TAS CEDIA 2012 Show Report: Loudspeakers - Part 1

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Products:
ADAM T ensor MkII,
Canton Reference Jubilee,
Definitive Technology SM65,
DLS Flatbox Flatbub8,
DLS Flatbox XL,
GoldenEar Technology Aon 2
TAS CEDIA 2012 Show Report: Loudspeakers - Part 1

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, the acronym CEDIA stands for Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association and the organization’s biggest annual show, called CEDIA Expo, enjoys a strong reputation as a go-to home theater event. But several years ago I noticed, as did others within The Absolute Sound team, an interesting phenomenon. For some reason, despite CEDIA’s “custom installation/home theater-centric” reputation, a striking number of manufacturers have chosen to announce serious (though not necessarily high-priced) 2-channel audio products at CEDIA Expo—a trend that certainly caught our attention.

In search of new or recently released 2-channel gems, I attended CEDIA Expo 2012, which was held in Indianapolis, IN from September 6-8, and will be preparing a multi-part show report.

This section of my report will cover new loudspeakers seen at CEDIA.

Note: To make things easier for online readers, I’m covering manufacturers in alphabetical order. As always, my apologies to any manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention here. Enjoy.

ADAM Audio

At CEDIA the German firm ADAM Audio GmbH rolled out a representative model from its new Tensor MkII loudspeaker family, which effectively replaces and sonically improves upon the original Tensor line. The featured model at the show was the Gamma floorstander, which—despite being a quite good-sized speaker—is actually the smallest model in the Tensor MkII lineup. The Gamma will sell for approximately $22,000/pair. The Gamma sports newly revised Heil-type tweeter and midrange drivers (signature elements found in most top-tier ADAM products), plus a pair of all new 10-inch lower midrange/bass driver sporting “honeycombed” composite driver diaphragms. The speaker offers a striking two-tone design where the outer shell of the rigid cabinet is finished in gloss black lacquer while the baffle plate is milled from a 25mm-thick slab of solid aluminum.

At a separate corner of the ADAM display area, I made a further discovery in the form of a completely self-powered surround sound system comprised of various models from ADAM’s popular new line of ARTist “prosumer grade” self-powered speakers. The 5.1-channel system on display was comprised of a pair of ADAM ARTist5 stand-mount monitors used as surrounds ($1200/pair), a pair of ARTist6 mini-floorstanders as LR main speakers ($2000/pair), an ARTist 6 Center as the center channel ($1100), and an ARTist SUB as the subwoofer ($800)—bringing the system price to $5100. Whether you choose to use the self-amplified ARTist speakers as the centerpiece of a minimalist desktop system or as elements in a larger in-room system, the have the freedom to go directly from control components to the speakers, with no need for outboard amplifiers of any kind.

To learn more about the ARTist5 and ARTist SUB, check out the Playback review written by my colleague Steven Stone (click here to read the review).

Cambridge Audio

Last year Cambridge rolled out its tiny but mighty Minx sat/sub system (click here to ready my The Perfect Vision review of the original Minx system), but for CEDIA 2012 the firm revealed a redesign of the Minx satellites that yields substantial—and quite audible—improvements on the inside while leaving the oh-so-cute exterior of the speakers virtually unchanged. As before, both Minx satellites use BMR-type (balanced mode radiator) drivers, but where the drivers have been revised to provide more radiating area and 50% more throw—differences said to give the Minx satellites purer and more open-sound mids and much broader dynamic envelopes. One fairly major change is that the two-driver satellite, which previously used dual BMR drivers, now uses just one improved BMR driver plus one conventional driver. In a brief demo session, I noted that the Minx revisions have, as advertised, made a good system better for a sound that is at once more open and more relaxed.

To denote the changes made, the Minx satellites get new nomenclature with the smaller, cube shaped model becoming the Min 11 ($95/each) and the larger two-driver model becoming the Min 21 ($180/each)—prices slightly higher than for the original Minx satellites. 2.1-channel Minx sat/sub systems range from $569 - $929, while 5.1-channel Minx packages ranges form $849 - $1849.

