Whether it’s a sign of the top tier of the audiophile world going ‘off the boil’ or a reflection of wider changes taking place in the political world, but this year, the number of launches in the $25,000+ loudspeaker market was considerably curtailed. Our criteria in attending a show is very much “what’s new” and usually it’s possible to find dozens of brand new loudspeaker systems in audio’s upper atmosphere, but this year at CES it was more of a struggle. There were good loudspeakers on show that had been seen before, and many of those were worthy of note, but in terms of new launches in this sector, things seem quieter this year.
Normally, we try to find either a top ten or a ‘baker’s dozen’ of best new products in a particular class. This year, that simply couldn’t happen. Nevertheless, there were some premium model launches and announcements of super-high-end and high-end loudspeaker systems. So here is our 13 best new, and sometimes not-so-new top-end speakers at CES:
GamuT announced its special $139,000 Zodiac loudspeaker, so named because only twelve will be made per year, each one with a serial number that begins with an astrological star sign. Similar in look to the company’s top RS5 loudspeaker, the hand-built Zodiac features custom designed drive units hand selected for their phase properties, a new crossover network, extremely carefully designed and cost-no-object built cabinets, and comes complete with installation and on-site fine tuning by GamuT’s designer Benno Baun Meldgaard. Although the headline figures show a loudspeaker with a frequency response from 16Hz to 60kHz, the real result is a loudspeaker of extremely fine impulse response, time and phase alignment and dynamic range, even in a room far smaller than optimum for the loudspeaker itself.
MartinLogan learned a lot from the development of the Neolith loudspeaker, and a lot of it went into the new MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A. Available from March with a US list price $25,000 per pair. Its ForceForward system allows fine-tuning for surprisingly bad room positions, such as close to the wall. MartinLogan has also incorporated Anthem’s room correction system, and the metal frame in which the stator panel rests makes the speaker one of the most effortlessly dynamic loudspeaker sounds you will hear from a thin panel.
Magico stayed away from the main Venetian complex and instead presented its upgraded $38,000 S5 and $16,500 S1 loudspeakers. These two new loudspeakers are more than just ‘updates’ on the existing models: everything (apart from the basic alumimium extrusion) is completely new on both designs, featuring the beryllium-coated diamond tweeters found in the awesome S7, graphene mid and bass drive units, redesigned crossovers and cross-bracing, even new curved top plates and – in the case of the S1 – plinths. At my time of visiting, the S5 was on passive display and the S1 was on demonstration, driven by valve amplification (from CAT), dispelling the myth that Magico only works with solid-state amplification. The $16,500 S1 capable of significantly more scale than its predecessor, too: it sounds larger, with a far deeper soundstage. Its bass is deeper too.