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Page 2: The Loudspeakers of AXPONA 2014 Continued


Focal Stella Utopia

Focal Stella Utopia EM alt Focal Stella Utopia EM

At $90,000 a pair, Focal's Stella Utopia would not seem to present a terrific value. However, when you consider its similarity with Focal’s $180,000 flagship Utopia EM, it becomes much more attractive for those shopping for an ultra-high end system. After all, $90,000 seems like a lot for the addition of an 11” driver and a few Hz of extension offered by the Utopia EM. Although I didn’t dare do the knock test on a Focal Utopia, cabinet construction is doubtlessly extremely solid, as the speakers weigh 363 pounds each. In the Stella, each driver is given its own individual compartment, with generously sized enclosure for the 13” bass driver, allowing it to deliver a rated response down to 22 Hz ± 3dB. The beryllium tweeter has an extraordinarily wide band, taking over from the two 6.6” mids at 2,200Hz with a stated response going up to 40kHz. The Stella Utopia’s higher than average sensitivity of 94dB and nominal impedance of 8 ohms means that just about any amplifier can be used to power them, although if you can afford the Stellas, you can probably afford a comparably lavish amplifier. The sound system seen here being used with a pair of Aesthetix Atlas monoblock amplifiers lived up to the reputation of the Utopia speaker series; in a word, fantastic.

German Physiks Emperor mkII

German physiks emperor single German Physiks Emporer mkIV pair alt

The massive German Physiks Emperor mkIIs, priced at $284,250 a pair, was by far the most expensive speaker at AXPONA. The most remarkable aspect of the Emperor speaker, aside from the enormous size and cost, is the DDD array, which is that cylindrical tube component held out of the cabinet. The DDD array contains four DDDs (Dick Dipole Drivers, named after inventor Peter Dick), which are omnidirectional, extreme wide-band drivers which supposedly can handle a range of 7 Hz to over 20kHz. Used with the Emperor bass cabinet, they take the range of 180Hz up, and, in the titanium version used in the pictured setup, go up to 24kHz. The bass cabinets themselves use two 12” drivers for frequencies from 18 to 70Hz and cross over to four 6” drivers which handle the range up to 180Hz.

An advantage of the DDD’s extreme wide operating band is no crossovers are used throughout the whole of the mid or high frequencies, and the sound is seamless. Pushing that seamlessness further is the omnidirectional nature of the DDDs which makes the axial response uniform all around the DDD array. To reduce reflections off of the bass cabinet, the DDD array can be extended out by 20cm from the bass cabinet on a metal boom with linear actuators. The immensely heavy 990 pound cabinet cannot be easy to move, but 15 ball castors built into the bottom gives a huge assist in positioning the Emperor speakers. Minimum power requirements are 300 watts for each speaker, with a 4 ohm load. Bi-amping minimum power requirements are 200 watts for the DDD section and 250 watts for the bass section. The Emperor system was used to demo some very high resolution, uncompressed, Dolby TrueHD recordings from AIX Records, and the sound was amazing. This system was tremendous in every sense of the word.

JTR Noesis 215HT

jtr 215 pair JTR Noesis 215RT

Standing right in front of the JTR Noesis 215 feels like looking down the barrel of a loaded shotgun; you know you could get blown away at any moment. While the two 15” bass drivers certainly contribute to that feeling, it’s really the gaping mouth-like horn that causes the most apprehension. The 60x60 degree horn is actually integral to the cabinet; at its throat is a coaxial driver, which uses a midrange driver crossed over into a nested tweeter at 6.3kHz. The bass drivers take over below 350 Hz with a very believable lower ± 3dB point of 18 Hz, so no subwoofers are needed at all. These speakers are 95dB sensitive and need very little amplification to reach blazing loud levels. The sound was very good, although doubtlessly these speakers could have benefited from a larger room. Base cost is $3,500 with a $1,000 upgrade to automotive grade finishes. The 215s might not rate high in wife-approval-factor, but in performance for the dollar, these are likely one of the best at AXPONA.

