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CES 2014: Loudspeakers under $15,000 – Part 2

CES 2014: Loudspeakers under $15,000 – Part 2

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 2 of a four-part report. Enjoy.

__________

Davone

The Danish manufacturer offered one of the most impressive speakers in its price class in the form of the three-way Riva “floorstander” ($6,000/per pair). We put “floorstander” within quotation marks because the slender, curvaceous Riva is the size and general shape of many mid-priced floorstanders, but actually rests upon a short, four-legged stand that creates the illusion that the speaker is “floating” about half a foot above the floor. Actually, that’s not the only thing about the Riva that floats, since the speaker lofts beautifully three-dimensional images and soundstages, exhibits admirably neutral tonal response, and can—as the situation warrants—deliver unexpectedly explosive dynamics on demand.

DeVore Fidelity

We have often admired loudspeaker designs from John DeVore in the past, but with his new Gibbon X floorstanders ($12,000/pair) it appears that DeVore has taken a quantum leap up into the upper echelon of high-end loudspeaker manufacturers. The Gibbon X, which like all DeVore models is named for a particular family of primates, at once shows the influence of several of DeVore’s high-sensitivity speaker designs (collectively known as Orangutan-series models), but is also intended as a thoroughly contemporary, full-range floorstanding loudspeaker. As an upshot, the Gibbon X delivered an exceptionally detailed and articulate sound, exhibited more or less full-range sound with exceptional treble extension and deep, solid bass, plus extraordinarily expressive dynamics (again, showing the influence of the Orangutan models). Imaging was eerily three-dimensional as well, making the Gibbon X a viable candidate for best sound of the show.

 

Dynaudio

Though not strictly speaking a brand new model, Dynaudio’s Confidence C2 ($14,999/pari) in the Platinum finish shown here is new and what a speaker it is. Articulate, neutrally voiced, and very expressive in all the ways the matter most, the C2 stuck us as embodying many of the virtues of Dynaudio’s cost-no-object models, but at a much lower price point. Fit and finish are superb—precisely what you would expect from a group of always detail-conscious and design-savvy Danes.

Eggleston Works

Though best known for its large floorstanding models, Eggleston Works broke new ground with its small(er) two-way stand-mount Nico loudspeaker ($3,200/pair).  We weren’t able to listen long enough to gather sonic impressions of the Nico, but we were mightily impressed by its self-evident build quality, which is reminiscent of what might be seen in considerably more expensive stand-mount monitors.

ENIGMAcoustics

Most audiophiles associated the name ENIGMAcoustics with the firm’s famous Sopranino electrostatic super tweeter, but the company’s new Mythology M1 stand-mount monitor ($14,690/pair) shows what the company can do when it sets out to build a compact yet still full-range loudspeaker. The Mythology M1 is basically and extraordinarily capable, full-range (yes, really!) two-way dynamic driver-equipped stand-mount monitors supplemented with—you guessed it—an included Sopranino super-tweeter. Listeners were simply slack-jawed upon hearing the Mythology M1, because it somehow delivers the low-end extension associated with medium large floorstanders, good dynamics, and the openness, airiness, and yet relaxed treble response we have come to associate with speakers that use the Sopranino super-tweeter. The result is a reasonably compact monitor that frankly sounds like something much bigger (and more expensive).

 

Epos

The British firm Epos is known for subtle, suave-sounding compact monitors and floorstanders, but it has really outdone itself with its new K2 floorstanders ($1,750/pair) and K1 stand-mount monitors ($795/pair). Interestingly, both speakers feature drive units mounted-from the rear and removable rear panels.

In the future, Epos plans to offer active versions of the K1 and K2 featuring Creek-designed amplifier/crossover modules. Interestingly, it should be possible to upgrade the passive K1 and K2 models to active status simply by swapping out passive rear panel for the active rear panels, connecting a few hook up wires and bolting the active panels in place. But note: Even in passive form, both K-models offer impressive low-frequency extension for their size (K1, 52Hz; K2, 41Hz).

Focal

Focal’s newest models are its Aria-series speakers which feature woofers and/or mid-bass drivers that use composite drivers that blend man-made matrices with natural Flax fiber materials (a literally home-grown alternative to Kevlar, fiberglass, or carbon fibre materials). The result is a range of speakers that, no pun intended deliver a pleasingly open and “organic” sounds that in many respects rivals that of more costly Focal models. According to a company spokesman, one of the most universally well-like models in the new range is the flagship Aria 948 floorstander ($4,999/pair).

 

GoldenEar Technology

Following closely on the heels of the award-winning Triton Seven floorstander (the least expensive Triton-series speaker to date) comes a new GoldenEar flagship: the Triton One floorstanders ($5,000/pair). The Triton One is, quite simply, the most ambitious and best-sounding GoldenEar loudspeaker to date and one whose design brief called for a mid-priced floorstander that could, in most every sonically meaningful way, do battle with products several times its price. Accordingly, the Triton One is a tall, deceptively slim-looking, three-way floorstander fitted with six active drivers, four very low-frequency passive radiators, and a built-in 1600-watt, DSP-controlled subwoofer amplifier. It is perhaps too early to say whether the Triton One actually meets its undeniably ambitious design goals or not, but first impressions at CES were very positive indeed.

Gradient

Gradient’s US importer Tim Ryan demonstrated an unusual hybrid speaker product in the form of what Mr. Ryan terms the Helsinki Active loudspeaker system (starting at ~$14,800). The Helsinki Active comprises a set of Gradient Helsinki floorstanders, a pair of Gradient woofer modules, and a trio of  DSPeaker Anti-Mode Dual-Core 2.0 DSP modules (two used as electronic crossovers with the third used as room correction system). The result is a speaker that is open, airy, images like crazy, and that offer full-range bass, yet that is remarkably free from unwanted room interactions. As an upgrade that admittedly takes the speaker above the $15,000 price point, Ryan offers a purpose-built power supply upgrade to drive the DSPeaker modules.

Joseph Audio

Many listener’s have fallen under the spell of Jeff Joseph’s top-tier loudspeaker designs such as Pulsar stand-mount monitors or the flagship Pearl2 floorstanders, yet have yearned for models that are considerably more affordable than those two worthy designs. Well, Mr. Joseph has heard and responded to the desires of quality conscious but budget-minded audiophiles with not one but two new models: the Prism stand-mount monitors ($3,699/pair) and the Profile floorstanders ($6,999/pair). We spent a fair amount of time listening to both models at CES and have two observations.

First, the Prism will wow listeners in much the way the more costly Pulsar does, by offering what sounds and “feels” like big speaker performance from a compact monitor design. Think of the Prism, then, as a cost-reduced “Pulsar Junior,” of sorts. The Profile, though perhaps not as shocking to hear as the Prism at first listen, is simply an exceptional loudspeaker for the money—one that channels much (though not all) of the sonic goodness of upper-tier Joseph models for a fraction of the price.

Find Parts 1, 3, and 4 of this four-part report at www.hifiplus.com

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