THE Show Newport’s fifth annual event was bigger and much better than ever, thanks largely to the change in venue to the just-renovated Hotel Irvine. The new digs were far better suited to hosting an audio show, with plenty of large rooms, spacious open areas, and a highly accommodating hotel staff.
My beat this year was speakers over $20,000, of which there was no shortage. An emerging theme in this category is active digital loudspeakers; this show offered no fewer than seven significant DSP’d speakers.
Five Most Significant Product Introductions
Kyron Audio Kronos
The most intriguing debut at Newport was undoubtedly the Kyron Audio Kronos dipole loudspeaker from Australia. More than just a loudspeaker, the Kronos system includes outboard amplification and DEQX-powered DSP crossovers and room correction. The amplification/DSP box contains six channels of Class D amplification and six DACs (one amplifier and one DAC for each frequency band in the stereo three-way loudspeaker). The speaker is shaped like an ironing board with the drivers mounted on an open baffle. A vertical “spine” behind the baffle secures the drivers. Three overriding design principles drive the Kyron approach: 1) Open baffles and dipolar radiation pattern; 2) DSP room correction; 3) Active speakers in which the amplifiers are connected directly to the speaker’s drivers. There’s far more to say about Kyron’s technology than can be included in a show report, but I can tell you that the $112k Kronos system (amplification, DSP, loudspeakers) sounded magnificent. Unlike most hotel-room demos, the loudspeakers and the room seemed to disappear, replaced by tangible images hanging in an acoustic space. I was also impressed by the bass definition and extension, clean midrange textures, and detailed yet smooth treble. The two partners behind Kyron are young, innovative, and passionate; this is a company to watch.
A new and larger configuration of a speaker that debuted at CES, the Diasoul i is unlike any other speaker in materials technology or form factor. A sphere sits atop two truncated pyramid enclosures. This sphere houses four 36mm tweeters whose diaphragms are made from pure boron. The multi-driver tweeter array is said to better replicate the radiation pattern of musical instruments. The boron diaphragms, developed by Mitsubishi, are reportedly the ideal driver material by virtue of their stiffness and pistonic behavior. The midrange is handled by a 160mm unit housed in the middle enclosure, and the two 250mm woofers are mounted opposite each other in the lowermost cabinet. The midrange and woofer diaphragms are injection-molded from carbon nanotubes. Two integral 400W amplifiers drive each woofer (per cabinet). The price is $120,000. Driven by Concert Fidelity electronics in a large room, the Diasoul i was one of the show’s best sounds. Orchestral music was reproduced with a large scale, dramatic sweep, and dimensionality that were breathtaking, yet small-scale music was reproduced with the appropriate focus and size.
Goldmund Logos Tower
Goldmund has created a line of no fewer than 17 active DSP loudspeakers. These new fully integrated systems represent a move by Goldmund toward applying their technology to music systems that are “adapted to today’s lifestyles.” That technology includes mathematical modeling software created by Goldmund that can reportedly design ideal loudspeakers no matter what their shape. If the Logos Tower ($20,000 per pair) I heard at Newport is any indication, Goldmund has a winner with its technology and approach. The sound was detailed and transparent, with no room-induced bass colorations. The slim, svelte floorstanding system is built around a cabinet made from extruded aluminum, topped with an elegant gold plate. The Logos Tower can be driven by a wired digital input or wirelessly. Goldmund offers two different hubs that accept inputs from a variety of sources to drive the loudspeakers.
Vandersteen Model 7 Mk.II
The recent update to Vandersteen’s flagship Model 7 has taken what was already a reference-class loudspeaker to new heights. The last two times I’ve heard the Model 7 Mk.II (Munich and Newport) have been with Vandersteen’s radical new M7-HPA monoblock power amplifiers. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Model 7 Mk.II ($62k) has never shown better. In a great-sounding room set up by longtime LA-area retailer Optimal Enchantment, the Model 7 Mk.II was simply stunning in every way. The naturalness of timbres and the palpability and presence of instrumental images was as good as it gets. Cabling was by AudioQuest, phonostage and preamp by Audio Research, and the fabulous Basis Inspiration spun LPs. On a side note, I always enjoy Optimal Enchantment’s demos because they are built around musical expression rather than sonic fireworks.
Gamut’s U.S. distributor, Audio Skies, premiered the new GamuT RS3 stand-mounted two-way. Finished in beautiful cabinetry with integral stands, the $19,000 RS3 was one of the show’s musical highlights, with a spacious yet focused presentation, natural timbres, and engaging musicality.
