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2009 CES & T.H.E Show Coverage 4

Tangram Audio Imports, Audio Note UK, MaxxHorn (Feastrex, Ayon)

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Tangram Audio (Da Vinci Audio Lab)

Tangram Audio, the U.S. importer of an international assemble of companies, such as AcousticPlan (Germany), A.R.T. (Britain), Audio Tekne (Japan) and Da Vinci (Switzerland), featured the $100k+ Da Vinci Virtu loudspeaker system. The Virtu was a 3-way semi-active loudspeaker powered by an accompanying 100-watt amplifier, connected to the Virtu via standard speaker cables. Since the attendant CD player, a loaned Orpheus, was not functioning, we relegated to vinyl-listening. The Virtu stood erect at around five-foot tall, weighed around 132lb, featured an unusually large tweeter of 8-inch, and was accompanied by two 12-inch woofers below. The large tweeter was said to traverse the range of 100 ~ 22kHz, while the woofers covered 40 ~ 100Hz, minus 3dB, or 20 ~ 100Hz, minus 6dB.

The format of the day, the vinyl, was featured in the form of a full Da Vinci system, including the $26,850 In Unison turntable, with a $11,635 Grand Reference “Grandezza” luxury version tone-arm and a $7,750 Nobile tone-arm. The cartridge was the company’s own Grand Reference “Grandezza” MC, a $7,300 value. The phonostage was a $35,800 Preziosa S, supported by a $35k Preziosa S, LCR-RIAA driver and the attendant $22k Majestic power supply. The preamplifier was a $30k Preziosa S linestage, with a $22k Preziosa S 300B-based line driver and another Majestic power supply. A pair of 300B monoblock power amplifiers also named the Preziosa S, this time a PSE (parallel single-ended) in topology, retailing at $42,750, was joined by two more of the Majestic power supply. The total system cost without the Virtu: $307,085.

Principally, vinyl is a format I don’t prefer because of its limited playing time per side, a very fundamental detriment to the enjoyment of classical music, particularly to the likes of the tone poems of Richard Strauss. In addition, the vinyl was never meant to be a high-fidelity medium, most noteworthy in the concoction of the RIAA scheme, a necessary, artificial compensation circuit for the deficiency of the medium. I could go on; but the proof is in the listening, and I thought the vinyl implementation of the Da Vinci system was impressive, although the experience was still intermittently smeared by the clicks and pops; it would seem that not everyone was bothered by it. I remember listening to Dagogo Senior Reviewer Jack Roberts’ Clearaudio vinyl system and how I could immerse myself into the music. You see, Jack’s records are all pampered and cleaned by his Clearaudio Matrix cleaning machine, and his vinyls are quiet. Still, once in a while I was snapped back to reality by the very occasional surface noise.

In the Tangram Exhibit, I was sitting no more than a mere five-foot of distance away from the colossal Da Vinci Virtu, with its 8-inch main driver and dual 12-inch active woofers. Yet, the sound was impressive enough first and foremost to not be imposing in the nearfield listening setup, indicative of a highly refined, uniform spectral behavior plus a very even dispersion pattern from the main driver. Of course, I can’t imagine the buyer of the Da Vinci Virtu to have such space limitations as to have to listen to the speakers so closely.

The 8-inch main driver was very agile in tracking changes in instrument dynamics and output, and I wondered how it would sound ten-feet away in my listening room.

Last note: More than any other component in the system, the turntable system is one the excellence of which depends overwhelmingly on the user’s competency in system set-up and the tools available to him, which is exactly why Exhibitors harbor the underlying hope that a vinyl fanatic of a reviewer would walk in and realize the vinyl system’s potential and be interested in a dedicated review. Made me wish that either one of Dagogo’s three vinyl gurus had walked in.

Audio Note UK

A pair of the $51k Audio Note AN-E SEC Signature loudspeakers sat at the corners of the Audio Note UK Exhibit at Alexis Park Resort, and in my January 2006 Review, I noted how uncompressed and dimensional music could become when reproduced by it. This year, with the 25Wpc, $95k ONGAKU 211-based integrated amplifier amplifying the signal from the digital system of a $9,550 CDT-Three transport and the $15,500 DAC 4.1x Balanced DAC, the sound was a little softer and mellower than what I remember when Peter Qvortrup was setting the system up in previous shows.

