CES Scene: Ten Fascinating New Loudspeakers, $25,000/pair and below

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Kii Three self-powered monitors, $13,900/pair

Most audiophiles recognize the great Belgian designer Bruno Putzeys as the creator of both the Philips Hypex UCD (universal Class D) and the NCORE Class D audio amplifier modules, and as the guiding founder of Mola-Mola electronics. But for CES, Putzeys revealed himself in an entirely new role: namely, that of a very high-tech, high-end loudspeaker designer.

Let me come right out and say it; Bruno Putzeys first effort in the loudspeaker category, known as the Kii Three monitor, category is a stunning success and one that is surprisingly reasonably priced given the levels of performance and technology on offer. The Kii Three is a 3-way, six-driver, self-powered monitor speaker that provides both an analogue and digital input.  The speaker incorporates a front firing tweeter and midrange driver, two side-firing woofers, and two rear-firing woofers. Each driver is powered by (what else?) its own NCORE amplifier module operating under the control of driver-specific DACs that help provide crossover functions, plus what Kii terms “Active Wave Focusing’ filter functions said to retain “full time alignment all around the speaker” whilst minimising the influence of the walls behind the speaker to a point where “the rear wall has no impact.”

These compact monitors produced a big, taut, full-bodied sound that was very well balanced, detailed and transparent, and full of dynamic life. Based on my initial listening, hope is that Hi-Fi+ will have a chance to review this exciting new design in the year to come


MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A, $25,000/pair

Last year MartinLogan rolled out an impressive new flagship hybrid electrostatic speaker called the Neolith, priced at about $80,000/pair. The trouble with flagship loudspeakers, though, is that despite their admittedly soul-stirring performance and striking good looks (both of which the Neolith has in spades), they tend to be either too large and/or too expensive for any but an elite few to own and enjoy.

To address this issue, while still preserving the essence of the core design concepts behind the Neolith, MartinLogan introduced at CES a new very high-performance hybrid electrostatic loudspeaker called the Renaissance ESL 15A. The speaker is large (but not nearly as big as the Neolith) and expensive (but less than one third the price of the Neolith) and so stands as what I would consider to be a real-world flagship for the rest of us (well, those of us who have a spare $25,000 waiting to be well-spent).  The Renaissance spots a 46-inch and 15-inch midrange/high-frequency panel, married to a self-powered, dual 12-inch woofer system driven by a pair of 500-watt woofer amplifiers. To ensure proper matching between the dynamic woofers and the electrostatic panel, the speaker uses a Vojtko crossover and ML’s signature ‘ForceForward’ woofer alignment. Adding further refinement and tuning capabilities, the woofer also features a woofer-optimised version of the Anthem Room Correction system, meaning the built-in sub can in large part adapt to your environment as needed.

A too brief listen convinced me the Renaissance ESL 15A is an awful lot of speaker for the money: highly refined and, like the Neolith, exceedingly transparent. 

Nola Brio Trio, $2,700/three-piece system

Nola design chief Carl Marchisotto is perhaps best know for his costly and physically imposing tower-type loudspeakers, but a passion of his has long been to bring the famous Nola sound to a much wider audience through a compact, scaled-back (but pointedly not scaled ‘down’), and accessibly-priced speaker system. That system turn out to be the new three-piece, satellite/subwoofer Brio Trio system, which consists of a pair of 5.5-inch x 5.5-inch x 12-inch, 1 ½ -way, quasi-dipolar satellite speakers and a matching Brio subwoofer with an 8-inch woofer, a sealed enclosure, and a 250-watt Class A/B (not Class D) amplifier. The result is very simple and affordable three-piece system that, in due Nola fashion, sounds much more muscular, expansive, and musically evocative than it has any right to do for its size or price.

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