KEF Blades and KEF THX Ci in-wall speaker

KEF Blade set KEF Blade single

Going to an audio show without stopping by the KEF Blade room would have been an unforgivable mistake. I am a believer in KEF’s point source philosophy, and everything I heard in their room strengthened my conviction that KEF is onto something. The Blade is KEF’s ‘sub-flagship’ speaker, which is to say the practical high-end of their lines, as opposed to KEF’s $200,000 solid aluminum Muon speakers which are not practical in the slightest. The Blades are ‘only’ $30,000; expensive, yes, but not completely out of reach for a middle class audiophile determined to own one.

KEF has taken the point source idea a step further with the Blade. In their arrangement, the four side-firing woofers and Uni-Q coaxial driver are all placed according to a geometric location in space equidistant between them, and the cabinet is designed such that the sound acts like it’s coming from that single point. The chief advantage of this concept is that the optimal dispersion of sound gives you a great soundstage even in acoustically difficult rooms.  Among other innovations in the Blade, the side-firing 9” bass drivers are used in a directly opposed configuration to cancel out vibration and resonance, and, in fact, the opposing driver pair is constructed as a single fixed piece. Each fixed driver pair occupies its own sealed chamber with its respective port within the Blade. I am assured that the Blade rests on a stable platform, as having one of the 120 pound speakers tip over would be disastrous.

KEF Ci THX in-wall speakers

Also demoed in the KEF room was their soon-to-be-released Ci THX in-walls which Audioholics previewed last fall, the Ci5160RL-THX, the Ci3160RL-THX, and the Ci3160RLB. The RL in-wall speakers both have THX Ultra 2 certification which is a big deal, because it means they can potentially be capable of THX Reference levels at a 12 foot listening distance in a 3,000 cubic foot room. The speakers use KEF’s Uni-Q driver and aluminum 6” bass drivers, and both have a 90dB sensitivity rating. While the RLB in-wall subwoofer is not THX certified, it will add some nice bass reinforcement for those situations which cannot accommodate a floor-standing subwoofer. While I don’t usually expect much from in-wall speakers given the compromises that they typically must make, I can say without reservation the KEF Ci speakers sounded great. If I needed in-wall speakers, they would be among the top choices for me. Their high performance given their form factor doesn’t come cheaply though: $2,500 for each Ci5160RL, $1,500 for each Ci3160RL, and $1,000 per Ci3160RLB which should be used with the $1,000 KASA500 amplifier.

Kharma Elegance S7

Kharma Elegance S7 set front kharma single

The exquisite Kharma Elegance S7s rate extremely high on the ‘wife approval factor’. In fact, they are so graceful in appearance that the wife may be less bothered by their $35,000 price tag then the husband. This two-way speaker uses a 7” woofer which is made from “ultra high-tech rocket science/formula 1 based fibres” in a cone shape optimized by finite method analysis. Beryllium is widely regarded as one of the best performing materials for tweeters, and the S7 uses a 1” pure beryllium tweeter for the highest resolution sound. In my short listening session with them they sounded excellent. They are a great way to get a great sound without compromising even the most upscale decor. A variety of finishes are available, but I found the gloss white finish of the pictured models an enchanting color for them.

Lawrence Audio Cello

Lawrence Audio Cello speaker single left Lawrence Audio Cello speakers front stage

The resemblance of the Lawrence Audio Cello to its namesake music instrument is no accident. Lawrence claims the advantages of a simulated Cello shape is the lack of parallel surfaces helps reduce standing waves within the cabinet which lowers resonant distortion; in addition, the smaller front baffle reduces diffraction which improves off-axis response performance. Finally, the non-equilateral cabinet shape provides for a more rigid construction. The Cello is a 3 ½ way design using five drivers: two 8” bass drivers, a 120mm AMT mid tweeter, another 120mm AMT tweeter for upper treble, and a 60mm tweeter on the upper backside of the speaker to create a wider and deeper soundstage. The crossover structure is a bit complicated, as you would imagine. The sound, on the other hand, was excellent.  The Cello is another superb merging of form and function; they sport a unique and attractive look, and they produce a rich and clear sound which was a pleasure to hear during my visit to the Lawrence Audio room. The Cellos are priced at $18,000 a pair.

