STEREOMOJO SPECIAL REPORT

from

MONTREAL, CANADA

 

Montreal was cold, gray and overcast with intermittent rain and a full day of snow, but inside things couldn’t be hotter with hotel rooms, meeting rooms and ballrooms brimming with mostly 2-channel audio. I knew I was in a foreign country as soon as I boarded the public shuttle to the hotel – the music playing onboard was Beethoven. When’s the last time you heard that in the states?

 

 

Most of the video and home theater gear was confined to the large ballroom with Samsung, Pioneer and Sony displaying hundreds of flat screens and DVD players. Interestingly, by far good ole’ stereo was still the predominant factor. Some of the larger (and best!) Canadian retailers sell mostly stereo products with home theater as a side dish. That is a stark contrast to American dealers who all but abandoned traditional home stereo to embrace the HT market. Several retailers said that they thought HT was dwindling while 2-channel sales were increasing. Two major mass market manufacturers were overheard discussing the fact that receiver and surround sales were down 15% while several brick and mortal boutique owners said that stereo sales were UP. Sales of turntables are also way up with the LP vendors regularly setting new sales records. Records setting records. Whoda thunk it! Well, we at Stereomojo have been “thunkin” it all along. That’s why we ONLY report on and review two-channel audio – no video or surround.

 

Consider this: What is the biggest selling audio component in the world? The answer is easy – the Apple Ipod. And what format is the Ipod?

 

Two-channel stereo

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At every audio show, there always seems to be one brand that really brings it in a big way in terms of room size, advertising and overall visibility. That translates into spending big, big bucks.  This year at FSI, their was one brand that was omnipresent with their name inscribed on every lanyard that held passes, banners and signs all over, and even huge ads that covered elevator doors on every show floor (pictured left). This year the 900pound gorilla was KEF. KEF speakers were once an acknowledged leader in high-end audio, only to fall from grace as have so many others. Owned now by a Hong Kong holding company, there seems to be a large infusion of cash at the ready to re-establish the brand to its former glory. Happily, it’s not all pure marketing hype. KEF was showing some excellent sounding, well constructed and beautiful speakers, spread over several lines from value, entry level pricing to top-end reference quality products at reasonable prices.

 

The company's top line, the Model 207/2 (pictured) is a 4-way bass reflex design with two 10 inch woofers,a 10 inch midbass, 6.5 inch midrange with concentrically mounted 1 inch tweeter. Frequency response at 15° horizontally off axis is from 40Hz to 60kHz( ±3dB) with an 8 Ohm impedance and 91dB/W/m sensitivity. Each complete unit weights 145 lbs. and measures 48.3 x 15.7 x 27 (HxWxD in inches). Available finishes include Piano Black, high gloss Cherry, high gloss American Walnut and Satin Sycamore.

 

The Uni-Q array features a sophisticated elliptical dome tweeter and a patented 'Uni-Form' flat surround midrange driver said to produce clear vocals, excellent imaging and outstanding soundstage. An ultra low distortion bass driver produces accurate dynamics partially due to the use of a super light neodymium magnet assembly. KEF also claims improved low-frequency response and customization with a two-position bass control. Models in the new Reference series have special decoupling techniques, with all drivers being decoupled from the cabinet to avoid unwanted resonances and interactions.  The top of the line 702/2 sells for $20,000 per pair.

The monoblock amps were by Chord (SPM 6000) and go for a measly $53,000. Per pair, of course. They were gorgeous to look at, especially from the top with the otherwordly interior blue lights.

 

 

 

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Another impressive British speaker line was exhibited by Monitor Audio. Joining their established Bronze, Silver and Gold line, their new Platinum Series was introduced at the show. All of the new line features ribbon tweeters of ceramic coated aluminum magnesium and front baffles of hand sewn leather, ala Sonus Fabre. The “Platinum” moniker is not just for show as the speaker terminals are coated with pure platinum, they say. The cabinetry is exquisite in furniture grade hand-polished lacquer in the now familiar bullet shaped enclosure.

 

 

 

MONITOR AUDIO PLATINUM 300

 

 

These were very impressive with a huge, clear, clean soundstage. Very fast and articulate with solid bass and midrange, no doubt aided by the Musical Fidelity

Preamp and Monoblocks pictured here. Freq. response is a claimed 28 to 100,000 hz. These could be a real steal at under $9,000/pr!


 

 

 

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 85

 

 

 

The other member of the Platinum Series is the 100. Priced at $4,295/pr, they incorporate all the high-end features of the floorstanders in a stand-mounted monitor. We will keep an eye on Monitor Audio and we think you should, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

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Dan Wright of Modwright is a cool guy. I remember him from the early days when he was doing mods of cd players which were so popular on AudioAsylum and other devotee hangouts on the net. Kudos to him for turning it into a thriving business which has a great reputation throughout the world. We admire people like that.

Dan demoed his latest and greatest preamp, the LS 36.5 balanced tube line stage ($4995), which uses his own custom-designed MWI capacitors, 6H30 Russian Super Tubes, and a 5AR4 tube-rectified power supply. He also was showing his SWP 9.0 SE phono stage which uses (2)6C45's, (2)6N1P's, (2)5687 tubes. Dip switches lets you use MM or MC carts. Top quality parts are used throughout, including Schottky diodes, metal film Vishay resistors, ceramic tube sockets and proprietary MWI custom Teflon film and foil and oil-impregnated polypropylene caps. Dan told us he thinks the 9.0 SE at $3k establishes a new benchmark for tube phono pres in terms of value/performance ratio.

Dan was receptive to our requests for review samples.We look forward to working with him and his value oriented products.

 

 

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We love all things Italian, especially when it comes to tube amps. These Mastersound amps are all hand made in the land of the Caesars.