Still, the CDT-Three and the DAC 4.1x Balanced captured the spatial nuances of the recordings and the ONGAKU delivered the signal most powerfully to the AN-SEC Signatures. Even when playing hard rock, the system developed such wholesome dynamic envelope that the music seemed even larger than life. Easy-to-listen-to tonal foundation, lifelike dynamics, sophisticated textural makeup — what is not to like about such a system.

On the last day of the show, I learned that Peter Qvortrup finally showed up after his traveling in California, but I was at the Venetian and couldn’t break away. We missed you, Peter.

◄AN-E SEC Signature loudspeaker with crossover network built into the pedestal.

MaxxHorn / Feastrex / Ayon

Bob Spence of MaxxHorn (as pictured) has been utilizing Feastrex drivers in his Lumination loudspeaker since 2008, and for readers accustomed to tremendous bottom-end and dynamic scales of multi-driver designs, the MaxxHorn may easily be the biggest surprise at the show. There was spectacular separations of instrument timbre and unrelenting dynamic capacity that was fully conducive toward relaying the resolution of component upstream. In reproducing the Metallica track, “Enter the Sandman”, there was extraordinarily meticulous portrayal of onstage activities amidst the onslaught of mayhem.

On an Ondekoza track in my demo CD, the MaxxHorn system demonstrated its potential as it delivered some of the the highest bottom-end output I’ve heard from a single-driver design. The MaxxHorn Immersion at my house offered a compelling alternative to the Feastrex-equipped Lumination; but the Lumination clearly shows the MaxxHorn’s potentials for an even higher listening experience. In reproducing legendary soprano Leontyne Price’s vocalization in “Ave Maria”, as well as the brasses in the Scherzo of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9, the sheer coherency in the human vocal and the dynamic scale of the brasses could disorient any listener into thinking he was listening to a large, multi-driver design.

Of course, the 30Wpc, pure class-A $9,950 Ayon Crossfire tube integrated amplifier and the $5,000 Ayon CD-2 provided the crucial power and resolution for the MaxxHorn to perform. In this system, the level of musical advocacy was such that you could feel the touch of real humans playing the instruments. (Effective August 1, 2009, Maxxhorn has changed its company name to AFFIRM AUDIO. -Ed.)

▼Ayon Crossfire integrated amplifier
Ayon CD-2 with resonance-damping bags▼

▼The blindingly radiant Ayon Crossfire

Ayon CD-2 disc chamber▼

Lotus Group USA (Feastrex, Pranawire)

Left: Mike Luckow, translator. Right: Haruhiko “Hal” Teramoto.▲

The $40k/pair Feastrex D5e Type III field-coil driver was housed in a considerably smaller enclosure at this CES. It would do many Dagogo readers plenty of good if during their encounters in the high-end audio realm that they get to experience a pair of single-driver loudspeaker of truly monumental status.

For there is a group of die-hard single-driver audiophiles who will not trade the magic of a good pair of their speakers with any multi-driver design. The fact is, there are proponents of every type of loudspeaker technology and no one design is completely superior to the next. That said, while a good number of audiophiles chooses the multi-driver and more mainstream loudspeaker designs in their earlier years, a very sizeable number of older audiophiles begins to appreciate the beauty of single-driver speakers, in their simplicity in the crossover-stage, or lack of the very crossover herein.

Whether these audiophiles, who are predominantly in their 40s and up, are wiser or more seasoned, or have changed their listening preferences collectively at middle age, the low-power amplification, high-efficiency speaker of the single-driver variety hold immense joy for them in their pursuit of this hobby. For my experience at the show, namely in the Lotus Group / Feastrex Exhibit, the Feastrex field-coil driver in the more miniaturized enclosure called the Feastrex 70, indicative of a 70-liter enclosure, the feeling was a more direct and expeditious exposure to sounds of music from a single driver, and a less artificially flavored overall sensation to the method of presentation.

▼Custom volume control by Mr. Teramoto.

▼Custom French 5933-based push-pull amplifier by Mr. Teramoto, who claimed the tube was sonically comparable to vintage 807H. 18Wpc although tubes are rated at 50 watts, because Mr. Teramoto places operational reliability as top priority, followed by musicality. R-core transformers, with Hitachi Finemet inside transformers. Object to die for; but give me that custom volume control first.

This portion of the 2009 CES & T.H.E. Show
by Constantine Soo

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