Rick Becker's AXPONA 2022 Chronicles
The 16th and 15th floors typically host some of the best and most expensive rooms at the show. Dropping down to the 14th floor, the rooms get smaller and more affordable. I lowered my expectations here but was completely blown away by the first room I entered.
Speaker Physics was an unknown brand to me so I wasn't sure what to expect. The floor of the room was covered with scattered cardboard boxes and the chairs were still stacked. An elderly man of Asian descent was on his knees unboxing literature. Clearly, he was alone and way behind schedule in setting up his room. At the far end of the room was a flimsy table with what looked like might be a couple of mid-fi components and a couple of bright orange and grey cylinders that could easily be mistaken for air conditioning units at Home Depot. It looked even worse than the photo above.
The gentleman looked up and said, "Let me put on some music for you." I must have looked semi-important with two cameras around my neck and faded jeans. While he cued up a CD, I leaned my leather briefcase against the wall and started stacking the empty boxes out of the way. Then I unstacked the chairs, critically spacing and aligning them as I had been taught in The Forum decades earlier. Music brought the room to life and arrested my attention.
I took a closer look at the modest rig — a vintage Marantz Super Audio CD player SA15S2 fed a couple of Powersoft Class D pro-audio amplifiers (M50Q and M30D), suggesting the orange speakers were tri-amplified. No fancy footers or component rack; components were merely stacked on top of each other.
A closer look at the speakers indicates that they are something very special. Multiple tweeters are mounted on a sphere, aimed at a central point that disperses the high frequencies omni-directionally. Likewise with the midrange drivers. By using multiple drivers the load is spread out among them allowing them to operate in their optimum range while achieving maximum dynamic range. The four woofers are stacked in the lower cylinder, likewise allowing maximum acceleration, thrust, and dynamics. And naturally, low frequencies are omni-directional so they blend right in with the mids and highs of the upper part of the speaker with minimal phase shift given the short distances between the drivers here.
The older gentleman here is Mr. Cheng Jenq, a Taiwanese American engineer, living in South Brunswick, NJ, since 1978. He is the one-man band behind this speaker and holds the US and international patents for its omni-directional high frequency and its expansion of dynamic range by stacking drivers. This was his first audio show experience and a world premiere of his speaker. A small questionnaire he handed out suggests he is interested in making contacts to expand upon his work as well as licensing, investment, or even acquisition or merger.
So, what about the sound? Well, let me put it this way: if you wanted to buy either of the omni-directional mbl speakers on the next floor up, but found yourself short by $7k for the small one, or over $78k short for the large speaker, this roughly $6000 speaker should be of great interest to you, particularly if you've got rug rats or pets that might do significant damage to more expensive designs. If orange is not your color, don't worry, other colors are available, but I'd wager Andy Warhol would have picked up a pair of these for his Factory, back in the day.
Just as I finished setting up the chairs for Mr. Jenq people started to stream into the room. They sat down and they listened. I left after a few minutes convinced that this was one of the Best Rooms of the show and that Cheng Jenq had taken the cake at this party.
The Bob Carver Company has undergone major reorganization and restructuring over the past year as I learned from an audio society zoom meeting. At the time, it sounded like things were going to change for the better and what I saw here seemed to bear that out. There was too much conversation and commotion in the room to get a decent listen, but his V-12 preamplifier shown above is certainly a very fresh design from a man who likes to do things differently.
Also of interest in the Bob Carver room was this very well-made component rack with adjustable shelves and an optional drawer. Most intriguing was its ability to swivel to give easy access to cable connections. The older I get, the more enticing that feature becomes. The $3500 price for such a functional and finely finished custom piece seemed very fair, relative to mass-produced furniture of equal quality.
The JansZen Audio room was full, but I could tell from the entrance that there was good sound here. The banner proclaimed the Theoretica Applied Physics BACCH-SP, a stereo purifier for virtual reality 3D imaging and it did seem holographic from my disadvantaged position. People were unwilling to leave, so I moved on and returned on Sunday with only a couple of minutes to spend here.
The JansZen Valentina A8-SE speaker is an electrostatic hybrid, non-dipole, active, tri-amp'ed speaker with analog and digital inputs, with remote selection of either omni-directional or controlled dispersion, and priced under $15k. Non-omn-idirectional versions are available as either active or passive speakers for just under $10k. That's a lot to unpack, but the "non-dipole" indicates the electrostatic panels are not open on the back side.
The "hybrid" points to the dynamic drivers above and below the electrostatic panels that appear to be mounted on a flat plane on the baffle. The "tri-amplified" approach of the active versions is a trend that has been growing in recent years. A 3.5" full-range speaker is mounted on each side and the back.
A slight time delay is said to help create the sound signature of Boston Symphony Hall. I didn't get a good seat — no one left while I was there, so I can only say the resolution and sense of air were excellent. It reminded me of the Muraudio stand-mounted speaker, but with a lower, floor-standing profile that is better suited for smaller rooms. Since these are made to order, optional finishes are available. I was very impressed with the JansZen and wish I had had more time to listen to them.