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Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
The Consumer Electronics Show
(High-End Exhibits) and
T.H.E. Show 2000
January 6 to 9, 2000 in Las Vegas, Nevada
Article by Dick Olsher
Click here to e-mail reviewer

  

  While 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 Mike Maloney.

 

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 info@axiss-usa.com 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.

 

 

Here’s 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.

Free 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: anilverma@earthlink.net), 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.

Loth-X (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.

 

 

Dennis 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.

 

The 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

The 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 (hornguys@aol.com). 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 Vegas!

 

Edgarhorn 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 (ehorn@gateway.net) 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.

Here 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 (Tel.: 310-329-0187).

 

What’s 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.

 

Wavelength 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

 

 

 

 

 

The 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).

 

My special award for the best sounding solid-state amplification goes to Silicon Arts Design (e-mail: (silicon@avis.ne.jp). 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: audiomachineanddesign@juno.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: info@tmhaudio.com). 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.

 

Innovative Technology

“Honey, 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: info@eminent-tech.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

From 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.

 

New 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 done.

 

 

 

 

 

A 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).

 

 

From 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, info@ossaudio.com. On the Web check out: www.ossaudio.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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