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CES 2014: Loudspeakers under $15,000 – Part 1

CES 2014: Loudspeakers under $15,000 – Part 1

For this year’s CES event I focused my reporting efforts on two product categories, one of the most popular of which is Loudspeakers under $15,000 per pair. What drives this popularity, of course, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of audiophiles (and audio journalists) own and enjoy loudspeakers that fall within this price window.

No matter how much we may appreciate or covet more expensive fare, we all tend to focus our attention—for obvious reasons—on those transducers we can afford to make part of our day-to-day lives. What follows is a broad but not completely comprehensive summary of new models seen and heard at CES 2014 in the sub-$15,000 per pair price bracket, where we discovered some breathtakingly good products indeed.

Of necessity, this will be more of a brief photo essay than an in-depth report. As always, let me extend apologies in advance to manufacturers whose worthy offerings I was not able to cover here.

This is Part 1 of a four-part report. Enjoy.

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Aerial Acoustics

Michael Kelly, head of Aerial Acoustics, explained to us that his firm’s model 7T loudspeaker is the “bread-and-butter” product that generates the lion’s share of the company’s sales.  Even so, Kelly elaborated, the 7T is just large enough to register on many prospective buyers as being “really big,” which is where the new 6T floorstander ($6,000/pair) comes in. Looking much like a 7T that has gone on a slim-down diet, the 6T channels much of the sonic goodness of the 7T, but in a noticeably more compact and lower-priced format.  The result is simply enchanting: a model that sounds like a much more expensive/sophisticated loudspeaker, yet that does not register in a visual sense as being overly large and that does not deal too severe a blow to the buyer’s wallet. As we say in the ‘States, “It’s all good.”

ATC

ATC speakers are generally considered monitors par excellence, though the firm is perhaps most famous for its active (that is, self-powered) models. Nevertheless, the firm’s range of passive models has much to offer as well, as demonstrated by the new SCM 40 v.2 floorstander ($5,995/pair). These very attractive monitors sport ATC’s justly famous fabric dome midrange drivers—widely regarded as one of the finest of its kind. The woodwork is exquisite, too. All in all, the SCM 40 v.2 represents an awful lot of speaker for the price.

 

Bluesound

Bluesound is the newest brand within the Lenbrook Group of companies, which also includes both PSB Speakers and NAD Electronics. Truth to tell, the new Bluesound range leverages technologies and know-how drawn from both its sibling brands. Thus, what caught our eyes and ears were Bluesound’s Duo 2.1-channel active speaker system ($999) as powered by the Bluesound Power Node (essentially a $699 DAC/streamer/integrated amp with built-in crossover and voicing settings geared specifically for use with the Duo components). The result is an unusually accomplished self-powered speaker/playback system with voicing courtesy of PSB Speaker’s legendary founder, Paul Barton. The “high-end in a box” and you’ve got the general idea.

BMC

The Germany-based high-end audio electronics manufacturer BMC surprised us by introducing the first of what will eventually be a series of new loudspeaker offerings, with an introductory model called the Pure Vox ($6,500/pair). The Pure Vox is s strikingly beautiful stand-mount monitor that fairly bristles with technology features. Specifically, the Pure Vox sports an exceeding clever extruded aluminium enclosure design that looks complex (but is actually very simple to execute), plus a bipolar design where both the forward and rear-facing driver arrays consist of a carbon-fibre mid-bass driver and a Heil-type tweeter. By design, though, the rear-firing array is aimed upward rather than straight at the back wall—a feature said to enhance ambience and overall evenness of power response without clouding imaging specificity. As a final cool touch, the Pure Vox crossover network is housed in an isolated chamber located in the stem of the (included) speaker stand.

Brodmann Acoustics

At CES we had the opportunity to see the Brodmann Festival F2 floorstander ($8,900/pair), which is the considerably bigger brother to the Festival FS stand-mount speaker as reviewed by Hi-Fi+’s Paul Messenger in Issue 106. Like the smaller FS the F2 sports just one readily visible driver—a forward-facing dome tweeter housed on a very slim front baffle—though the speakers also feature side-firing mid-bass drivers concealed behind deeply sculpted side-facing grills. One of the coolest aspects of Brodmann Acoustics is that, apart from loudspeakers, the firm also builds several ranges of world-class pianos.

 

Bryston

Bryston, a revered Canadian manufacturer of solid-state electronics has now branched out to offer a range of loudspeakers designed entirely in-house. The upper level models are collectively known as “T-series” models while their smaller sibling are called “A-series” models. We listened to the middle model of the T-range called, logically enough, the Middle T floorstander, ($4,600/pair).

We were very were impressed by how well Bryston has done with its first ever foray into the loudspeaker category. Mimicking the virtues of Bryston’s electronics, the Middle T demonstrated neutral voicing, very fine imaging, and exceptionally robust dynamics (indeed, we suspect the larger Model T would simply have overpowered the relatively small Venetian Hotel listening rooms).  The only critique, here, is that although well made and well finished, the Bryston speakers do evince somewhat “generic”-looking industrial designs. Once you hear them in action, however, you may not care one whit about the looks. Oh, and did we mention that, like Bryston electronics, the speakers carry a twenty-year warranty?

Cabasse

Although the French firm Cabasse is perhaps best known for relatively large and exotic-looking high-end speakers, one of its most intriguing offerings as show at CES was a monaural, self-powered loudspeaker called the Stream 1 ($900), which is so name because it incorporates a built-in DAC with extensive onboard digital audio streaming features.

For those with stereo applications in mind, the firm also offers a 2.1-channel system called the Stream 3 ($1,300) with similar streaming features.

 

Chapman

Looking much like a throwback to some of the earliest Vandersteen designs, the Chapman T5 ($4,995) is a three-way, time/phase aligned floorstanding loudspeaker that showed considerable promise.

Dali

The Scandinavian loudspeaker manufacturer Dali showed a new self-powered, streaming enabled bookshelf monitor speaker called the Kubik Free ($1,200), which can be used a s a standalone sound source or paired with an optional, matching Kubik passive monitor ($800) to create a self-powered stereo system. T

he Kubik passive monitor, please note, can be used only with the Kubik Free, as the free incorporates both the amplifier modules and electronic crossover components needed in order to driver the Kubik passive speaker. Simple to look at, the Kubik system sounds surprisingly sophisticated, proving that it is very much a “real” Dali.

Daniel Hertz S.A.

The Swiss firm Daniel Hertz S.A., which is guided by none other than Mark Levinson (and is named for one of Levinson’s ancestors) was showing several hybrid dynamic driver/horn-loaded driver-type loudspeakers ranging from the gigantic, refrigerator-sized M1 ($120,000/pair) on down to the much more manageably sized and priced M8 stand-mount monitors ($4,500/pair).

Judging by a brief presentation lead by Levinson himself, the Daniel Hertz speakers—and in particular the big M1s–offer extraordinary dynamic capabilities, though the M8s are said to be no slouches in this department.

See Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this four-part report at www.hifiplus.com.

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