 

 

Mastersound  - Compact 845
  - 2 x 30 watts in pure class A
  - parallel single ended with zero negative feedback
  - 2 x 300 B / 2 x ECC82 / 2 x 6SN7 GT
  - 3 line inputs + direct input
  - automatic tube bias
  - load impedance: 4 - 8 Ohms
  - proprietary Mastersound output transformers
  - made by hand in Italy
  - 80 pounds

    Price
   $5,795

 

 

 

 

 

300B single ended Integrated

 classe “A”

Power: 2 x 12 Watts

Finals tubes:  2 x  300B

Pre-drivers tubes: 2  x  ECC82

Drivers tubes: 2  x  5687 WB

Input impedence: 100 K OHM

Inputs: 4  x  Line + 1 Direct

Out put transformer: MASTERSOUND

Negative feedback: 0 dB

Load impedence: 4 – 8 Ohms

Bandwitdh:  8 Hz / 30 kHz – 0dB

Volume: remote control

 

 

 

 

 

PHL5 Line Preamp Tube preamplifier

Bandwidth: 5 Hz / 100 kHz – 0dB

Tubes: 2 x ECC 82

Inputs: 4 High level

Out put: 2 + 1 rec

Volume With remote control

Price: $4,895

 

 

                                                                                              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Distributed in the US by May Audio.

 

 

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Now here is something really interesting, unique and innovative - the Renaissance Opus 2 No.1 power amp.

 

 

It features the world’s premier of a push-pull implementation of the KR Audio T-100

It maintains a balanced topology throughout the amp for the lowest distortion possible.

What is most unique about the Opus is that it implements a microprocessor to maintain and monitor every aspect of the amp’s operation to keep it running at peak efficiency. For example, several amps include an autobias scheme, but the Opus continuously adjusts bias hundreds of times per minute. The lucky owner can vary the  plate voltage to optimize power transfer to speakers and select bias power to extend tube life and match the amp gain to environment. There’s even a very cool readout panel in front to keep you informed of the amp’s status.

 

High resolution photo

 

The rest of the specs are equally impressive:

 

 

Power Output:
60 Watts Pure Class A Stereo
60 -- 70 Watts Class AB

Power Frequency Range:
17Hz – 115,000Hz +/- 1 dB Total Harmonic Distortion < 1%

Output Impedence:
4, 8, and 16 Ohms

Output Driver Stage Topology:
Single tube element push-pull topology.

Tube Compliment:
4 - 6H30PI, 4 - 6C45, 4 – KR Audio T-100
No local or global feedback. Pure Triode configuration.

Special Hardware:
Mono-crystal cast wire for all high voltage power and ground
All metalized polyproplyene capacitors used in audio stage power supplies
Copper and polypropylene film coupling capacitors
All point to point wiring in signal path
All metal foil resistors in signal path
Toroid power and output transformers for extreme bandwidth
Schottky Silicon Carbide diodes in power supply for quiet transition and ultra fast switching
Solid aluminum cabinet with bracing for extra rigidity

 

All of this innovation and bleeding edge technology comes at a price, of course.

The Renaissance Opus 2 No.1 sells for $25,000.

 

The sound of the amp through a pair of Escalante Design Fremonts,

Created by AccuSoft Corp.

 

which is also a very innovative speaker in the $20,000 range, was engaging. Among its other innovations is a patented Direct Coupled network that renders rise times for the cones almost instantaneous. The combination of the Opus & Fremonts was mesmerizing. Just about everything else sounded sloooow after visiting this room.

 

Also on display were the Kronzilla (what a great name!) mono amps by KR Audio of the Czech Republic.

These huge tubes suggest a new meaning for twin towers. They weren’t playing at the time, but just seeing these mighty modules was exciting.

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Turntables Report from CES ’07 introduced the new Merrill - Scillia MS21

priced at $24,000. We also broke the news that there was a less expensive model coming soon.

It is here in the form of the new MS 2 priced at $8,000 sans arm & cartridge.

 

Right off the bat, the new model looks much better with its rich looking cherry base. Vinh Vu at Norvinz Audio who distributes the Merrill – Scillias tells us the M2 will also come in maple, oak, and walnut.

We thought the plain black MS21 looked a little dowdy for a $20k+ table. Perhaps they listened to us.

They used the Tri-Planar Mk VII tonearm (retail $4000), and an Ortofon Jubilee cartridge (retail $2000) at the show.

The MS2 shares many of the features of the $24,000 MS21, including the ter-polymer sub-chassis, proprietary spring suspension system, 2-piece platter system, motor, and bearing system. The new table sounded fantastic and may well be a serious contender at its price point. No further details on the new table are available yet, but we are pursuing them. We have also asked for a review sample, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

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I always enjoy talking to Ofra Gershman. Not only is she brilliant and beautiful, she always has something insightful to say.

She took real delight in showing the new Gershman Sonogram. When I asked her about the rather unusual name of the new speaker, she smiled and replied, “Because it lets you see into  the music!”. Ahhh...of course.

I don’t have to remind you what a sonogram is, do I?  A medical procedure that let’s a pregnant woman see the baby inside her in real time? I wanted to ask Ofra if the speaker was a boy or a girl, but I just let it slide. Regardless, the new-born Sonogram is the little sibling of the immaculately conceived Black Swans. While the new Sonogram is no identical twin of the Swan Noir, the sound certainly shares its DNA.

Putting aside the puns, the Sonogram is a serious speaker at a seriously low price. When asked about her departure from her trademark pyramid cabinet style, Ofra said, “The outside looks like a conventional square cabinet, but the pyramid is there, it’s just on the inside! Using a box style outer cabinet helped us save money that we could pass along to customers. We still use the same quality speakers by Morel and custom drivers made for us in the US. In fact the woofer is the same as we use in the AvantGuarde.The new cabinet shape allows us to sell the Sonogram for only $2,600 US.

