AXPONA 2018: Six Interesting Speakers over $6,000/pair
- Product Name: Performa F228Be, Image1, R+, OB-SW24, Trio XD & Basshorn XD, Micro Evolution One
- Manufacturer: Revel, Eikon, Ruel, Emerald Physics, TAD
- Review Date: April 30, 2018 00:00
- MSRP: $10,000/pr Performa F228Be, $24,500/pr Image1, $36,000-$47,000/pr R+, $9,800/pr OB-SW24, $158,000/pr Trio XD & Basshorn XD, $12,495/prMicro Evolution One
- First Impression: Pretty Cool
|Revel||Performa F228Be||$10,000/pair||3-way tower||1” beryllium dome||5.25” ceramic/aluminum cone||2 x 8” ceramic/aluminum cone|
|Eikon||Image1||$24,500/pair||3-way active tower||1” AMT||5” woofer||2 x 8” subwoofer drivers|
|Ruel||R+||$36,000 to $47,000/pair||1-way active tower||Array of 1.5” flat-diaphragm full-range||Passive radiators|
|Emerald Physics||OB-SW24||$9,800/ea||Open-baffle, active subwoofer||24” XBL62 subwoofer driver|
|Avantgarde Acoustics||Trio XD & Basshorn XD||$158,000/pair||3-way speaker & subwoofer system||7” horn loading 8” diaphragm driver||22” horn loading 2” compression driver||37” horn loading 8” dome driver|
|TAD||Micro Evolution One||$12,495/pair||3-way bookshelf speaker||1” beryllium dome||3.5” coaxial woofer||6.3” MACC cone|
In our continuing coverage of the AXPONA 2018 audio show, we take a look at some of the more expensive speakers that caught our interest. In this segment of our coverage, we will examine six speakers that command a five-figure price tag. Of course, in a high-end audio show, a lot of speakers sell for five figures, and there is even a handful that goes for six-figures. The speakers in this article are just a few that stood out to us, but with 160 rooms at AXPONA we were bound to miss some This sampling of speakers hardly encompasses our experience there, and it definitely does not cover everything at this price level. The only way to see all of the cool things at AXPONA is to go yourself, which, if you are an Audioholic, is something that we wholeheartedly encourage you to do next year.
Revel does not do anything half-baked. They decided there was a significant gap between the Performa3 and Ultima2 product lines where they could launch a competitive series of speakers, and they did not ‘phone it in’. Although the overall cabinet and design resemble the Performa3 line, the new PerformaBe speakers use superior drivers and crossovers, including Beryllium dome tweeters. The sound I heard in the Revel room with the F228Bes playing was as terrific as any other room in the show, even those with setups that cost far more money. They had pinpoint imaging, neutral spectral balance, powerful bass, and wide dynamic range; what else can you ask for? They are not inexpensive speakers, but if you want a pair of speakers that lack nothing regarding sound quality, $10,000 a pair is a lot, but it is not unthinkably expensive, and a determined buyer does not have to be a millionaire them. Sound quality perfection does not have to be in the province of millionaires alone. A company like Revel has the resources to design and manufacture an enormously high sound quality loudspeaker for a reasonable cost that few other manufacturers could only dream to do. My time with the F228Be speakers is evidence of that. If you don’t have time to shop around and compare speakers, and just want something that sounds good, Revel is a sure bet at any price point.
Eikon Audio is a new audio system manufacturer launched at AXPONA 2018 by Gayle Sanders who was one of the founding partners of MartinLogan in 1979. Their system, the Image1, is more than just a pair of speakers; it is nearly the entire system with pre-amp, amplifier, DAC, and automated room correction, and everything can be setup from a smartphone app. The room correction is done by a Wavelet processor which is the same as used by Legacy Audio. It is a very sophisticated correction routine that is far more complex than the standard ones seen on budget AVRs. The speaker uses an AMT tweeter nested in a waveguide, a 5” midrange woofer, and two 8” bass drivers that are situated on opposite sides of the cabinet. Each driver gets is own processed amplification (400 watts to each speaker) that maintains phase coherence and can be tailored for a number of acoustic situations and response curves. Eikon’s literature talks about ‘wave-shaping bass’ by driving it forward and minimizing side-wall interactions, and from this, I would guess that they are using the opposite-facing bass drivers to deliberately create cancellation off the side of the speaker to prevent lateral reflections. The aesthetic design of the speakers looks to be inspired by Japanese sports cars, and they do look slick. The sound in the Eikon room was terrific, and that is no surprise given the pedigree and sophistication of these intriguing new speakers.
