TAS CEDIA 2012 Show Report: Loudspeakers - Part 2

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Categories:
Audio,
Floorstanding,
Stand-mount
|
Products:
Paradigm Inspiration,
Paradigm Tribute,
Pioneer SP-FS52,
Pioneer SPBS22,
PSB Alpha PS1
TAS CEDIA 2012 Show Report: Loudspeakers - Part 2

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 is the second section of my report and it will continue my coverage of 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.

Paradigm

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Paradigm is releasing two very limited edition speakers: the Tribute floorstander (200 pairs, $6000/pair) and the Inspiration stand-mount monitor (300 pairs, $2600/pair), both of which come finished in a distinctive deep garnet red (the gorgeous color is so dark that at first it appears to be black, though under direct light it reveals a deep, burnished red glow that is simply stunning). The Tribute is a five-driver, 3-way speaker sporting a 1-inch pure beryllium tweeter, a 7-inch carbon-anodized aluminum mid/bass driver, and three 7-inch bass drivers. The Inspiration, in turn, is a two-driver, 2-way monitor featuring essentially the same tweeter and mid-bass driver as used in the Tribute. Astute followers of Paradigm’s products will note that the 30th anniversary models merge technologies found both in the firm’s upscale Signature models (most notably, the pure beryllium tweeter) and in the mid-tier Studio models, but a brief listen led me to think the 30th anniversary models (and in particular the Tribute) offer a sound where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But one word of caution: If interested in the 30th anniversary models, get thee to a Paradigm dealer right away! These models are likely to sell out very quickly.

With an eye toward making high-performance audio system acquisition much simpler for customers (especially for those who might never have dabbled in high-end audio before), Paradigm announced not one but two attractively priced, self-powered, 2.1-channel systems—both of which leverage technologies originally created for Paradigm’s popular Millennia One system. The less expensive of the two new systems is called the Millenia CT system ($699) and consists of a pair of 2-way satellites (which are essentially cost-reduced versions of the considerably more exotic Millenia One sats), plus a shallow-profile subwoofer that incorporates a 3 x 80-watt amplifier, with one channel for the sub and two for the satellites. The more expensive, but also better performing, option is the Millenia One CT system ($1199), which at first glance looks similar to Millenia CT package, but whose internal design more closely follows that of the original Millenia One system. Accordingly, Millenia One CT modules use better drivers, more rigid cast aluminum enclosures, and a bigger (3 x 100-watt) amplifier than those found in the Millenia CT system.

Pioneer

Many TAS readers know of Andrew Jones as the guiding force behind the high-end brand TAD, but may not be aware that the industrious Mr. Jones also plays a lead role in voicing many Pioneer audio products. This year, new California environmental rules for allowable formaldehyde content in speaker enclosures forced a redesign of Pioneer’s entry-level monitor and floorstanding speakers. As Jones began work on the project, he soon realized that he had an opportunity to revise not only the speaker enclosures, per se, but also to redesign both speakers from the ground up—all with an eye toward making clever, low-cost, sonically beneficial improvements.

The redesign effort yielded two new speakers that look a bit like their predecessors, but that sound much better: a small stand-mount monitor called the SP-BS22 ($130/pair, and yes, you read that price correctly) and a compact floorstander called the SP-FS52 ($260/pair). The speakers not only feature new enclosures, but new drivers including a waveguide-equipped tweeter and a new woofer with vented pole pieces. Jones played both models for me, using a cool little Pioneer Elite series stereo integrated amp (2 x 35 Wpc, with phono section, for $299), and my jaw dropped. Let me just blurt it out: If you can find better sound for less money, then do so (but I doubt you can do much better for the bucks). As a beaming Andrew Jones said with a wry but confident grin after the demo, “This is my idea of true entry-level high-end audio.” I can only say, “Amen to that!”

For a preview of Neil Gader’s upcoming TAS review of the SP-BS22, click here.

PSB

PSB’s Paul Barton is a man on a mission and that mission appears to entail creating ever more affordable ways for music lovers to get a good, big taste of high-end sound. A perfect case in point would be PSB’s new Alpha PS1 self-powered desktop monitor ($300/pair) as rolled out at CEDIA. In a sense, the Alpha PS1 looks—and to an extent sounds—like a miniaturized version of PSB’s critically acclaimed Imagine Mini loudspeaker, but one that is presented in a polycarbonate bass reflex enclosure finished in gloss black. The Alpha PS1 features 1 3.5-inch “metallized polypropylene” mid/bass driver and a ¾-inch aluminum tweeter, and incorporates a built-in 2 x 20-watt amplifier. Rear panel stereo inputs include a 3.5mm mini-jack and a pair of traditional RCA-jacks, while a distinctive touch is a built-in subwoofer output that allows listeners to make an easy transition from 2-channel to 2.1-channel listening, simply by adding a good powered sub such as PSB’s Sub 125 ($450).