The specs are:

Sensitivity: 89dB

Impedance: 6 ohms

Freq. Repnse: 28-20,000Hz

 

We can confirm that the quality Gershman sound is present in the Sonogram bigtime. Tight controlled bass, liquid midrange and a solid soundstage. We asked about a review sample, but she replied , “I’d love to, but we are selling them as fast as we can produce them! It may be a while…”

Not a problem, Ofra. Good things are worth waiting for!

 

 

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While Stereomojo does not “do” Ipods and related paraphernalia, almost ALL of which start with the ubiquitous “I”; I-this, I-that and I-everything, but this new product by Tivoli, the “Iname” has just gone too far!

We thought you might get a chuckle out of it as we did.  Oy vay!

 

 

 

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Eschewing modesty, The Tenor Amplifier Company has dubbed this wood ensconced beauty the

350M ULTIMATE REFERENCE AMPLIFIER

 

 

From an economic standpoint, they SHOULD be reference class because the asking price is $75,000 per pair in US dollars.

When you consider that most of the 350 wpc are produced by transistors, one might begin to wonder.

Needless to say, there is more to the story. The front end of the amps are actually a mini OTL gainstage that feeds the solid state section. So within one monoblock you have 2 distinct and separate amp sections. There are ECC803s Tungsols, ECC99s and six 7044 double triodes to produce about 15 watts. The amps is said to be very stable at 2 ohms and capable of providing a whopping 70 amps. The auto bias system not only is instantaneous and continuous bias the tubes, but also the transistors! Transistors change values as temperatures change – even a little bit, so the amps are programmed to adjust temperature on the fly. Besides increased and more stable sound quality, it is said the tubes can last up to 10,000 hours. The amps is built to last 10,000 years, figuratively speaking. There are many protection circuits built in to insure long life. Cardas products are used extensively throughout. (There’s a picture of Colleen Cardas further down in this report) They even were smart enough to include Cardas power cables.

Listening to the Tenors through the Karmas as pictured above was an experience. All the audiophile goodies were there, but so was the music. Sometimes those factors are mutually exclusive, but not here. Would Stereomojo pay 75 grand for monoblocks? No. But we are sure there are those that will. God bless ‘em.

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Vying for best sound at show were the Elipsa by Sonus Faber.

They look beautissimus, but at $20k a pair, they should, though I must say we have seen many speakers at around $20k that are nowhere near as beautifully designed and finished. They actually look very much like the Stradivari which goes for twice the price. The three-way Elipsa is smaller than the Strad and has one fewer of the 10" Aluminum/Magnesium alloy woofers, but sounds very similar, which is to say - wonderful. In a room smaller than the Taj Mahal, they should sound every bit as good. The mid is a 6 in. hand-selected “black wood” fiber cone treated for control of break-up. Driver features a dynamic linear suspension designed synergistically with its vented acoustic chamber. The single tweeter: 1 in. (25 mm) ultra dynamic ring radiator driver, with dual toroidal wave-guide. The Elipsa's frequency response is said to be 35Hz - 40kHz, tuning ports included. The Strad goes down to 22k, so for an extra $20k, you go 13 cycles lower. Of course, there's more to the Strad vs. Elipsa than bottom end. There are many differences that could easily make the extra bucks worth it. I have no problem invisioning either of these fine instruments in Casa de Mojo!

At 91db efficiency, they shouldn't take a lot of horsepower to drive, but with all the primo amplification at the show, perhaps some more appropriate amplifiers would have been better than the Ayres shown here. Perhaps the Kronzillas or the “Ultimate Reference” above.

 

 

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If you live in an apartment, condo or even a house with very cranky neighbors, this speaker was made just for you. The “Metro” by Advanced Ribbon Technology was built for smaller rooms where booming bass might cause a problem. The Metro loudspeaker defines a technological leap in ribbon loudspeaker design: it is the first ribbon loudspeaker in history that combines the incredible dynamics of an enormously powerful motor moving a nearly massless diaphragm with wide, even dispersion pattern in both the horizontal and vertical domains.

Historically, all ribbon, electrostatic and planer magnetic loudspeakers suffered from extremely limited vertical dispersion, leading to a very small listening "sweet spot" within which one had to remain in order for the loudspeaker to sound its best.

One characteristic of ribbon speakers has always been their “head in a vice” personas because of the very limited lateral dispersion. If you move your head an inch to the right, all you then hear is the right channel. The .A.R.T. .7 ribbon driver used in the Metro incorporates over twelve pounds of magnetic material – more than most fifteen inch woofers and its designer has a patent pending new design said to eliminate much of the “vicehead” effect.

A 7" woofer made by SEAS takes care of the Metro's low end.The woofer has nearly three quarters of an inch of peak-to-peak linear excursion. This allow the Metro’s bass section to move more air than many 10" woofers, extending the Metro’s low end to 39 Hz.

 

Crossover design is the single most important element of any loudspeaker system. The Metro’s crossover gets the woofer out quickly while allowing the ribbon to operate at its maximum bandwidth. The networks are assembled by hand using point-to-point wiring, crimped connections and silver solder. Solder is never used as a connector and there is no wimpy PCB.

Playing the Stereomojo reference CD, the Metro sounded very clean and fast with an excellent, airy, 3D soundstage. Vocals in particular were rendered in life-like proportion and tonality. Bass is tight but a bit lean, so if you are an electronica freak or other boom-boom type genres, look elsewhere. But then, your neighbors probably hate you anyway if you live in a small space. Imaging is much better than the typical ribbon, but there is still an amount of “ribbonitis” when it comes to lateral dispersion, at least in the Sheraton room. We hope to be doing a full review of the Metro soon.