Legacy Aeris

Legacy Aeris setup alt legacy aeris single

Something about these Legacy Aeris speakers gives the impression that they are poised to attack. Sadly, due to an 85dB limit during the show, they were not permitted to be unleashed, and instead they presented a delicate and precise sound within the confines of a small hotel room. While their resolution and coherence were admirable on the classic rock pieces I heard during my visit, I knew these 170 pound monoliths were capable of so much more. They resemble futuristic weapons rather than ordinary loudspeakers, and looking at them made me want brace for an assault, not chill out with some golden oldies.

Chief among the Legacy’s array of firepower is the two 12” long-throw woofers for which the speaker contains built-in amplification in the form of a 1,000 watt amplifier. That takes a load off the external amplifier, as the rest of the speaker is passive, and it helps to contribute to the 94dB in-room sensitivity. Moving up the speaker, we have a 10” mid/woofer, a 4” AMT tweeter, a 1” AMT super tweeter, and on the top is an 8” midrange driver. The top half is actually an open baffle system, although it may not look it due to some fabric covers. The crossover points of this 4 ½ way speaker are 70Hz, 2.8kHz, and 8kHz. The base cost is $17,750, but the model shown here with a gorgeous ‘black pearl’ finish is $20,750. What greatly increases the Aeris value is the inclusion of a 24 bit DSP module which dials the bass in with both the room and the passive upper section. This is a valuable feature because bass is prone to wild response fluctuations in the acoustics of ordinary rooms.

Mancave Metal speakers

mancave metal raptor single Mancave Metal spread

If the Legacy Aeris were an intimidating sight, the Mancave Metal Raptors are positively menacing. Their link to the Legacy speakers goes a bit deeper than simply sharing a daunting aesthetic. The Mancave Metal speakers actually use Legacy’s proprietary drivers, and furthermore, Bill Dudleston, founder and chief designer of Legacy’s speakers, designed the crossovers for Mancave’s speakers. That pedigree makes Mancave Metal speakers more than just a curiosity; it is a part of what makes them full-fledged audiophile loudspeakers, albeit with a headbanger’s style.

Mancave Metal’s premiere product is the Raptor tower speaker. This 230 pound beast uses an active 15” carbon-fiber subwoofer powered by an onboard 500 watt amplifier. The midrange is provided by 7” and 5 ¼” carbon fiber drivers, and the tweeter, seen here held by the robot hand, uses a compression driver. The Raptor can be ordered as partially passive, where you can provide amplification for the mid and tweeter, or it can be upgraded to fully powered. As with the other exhibits, we couldn’t crank these as loud as we wanted, but the sound which was heard from them was sensational: punchy bass, clear midrange, crisp treble. Awesome!

Mancave Metal middle setup Mancave Metal left Raptor hand

Down Mancave’s lineup, we have the Eye-Conic Red speaker, on the left, which is a lot like a bookshelf speaker, except for the fact that it’s terrifying to behold. It utilizes a 5 ¼” and 1” dome tweeter. The Eye-Conic Red’s ‘enclosure’ is a thick steel cylinder which is backlit in red, and is held up by what resembles a Terminator Model T-800 hand. One acoustic virtue of this construction is cabinet resonance should be nil, but a disadvantage is it will give your children nightmares. In the middle of the setup is the Pipe Dreams, sporting an 8” woofer and 1” tweeter in that cylinder held above the woofer. On the right side is the Hostile Takeover, which is the standalone hand from the Raptor and Eye-Conic Red. The crankshaft bookshelf speaker stand can also be ordered from Mancave Metal. Pricing is $25,000 for the Raptor, $7,500 for a pair of Pipe Dreams, and $5,500 for the Eye-Conic Red. A Hostile Takeover hand is $1,850. Frankly, these speakers are sweet. This was one of the best exhibits of the show, and a hugely refreshing change of spirit from the stuffiness which can sometimes plague hi-fi audio.

