At RMAF I heard (and was intrigued by) Zellaton’s Studio Reference One. At CES Zellaton was showing a less expensive model, the $39.75k Grand—a two-and-a-halfway floorstander that is essentially an “augmented” single driver speaker in a semi-open baffle, with an aluminum-sandwich cone covering most of the audible range (up to 8kHz). Turns out that Zellaton, which has been around in one form or another since the 1930s, invented the sandwich driver. Just as interesting were the CH electronics driving the Zellaton, the work of the same Swiss engineer who designed most of Goldmund’s electronics, including its fabulous JOB amplifier. As was the case in Denver, the Zellaton’s tonal balance is disconcertingly odd, with some suckout in the power range and other dips and boosts at the seams where its augmenting drivers roll in.
Nonetheless, like the Studio Reference the Grand had qualities that were special, chief among which was a freestanding imaging and staging that made for exceptionally lifelike presence, speed, coherence, and resolution throughout the midband.
What would a trade show be without a Wilson Sascha on hand? At CES, I got to hear this excellent speaker (Wilson’s best W/P design) driven by Dan D’Agostino’s gorgeous Momentum amplifiers, a Pass Labs preamplifier, and a Light Harmonic DAC. What made this demo especially interesting was that the Light Harmonic is capable of playing back native DSD files. Though it’s way too early to say with any confidence, I thought the DSD files were, well, different—less digital-sounding, more natural than other digital sources. It will take further listening to reach a reasoned judgment about this new medium, which may be (if the majors support it) the future of digital playback.
Soulution was demo’ing its superb 500 Series electronics with one of my favorite loudspeakers, the $35k Magico S5—the aluminum-bodied three-way, four-driver floorstander that has so impressed me at previous shows. The sound on the Poulenc Concerto was superb on pianos and orchestra, incredibly full-bodied and beautiful, pacey and exciting. Ditto for the Brecht/Weill Three Penny Opera, with lifelike reproduction of voice and ambience. These speakers may not be the last words in inner detail (for that you’ll need a Q5 or Q7), but they are so gemütlich, so winningly forgiving and natural, that what you may lose in resolution is more than gained back in sheer sonic enjoyment. My third Best of Show contender.
It has occurred to me that I have been unfair to Focal—whose speakers (particularly its Grand Utopia) I haven’t always loved. At previous recent shows, however, its Stella Utopia has sounded fantastic and at CES its $30k Scala Utopia—a three-way floorstander of moderate size—pulled off the same trick, thanks in large part (I think) to the AirTight ATM-3011 amplifier driving it. This new $50k, 200W monoblock is the product of four years of work, and it was capable of a delicacy of detail and fineness of texture and articulation unmatched by any other speaker/amp at the show. The sound on Venice was just what it is supposed to be—ravishingly beautiful, breathtakingly detailed, and explosively dynamic. My fourth Best of Show contender.
The 30th Floor
In the first room I visited on the 30th floor, Dynaudio was displaying its $85k multiway floorstander, the Evidence Platinum, driven by Octave electronics. The sound was exceptional: unusually robust in timbre, very fast and powerful top to bottom, with exceptionally deep, well-defined bass. On my Shostakovich LP, there was a trace of upper-midrange brightness on piano and strings; nevertheless, the speaker was quite impressive overall.
Nearby, Lansche was showing its revised, $108k, plasma-and-cone-driver Model 7. Driven by Ypsilon electronics, the latest Model 7 had, as expected, great treble and upper midrange, but it also had more support in the lower mids and upper bass than it has had in the past, giving it a fuller, more naturally balanced sound. Someone at Lansche has been fiddling with this speaker—the crossover has been changed—and for the better. Indeed, its reproduction of the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos was simply the best I’d heard at the show—utterly pellucid with, once again, better power range and bass than previous iterations. While the Model 7 still doesn’t have much deep bass to speak of, it has very good upper bass, reproducing cello and doublebass pizzicatos with lifelike snap and color. My fifth Best of Show contender.