Advanced Ribbon Technologies Metro loudspeaker is $6,900 per pair

 

 

 

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There’s a new German in town with a rather un-audiophile company name.

Meet Vincent Scalzitti’s Tri-Cell Enterprises new import:

MUSICAL LIFE TURNTABLES

 

Vincent has promised Stereomojo review samples of the two tables shown here, but they have been slow to appear for various reasons.

These two tables represent the top and bottom of the 4 table line sold in Germany.

Details and specs are sketchy right now, but the products look promising nonetheless.

Noteworthy is the arm that features a magnetic “non-bearing” bearing that allows the arm frictionless travel, so Vinnie tells us.

Like the Schreoder, it is made with several choices of different woods. The arm competes with Schroeders pricewise at $4,500.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entry level Musical Life Basic 40 is pictured here. The platter is much thinner, but it still shares many of the same features as its big brother.

Vinnie was selling the Basic 40, as it is known, with a Moerch UP-4 and the Ortofon Rondo Bronze for $7,600 Canadian as shown on the menu.

 

 

 

Now that we have met Mr. Scalzitti’s newest German wunderkin, let’s meet Vinnie himself.

 

 

No, he’s not that guy on the Sopranos that got rubbed out last season. He doesn’t even live in Jersey.  He’s really a nice guy who loves to laugh if your remarks are intelligently funny enough and a bit dry. He’s got a good sense of humor - at least we hope so when he reads this. He is definitely one of the great personalities you get to meet at audio shows. His Tri-Cell biz distributes a ton of the biggest names in audio, so he very knowledgeable. He’s been around for a long time as well. Rumor has it he cranked up Edison’s first phonograph for the first playback.

We admit to doing a bit of judicious cropping to emphasize Vincent’s handsome visage, but here is the original photo with Vincent mugging for our camera with the First Lady of Audio, Colleen Cardas of Cardas Audio. She makes some of the finest cables and other audio accessories in the world. She and Vincent shared a room at the Sheraton for the show. Wait – maybe we should say “their companies” shared an “exhibition space” at the Sheraton…

 

 

 

 

 

 


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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

 

 

While we are on the subject of interesting people, you should also get acquainted with Joe Fratus of Art Audio. We had the privilege of spending a late night with Joe and his gang as they set up their exquisite tube amps. Being a New Englander via Rhode Island, Joe does remind you a bit of Tony Soprano with his accent. But don’t let that fool you, Joe is a true artiste when it comes to his products. His motto of “Art for the eyes, art for the ears” holds true throughout the product line. Joe was showing his American made Adagio monoblocks which are a sight to behold with their blue-lit crystal columns and what could pass for Sterling silver case work.

The Adagios are true singled-end triode models that do not suffer from low power – the Adagios are rated at either 44 or 60 watts per side, depending on which tube you choose. Joe loves, as do we, the tubes built by the aforementioned KR Audio of Kronzilla fame. We like Joe and we love his amps.

 

 

 

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Does this look familiar?

If you have been in audio for any time at all, it should. But then, maybe it shouldn’t. It looks just like the Linn LP12 that has been around for 30 years, right?

The funny thing is, this is not the “old” LP12, it is the brand NEW LP12 from Linn.

You may recall that Stereomojo was the first publication in the world to announce that a “new” Linn LP12 was coming soon. That was in October of ’06.

Steve Carroll, a VP of Linn, told us about it at the Rocky Mountain Show in Denver. We were told that the new 12 would be “radically different” and that it would “look significantly different” from the old table. What he said prompted me to ask why the table was not to be dubbed the LP13 or something else new.

Obviously, the new talbe doesn't look any different. So. Was the Linn VP engaging in a huge hype campaign, knowing full well that the new table would look exactly like the old model? That would be very un-Linn like for sure. As it turns out, the word from Linn at the FSI show is that they did indeed experiment with several new materials, compounds and appearances and at one point had tentatively settled on something new and different. We were actually told what the new material was going to be, but it was revealed strictly “off the record”.

“If word got out that there was a different chassis, we would be inundated with requests for the new one when it does not exist”, we were told.

We keep our word when something is "off the record". Let’s just say it was not wood.

“The first priority was on sound quality, not appearance, during the development process”.

What we got was a new subsystem they call “Keel”. Keel is a combined ‘machined-from-solid’ sub-chassis, armboard and collar, machined from a single solid piece of aluminum to provide more rigid support to the tonearm and platter. Eliminating screws, fixings and joins between each component removes “virtually all vibration”, they claim.

What we were told in October is that all the new components would be engineered to be fit all older models for a clear upgrade path. What actually happened was something different. You see, on the official price list we were shown at FSI, you still buy the old LP12 just as before. Now, you just have the option to buy the Keel as an upgrade option.

A very pricey $3,000 or so option, effectively doubling the price of the base model.

There is also a new Ekos arm said to be an integral part of the “new” LP12. The new Ekos features advanced materials carefully selected for their sound performance and low resonance properties to minimize interference, resonance and microphony. These include a machined titanium arm tube to reduce resonance within the arm and a stainless steel bearing housing which helps reduce unwanted tonearm movements.

So. Is the “new” LP12 really new at all?

              Apparently Linn itself does not think so. Looking at their website today, on the front page they list several new products:                                                                                               

The Majik system

The Exotic preamp

The Kinik Control Software

The Classic Movie

The Chakra, Artikulat and Komponent

A “new” LP12 is nowhere to be seen. In fact, there is nothing about the LP12 there at all. One might not even know there was an LP12 still in “producktion”.