Canton

The German speaker maker Canton chose CEDIA as its venue of choice for rolling out the firm’s new flagship Reference speaker line, represented by the limited edition Reference Jubilée—a large 3-way bass reflex floorstander that will sell for approximately $18,000/pair. The upper section of the speaker features an a midrange driver sporting a so-called TCC (triple-curved cone) diaphragm as well as a patented wave surround system, plus a single tweeter featuring an aluminum oxide ceramic dome and a “transmission front plate” said to improve “the dispersion, efficiency, and omni-directional performance (of the tweeter) above 15,000 Hz.” The lower section of the speaker uses two aluminum woofers that also feature Canton’s patented wave surround system. Canton claims low frequency extension to 18 Hz. The Reference Jubilée was only on static display at CEDIA, but it should prove fun to hear in action.

Definitive Technology

Earlier this year Definitive introduced the first of what was destined to become a three-product family of excellent but affordable stand-mount Studio Monitors, and at CEDIA the firm launched the largest and most accomplished member of that family: namely, the SM65 monitor, priced at $900/pair. The driver complement includes a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, a pair of Definitive’s signature 5 ¼-inch BDSS mid/bass drivers, and a 6-inch x 12 x inch “racetrack”-shaped passive radiator. Although the SM65 is the biggest of Definitive’s SM-series models, it stands only 16 ½-inch tall. Be don’t let the SM65’s compact dimensions fool you; this little speaker sounds huge and produces astonishingly authoritative bass (Definitive claims low frequency extension to a very low 30 Hz). What is more, the sound is warm (but not overly warm), engaging, and remarkably refined, making this product not only a great value but also a viable alternative to larger and more costly floorstanders.

DLS

Hailing from Sweden, DLS specializes in manufacturing slim-line on-wall speakers for serious audio enthusiasts—speakers collectively known as the Flatbox series. While many of you might feel the phrases “on-wall speakers” and “serious audio enthusiasts” don’t belong in the same sentence, the DLS products might change your mind, in part because they have been designed by people who earnestly believe that a properly designed on-wall speaker can potentially outperform its freestanding in-room counterparts.

To drive home this point, the DLS team played for me a neat little 2.1-channel package comprised of a pair of DLS Flatbox XL main speakers and a Flatbox Flatsub8 (~$1900 for the package), which I felt was thoroughly competitive with many of the equivalently priced floorstanders I’ve heard. But the real piece de resistance cam in the form of the firm’s larger and all-new M2 on-wall speakers (~$3000/pair), which a company spokesman described as a three-way, on-wall studio monitors. Although the M2s tend to blend into the walls in a visual sense, they produce a dramatic and impressive sound—open, articulate, dynamic, and possessed of taut by potent bass. I’m told that TAS’ Dr. Robert E. Greene may soon be receiving a pair to review, which just goes to show you that some guys have all the luck.

By the way, if you have any trouble doing further research on DLS, it helps to know that their products are distributed through Simplifi Audio (www.simplifiaudio.com), which is the same firm that also distributes Gradient, Klangwerk, and PSI loudspeakers, audio electronics from Resolution Audio, and critically acclaimed room/subwoofer correction systems from DSPeaker.

GoldenEar Technology

Earlier this year, GoldenEar rolled out the Aon 3, which was the first model in what was destined to become the firm’s two-model range of compact, high performance stand-mount Aon monitors (click here to read my Playback review of the Aon 3). For CEDIA, however, GoldenEar rolled out the Aon 2 ($800/pair), which it the Aon 3’s little brother. The Aon 2, like the Aon 3, seems almost to be covered with a mix of active and passive drivers, showing just how hard the designers have worked to make good use of every available square inch of cabinet surface area. Accordingly, the Aon 2’s drive complement includes a Heil-type HVFR tweeter, a 6-inch wide-bandwidth mid-bass driver, and a pair of 6.5-inch passive radiators.

GoldenEar founder Sandy Gross explained that the concept behind both Aon models was to create affordable stand-mount or bookshelf speakers that could, in sonic terms, compete on a nearly level footing with higher-end monitors several times their price. Does the sound of the Aon 2 live up to this ambitious goal? Give them a listen and you make the judgment call.