Piraeus Audio, a relatively new company from Northern California, showed the $23,500 Athena, an active DSP’d three-way loudspeaker. The Athena’s crossover slopes are extremely steep (96dB/octave) thanks to the digital-domain filtering, and the speaker incorporates 750W of amplification per channel. The cabinet finish is stunningly gorgeous.
Avatar Acoustics, distributor of the Rosso Fiorentino line of loudspeakers from Italy, showed the gorgeous looking and sounding Volterra ($13,500). With its narrow waist, the Volterra has the proportions of a musical instrument. The show samples were finished in a beautiful leather. This small 2.5-way floorstander features 8** and 6.5** mid/woofers, a 1** silk-dome tweeter, and a super-tweeter that comes in at 22kHz. The front baffle is made from aluminum. Unusually, the woofer is loaded in a sealed box, and the midrange enclosure is vented. The Volterra had a natural ease, and perhaps because of the super-tweeter, a spacious soundstage.
Endeavor Audio Engineering stepped up its game by introducing the $35,000 E5, a very tall and very thin loudspeaker employing four 175mm aluminum-cone woofers, two 165mm Kevlar midranges, and a beryllium-dome tweeter. The enclosure has no parallel surfaces, and is made from a proprietary new cabinet material.
Von Schweikert Audio produced one of the show’s best sounds with its VR-55 Aktive loudspeaker ($60k) that debuted at Rocky Mountain last October. Driven by Constellation electronics, the VR-55 had a gorgeous rendering of timbre in the midband—lusciously liquid and free from coloration.
In yet another example of the inroads DSP is making in loudspeakers, Legacy showed its flagship Legacy V system ($49,500). The V relies on a significantly more advanced version of Legacy’s Wavelet DSP unit. The Wavelet is a preamp, DAC, digital crossover with time alignment, and also a room-correction system. The Wavelet works with Legacy’s popular Aeris ($19,525); owners can upgrade to the new Wavelet for $3500.
I heard two marvelous demonstrations of horn loudspeakers. The first was the Atlas from Germany’s Acapella Audio Arts, an $85,250 speaker with a horn-loaded midrange and Acapella’s ion plasma tweeter. The treble had the unmistakable ethereal quality of the massless ion driver, and the speaker’s dynamic verve was stunning. Denver retailer Audio Federation put on the demo with Acapella’s own amplification and Audio Note electronics and DAC.
The other wonderful horn-based system was hosted by Alma Audio, a new retailer in North San Diego County, which happens to be my neck of the woods. In this room, Avantgarde’s DUO Mezzos ($55,500), the company’s first speaker with a folded bass horn, was driven by Audiopax electronics from Brazil. Audiopax, a brand with a long history, is now imported into the U.S. by Alma Audio. The DUO Mezzos/Audiopax had effortless ease, lifelike dynamics, and no trace of horn colorations. Incidentally, Alma Audio demonstrated four systems in three rooms (the other speakers were the Avantgarde Zero 1, Evolution Acoustics MM2, and YG Carmel 2s) and produced superb sound from all of them.
I was introduced to a new brand at Newport, Thrax from Bulgaria. The company designs and builds everything from DACs to preamps to phonostages to power amplifiers to loudspeakers. I heard an all-Thrax system driving the Lyra two-way stand-mount speaker, a speaker made from an aluminum enclosure and featuring a compression tweeter mounted in a very short horn (or a very long waveguide, depending on your perspective). The horn is machined into the baffle. Despite being in a large room, the $19,000 Lyra offered a full-sized, wide-bandwidth presentation with exceptional transient performance and wide dynamic expression. The Thrax system was shown by LA-area retailer Precision Audio & Video and the distributor, HiFi Imports.
One of the show’s better sounds was produced by local retailer Cake Audio with the Rockport Avior loudspeakers driven by Balanced Audio Technology electronics. The BAT electronics sounded like a synergistic match with the Avior; the system had startling life and immediacy.
In Other News
Perhaps the best overall value at the show was the Emerald Physics KCII open-baffle loudspeaker system ($2499) driven by the company’s EP100.2SE hybrid power amplifier. The whole system was priced at just under $6k at retail, but offered at $3799. This system put many five-figure systems to shame.
Retailer Scott Walker Audio and Synergistic Research teamed up to show the Magico S5 in a room that felt as though it were the size of an aircraft hanger. Despite the hostile acoustic environment, I can say that I’ve never heard S5s sound so spectacular. Synergistic demonstrated the effects of their room-treatment products, and although some are head-scratchers, they made an obvious audible improvement.