To use an automotive metaphor, imagine that the Corvette had looked exactly the same since 1970, perhaps with a few improvements such as new tires, wheels and a redesigned steering wheel. Then, in October of 2006, GM announces a NEW Corvette is coming that will look “significantly different”. At the unveiling, what we see is the same old shape and size with a slightly upgraded engine and suspension. However, we are told that to get the “new” Corvette, one must first buy the old Vette and check a box on the order form at the dealer for the optional new engine and suspension.

                                                                                               Is that a "new" Corvette? You decide....

 

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Now here IS a new turntable. It is yet another new model from Germany, the Audio Exklusiv.

 

 

There was no one available to tell us anything about it and the website (in German) has no info about it either.

Apparently the company has been making a limited range of speakers for a while.

We will keep an eye out for news about it and let you know if and when we find it.

 

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This is not a new model, but it was new to the Mojo in a high-end setting. Decked out in a Rega RB300 arm and a hefty record clamp, this Technics Direct Drive SL1200 MK3 had surprisingly good sound for a “DJ” table. Of course, if you hang around the Vinyl Asylum much, this should come as no surprise at all since there are a good number of folks there who regularly sing its praises. Quartz Direct Drive is nothing new, it was new in the 70’s when I was selling high-end tables like Thorens, the Kenwood “marble base” tables with Infinity Black Widow arms (I still have a KD550) and of course, the B&O. Direct Drive was finally scorned as an inferior, nosiy drive mechanism, but it is very popular today with DJs who need torque and fast speed ramp-up.

One thing for which the Technics deserves high praise is that it is responsible for a new generation of teens who are getting into vinyl in a big way. If you can find a store that still sells vinyl or even used vinyl, the owner will tell you that teens are regular customers. Girls and guys sporting tatts and assorted metal objects embedded in their faces (and elsewhere) are frequent buyers, it seems. All because of the DJ scene. Cool.

 

 

Me thinks a shootout between an SL1200 and comparatively priced models from Rega, Clearaudio and Projec may be in order.

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Speaking of vinyl, the rooms where LPs (and cds) were being shown and sold were always crowded. Music is still what its all about.

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Melody Valve HiFi is a prime example of the globalization that is taking place in the audio industry. Based in Australia, their amps are made in China. Like many amps from the PRC (but not all by any means), the construction and components are first rate and very attractive visually, as you can see.  The prices are usually low, but again, not always.

You may be familiar with the SP-3 in the center. Mark Schifter’s AV123 sold a ton of these in a special package with their speakers. The Melody price list from the show indicates a price of $1,550. Just a heads up – these prices may be in Canadian dollars, so give or take a few percent.

The sparking black lacquered piece on the right is their SHW 1688 II preamp. Listed at $4,400, the details are a bit sketchy and it was not hooked up as you can see, but the Jules Verne style 101D tube just adds to the mystique. This pre is considered by many to be one of the best in the world if you read audio boards much. Plenty of owner comparisons have been made to units costing much more. The beast weighs about 50 lbs! We just wish it had a remote.

Leftward is the CDM-10 CD player. It’s even heavier at 75 lbs! Also lists at $4,400. Here’s the specs:

 

Vacuum Tubes: 5AR4x1, 6SN7×2

DAC Chips: Burr-Brown PCM1792

Outputs: Coaxial, Optical, RCA and balanced outputs

Separate power supply for digital and analog

Custom made high performance transformers

German M-Cap supreme silver/gold capacitors

Distortions: 0.005%

S/N: 95db

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Another Chinese import is the equally sumptuous line from

AUDIO SPACE

Details are much more available and yours truly can personally attest to the quality because the Galaxy 88 integrated (not pictured) is currently in my system undergoing review. (It DOES have a remote)

What is seen here is the Nova 88 monoblocks on the bottom: $3,590/pair

Yes, as with the Galaxy, you can switch from Ultralinear mode to pure Triode mode on the fly, even via the remote.

Sweet!

Middle shelf on the left is the Line-2 preamp: $2,490

Next to it is the Phono 1 phono pre:

There are about 20 different amps in the Audiospace lineup.

AUDIOSPACE is distributed in the US by GINI SYSTEMS.

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MBL is known for its very expensive speakers, but they have come out with a "Basic Line"that trims costs down some. They still are not cheap, but the sound they produce is not cheap, either.

If you put any value on style and workmanship, their products are at or near the top in the speaker category. It was with great interest that the MBL room was entered. David Alexander who was manning the room at the time could not have been more pleasant and helpful. The room, though small, was set up nicely with the lights on dim and not garish as a flash tends to make things look.

Featured was the rather new MBL 121 you see below. Decked out in finely polished wood, the speaker seem to glow in the dimness. The quality of its presentation glowed as well. If they weren't so attractive to look at, one might have forgotten the 121s were in the room at all. The front of the room was filled with music and musicians as I sat in the sweet spot.

 

 

The 121s main driver is the "Radialstrahler".

 

Notice the two vertical layers of bent, textured material - one on top and the other bottom? Those are the tweeter and midrange drivers. They emit sound in 360 degrees "Just like live music does", said David.

And indeed they did. When you stood up, the sound did not change. When you stood directly in front of one speaker, the stereo field was still intact, and what a nice field it was. The 121 handled our reference disk well. Bass was comparitively a bit lean in that room, but the overall presentation was impressive.We like. At  $12,300, the 121s are not not a raving bargain, but they give more than a little hint of their bigger sibling's quality sound and luxury.

 

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Speaking of luxury, this amp by Kalisto in their elegant golden champagne and silver finish, exude luxury from every angle.

