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CES

2011 CES Show Report II

Audio Note UK, B2, Brodmann, Simplifi Audio, Harbeth, Marten

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Audio Note UK

Audio Note UK was showing at the T.H.E. Show at Flamingo. I stopped by on the first day and wish I had a chance to return later in the show. Audio Note now has a new TT2 turntable and custom designed tone arm made in Austria. The table will be available in just about all the same finishes you can get the speaker cabinets in. $5,000 for table and arm. It sounded very good. But the Audio Note room as a whole wasn’t thrilling me as their rooms had in the past. The $150,000 DAC probably hadn’t reached its optimum, as it was a little harsh. This is why I wish I had stopped by on a later day to see if my opinion would have changed.

B2

B2 from Italy has the typical smooth European sound. While it was refined and had no obvious faults it wasn’t all that engaging. It could have been they were right across from the registration and information area. I’m sure the smooth, relaxed sound would have been more engaging at higher volumes.

Brodmann

Speaking of the classic European sound, Brodmann FS series ($3,999/pair) from Austria in the photo above are a worthy representative of that sound. Brodmann has been making piano for about as long as pianos have been around. Their speakers are designed with instruments in mind, not simply a box. As such, they sound fantastic when playing pianos and violins. Smooth, refined, elegant and fill with the timber of life. Personally, I prefer their smaller speakers to the larger ones I’ve heard. Maybe a volume issue again. Smooth sounds are nice, but at too low a level don’t engage my attention well. Paired, again, with Electrocompaniet gear, the sound is compellingly elegant. After CES I was invited by Brodmann to NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) where I heard one of their pianos’ being played. Comparing the speakers to their piano was a little difficult in that environment, but my wife and I were able to tell the speakers and pianos do share similar characteristics. A warm, smooth sound that isn’t afraid of treble when needed, but prefers to flex its strength in the mid range. All this makes for a great speaker for string, vocals, and wind instruments. Good with horns while not quite as hyper-realistic as some would like. A completely non-fatiguing experience that makes me wish to drink lush red wines while warming myself in the warm breeze of the mountains.

Simplifi Audio

Tim Ryan of Simplifi Audio, an Irishman who is now based out of the sunny San Diego, California area, was showing off in two rooms at the Flamingo. Here we have the Gradient Helsinki 1.5 loudspeakers and the DSPeaker speakers. The Helsinki speakers, the round, artistic ones, I believe, made it to a cover of Stereophile. The Helsinki speaker sound great and they have a major benefit of having a large sweet spot. Tim is always harking on this if you meet him. He comes form the professional audio world where the engineer, musician and producer all want to hear the same thing when mastering an album. This means the sweet spot has to be large, and the speakers have to completely transparent. Besides this, Tim’s tag line is in the name of his company, Simplifi. He wants to set up the simplest and most transparent system he can provide you with so that you can get “original master sound in your home”.

Tim is a very friendly guy who is on to something with all these XLR cables and active speakers. Watch out old guard, Tim is creating a new future you might not be a part of. The DSPeakers are the box speakers beside the Helsinki. It uses an anti mode where it will sweep the room for wave build-ups or dips from 30-250Hz. I had a pair in my place for a while, the anti mode works very well for cleaning up and detailing the bass. Unfortunately, the speakers themselves have some character flaws. They are great for rock, pop, techno and generally simple things. In fact, to be honest, the tweeter and mid range is analyzing detailed and the laser guided, servo controlled woofer can get really low. But as soon as you ask it to produce complex classical, the stage collapses and fantastic qualities you heard before, go away. But don’t let this be a show stopper for you. If you don’t listen to classical music, and are looking for reference quality monitors in the $3,500 range, you should absolutely audition these. Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” was compelling and engaging, Minitry’s “Psalm 69” was perfect, and LCD Soundsystem had me up and dancing.

Harbeth

Harbeth speakers were driven by a Perreaux amplifier. Great sounding room at the Flamingo. The little blue LED thing in the back, that looks like a crazy modern day security camera, sent out frequency waves to keep the waves from the speakers bouncing off the walls. Kind of sounded like modern day mystic mobo jumbo to me. But the room sounded very good. So… who knows?

Marten

The Marten Coltrane 2 speakers. Fantastic. I think fellow Dagogo reviewer Doug Schroeder will have a lot more to say on these than I, and probably something much more profound. But I can say my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed these. The Marten Coltrane speakers in the Audio Federation room at 2010 RMAF, paired with the Audio Note Jinro amplifier, was the best I heard at the show, and Coltrane 2 don’t let down.

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