Across the way, BMC was showing its Asian-made, British-designed Arcadia multiway with side-firing woofers, driven by BMC’s own stylish electronics. I liked this speaker a lot at last year’s CES, and I liked it just as much this year. On a recording of Maria Callas signing Carmen, the Arcadia sounded quite neutral, very dynamic, and natural. And when I played back my Blue Tofu cut, I was treated to the best reproduction of this song I heard at the show, with simply incredible deep bass and a very neutral and natural midrange. So…the Acadia is my sixth Best of Show nominee (for the second year in a row).
After Tony Cordesman’s enthusiastic review in TAS, I was eager to hear the $95k Rives Talon—an all-ceramic-driver three-way, driven in the treble and midrange by VAC electronics and in the bottom octaves by Rives Bird’s switching amp and analog DSP. There was a little boom in the bass in the Venetian hotel room, at least off-axis; nonetheless, the bottom was very deep and solid (and just a little elevated vis-à-vis the mids and treble). The Talon was extremely good on voice—transparent but with natural body and weight. On Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” and “Mack the Knife” from Three Penny Opera it was also supremely detailed with superb delineation of individual voices and instruments.
Elsewhere on the thirtieth floor, the $78k TAD Reference One—one of the world’s great loudspeakers—was being driven by Zanden electronics. On Blue Tofu’s “Battle Between” the sound was voluptuous with plenty of bottom end wallop, although slightly lacking in drive and speed. The Zanden gear tended to make Guitar Gabriel sound more like a baritone than a tenor, but the presentation was very detailed and beautiful in spite of this.
Kondo Audio Note was showing its $75k Biyura two-way with field-coil woofer and horn-loaded, silver-diaphragm tweeter, powered, of course, by Kondo electronics. The Biyura was quite detailed and pleasant sounding, although it did lack power-range fullness, color, and oomph on the Satie “Three Pieces.”
Crystal Cable was showing its gorgeous, ribbon/cone, glass-enclosed $65k Arabesque, driven this year by Siltech’s ultra-pricey, ultra-sexy Saga electronics. Once again—and in spite of what you might expect from a speaker in a glass box—the sound was terrific. Very neutral and transparent, with a superb disappearing act, the Arabesque was utterly natural on voice and extremely dynamic on orchestra, with maybe just a little touch of extra brightness when pushed really hard.
Old hand Carl Marchisotto unveiled his single-box flagship (there is also a two box version, with separate woofer tower)—the $195k Nola Concert Grand Reference. Like all of Carl’s speakers, the Concert Grand combines true ribbon drivers and a plethora of smaller cone midrange drivers (run as dipoles) in an open-baffle “top” section with large woofers in a sealed “lower” section. Carl has clearly done a good deal of work on the woofer enclosure, whose audible resonances used to be the one slight weakness of the Grand Series. As a result, driven (as usual) by ARC electronics, the Concert Grand References sounded breathtakingly of a piece, with that boxless openness and spaciousness that are characteristic of all Marchisotto loudspeakers. There wasn’t a thing that I didn’t like about them. Clearly a statement-level product that we ought to review—and a BOS contender.
The 34th Floor
Generally speaking the higher up in the Venetian tower you get, the more things cost (though that wasn’t the case this year). The first speaker I listened to on 34 was the $98k Venture Grand Ultimate Mk II—an updated version of the three-way, six-drive floorstander that Tony Cordesman reviewed in TAS. I rather liked the smaller Venture speaker I heard in Denver at RMAF; this bigger number was a little less satisfying. Even though it had excellent bass and very good dynamics, the overall sound was a little hooded, with some marked sibilance in the upper midrange.
Also on 34 was the $29.8k TAD Evolution One three-way floorstander with coaxial midrange and tweeter. In Denver, where the E One was parked immediately beside the much larger TAD Reference One, this “entry-level” TAD was a little disappointing. Not so in Vegas. Given a room of its own, with no other speakers to mess with it, it generated a big, full, dark, voluptuously beautiful sound with superb transient response. (TAD speaker really do start and stop on a dime like no others.) Driven by TAD’s own electronics the E One made a very very impressive showing and, consequently, become my eighth nominee for Best of Show.