 

 

The Symphonia 3000 by Bruce Ng is a stereo SET via 2x300b, 2x5U4 and 4x6Sl, producing 10 wpc at 10% THD; 8 wpc at 3%.They were pushing very large 88db efficient florstandersto very respectable levels with very repectable sound. Care to take a guess at the price? 300Bs are usually pretty pricey. And usually rather unexciting in appearance. The Symphonia sells for $2,800. We are trying to get one for review. Check back.

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Lord of the What?

 

The "rather large floorstanders" mentioned above were these. Oddly named "The Lord of the Tone",

there is only one other rather odd thing about them. It's not the tweeter. Looking VERY much like a B&W Nautilus perched atop the separatedly housed midranger, neither are that unusual. The big 12" woofs are prestty standard fare, too.

The cabinet is different, bordering on odd, but that's not it, either. The over 4 ft. tall and 165 lbs. (!) of cabinetry is beautifully finished with contrasting shiney black and gorgeous lacqured wood trim. Attractive, even if their shape does recall Rosey O'Donnell. But even THAT'S not it.

The crossovers in back are visible through a little pane of glass. Unusual, but actually kind of cool.

And they sounded pretty good, too.

No, the odd thing is the price. Look closely. Care to guess? How about only $5,500 EACH!!!

Amazing value, don't you think?

Well, think again. The Lord of the Tones are $5,500

per PAIR.

Please don't rush to the net to look them up like I did.

If you Google them, you will only get "Lord of the RINGtones.."

 

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This was another exceedingly musical room, featuring the Verity Audio Rienze, Price is $7,995.

 

 

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Can you identify this speaker?

 

 

What if we told you it's by Accentus?

Are you familiar with this brand? We weren't.

But that's one reason Stereomojo exists - to tell you about good products you won't hear about anywhere else.

This is the Grand Accentus SE. A four way 6 driver system with a claimed range from 22 - 40,000 Hz and a 92dB sensitivity.

The speaker features TWO ribbon drivers. Impressive sound at about $30,000.

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GamuT always has great sound and great products at shows. This may be one of the most underestimated and under reviewed major companies in the world and we’re not sure why. Perhaps we can help bring some attention to these very deserving Danish products.

Starting from the top left we see the relatively new CD-3 player. The heart of the CD 3 is a nonmagnetic stainless steel inner chassis which holds the rubber suspended mechanism

and the digital output board. Located in the centre of the player, the stainless steel inner chassis divides the interior space into three separate cabinets. This isolates the very heavy power supply and its associated heavy currents  from the delicate signals being handled by the digital to analogue conversion and amplification. The power supplies for the digital and analogue sections use two separate high quality toroidal power transformers. To further ensure voltage stability the design of the digital to analogue board was made to incorporate special ultra low noise components.

The CD 3’s digital to analogue conversion is built from a Burr-Brown 24 bit 192 kHz asynchronous sample rate converter. The output is also fully balanced. $6k.

Next is the DI 150 integrated amp. At about $10,000, it competes in some high cotton, but its 66 lbs puts out 180 wpc of very clean, dynamic power. Perhaps at that price it should include a MM/MC phono stage, but they prefer to give you the opportunity to choose your own to better fit your vinyl rig. The specs and parts content are first tier and the design architecture shows much care went into noise and vibration elimination.

GamuT makes a full line of solid state power amps from the C100 Mk III at 100 wpc to the M250 Mk III at 250.  A reviewer for Europe’s prestigious HIFIDELITY AUDIO had this to say:

“First of all, the Gamut D200 has the best soundstaging yet heard from any amp, fully equal to the world class, $30,000 Lamm ML-2s that won one of my Golden Ear Awards last year - superb width, depth, focus, and layering that makes other amplifiers, even far more expensive ones, sound as if they are slightly constricting musical space”.

Hmm. Comparing a $5,000 solid state amp to a$30,000 tube amp. And why are these amps ignored by the US press?

GamuT also makes a full line of speakers. The “Phi” line is their esoteric top-ender.

The Phi 3 shown here uses a 1” DUAL CONCENTRIC ring radiator along with a 5 ½” wood fiber low driver to produce a killer soundstage and broad dynamics from 54-45,000Hz. The exotic wood cabinetry is drop dead gorgeous and much more expensive looking that its $2,500/pr price.

 



 





 

 

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The following are the

Best of Show

WINNERS

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-BEST SMALL SPEAKER -

 

Era Design D 4

 

 

This is not a small speaker, it is a TINY speaker. They are all of 9” tall, but look smaller. That, my friends, is where the smallness ends.

By any measure, these speakers are GARGANTUAN! What hits you right away is the prodigious bass. It’s not bloated or boomy or humpy, but amazingly controlled and just there.

I was  hunting for  a hidden subwoofer. I even asked. But I was assured there was no sub hooked up. Big bass from a small speaker is nothing radically new, but bass of this quality is, particularly when the low end is rated at only 58Hz.

The accolades only start with the low end. The mids are smooth, detailed, clean and beautiful. Vocals show no signs of heaviness or leanness. Instruments have a trueness usually found only in speakers much pricier and much bigger. Piano has weight and speed. Leading edges are portrayed accurately. The high end is so clean, quiet and grain free, it’s just crazy. No evidence of any resonance. The enclosures are even bullet shaped – something that costs a lot extra to execute, but is a significant factor in proper reproduction.

The soundstage is massive and holographic. Even in a hotel room the small boxes were able to completely vanish and just leave music to waft about unencumbered by the cloak of hifiness. The Era D 4 doesn’t breath life into music, it lets music live through them.

The craftsmanship and appearance is high-end all the way as well. Beautiful, lustrous woods and finishes – your choice of four.