KEF

At CEDIA, the British firm KEF showed a diminutive speaker that had already wowed listeners both at the Munich show and at T.H.E. Show Newport Beach; namely, the amazing little 50th Anniversary LS50 mini-monitor ($1499/pair). KEF explains that the concept behind the LS50 was to create a 21st century update on the BBC’s original, and now classic, LS3/5A mini monitor (a design that, as many TAS readers already know, was based entirely upon KEF-made drivers back in the day). Accordingly, the LS50 uses a “bespoke Uni-Q driver array” and features an extremely sophisticated bass reflex cabinet incorporating a distinctive curved front baffle and a heavily braced, constrained layer damping enclosure design. But having now heard the LS50 in action, my take on the speaker is that it is not so much an LS3/5A made new again (appealing though that idea might seem), but rather a substantially downsized version of KEF’s flagship Blade speaker, which I intend as very high praise. The LS50 is that rare mini-monitor whose sound might beguile even those listeners who normally gravitate toward larger, full-range speakers.

But to “spread the wealth,” as it were, KEF also chose CEDIA as the launching pad for a new desktop/computer audio-oriented speaker system called the X300A—a system plainly influenced by some of the design thinking behind the LS50. The X300A system ($799/pair) consists of two small monitors each equipped, naturally, with KEF’s Uni-Q driver arrays, and each fitted with dual Class A/B amplifiers (one for the tweeter portion of the array, the other for the woofer part of the array). For maximum convenience, the X300A features three inputs: a 96/24-capable USB input, a 3.5mm mini-jack analog input, and an optional Bluetooth dongle. Think of the X300A, then, as significantly a cost-reduced, but still highly capable desktop implementation of the LS50 concept. My thought: this system might be ideal for use college dorm rooms and other small listening spaces.

MartinLogan

Many of MartinLogan’s new CEDI offerings were targeted specifically toward the home theater world, but on that will definitely appeal to 2-channel enthusiasts is the tiny Motion 15 stand-mount monitor ($799). The 2-way design combines a Heil-type driver with a 5.25-inch, high-excursion, aluminum-coned mid/bass driver. Interestingly, MartinLogan deliberately positioned the Motion 15s directly beside a pair of the firm’s second-from-the-top-of-the-line Summit X hybrid electrostats in its CEDIA soundroom, and invited comparisons between the two. While the Summit X was (obviously) the better speaker, the Motion 15 did an impressive job of channeling much of the “vibe” of the bigger speaker without losing too much musical information in the process.

Monitor Audio

For CEDIA, Monitor Audio announced a stylish new sat/sub product family collectively known as the MASS system (Monitor Audio Subwoofer Satellite), which loosely slots in above the firm’s popular and very elegant-looking Radius speaker line. MASS combo’s can be put together for stereo (2.1-channel) or surround (5.1-channel or 7.1-channel applications), with 2.1 channel packages starting at just under $880. The MASS satellite, called the MASS 10, features a quasi-cylindrical enclosure made of a polymer material, with each satellite sporting a 4-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver and a 1-inch C-CAM tweeter. The MASS subwoofer, in turn, features a 10-inch woofer augmented by a passive radiator with a DSP-controlled 220-watt Class D amplifier. MASS systems are bought as product bundles where customers would choose from MASS 2.0 packages (two satellites at $279/pair), MASS 5.0 packages (five satellites at $699/set of five), and then add one or more MASS subs ($599/each). The consensus among the Monitor representatives at CEDIA was the MASS system offered dramatic styling plus useful sonic gains vis-à-vis the well-regarded Radius system.

Also joining in the desktop audio revolution, Monitor announced its new Airstream WS100 wireless multimedia speaker system ($399). The Airstream speakers look like swept-back, two-tone, black and silver cubes that perch on your desktop with a notable absence of speaker and/or interconnect cables. Instead, connectivity is handled by a wireless, 2.4GHz USB dongle based on SKAA technology said to provide “superb CD quality audio.” Each Airstream speaker features a 3-inch C-CAM mid/bass driver and a ¾-inch C-CAM tweeter, with the mid/bass driver and tweeter driven, respectively, by built-in 20-watt and 10-watt amplifiers. Interestingly, you can also connect up to four Airstream systems to a single source, for low cost, easy to use whole-house audio systems.

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