CES: Highlights from Venetian Floor 30 - Loudspeakers


The venerable quasi-ribbon/planar magnetic speaker maker Magnepan was showing one of its newest and most affordable models at CES: namely, the .7 floorstanding loudspeaker ($1,400/pair). Essentially, the .7 is a dramatically updated version of, and thus the replacement for, one of the oldest models in the Magnepan range: the aging model 12.

The .7 incorporates many of the same fundamental crossover design insights already incorporated in Magnepan’s 1.7, 3.7, and even 20.7 loudspeakers, so that the entire range now shares consistent technology from top to bottom. Augmenting the speaker system’s bass output was a single Magnepan DWM planar magnetic woofer panel tucked discretely to one side of the room. Though not as taut and tightly focused as some Magnepan demonstrations I have heard, the .7 demo showed the speaker to be cable of unusually wide, deep soundstages while conveying a convincing a sense of scale rarely achieved by speakers in this price bracket.

For CES MartinLogan rolled out a new, pull-out-all-the-stops flagship product: the hybrid electrostatic/dynamic driver-equipped Neolith floorstanding loudspeaker ($79,995/pair). The Neolith is a large, imposing speaker that neither looks nor sounds quite like anything MartinLogan has built in recent times, and it is a speaker whose overall configuration can be viewed in several ways.

One way to look at the Neolith would be to consider it to be a gigantic reinterpretation of the design of MartinLogan’s Summit X loudspeaker. Another interpretation would be to think of it as a MartinLogan CLX electrostat mounted atop a very large and very capable dynamic woofer system. But a MartinLogan spokesman said he found the Neolith to be a 21st century update on the firm’s original 1983-vintage Monolith loudspeaker—a most astute observation.

Accordingly, Neolith has a 48-inch x 22-inch curvilinear XStat CLS electrostatic panel braced by a sturdy frame and resting atop a big 26.8-inch x 30.3-inch x 34.2-inch woofer enclosure that houses both a front-firing 12-in bass driver and a rear firing 15-in low-bass driver. In contrast to other less costly MartinLogans, the Neoliths woofer section is entirely passive—not self-powered. We’re eager to get more listening time with this giant system, if only to learn what a no-holds-barred MartinLogan design can really do.

The Israeli loudspeaker manufacturer Morel showed just how affordable (and compact) truly refined standmount monitor-type loudspeakers could be with its lovely, two-way Octave 6 Limited Edition models ($2,500/pair).

In a reprise of its demonstration from last Fall’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Nola demonstrated its modestly sized Studio Grand Reference Gold speaker ($19,800/pair) once again at CES, and again the sonic results were sublime. The Studio Grand Reference Gold uses a new Nola-made ribbon tweeter, an open-back pistonic-type midrange driver, and an SEAS woofer—an array that, visually speaking, looks almost too small to account for the big, beautiful, full-bodied, and very spacious sound the speaker in fact produces. In terms of achieving a sound highly reminiscent of the real thing, this relatively affordable Nola was one of our favourite demos at CES.

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