As someone who deals with loudspeakers a lot, I always welcome the opportunity to see a design that approaches loudspeakers from a new direction. It was therefore exciting to see a strange new design called the R+ from a new Canadian manufacturer named Ruel. The R+ is a modular line array that is intended to stand from floor to ceiling and actually uses floor and ceiling reflections to its advantage, unlike most designs which try to eliminate floor and ceiling reflections as much as possible. By stacking a line-array from floor to ceiling, the R+ creates the acoustic illusion of an infinite line-array and this will maintain a line-source acoustic projection from any place within the room, no matter how far the listener is from the speakers. The modular design of the system allows stacking the speakers to whatever height the ceiling is. Each module contains seven 1.5” full-range flat-diaphragm drivers that are mounted behind a hard diffraction slot that creates a 180 degree dispersion pattern. Each module also has two passive radiators mounted on the back to take care of bass duties. The R+ comes with the unit that acts as an amplifier, pre-amp, and DAC, so you get far more than just the speakers for the asking price. Each speaker has a stylish cabinet that is built from layered birch. In my time in the Ruel room, I found the sound to be natural and balanced with good imaging, despite the small room that the speakers were placed in. One of the neat things about loudspeakers is the many different ways that great sound can be achieved, and the Ruel R+ is further proof of that.
Emerald Physics, long known for their open-baffle speakers, has decided to make a splash in the subwoofer pond with an open-baffle subwoofer using a huge 24” woofer. The OB-SW24 places a 24” driver in the middle of an ‘S’ shaped cabinet with each end being a confined nook. This is a clever design for an open-baffle subwoofer because it is effectively the same thing as mounting the driver in a much larger baffle, where it spread out. The advantage of this addresses the reason why open-baffle subwoofers are not normally produced; the back of the cone is in opposite phase of the front of the cone, and any air pressure waves (that stuff we hear as “sound”) produced by one side is negated by the other when they meet. By placing the driver in an effectively very-large baffle, the pressure waves can not meet until they are at the edge of the baffle which gives the waves some room to develop. That might not help the longer waves of extreme deep frequencies, but room reflections dominate that realm anyway, where cancellation can just as easily occur with conventional designs. The driver in the OB-SW24 itself is a very heavy-duty design, which uses the XBL^2 gap topology and has a claimed Xmax (one-way linear excursion) of 46mm, which is a huge amount of throw. The OB-SW24 is being powered by an outboard 1,000 watt amplifier and will come with digital room correction via DSPeaker. While I am very skeptical of the manufacturer’s claim of 125 dB at 10 Hz, the bass in-room was nonetheless very impressive during my stay in the Emerald Physics room.
Editorial Note about XBL^2
XBL^2 driver designs are an innovative way to increase and linearize the motion of the woofer, so that the driver stays accurate even at high output levels.
Every year at AXPONA there are at least one or two mega-over-the-top systems, and this year Avantgarde Acoustics elected to be one of these exhibitors. Avantgarde brought the Trio XD speaker system and a Basshorn XD subwoofer system. These speakers were so large that they must have taken up a fourth of the room’s floor space. This system was as much an experience in sight as it was sound. The Trio XD is a 3-way speaker that uses a 37” horn containing an 8” dome driver for bass frequencies, a 22” horn containing a 2” compression driver for midrange frequencies, a 7” horn for an 8” driver for high frequencies (I don’t know how a driver with an 8” membrane can function as a tweeter). All of this adds up to a speaker with an astonishing “109 dB efficiency” (I am assuming they mean 1w@1m sensitivity). The Basshorn XD uses a bunch of 12” subwoofer drivers loaded into a flared horn powered by a 1,000 watt amplifier per section. In my stay in that room, the Avantgarde system was playing a recording of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue at a very lively loudness level, and it sounded as though I was standing in front of a large pipe organ. It was very powerful and did justice to that colossal composition. I don’t know what XD stands for in the Trio XD and Basshorn XD names, but for me, it is the emoticon expression of anyone cranking their favorite tunes with this beastly system; it looks like fun!
The TAD Micro Evolution One stand-mount speakers sounded much larger than they actually were. I spent some time in the TAD room and listened to a few different tunes, all of which sounded stellar on these speakers. The Micro Evolution Ones use a 1” beryllium dome tweeter mounted in a 3.5” midrange woofer for a coaxial design. Supposedly the tweeter has a high-frequency extension of 60 kHz, which is considerably higher in frequency than dogs can even hear. The bass driver uses a 6.3” woofer made from something called “MACC:” Multi-Layered Aramid Composite Cone. I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds like it should do the trick. One interesting design feature of the Micro Evolution Ones is that they have side-mounted ports that are covered by metal plates. The metal plates hide the ports and also reduce port turbulence noise, so they are good for more than just protecting the speakers from bullet fire. Each of these speakers weighs more than 40 lbs. each, so they may have enough mass to block bullets (not that I am suggesting anyone should shoot one). The Micro Evolution Ones are a lesson in state-of-the-art loudspeaker design for reasonably-sized bookshelf speakers, and seemingly an answer to the question of just how much loudspeaker technology can be fitted into a small enclosure.
It was fun to hear so much good music on such a variety of sound systems at AXPONA this year. As we said before, what is covered in this article is only a very small sampling of the audio products on display. With the success of this year’s show, we are certain to return next year, and we are hoping to see as many fellow Audioholics there as possible. So try to make a trip up to the Chicagoland area to join us when we make our annual pilgrimage to this mecca of audio nirvana.
Did you attend this year's AXPONA and do any demos? If so, please share your experiences in the related forum thread below.
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