 6.5" flat piston woofer
constructed from a carbon fiber / Nomex honeycomb, which allows large,
controlled linear excursions. A very high power handling 1 ¼" silk dome
unit is used for the high frequencies. I can’t wait to get my hands on this
puppy. For more information on the Web, check out: http://www.bryston.ca.
German Physiks, famous for the DDD bendingwave transducer (for more info see: http://www.german-physiks.com) has
now gone where no man has gone before with their new Loriley speaker system.
Just in time for the new millennium, president Holger Müller has pushed the DDD
technology to stratospheric heights with a design that combines a line source
of four DDD drivers with a majestic woofer tower. The system was powered with
Accuphase electronics. It’s big and very impressive. In the US, contact AXISS
Distribution for more information (Tel.: 310-329-0187).
India comes the Cadence line of hybrid loudspeakers. The smallest hybrid, the
Anina (US retail: $4,495/pr), features an electrostatic driver covering the
range above 1.35 kHz. The Anina might be fairly small in stature, but is said
to have the “heart of an Indian tiger.” Apparently, the Cadence hybrid has
received a very favorable reception in the UK. For more info, contact the US
distributor, O.S. Services – Audio products, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web check out: www.ossaudio.com.