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

Show report

Scansonic MB-6, $9,900/pair

Many audiophiles think of Michael Borresen as the talented designer of Raidho’s upscale, world-class loudspeakers, but what they may not realise is that Borresen has recently been doing some of his best work in creating speakers for Raidho’s sister company, Scansonic. In fact, Borresen has designed a Scansonic range that bears his initials, a new flagship for which—called the MB-6—was introduced at CES. The MB-6 is a comparatively tall, slender floorstander fitted with a central ribbon tweeter flanked by two sets of three 4.5-inch carbon fibre mid-bass drivers. The pair of drivers immediately adjacent to the tweeter handles midrange frequencies only, while the drivers further out from the tweeter handle progressively lower frequencies. Together, the six mid-bass drivers have the area of a 12-in woofer, but the speed and agility of much smaller drivers. The MB-6’s will sell for $9,900/pair in the process giving a significant taste of Raidho-like sound at a more than fair price.

Sonus faber Venere S, $4,999-$5,499/pair

The Venere range of speakers could be considered, along with the firm’s Chameleon range, as Sonus faber’s entry-level models, but at the very top of the Venere family tree stands one model, the Venere S (or Venere Signature), that stands apart from the firm’s other ‘V’ models. For starters, if my information is correct, the Venere S is the only Venere model that is produced in Italy, with all the attention to fit, finish, and design that Italian craftsmanship can bring to bear. Moreover, though, the Venere S deliberately straddles a performance line between the already very good Venere models and the even better (but also markedly more expensive) Olympica models.

The result is a strikingly beautiful 3-way, five-driver, floorstanding loudspeaker fitted with a 29mm DKM dome tweeter, a 150mm midrange driver fitted with a thermo-moulded polypropylene/textile cone, and three 180mm aluminium-coned woofers. At first glance, the speaker appears to be a sealed enclosure design, but as it turns out the built in floor plinth/riser stand neatly conceal a downward firing, aluminium ducted port.

Sonically, the Venere S is every inch a ‘real’ Sonus faber, exuding the suave, sophisticated, and oh-so-accessible musicality for which the brand is famous. Upon first encountering the Venere S, everything about its appearance and sound might lead you to expect a high four-figure or low five-figure price tag, so learning the actual price comes as a present surprise indeed. There is an awful lot of speaker here for the money, and—if you decide to acquire a pair—there’s absolutely no need to tell your audio buddies how little you actually spent.

Spendor SP200, $25,000/pair

Las Vegas loves big spenders, but for audiophiles attending CES a key attraction was a different kind of Big Spendor in the form of the British firm’s new SP200 floorstanding loudspeaker, which takes its place atop Spendor’s Classic range and will sell for $24,995/pair.  The SP200’s driver array consists of a pair of 30cm  bextrene-coned woofers (similar in concept to those used in Spendor’s BC3 Broadcast reference monitors) in a sealed enclosure, an 18cm EP77 polymer-coned midrange driver, and a 22mm wide surround polyamide dome tweeter. The cabinets, in turn, used construction methods and thin, lightly braced, visco-elastically dampened panels that hark back to classic Spendor models of old (think of the legendary BC-1 monitors, for example), but in an updated form. The cherry woodwork, by the way, is exquisite. The result, to my ears at least, is a loudspeaker that sounds at once highly capable and revealing, yet that perfectly captures that elusive quality of all-purpose musicality. If the time pressure of the show had not been upon me, I could have listened to the SP200’s for hours.

TAD White Carat concept monitor, ~ $12,000 - $15,000

Not unlike automakers who bring ‘concept cars’ to shows as a means of gauging reactions among potential customers, TAD decided to bring an important new ‘concept speaker’ to CES—a speaker known, for now, as the White Carat. A company spokesman told me that, brought to full production status, the White Carat would likely sell in the range of $12,000 - $15,000/pair, which would place it well under the price of the TAD Compact Evolution 1 monitors reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 129.

In fact, upon closer inspection, the White Carat could in some respects be considered a take on the Compact Evolution 1, but in a smaller and less costly format. Like the Compact Evolution 1, the heart of the White Carat is a coincident tweeter/midrange driver array, but with a twist: the White Carat uses a hybrid magnesium/beryllium driver array rather than TAD’s traditional all-beryllium array. In the cast of the Carat, the midrange driver diaphragm is magnesium, while the tweeter diaphragm is beryllium.

Honestly, hybrid mixes of driver materials don’t always turn out well, but in the case of the White Carat the hybrid mix works out spectacularly well—judging by the proof-of-concept prototypes on display. The result is a speaker that retains most if not all of the transparency of the Compact Evolution 1, but that introduces a very subtle (and very musical) touch of natural acoustic warmth that, if anything, makes the White Carat an even more inviting and engaging speaker than its bigger brother—at least for general purpose, day-in/day-out listening. The White Carat is no ‘diamond in the rough’, either; instead, to my ears, it seemed a more or less production-ready diamond that exuded equal parts brilliance and gracious musical refinement.

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