I’m able to comment on the Alpha PS1’s with some degree of confidence in that several months ago, under a verbal non-disclosure agreement, PSB invited me to hear a prototype of the Alpha PS1 in direct comparison with the Imagine Mini and the Imagine T2 floorstander under blind listening conditions. The little speaker wasn’t quite the equal of its Imagine brethren, but most of the core elements of the traditionally accurate PSB “house sound” were present and accounted for, which is impressive when you consider that the Alpha PS1 A) has built-in amplification, and B) is roughly half the price of the Imagine Mini. The Alpha PS1 should make both a fine and affordable desktop monitor, but can easily be adapted for whole-room use (the combination of a pair of Alpha PS1s plus a Sub 125 gets you a satisfying full-range starter system for a manageable $750).

RBH

RBH brought to CEDIA a striking, proof-of-concept prototype for a very high-performance two-way stand-monitor, which featured a Scanspeak tweeter and a proprietary RBH beryllium mid/bass driver. By far the most striking aspect of the design, though, is the fact that both the speakers enclosure and stand system have been fabricated from solid granite (man, talk about “rock solid” sound).

Though the monitor had been brought to CEDIA largely for show-and-tell value, RBH’s Darren Egan said it also served as a stalking horse for purposes of gauging possible consumer interest. If put into production, the yet-to-be-named granite monitors would sell, said Egan, for about $10,000/pair.

Revel

Earlier this year Revel previewed some elements of its comparatively affordable Performa3 speaker family, but as of CEDIA the firm announced that it had finalized designs and specifications for all of the Performa3 models and would begin shipping the speakers in December 2012 with the subwoofers to follow in January 2013. Just for the record, the Performa3 family comprises two floorstanders (the F208 at $5000/pair and F206 at $3500/pair), two monitors (the M106 at $2000/pair and M105 at $1500/pair), two center channels (the C208 at $2000/each and C205 at $1000 each), a surround speaker (the S206 at $1800/pair), and two subwoofers (the B112 at $3000 and B110 at $2000). Revel had the entire Performa3 range on static display at CEDIA, but also had a demo system featuring the flagship F208 floorstander, which sounded very, very promising indeed.

I had a chance to catch up with designer Kevin Voecks and to ask him about the Performa3 range. Voecks explained that, by design, many core elements of the Performa3 sound come quite close to the performance of Revel’s more costly, top-tier Ultima2-series speakers, though he conceded that the Ultima2s are superior in two important areas: lower diffraction and superior treble response (the Ultima2’s feature an exotic Beryllium tweeter that Voecks considers the finest he has yet heard or tested). Even so, the Performa3’s are no performance slouches; in fact, the opposite may be true. Voecks mentioned that in blind listening tests (which Voecks favors as a relatively unbiased means of evaluating sonic performance), a large majority of listeners had picked the F208 over a very famous and exclusive high-end floorstander that sells in the mid-$20k/pair range. If nothing else, Voecks has set Revel’s performance sights extremely high for the Performa3 range.

Steinway Lyngdorf

Steinway Lyngdorf chose CEDIA as its venue of choice for rolling out its very exotic new LS Concert speaker system (total stereo system price: ~$228,000/pair). Actually, calling the LS Concert package a “speaker” is somewhat misleading, since what Steinway Lyngdorf really offers could more accurately be called end-to-end music (and movie) playback systems, where Steinway Lyngdorf offers each of the building blocks from which the systems are comprised. Typical building blocks include: speaker modules, stereo and/or multichannel processor modules, all-digital stereo amplifier modules, and the firm’s signature RoomPerfect room EQ system.

The LS Concert, though, is a very special speaker module and one on which company founder Peter Lyngdorf has been working for a long time. It is a large, tall, slender, floorstanding dipole line source (hence the name “LS”) array comprised of 8 Heil-type AMT tweeter drivers and 15 5.25-inch mid-bass drivers. In typical systems, the LS Concert would be combined with available Steinway Lyngdorf bass modules to complete a full-range system.

For CEDIA, Steinway Lyngdorf showed the new LS Concert as part of a full-on Lyndorf surround sound system whose total price came in at (gulp!) a cool $480,000! Ah, but what a sound it produced. The LS Concert system sounded remarkably clean, precise, and well controlled, with pinpoint-precise imaging and downright shocking dynamics (actually, the most impressive I’ve yet heard from any speaker system, horn-loaded systems included). The LS Concert system was great fun to hear on action film movie clips, but really came into its own on a well-recorded high-res classical music demo, where it became easier to hear and appreciate the system’s terrific delicacy and finesse.

T + A

The German firm T + A Elektroakustik GmbH demonstrated a beautiful compact “multi source audio system” based one the firm’s new Cala stereo receiver (which will be covered separately under the Audio Electronic section of my CEDIA report), plus a pair of the firm’s elegant little CS Mini mini-monitors.

The CS Mini sports a bass reflex enclosure whose thin but stiff walls are made of solid aluminum. The driver complement includes a 25mm woven dome tweeter and a 100mm mid/bass driver for claimed frequency response of 50Hz – 30kHz.

TAD

Up to this point, the speakers we have seen and heard from TAD have been cost-no-object Reference series models, but earlier this year the firm announced a new range of slightly cost-reduced Evolution-series components, including the TAD-E1 series speaker, which served as the centerpiece of TAD’s CEDIA display.