Another system I greatly enjoyed, though no products were in my coverage category, included the Marten Duke Mk.II speaker ($9750 with stands) driven by EAR electronics in the room of EAR USA’s Dan Meinwald. The system didn’t have the “wow” factor of some of the mega-systems, but it was easily among the most musically communicative and engaging systems at the show. It was one of those systems that instantly makes you forget that you’re hearing a hi-fi system at a show.
One of the best demonstrations of the improvement rendered by aftermarket interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords was put on by Russ Andrews Audio. Playing a system that cost about $600 used on eBay, we first heard the stock power cords and cables. Then they switched to a new line of cables and power cords Russ Andrews is developing with Kimber Kable. There were the obvious specific sonic differences you'd expect, but the holistic effect was to change the entire nature of the listening experience. Russ Andrews Audio of the U.K. has recently opened an office in Utah to service North American customers.
This is way outside my category, but I must mention the extraordinary miniature portable wireless music system from Riva. Nominally, Riva’s Turbo is just another Bluetooth speaker system. But look (or better yet, listen) a little closer and you’ll discover that the Riva Turbo is high-end audio in miniature. Weighing just three pounds and about two-thirds the size of a loaf of bread, the Turbo throws a huge yet defined soundstage, offers wide dynamics, and delivers shockingly deep bass extension for the size. It will run for up to 26 hours from its integral battery. The price: $349. After hearing the Turbo and speaking with the designer (a lifelong audiophile) I asked for a review sample. It’s perfect for a bedroom system, garage, or for travel (it comes with a very nice travel case). Incidentally, the man behind the company is legendary music producer Rikki Farr (he put on the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, for example), and is immortalized in the Steely Dan song “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”
Finally, I’d like to mention an important part of THE Show that doesn’t get covered in show reports—the educational seminars that run continuously throughout the festivities. From computer audio to room acoustics (and everything in between), the seminars and panel discussions are a great way to learn about this hobby. I moderated three panels at the show, including “Meet the Editors,” “Meet the Designers,” and “Legends of High-End Audio.” The designer panel focused on loudspeakers, with a star-studded lineup that included Richard Vandersteen, Andrew Jones, Kevin Voecks, Michael Borresen, Albert Von Schweikert, and Infinity co-founder Arnie Nudell. The panel provided a fascinating insight into how these top engineers view loudspeaker design and performance. The “Legends” panel was a rare gathering of industry luminaries, including Tim deParavacini, Bob Stuart, Bascom King, Paul McGowan, and Arnie Nudell. In my introductory remarks, I noted that the newest company founded by one of the panelists was 42 years old. I was particularly heartened by the warm and appreciative reception given the Legends panel as the panelists described how they founded their companies and why they’ve devoted their lives to high-quality music reproduction. We need to more often celebrate the achievements of those individuals who make it possible for us to enjoy music through equipment that was designed as a conveyance of musical expression rather than as just another home appliance.
Best Sound (Cost no object): As good as many systems sounded, my vote for Best of Show goes to the Optimal Enchantment room with Vandersteen Model 7 Mk.II speakers driven by Vandersteen’s radical new liquid-cooled M7-HPA amplifiers. Credit also goes to the Audio Research phonostage and preamp, Basis Inspiration turntable (with the Basis Super Arm), and AudioQuest cabling.
Best Sound (for the money): The Andrew-Jones-designed Elac Debut B6 ($229 per pair—that’s not a misprint) may not only be the greatest bargain at the Newport show, but may turn out to be the greatest bargain in the history of audio. This tiny econo-box was spectacularly, stunningly, amazingly great for the price. I can’t wait to hear the higher-end speakers Jones is developing for Elac.
Most Significant Trend: Powered DSP speakers were once a rarity, but more companies are embracing this approach including outstanding demos at this show from Piraes Audio, Kyron Audio, Legacy, Goldmund, Dynaudio, and of course Meridian, which pioneered the technology in 1990.
Most Significant Product: The Kyron Audio Kronos represents a rethinking of system architecture as well as a loudspeaker design. With its six channels of amplification and DSP in one chassis, and a pair of open-baffle dipole speakers, the Kyron active Kronos system sounded fabulous, making a bold visual statement that shook up the conventional paradigm.
Most Coveted Product: After hearing such great sound from the Acapella Audio Arts Atlas and Avantgarde DUO Mezzo horn loudspeakers, I can hear the manifold virtues of horns.