Martin Logan Balanced Force 212

Martin Logan Balanced Force 212 subwoofer

Hiding in the corner of the Martin Logan room was one of their new Balanced Force subwoofers, the 212, which uses a sealed, dual opposed woofer configuration which seems to be gaining popularity among commercial sub offerings. By having two drivers firing 180 degrees opposed from one another, back-to-back, their opposing motion cancels out cabinet vibrations. The ML rep demonstrated the cabinet’s inert quality by cranking some bass heavy rock music and balancing a coin by its edge on top of the subwoofer; the coin didn’t move. Martin Logan isn’t new to the idea of using drivers to cancel out vibrations, as they have employed this configuration on their previous Depth and Descent subwoofers, although in those they used a triangular configuration. The Balanced Force 212 uses two 12” drivers powered by two 850 watt amplifiers, and claims a response of 18–120 Hz ±3dB. It is compatible with Martin Logan’s Perfect Bass Kit to correct for room compensation equalization. It is list priced at $4,000.

Sadurni Acoustics Staccato horn system

Sadurni Staccato Horn single speaker Sadurni Staccato Horn speakers

Many people prefer loudspeaker systems to be discrete and visually unobtrusive, to simply serve their function and not be a presence otherwise. The Sadurni Staccato speakers are not intended for these people. The Staccato is a four way horn system which uses an active crossover to achieve perfect time alignment. The largest horn is really a lower midrange which loads a cone driver, and the upper midrange and tweeter use compression drivers. Those black tubes behind the horn setup are actually the bass drivers of this system; they are tapped horn subwoofers which come with the Staccato. The stack of two subwoofers per speaker is enough for this smallish room, but they ordinarily come in stacks of four. The sensitivity of this system is rated at a staggering 110dB.

The sound was world class. The crossover really did its job; the sound had no disparity at all, even at the relatively close distance at which I was seated. While the size and aesthetic of this system isn’t for everyone, the sound is superb enough that anyone can enjoy it. The Staccato is a stunning sight which creates a stunning sound. It is priced at $40,000.


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Recent Forum Posts:

oppman99 posts on May 31, 2014 15:22
I just don't understand the appeal of vinyl. IMO digital sounded better in every room that had both vinyl and digital sources. I thought the sq was much better at last year's show as well.
shadyJ posts on May 28, 2014 20:44
I think $73k for an amp is dumb. You could take a monster pro-amp like a powersoft digam k10, have it modified, and hire a guy to put it in an ultra fancy custom case for a lot lot lot less than $73k. I still think the Burmester is cool, but it's just a poor value.
haraldo posts on May 28, 2014 16:54
shadyJ, post: 1033282
That big shiny thing at the bottom of that stack is the Burmester 909, it's a 600 watt x 2 @ 4 ohms amplifier. It also has a 1,250 watt x 2 @ 1 ohm spec. Burmester claims it is stable for a 1 ohm load. It costs $73,500. It's stupid and I want one.

What's stupid about that?
I'd like to buy a Goldmund amp … that makes the Burmester 909 look like a bargain … but I will never be able to afford it …. not even in my dreams ….
FozzieT posts on May 20, 2014 22:17
So, why the photo of the gorgeous Monitor Audio speakers, but no review? Did they suck?
shadyJ posts on May 19, 2014 23:58
That big shiny thing at the bottom of that stack is the Burmester 909, it's a 600 watt x 2 @ 4 ohms amplifier. It also has a 1,250 watt x 2 @ 1 ohm spec. Burmester claims it is stable for a 1 ohm load. It costs $73,500. It's stupid and I want one.
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