The TAD-E1 is a relatively large, high performance floorstander that takes most of its design cues directly from TAD’s Reference models and that will be priced at $29,800/pair. The E1, like most TAD speakers, features a 2-way, concentric “coherent source transducer” array, but one where the tweeter is made of beryllium (as in the Reference model) while midrange driver is made of magnesium (the Reference models get a beryllium midrange driver that is staggeringly expensive to manufacture). In turn, the E1 uses a pair of woofers that feature “one-piece dustcap/cone construction” said to eliminate “the loss of strength frequently found in conventional woofer construction.” The speaker’s enclosure features TAD’s familiar “teardrop” cross-sectional shape and so-called “Silent Enclosure” construction techniques where the cabinet is made of a combination of “high-rigidity Baltic birch plywood combined with medium density fiberboard.” Finally, the E1 uses a so-called “Iso-mount Network filter,” meaning that the crossover network is placed in a separate chamber that is mechanically and acoustically isolated from the main speaker enclosure. The upshot is that the E1 offers many of the most important elements of TAD Reference designs, but at a lower price point.

I’m told that The Absolute’s Sound’s Neil Gader has a pair of E1’s on hand for an upcoming review, which simply leads me to observe, “It’s good to be Neil…”

Totem

In recent years Totem has concentrated development efforts on its Tribe-series on-wall speakers and Element-series in-room speakers, both of which leverage Totem’s ultra wide-bandwidth “Torrent”-type drivers—drivers that lend them selves to quasi-crossover-less speaker designs. For CEDIA, though, Totem chose to develop a range of affordable in-wall speakers intended to sound similar to Tribe or Element models, yet that could not—owing to cost and space constraints—use Torrent-type drivers. The result is the Tribe Kin range, comprising three models: the Tribe Kin LR ($750/each), the Tribe Kin Center ($600/each), and the Tribe Kin In-Ceiling ($750). For bass reinforcement, Tribe Kin systems are designed to use the existing Totem Tribe subwoofer.

For audiophiles, the significance of the Tribe Kin models is that they are among those rare in-wall speakers that can compete on a more or less even footing with good, like-priced, high-performance in-room speakers, which is saying a mouthful. To pull this feat off, Totem gave the Tribe Kin models rigid enclosures plus their own distinctive drivers, including a wide bandwidth ¾-inch high-excursion soft dome tweeter, a very wide bandwidth 4-inch mid/bass driver featuring ultra-light/ultra-strong MHEX cones, and a matching set of high-compliance, Mica-loaded polypropylene passive radiators. Those MHEX mid/bass driver diaphragms are pretty special and are said to be capable of supporting loads of greater than 50kg each—that is, an amazing 110 pounds+ per 4-inch cone!

How is the sound? After a brief demo, I came away thinking the Tribe Kins sounded a lot like the more expensive Tribe on-wall models, and also reminiscent (to a degree) of the new Element models. True, the Elements are better in an absolute sense, but they cost quite a bit more and also take up considerable space in the room. For audiophiles pressed for space or seeking a solution that will keep interior designers happy, the Tribe Kins could, I think, be just what the doctor ordered.

Wharfedale

2012 marks the 80th anniversary for the British loudspeaker manufacturer Wharfedale and to celebrate this landmark the firm has announced—what else? —a classic 2-way stand-mount monitor with quasi-retro styling on the outside and up-to-the-minute technology on the inside. The result is the lovely 80th Anniversary Denton monitor ($1000/pair), which come finished only in vintage mahogany and sports old-school “W”-type Wharfedale logos on its ID badges. On the inside, the Denton features a textile dome tweeter and a Kevlar-coned woofer with a die cast frame. Wharfedale says “the Denton conveys music with a rich, natural quality; exceptional detail, clarity, and imaging; and an open, inviting sound.”

Wisdom

For some time now, Wisdom has been acknowledged as one of the world’s premier developers of ultra-high performance in-wall speaker system—and quite possibly as the best of them all. The only catch, really, is that Wisdom speaker systems have been very expensive and typically have required use of purpose-built Wisdom electronic crossovers, room EQ, and DSP systems, etc. But at CEDIA, Wisdom launched an all-new family of Insight in-wall speakers that could dramatically change the game, making it possible to configure very accomplished Wisdom in-wall systems at much lower prices than before.

At present, there are four Insight models in the line: three point-source speakers (the P2I at $1250/each, P4i at $1750/each, and P6i at $3000/each) and one line-array model (the L8i at $5000/each). Together, these are the first Wisdom models in recent memory to use passive, rather than active/DSP-controlled, crossover network—a design touch that makes Insight systems simpler to set up and to power, and markedly less expensive than Wisdom’s top-tier offerings. By design, the Insight models work beautifully when used in conjunction with the firm’s smaller SCS “Suitcase” subwoofer. I first saw the Insight models on static display in the main convention hall, and then later heard them in action in a separate Marriott sound room. While admittedly sacrificing some of the finer points of the large five and six-figure Wisdom systems, the Insights retained most of Wisdom’s core values in a sonic sense, delivering a well balanced, smoothly enveloping sound with a good measure of natural warmth.

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