CES Scene: Loudspeakers $25,000 and above

Show report

Even with its Platinum range, Monitor Audio is not known for its budget-busting loudspeaker designs, so the $29,000 PL500 II – flagship of the new Platinum II range – came as a bit of a shock. However, in a world where seven-driver, three way designs featuring custom-made drive units in a cabinet that stands as tall as a man can cost the spendy side of $100,000, a loudspeaker that sounds this good commands respect. Monitor Audio is one of the UK industry’s recent success stories, and judging by the PL500 II, that success will extend to the high end soon, too.

Like Magico, Raidho is undergoing a root-and-branch improvement to its D-Series loudspeakers. Having ‘history’ with the D-1, it was fairly clear the $23,000 D-1.1 was a markedly improved beast, thanks to a new motor design for the drive units, improved crossover, and a better-modelled internal airflow and porting. I’ve logged far fewer hours with the D-3, but the $65,000 D-3.1 sounded suitably awesome, too. Both were driven by the new Aavik pre/power combination and a host of Ansuz Acosutics tables, cables, juicers, risers, and (anti)resonators. Both speakers had that characteristic Raidho detail and dynamics, coupled with the kind of dynamic thwack that made ISAM by Amon Tobin sound just like Megatron assaulting a record store in an disconcertingly ‘real’ way (you had to be there).

This was the first time the $45,000 Sonus faber Il Cremonese floorstanders were shown to the wider public in America; having been only shown in October last year at the Festival Son et Image in Paris, and to a select audience of dealers and press at World of McIntosh’s swanky NYC venue. Named after the 18th Century Stradivarius violin of the same name and playing through a complete Audio Research system (also a part of the WoM group), the elegant five-sided Il Cremonese floorstander captivated people with its looks, but they stayed for the sound. A fine example of ‘trickle down’ technology from The Sonus Faber loudspeaker and the Lilium, this three-way, four speaker technology. The Il Cremonese manages to combine the musical refinement and elegance of previous S-f speakers with faster transients and excitement.

Vandersteen’s popular Model 5A floorstander has undergone something of an upgrade, in the shape of the new $30,000 Model 5A Carbon. The change – as you might expect, given the name – involves changing the front-firing 25mm tweeter and 100mm midrange to carbon-fibre designs; the 177mm Kevlar sandwich midbass and 300mm aluminium active bass units remain. Playing MQA tracks through Meridian and into Vandersteen’s own power amps (a Brinkmann analogue front end was also on call, but not playing at the time I visited), the sound was fast, deep, and authentic, all the while retaining the sumptuous qualities that make Vandersteen users some of the most loyal owners in audio.

Wilson Audio loudspeakers are often featured at CES, playing on the end of a number of systems both in the Venetian and the satellite shows. The company itself, however, uses the show to highlight upcoming products. Last year, Wilson showcased its upcoming top-of-the-range loudspeaker (currently still a work in progress). This year, the company showed its new Alexx, designed to replace the venerable MAXX 3. A new departure for Wilson, the new loudspeaker will be a four-way design, featuring ‘trickle up’ and ‘trickle down’ technologies from the Alexia below it (in the shape of the micrometer adjustment of the midrange and treble units), and above from the Alexandria and even the future flagship (the drive units derive from the WAMM development project). Shipping very soon, the loudspeaker will cost $109,000. Another notable prototype on show was the Paradigm Concept 4F (seen at the front of this feature), first heard at Munich.

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