CES 2006 & T.H.E.
Show Report By Dick Olsher
Let me openly apologize to Bösendorfer New York's Lisa Feldmann for carrying a preconceived notion into the room. My initial bias was that the Bösendorfer speaker line was merely intended as a life style product: expensive, drop-dead gorgeous, but with sound quality a distant priority. At the entrance I brushed by a jewel-studded fit-for-Liberace piano and assumed a listening position in front of a system consisting of the top-of-the-line VC 7 speakers, Art Audio amplifiers, David Gill preamplification, and Dynamic Design cable. After taking in a few musical selections and following a conversation with Ms. Feldmann, I realized that I was dead wrong. In fact, upon further review, the Bösendorfer speaker strikes me as a revolutionary advance in loudspeaker technology, blending art and science in a novel way. The problem is that conventional loudspeakers are unable to recreate a realistic illusion of instruments such as a piano.
At issue is reproduction of the correct wave launch with its characteristic surface loudness. A piano generates a significant amount of acoustic power, which however is spread out over the large area of its sounding board. The result is a wave launch with a low surface loudness density. In contrast, an 8 or 10-inch woofer squeezes out piano sound with a much greater surface loudness. The significance of this may be lost on those who have never heard piano reproduced though large planar speakers. The difference is dramatic in terms of projection into and presence in the room. And as Ms. Feldmann pointed out, in the case of a Bösendorfer piano its entire corpus radiates sound. How to re-align the speaker's wave launch so it more closely approximates that of a piano? Designer Hans Deutch's solution is to deploy "HornResonators," essentially outboard panels attached to the sides of the main cabinet that are excited by side firing woofers (see photo below with side panels removed).
The idea is to spread out the lower midrange and upper bass octaves over a larger radiating area, much like what happens in real life. For the record, this system did piano very well indeed. Though the demonstration was not entirely successful due to uneven bass reproduction caused by room modes.
Some of the most enjoyable sound was to be had in the Adire Audio room in the form of a Creative Sound Solutions FR125S full range driver housed in a diminutive vented cabinet from Raw Acoustics. The FR125S is a 4.5-inch, moderate efficiency (86dB/W/m) and affordable driver, based on Adire Audio's XBL2 technology. The result was a cohesive, low-distortion speaker with amazing punch for its size.
Raw Acoustics' Al Wooley offers several other speaker solutions,. Shown here is the HT 8 featuring a pair of 4.5-inch wide range drivers and a ribbon tweeter, augmented by side-firing woofers. Check it out at
Another surprise in the Adire Audio room was an early prototype ionic wind type speaker. According to Adire Audio's Dan Wiggins this is the subject of an ongoing collaborative effort with Kronos Air Technologies who are developing a super high-efficiency "ionic breeze" air purifier, said to be much more efficient than current commercial models such as those from the Sharper Image. The Kronos anode/cathode structures does not generate byproduct ozone and the technology is said to be scalable for increased sound pressure levels.
From Greece, with love. This year, my vote for Best Sound at Show goes to the Audio Analysis Loudspeaker room for a system based around the Omega full-range planar ribbon loudspeaker ($14,990/pair). These superb speakers bear a strong visual resemblance to the Apogee planars, but as the US distributor Michael Kalellis (MK Audio) explains it, form follows function in this case. The sound here was exemplary - fast, detailed and cohesive in a manner that captured the essence of live music - and illustrates what can be achieved even under show conditions if sufficient time is spent on system building. The emphasis today, driven by various magazine recommended component lists, is on components, which inevitably leads audiophiles down a path to "audio hell" - disappointment and constant tweaking of mismatched systems. Let me therefore spell out each link in this showcase system since it is all about synergy. Matching amplifiers were the Antique Sound Labs AQ 1009 845 DT monoblocks ($5,600/pair). Home Grown Audio (HGA, Inc.) provided speaker cables (X32 and X16 Bi-wire) and interconnects (model DNA $389.95 per 1-meter pair). Power cords were the Bybee Power Golden Goddess ($1,250). The front end consisted of the VPI Industries Super Scoutmaster Signature turntable feeding the Ray Samuels Audio Emmeline XR-10B phono stage ($4,500) and Stealth tube preamplifier ($2,495). CD playback was via the Audio Research Reference CD7. Finally, equipment racks were courtesy of MK Audio.
Jack Bybee was in hand to demo his new AC line purifier, which uses proprietary carbon-fiber nanotube technology. The demo consisted of inserting the purifier between the AC mains and a Meridian CD player. Listening through Sennheiser HD600 phones powered by the Ray Samuels Stealth, the audible improvement was most obvious. Stay tuned for a formal review in the near future.
My vote for best conventional speaker based system goes to Jonathan Brown, Covenant Audio Consulting. The main system was based around the Venture Grand Excellence Signature loudspeaker w/Diamond tweeter option ($87,000/pair), powered by the WAVAC 805mkII, 60 wpc SET monoblocks with separate power supplies ($47,000/pair). The analog front end consisted of the Continuum Caliburn turntable, Cobra tonearm, and Castellon stand ($85,000), and Frank Schroeder's personal Lyra Olympos cartridge ($priceless). The WAVAC PR-T1 transformer coupled pre-amplifier ($30,000) and LCR-X2 phono stage ($25,000) completed the amplification chain. I should also mention the WAVAC AC-1 power conditioning/isolation transformer ($29,000), speaker cable and interconnects by PranaWire, and power cords by PranaWire and IsoClean. Oh yes, there was also a CD system on hand based on Ensemble and Goldmund components.
WAVAC's chief engineer, Yuzuru Ito was on hand to expound the virtues of the MD-805 Mk. II - a special edition of the MD-805m that is part of WAVAC's Audio Lab's 10th anniversary series that includes the SH-833 and HE-833 Mk. II.
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