These are not toys. Play them for all your friends that own Bose and show them what high-end audio really sounds like.

Oh yes. The price?

$699 per pair

 

 

ERA also makes a larger D5 and a smaller D3. A full complement of surround speakers are available as well.

ERA Speakers

 

 

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BEST SMALL SYSTEM

 

Omega Speakers & Red Wine Audio

 

 

 

 

Another highlight of the show were Louis Chochos’ Omega Speakers. These unique speakers are made almost entirely of hemp – even the single driver. Particularly striking were the Max Hemps in the metal foil coating, seen here on the extreme left and right. They were simply gorgeous with a sound to match. There is something truly remarkable about single drivers. They throw an almost magical soundstage that simply enthralls. Being super efficient at 96 db helps since you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on mega-watt amps to drive them. Add an entry level price starting at $2,495 and you have true high-end sound for mid-fi prices. What’s more, the prices go down from there in their other models! Confidence is inspired by their 10 year warranty.

 

 

 

 

 


Just because the speakers are not expensive, doesn’t mean you can throw any ‘ole cheap amp in front of them. Omega also sells a version of Vinnie Rossi’s Red Wine amps in a 30 watt stereo or 70 watt monos at $1,999 and $3,999 respectively. If you read our Great Digital Amp Shootout 2007, you know that a 10-watt Class T amp won the integrated shootout. That amp was powered by a wall-wart type supply. Here we also have Class  T  amplification but at much higher and more useable power levels. In addition, all Red Wine amps are powered by SLA rechargeable batteries, saving you even more money on sometimes dodgey line cleaning filters. If you only use one source, this system is all you need. Vinnie also makes a passive linestage if you want more source options.

 The combination of the Vinnie amps and Omegas was as clear as the Canadian mountain streams. Something about the synergy here is just, well, RIGHT. We visited this room three times in narrowing down our Stereomojo Maximum Mojo Award winner for Best Small System at Show. A couple visiting the show we interviewed thought this room offered the best bang-for-the-buck at the show. They were surprised when we agreed.

 

 

 

 

 

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- BEST SYSTEM VALUE -

 

 

Mark & Daniel Speakers

Audio Zone Electronics

 

 

Created by AccuSoft Corp.

Asked what room most stood out, two audio enthusiasts from Ontario said, “The white room”!

“The white room”, I queried?

“Yes. The room with all the white speakers”, they both nodded. The taller one pulled out a brochure. “Here, these!”, he smiled.

It was the Mark & Daniel catalogue.

I had just left the room for the third time in 4 days. Picking a particular product as best in show is one thing, picking a whole room and system is another. In the end, it came down to this room and the MBL room that featured the MBL 121 stand mounted monitor. Those honeys cost $12,300 per pair in a piano lacquered finish. The Mark & Daniel Maximus Ruby (the smaller speaker) comes with a marble compound enclosure and even with the optional “Omni Harmonizer” (the funnel shaped addition on top) goes for $2,600 per pair. The larger system called the “Aragorn” is a larger monitor style with a specially designed “Bass Enhancer” stand and the “Harmonizer” which all goes for $7,900 total. BOTH systems compared very well to the much more costly MBLs.

 

 

The Aragorn System (above) is a 57 lb hand made synthetic marble enclosure housing a custom 8” bass driver designed for a linear excursion of a stunning 1 .2 inches. The only woofer handles 800 hz down to 36hz. The tweeters are carefully matched for each pair and cross over at a very low 800hz yet soar up to 22kHz. Atop the enclosure is the Omni Harmonizer Super Tweeter firing up into a conical dispersion unit the provides 360 degree dispersal of frequencies from 7KHz all the way up to 35KHz. You can choose from three different output levels to match the Omni to your room.

In addition, the included matching stand mount is dubbed the Bass Extender because it extends the bass all the way down to 28Hz with no additional drivers. The “bass base” is also made of the marble compound and ads another 55 lbs of mass, turning the monitor speaker into a very full range floor stander that goes from 28 to 35,000 Hz in only a 2-way system. By comparison, the runner – up MBL takes a 4-way system to go from 49-30,000.

 

Providing the juice for the M&D Aragorns was a component system designed by George Tordainamed

Audio Zone


George was running two independent systems, each hooked up to one of the M&D speaker pairs so they could switch back and forth quickly, so don’t be confused by what you see. The system was comprised of two D1 Monoblock amps, each putting out 100 watts of Class D power. They sell for $3,300 per pair.

Pushing them was the Audio Zone Pre-T1 Passive Preamplifier which employs Stevens & Billington TX 102 transformers. In a special soft mouth to reduce vibration.The volume control is 24 steps with Elma switchcraft. There are separate L & R input and gain switches. It features 2 ins and 2 outs or 3 ins and 1 out if you wish. Brass cones are use as footing to further cut down on resonance. The whole shebang is wired with custom made OFC copper magnet wire.

The Pre-T1 Passive goes for $2,395.

A C.E.C transport was feeding the Audio zone DAC-1 which is a non-oversampling with no digital OR analog filters.  It features three sampling frequencies of 32, 44 and 48 KHz. The I/V conversion is totally passive. The digital in is via BNC with RCA optional. There is one pair of single-ended outputs with gold RCAs.

The AUDIO ZONE DAC-1 goes for $1,195.


So, if you have a digital player and don’t need the transport, you have a powerful, complete electroics sytem for

LESS than $7,000!

If you then add the Mark & Daniel Aragorn Speaker System for $7,700, you have a very overachieving, very musical and satisfying genuine high-end system for

less that $15,000.

A complete system that that absolutely smoked many other systems at FSI costing much, much more.

Remember we said the MBL speakers alone were over $12k with no electronics.

