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CES 2014: Loudspeakers under $15,000 – Part 3

CES 2014: Loudspeakers under $15,000 – Part 3

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 3 of a four-part report. Enjoy.

__________

King Sound

King Sound is an electrostatic speaker specialist and for CES 2014 the firm rolled out an updated and improved version of its middle model speaker called the Prince III full-range electrostatic loudspeaker ($9,995/pair). The Prince III sports improved drivers, an uprated power supply, and less resonance-prone grill assemblies for a meaningful performance increase without a big jump in price vis-à-vis the Prince II.

Klangwerk

One of the most fascinating speakers we encountered at CES (or actually at T.H.E. Show) was the Swiss Klangwerk Ella active loudspeaker ($14,990/pair). The simple looking for deceptively complex and sophisticated Ella is a two-way, three-driver, self-powered speaker featuring an Audax tweeter (fitted with an acoustic lens and waveguide) plus two Audax Aerogel woofers (on front-firing, the other side firing). The front baffle of the Ella is machined from durable and resonance resistant Corian, but the real sophistication involves the Ella’s unusual phase-compensating electronic crossover, which so precisely time-aligns the speakers’ drivers that the Klangwerk can—get this—reproduce square waves with a fairly high degree of accuracy (something most other high-end loudspeaker simply cannot do). The result is a beautifully balanced and unusually clear and focused sounding speaker said to be ideal for mastering monitor applications.

 

Larsen

Larsen is a Scandinavian loudspeaker maker that is the logical and spiritual successor to some of Stig Carlsson’s brilliant Sonab loudspeakers as produced from the 1970s on up through the 2006. John Larsen, who was a close friend and associate of the late Carlsson, has expanded upon the original Carlsson design to produce three successor models: the entry-level Larsen 4 floorstander ($2,000/pair), the Larsen 6 floorstander ($3,800/pair) and the flagship Larsen 8 floorstander ($6,995/pair)

By design, the Larsen speakers—like the Carlsson/Sonab designs before them—are meant to be placed directly against the rear wall of the listening space and use a combination of sharply angled driver placements plus absorptive panels to remove the walls of room as possible sources of colouration insofar as possible. Moreover, the wall placed floorstanders offer exception low frequency extension from relatively compact enclosures. The net effect, with the Larsen 8, is somewhat like listening to the front side output of an omnidirectional loudspeaker, but without unpredictable rear-wall reflections to contend with. The Larsen sound will not be for everyone, but for those who love large, spacious, deep, and wide soundstages it might be just the ticket.

Lawrence Audio

We sadly didn’t get to hear the more affordable Lawrence offering in our price category, but we were fascinated by the overall look of Lawrence’s hybrid ribbon-driver/dynamic driver standmount monitors: the Mandolin ($5,500/pair) and the Violin ($7,500).

For now, let’s agree to file these striking speakers under “bears further listening in the future.”

 

Magnepan

Magnepan demonstrated a very high quality “mystery speaker” whose identity the firm staunchly refused to divulge during the show. The game, here, which was plainly geared to pique the curiosity of audio journalists, was to ask journalists to participate in a contest where the objective was to guess the price of the mystery model (the winner will be able to request that a pair of the speakers be given to a legitimate charity of the journalist’s choosing). Thus, we can’t tell you the name, price, or configuration of the “mystery speaker,” though we can tell you it produced one of the better overall sounds heard at CES or at T.H.E. Show 2014. Also, given Magnepan’s past practices, it is a pretty safe bet that the mystery model sells for under $15,000/per pair (unless Magnepan was using this very unorthodox demonstration approach to launch a new flagship). Watch this space for further developments.

Late-breaking development: According to Wendell Diller, Marketing Manager for Magnepan, “The Mystery System was all MMG models that retail for $2,375, which includes the Tri-Center configuration” (the Tri-Center is a center channel system used in stereo playback configurations to expand both the width and focus of the soundstage).

MartinLogan

MartinLogan showed a pre-production prototype of what some might consider a “lifestyle” speaker product—albeit a relatively high-performance one. Specifically, the firm showed its stylish, single-box Crescendo all-in-one, self powered, stereo speaker, whose expected price will be ~$899. The Crescendo uses a single woofer plus dual Heil-type tweeters.

Also on display was the new hybrid Heil/dynamic driver-equipped Motion 60 floorstander ($3000/pair).

Monitor Audio

The British firm Monitor Audio has a built its reputation by supplying lines of loudspeakers that offer very high levels of value for money, so that it is a major event for one of those lines to be revamped. For CES, Monitor showed its new Silver RS range, with emphasis falling upon an new flagship offering, the Silver RS10 floorstander ($2,500/pair), said to achieve higher levels of performance than have ever before been available in the Silver-series range.

 

Morel

Following a “something old; something new” motif, the Israeli speaker manufacturer introduced its new Octave 6 Limited Edition floorstander ($6,995). From the outside, the enclosure of the Octave 6 Limited Edition looks just like any other Octave 6 model, but on the inside everything is different: new drivers and a new crossover network make the Limited Edition an essentially all-new speaker from a performance standpoint. It is said the Octave 6 Limited Edition benefits in part from technology trickle-down from the firm’s much more costly Sopran loudspeaker.

Opera

Just in the nick of time for CES, the Italian loudspeaker maker Opera released its new Quinta SE floorstander ($7,000), which paired beautifully with an also new Italian-made Unison tube amplifier being used in the demo room. Evidently, the Quinta SE is fairly sensitive and does not require a great deal of power, in an absolute sense, in order to give of its best. We were impressed by the synergy between the Unison amp and the Quinta SE.

Raidho

Raidho made waves with its upscale C1.1 monitor, D-1 monitor, and the oh-so-capable C4.1 tower, but surprised us at CES with a new compact speaker called the X-1 or “X Monitor”, priced at $7,100/pair, including stands. If you thought the C1.1 was small, then the X-1 is positively pint-sized, but that doesn’t mean it sounds small. On the contrary, the X-1 sounds big, expressive, and articulate.   

Designer Michael Borresen concedes that the X-1s don’t produce much low or even mid-bass, but frankly the very convincing illusion is that they do. Borresen says the reason for this is that the X-1 gets the upper bass partials so right that the ear is, psycho-acoustically speaking, convinced lower frequencies must surely be present. I’ve heard designers make this claim before, but this might be the first time I’ve heard a compact monitor actually deliver the promised sonic goods. Honestly, the X-1 sounds like a much more full-range speaker that it actually is, coming across as a junior versions of the award-winning C1.1, but for less than half the price!

Find Parts 1, 2, and 4 of this four-part report at www.hifiplus.com.

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