CES 2013 In Retrospect: Loudspeakers $10,000/pair and Up (Hi-Fi+)

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CES 2013 In Retrospect: Loudspeakers $10,000/pair and Up (Hi-Fi+)

The ‘law of the excluded middle’ often takes out the all-important loudspeaker market between $10,000 and the extreme high-end. Products in this category currently stay in the catalog for longer than ever before, and occasionally this category gets short-changed because it falls between the fast-moving entry-level and the attention-grabbing ultra-high-end. However, this year there were a few significant product launches in the mid-high-end loudspeaker world.

Magico

Arguably the most important launch in this sector was the new Magico S1. A floorstanding, sealed box two-way loudspeaker made out of aluminium and capable of reaching down to 32Hz, given Magico’s past, this could have easily been a loudspeaker that no-one would have questioned a $28,000 price tag. So, when the $12,600 per pair price was rolled out, it put a smile on the face of most people who visited the room. In fact, for once, partnered with Constellation and MIT, the Magico element was the cheapest part of the system. It’s a taut, precise and fast sounding loudspeaker, almost like an LS3/5a loudspeaker, made bigger and brought up to date. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the end of the year to hear if it lives up to the hype, but early indications are very, very good.

Raidho

Perhaps the most significant upgrade to any speaker in years is the Raidho D1. You could easily skip over this loudspeaker as a C1.1 with a black bass driver. It has exactly the same form factor as the C1.1, the same stand, even the same ribbon tweeter of the excellent two-way. The black drive unit is engineering-grade diamond and carbon, in place of the ceramic bass unit found in the original standmount. With a few innovations under the hood, that’s principally the only change that separates the $17,500 C1.1 and the $28,500 D1. Even though the engineering required to make diamond drive unit that big is always going to be expensive, paying eleven grand for two mid-bass drivers sounds like insanity on stilts… until you hear them. It’s a bewildering, fascinating, brilliant take on an upgrade on an already fantastic loudspeaker, and shows just how a loudspeaker drive unit more than 100 times stiffer than the original can massively change a loudspeaker design. Raidho is planning Diamond driver upgrades to other speakers in its range – but just how much will you end up spending to upgrade the six drivers in the flagship C4.1?

Marten

Arguably consistently winner of the most new loudspeakers from the smallest team, Marten launched two new models at CES, both extensions of the existing models. Marten’s range is extremely broad, and the addition of loudspeakers at $9,000 per pair and $77,000 per pair fit well within that portfolio. The $9,000 model is the new Django L, which brings much of the Django XL’s performance to a new market. With custom eight inch bass units from SEAS joining the one and a quarter inch ceramic Accuton tweeter , the backswept aluminium cabinet is claimed to be capable of reaching down to 27Hz. At the top end, the Coltrane Tenor sports new aluminium eight inch Accuton bass units alongside the mid and tweeter found in other Coltranes. It also features a new carbon fiber laminate cabinet, and a potential to hit a staggering 24Hz.

Rockport Technologies

Rockport Technologies is sadly all but unavailable in my native Britain, so it’s always a pleasure to hear the loudspeakers on song. And the new $21,500 per pair Atria were singing beautifully in the VTL room. Based on the company’s Avior design, the floorstander is a three-way design, using a 9” carbon fiber composite bass, a 6” carbon fibre composite midrange and a one-inch beryllium tweeter. VTL has often used Avalon loudspeakers in its demonstrations (a smaller demonstration used the renewed Avalon Mixing Monitor extremely well too), but its clear Rockport’s new Atria is a worthy alternative.

ENIGMAcoustics

ENIGMAcoustics won a 2013 CES Design and Engineering Showcase Honors award for its fascinating Sopranino supertweeter. A $3,900 add-on to any loudspeaker (it was demonstrated with a pair of Magico V3), the electrostatic supertweeter panel is a square glass panel that sits atop the loudspeakers, and can be used to kick in at 8kHz, 10kHz and 12kHz. The Sopranino extends up to 40Hz. The fascinating part of the Sopranino is the use of NanoFilm, a process at the molecular level designed to permanently charge a non-conductive film. The implications and potential to develop non-electro-electrostatic loudspeaker panels into the treble, midrange and even bass make this an exciting design for the future. We expect to receive a sample of the Sopranino soon.

...and many more

It’s worth reiterating that some of the best sounds from loudspeakers in this category came from loudspeakers that were not launched at the show, but continue to sound excellent. Wilson Audio Alexias, Vivid Giya G3, Sony SS-AR1, KEF Blade, MartinLogan CLX arts… all outstanding loudspeakers, many of which outstanding sounding in a number of rooms around the show.

ViolinSpeaker

However, last and perhaps least, CES always brings out the crazy in all of us. Alongside the sensible and practical, there’s always something just flat-out bonkers. This year, it was the turn of the ViolinSpeaker. This, er, interesting two-way (possibly) design used a tall plinth to act as bass unit (with a conventional bass driver), and a mid-treble unit built into a real violin. You could – notionally – unplug the violin and play it. The nature of the midrange and treble unit energizing said violin was not open for discussion. Price was up to a point dependent on the quality of violin used, but I hope it’s unlikely to see a modified Stradivarius perched on the bass unit stands. The sound was, well… I’ve heard worse. Actually, the sound of the violins speakers was better than expected, perhaps unsurprisingly especially on orchestral music.

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