Searching for good sound at shows is much like panning for gold.
You have got to sift through a lot of dirt before finding a nugget or two. This year
I have decided to share with you not only some of those nuggets but also some of the dirt. The rationale being that if you understand my dislikes as well as what I do like,
you are more likely get a balanced overview of my audio persona.
For the past several years Murata Manufacturing
has been perfecting audio transducers based on piezo ceramic technology. The ES103A super tweeter (add-on type) has been in production for a couple of years. You might wonder, and rightly so, what a tweeter with a frequency response of 15kHz to 100kHz brings to bear on music reproduction. After all, bats we are not, and for most of us over age 40 frequencies above 15kHz represent nothing more than ultrasonics. The demo in the Murata room was quite revealing. A commercial speaker from Switzerland that uses the super tweeter was used to illustrate the impact of its frequency extension by turning the super tweeter off and then on again. Surprisingly, the super tweeter was responsible for added textural delicacy and improved transient resolution. Murata's own speaker (model ES024), which I have previously described in my CES 2000 report, is now in production. It uses a wide range ceramic transducer the size and shape of a tennis ball, which radiates omni-directionally in the mid and treble. The speaker is a two-way, with a conventional cone woofer augmenting the response in the lower midrange and bass. The frequency range is from 100 Hz to 30kHz, but since the speaker is pretty quiet with a sensitivity of only 70dB, its main application will most likely be as a personal speaker. Still, everyone in the high-end audio industry should be required to audition this speaker for an education in what speed and transient resolution are all about. Virtuoso violin was reproduced in breathtaking fashion. Bravo Murata for taking the road less traveled toward audio excellence. It makes you wonder why anybody would bother with conventional dome tweeters.
Technical promise does not always translate into performance. For the third year running,
Manger's design implementation of the Manger bending wave transducer in its Zero Box and now the Swing models continued to disappoint with their strange tonality and lack of spatial conviction. When driven even moderately hard, the Swing produced considerable distortion. The Manger features a wonderful impulse response, extended frequency response and good damping. Coherence is a blessing - and I welcome it with open arms - but not at the cost of distortion. I wonder if at its crossover frequency of 100Hz, the full-range driver is being driven outside its sweet spot. The driver's resonance frequency of 75Hz gives a clue that the it should in fact be crossed over above 150Hz.
Let us turn our attention to the Zingali Overture 2S loudspeaker ($3,299/pr intro price) , imported and distributed in the US by
O.S. Services. This stand-mounted two-way features a horn-loaded dome tweeter and an 8-inch woofer. The Omniray horn (patented exponential flare) is carved out of a solid piece of poplar wood. While the Overture line has received some critical attention in the UK, I was completely unfamiliar with Giuseppe Zingali's work. I walk into the room, and even before I can shake hands with distributor Randy Bankert, it dawns on me in matter of just a couple of seconds that I'm listening to a wonderfully smooth and seductive midrange. Randy quickly switches from a Cadence push-pull amplifier to the new Audion PX25 SET stereo amp ($2,295 intro price) and I settle down for a more extended listening session. Despite what could only be described as a Circuit-City ambiance; with a row of speakers on display fanning out from either side of the amplifier, the Overture 2S managed to produce a coherent and deep soundstage. Absolutely lovely sound.
The Halcro solid-state power amplifiers from South Australia have been touted as being essentially distortion-free, so naturally I had to give them a listen. I'm sorry guys, but these "power from down under" amps sounded musically deficient driving some Wilson Audio loudspeakers. While VERY clean and unquestionably detailed, the Halcro failed to reveal the music's emotional content. I can think of much better use for $20K.
On the other hand, the Edge Electronics folks
put on an effective demo of their solid-state amplifiers - despite the fact that their amps are at least 1,000 times more distorting than the Halcro. Frankly, I'm bored with the whole issue of static Total Harmonic Distortion or THD. The truth of the matter is that THD specs usually do not correlate with sound quality, and besides most speakers already spew out at least 1% THD - even at moderate listening levels. Think back to the late 60s when solid-state amplifiers started displacing tube gear in the marketplace on the strength of low THD marketing and lots of bass drive. Even golden ears such J. Gordon Holt - sad but true - fell into this trap, labeling the Crown DC-300 power amp as a "dream amplifier." I wonder how much a Crown DC-300 fetches on the used market these days relative to a Marantz 8B?
Lamm Industries made my day at the Alexis Park with the introduction of the model LP-2 all-tube phono preamplifier. Thank you Vladimir Lamm for advancing the analog state of the art! The LP-2 offers both MM and MC cartridge inputs. I got really excited when I discovered that the input stage uses specially selected low-noise Western Electric 417A/5842 vacuum tubes. These tubes are capable of fabulous dynamic shadings, yet very few designers have had the nerve or imagination to work with them. Other nice touches are tube rectification and high-precision passive RIAA EQ. Naturally, a review sample is on its way, so stay tuned for a full review in the near future.
In another bit of analog good news, AXISS Distribution
is now distributing the magnificent line of JR Trans Rotor turntables from Germany.
There are several affordable tables in the line. Shown here is the Leonardo 25/25/40 doppio offered with a Trans Rotor 2.5 arm. As with all other tables in the line good use is made of acrylic - both for its excellent damping characteristics as well as for matching the acoustic impedance of vinyl with a 40mm thick platter.
There's a new heavyweight contender in the high-power triode class. Neither a 211 nor an 845 can hold a candle to the Russian tank tube - the Ulyanov GM-70. The
deHavilland electric Amplifier Company
makes a statement with the GM-70 power amp, which produces 30 watts of SET power. We're talking about high-voltage drive conditions, hence a 300B is used as a driver tube. This amp sounded extremely, sweet, yet VERY powerful.
The same tube is also used in the Eraudio Limited line - a new high-end company based (of all places) in Novosibirsk, Russia. The Eraudio line is unique for its use of genuine marble slab finish. North American distribution is by
AudioPathic in Canada. Shown here is the model 520 PP push-pull amp, which uses a pair of 6E5P output tubes. Although the marble is ostensibly used to enhance the looks, it could also be thought of as a means of mass loading the chassis.
Although it isn't strictly kosher, Manley Labs has a new entry-level preamp - fresh for 2002. The Shrimp ($1,800 retail) maintains EveAnna Manley's recent trend of naming products after sea creatures (e.g., the Stingray and Steelhead). Take note: Manley Labs hopes you enjoy their fresh and clean Shrimp cocktail (Lemon and tartar sauce not required for normal operation). Naturally, Enjoy the Music is looking forward to a delicious tasting review sample.