The $30k Magico Mini II was being showed in the Soulution room with, uh, Soulution electronics. The sound was darker than I’m used to from Minis (and from the ARC amplification I used with them), but, by God, it was still great. Wotta loudspeaker! I actually got goosebumps listening to several of my old familiar cuts—the presentation was that realistic and that gorgeous. Soulution gear doesn’t sound anything like dark in my home system, so maybe the room or setup or electricity was playing a part. In any case, it didn’t matter—if you want the best mini money can buy, here she is, folks. And if you’re looking for the best solid-state I’ve yet heard, I have the Soulution.
One of the most fascinating rooms at CES: the Da Vinci Audio Labs suite, where I heard the $100k+ tall, multiway, dipole, floorstanding Da Vinci Virtù loudspeaker, driven by Da Vinci electronics and sourced by a superb Da Vinci Unison ’table. After an adjustment was made to the woofers on Day One, the sound was…phenomenal, with a level of inner detail, dynamic nuance and scale, timbral accuracy, and sheer you-are-there realism that matched anything else at the show (except for the M5). After I listened to the torture-test Attila Bozay recording, I wrote in my notepad: Incroyable! And it was incredible. I don’t know how real-world these very odd and odd-looking speakers are at this point. They appear to use a single full-range driver buttressed by two active woofers. All drivers are field coil, specially made for Da Vinci by FERTIN Acoustic with decoupled baskets and unique cones in an open-baffle enclosure made on one side of the same tonewood used in violin-making and on the other of a special constrained-layer damping material. All I can say is that the Virtùs sounded uncannily realistic on the LPs I brought with me to the show. Along with the Vandersteen 7s (and two others we will come to), this was the third-best sound of the show.
Like everything else at this show, the $54k Scaena 3.2 ribbon/cone line array (with two outboard subs) sounded far better than I’ve ever heard any Scaena speaker sound in the past three years, finally achieving the kind of coherence, sonic invisibility, and realism that a certain other gent in this mag has said they have. Powered by VTL and dCS, the Scaenas made child’s play of the tough Mario Lanza disc, making both his voice and the piano sound extraordinarily open, clean, and free-standing (rather like an MBL, without quite as much three-dimensionality). The 3.2 was also better dynamically—I heard only the slightest bit of stress on the loudest ffffs (and that could have been the amps crapping out). Why hasn’t it showed anything like this well in the past? Well, I was sitting closer to it than I have before and there was considerably more distance between it and the back wall and the 3.2 has been improved with new caps and better wiring. Whatever the reasons, when properly set up in a room to the its liking the Scaena’s friggin’ great.
Another long-time personal favorite, MBL was showing a revised version of its 111s, the $35k MBL 111F (“F” for fifth generation), driven, of course, by MBL’s superb electronics. I’d have to say, on the basis of several auditions of the new generation of MBL gear, that this company has genuinely improved what was already an extraordinary product line. What is different now, in the 111F and the new 101 E and the X-Tremes, is coloration. It’s been lowered—quite audibly and unmistakably. Bass is far more continuous than it once was (and far flatter); the excitability of these sometimes Excitable Boys has also been reduced (bespeaking flatter frequency response and lower distortion and resonance everywhere); and the bugbear of omnis, diffuse center imaging, has also somehow (I know not how) been greatly rectified. These 111Fs simply sounded terrific—not just in the usual areas where MBLs excel (tremendous space, dimensionality dynamics, and visceral excitement), but in low-level resolution, timbral accuracy, and, as noted, imaging. A fabulous show for the boys from Eberswalde.