 

 

Congratulations to George Tordai of Audio Zone &

Loren Charles – Director, Mark & Daniels North America

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- BEST NEW SPEAKERS -

 

 

Gemme Audio V-Flex

 

The first stop at FSI was the Gemme Audio room. While the weather was freezing, their new V-Flex speakers, the Tanto and Vivace, are hot, hot, HOT!

The Vivace, on the extreme left, uses a 4” single driver to achieve a bass that reaches all the way to 20Hz. Impossible, you say? Judging from what was heard playing selections from the Stereomojo Reference Disk, the impossible might well be plausible in a slender cabinet only 3 feet tall.

The Tanto incorporates a wool and paper 6.5” driver with a ¾ inch ring radiator tweeter to achiever even greater response of 18-30,000 Hz.

Both speakers list a sensitivity of more than 90db as well for those who prefer the sound of low powered amps & tubes.



The Gemmes not only sound amazing, their cabinetry is absolutely gorgeous as well with gleaming exotic woods and very upscale baffles and tripod footers.

 

Returning to the room later was nearly impossible as the hallway was always crowded with attendees waiting to get in to hear these unique speakers. Several with whom we spoke thought the Gemmes were the smash hit of the show. Many did not even know that the Gemmes are made right there in Montreal.

Gemme Audio is the culmination of a dream shared by two Canadians, Robert Gaboury and Jean – Pierre Boudreau who love music. Talking to either of them impresses you with their passion for music and their speaker craft. They are rightfully proud of their breakthrough achievements.

They also assure us that Stereomojo is at the top of their list for the first review samples. The problem is, they are selling so many Gemmes that it’s difficult to come up with a pair. We know that customers come first. We think patience will be greatly rewarded.

We also think Robert and JP deserve to be rewarded by Stereomojo.

Congratulations Robert & JP

 

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 - BEST SOUND AT SHOW -

 

Coupdefoudre Audio Video

Montreal, Canada

 

While there is no direct English translation, “Coupdefoudre” connotes “Love at first sight”, says Graeme Humfrey, owner of the elite audio boutique. That is exactly what happened upon entering his large banquet room in the Sheraton at Festival Son & Image. It was like walking into audio Nirvana. One would think they had died and gone to stereo heaven. Coupdefoudre is a retail audio store in Montreal that carries the cream of the crop in audio gear at all price points. They sell speakers from the wonderful, tiny Eras (best small speaker at show) to complete line of  Wilson Audio and Rockport Technologies. They sell solid state from Cambridge and Arcam up to Mark Levinson, tubes from Audio Analog and Unison Audio up to VTL, several lines of turntables, cartridges, cables and accessories. And yes, they even sell some video and surround.

Almost quoting the Stereomojo motto, owner Graeme said, “Music is still best heard in two channel”. Graeme put his money where his heart is at FSI. The walls were lined with elegant, artistic displays of various components and speakers he stocks in his store. Each component was identified by a simply, chic white folded card. There was comfortable furniture and flower arrangements that added to the ambience of the “experience”. He even made sure the lighting in the room was just right – not too bright and glaring, but not to dim as to make seeing difficult. A rather warm, inviting, candlelit glow, perhaps. It was very apparent that he takes great pride in his work.

When I first entered the room before the show opened, he was just setting up, directing a staff of several people as to what to do and how to do it. He took a moment to greet me, but when I started to ask him a couple of questions, he let me know very firmly but very diplomatically that he could not take time right then for an interview, but asked if I would please come back. One could tell he was very focused on the daunting task at hand. I understood completely.


 

 

When I did return, in the center of the room was what you see above – a system that was not only set up, but tuned to the ninth degree using a multitude of sound control devices. There was nothing else at the show even approaching the time and care he had taken with the system. Even the manner in which he placed the panels and columns was attractive and artistic, as you can see. Listening to what the system wrought paid his efforts off enormously. The sound was perfect.

 

It was interesting that he had not used the biggest and most expensive speakers at hand – a pair of Wilson Alexandrias were displayed at the entrance to the room (picture left). Instead he chose the Watt/Puppies, apparently deciding that they were a better match to the room, choosing sound quality over mere indulgence.

 

 

On my third visit, I recognized Peter McGrath who now represents Wilson Audio, but who formerly owned the best high-end audio salon in Florida (if not the country) – Sound Components in Coral Gables. I had visited his store many times. Peter is also one of the premiere recording engineers in the world. His work with Hyperion and other labels is legendary. Peter was playing a recording of a Spanish pianist he had days before captured live in concert through the system. The playing was nothing like I had ever heard. “I have recorded hundreds of pianists in over 30 years, but I have never heard anything like this guy”, he told me. “He sounds like what Liszt must have sounded like”, I reply, a bit awestruck. He played with such overwhelming power, technique and control that Liszt was the only comparison possible. Peter nodded, as enthrall as I by the sound.

The sound. Each thunderous ffff was captured down to the softest pianissimo and the system reproduced it all flawlessly.

The Best Sound At Show? This was a no brainer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lines that Coupdefoundre represents

Aesthetix • Arcam • Audio Physic • Audio Analogue • Avalon Acoustics • BDI • Benz Micro • Cambridge

dCs • Elac • Epson • Era • Escient • Focal • Fujitsu • Furutech • Grado • HRS • JA Michell • Jeff Rowland • Lexicon

Mark Levinson • Morel • Naim • NEC • Nevo • Nordost • Pathos • Plateau • Premier Mounts • Pro Ac

Rockport Technologies • Runco • Scandyna • Slimdevices • Solid Tech • Stewart • Target

Theory & Application • Thorens • Tivoli • Transparent • Triangle • Unison Research • Vogel's • VTL • Whest • Wilson Audio

 

 

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