Sony showed its multiway, wooden-boxed floorstander, the AR2, driven by newly designed CAT electronics with Audience conditioner and cables. The system produced a lovely, neutral sound—not dark like virtually everything else at Munich, but perhaps a little lightweight, more like a Haydn/Mozart orchestra than a Brahms one. The system was unusually beautiful on voice. Overall, the best I've heard these speakers sound.
Andrew Jones of TAD showed his own $100k+ Reference Ones driven by TAD’s electronics. On the great Basie recording 88 Basie St. the sound was extraordinarily authoritative, with tremendous weight on brass. This system had terrific dynamic sock everywhere, and though not quite Magico-S5-like in the bass, it came very close. Like the Magico S5, the Reference One was a little dark overall and a touch beryllium-bright in the treble, although that brightness certainly added realistic bite to trumpets and top-octave piano. A very good showing.
Voxativ showed its Pi and Ampeggio single-driver speakers, both in redesigned cabinets and the latter with a newly designed wooden cone and phase plug. Driven by Voxativ’s own electronics, their sound was extraordinarily present, a little lightweight in balance, but exceptionally open, boxless, and detailed. In the midrange single-driver speakers are nearly impossible to beat for sheer liveliness and life, especially on voice. Oh, the treble may have been a little hot and whizzy depending on cut, though the Ampeggio was surprisingly good on piano, and the bass could’ve been a little fuller. But for their midband realism alone, the Pi and especially the new Ampeggio were BOS contenders.
MBL showed its top-line $275k D’Appolito Radialstrahler X-Tremes with its own MBL electronics, and they were their usual fantastic selves. The X-Tremes manage a superb blend of their outboard woofer columns and omni drivers. The combo delivers tremendous midrange dynamics, rich tone color, powerful bass, and unbelievable soundstage width and depth, even when the speakers are closely spaced (as they were in Munich) because of room limitations. All told, the X-Tremes did as well as I've heard them do at a trade show, though (perhaps because of their close placement) they did have a bit too much chestiness on vocals.
Richard Vandersteen was showing his Model 7 with Brinkmann electronics and ’table, and they were something. On the BS&T cut “Spinning Wheel” the system sounded phenomenally alive, with superb openness, freestanding vocals, a huge stage, great dynamics, and bass that was very deep and defined. On my Ravel La valse, the Sevens were again very neutral and open, just a tad bright and white on strings, but exceptionally powerful and coherent on tuttis. Though string tone was a little too “solid-state” for me (because of the Brinkmann electronics being used, I guess), the system was still undoubtedly a Best of Show contender for its realism.
Rosso Fiorentino introduced its massive five-way Florentia driven by Ypsilon electronics and a Bergmann Sleipner turntable. Although I’ve liked RF speakers in the past (and love Ypsilon and Bergmann), here voices and instruments were a little chesty and the speaker itself a little boxy.
Relatively new to me were the €32k Tune Audio Anima horn-loaded loudspeakers driven by the Lars II amp. The Animas were coupled to a huge €15k downward-firing, horn-loaded Anima subwoofer that blended very well with the main speakers. The system sounded fantastic on concert grand—very natural with superb timbre and scale. It was also sensational on trumpet, choir, and organ. Indeed, the new Avantgardes aside (I couldn’t get in to hear them—the room was that crowded!), these may be the best horn speaker I've ever heard! They were certainly BOS contenders.