Usher’s Dancer Mini 2 Diamond DMD ($4995/pr.) was sounding even better, and playing even further above the rim, so to speak, than it had at its debut at CES this past January. This two-way, three-driver speaker uses Usher’s new DMD (diamond-metal-diamond) tweeter, which I think represents a step forward from the earlier, critically acclaimed Be-series tweeter. Those of you who know and love the sound of Usher’s BE-718 two-way monitor will want to know that this speaker offers comparable purity and articulation, but plays much louder and goes much lower.
Two high efficiency designs in particular caught my ear at RMAF, though each had a distinct sonic personality.
The first was the colorfully named Zu Audio Soul Superfly ($2600/pr.), which is in essense a hot-rodded version of the somewhat less expensive Zu Soul. Speaking as a guy with hobbies outside of audio (yep, that’s my Ducati Hypermotard calling to me from the garage), I just love Zu’s proposition that the Soul Superfly is a high-value/high-performance/high-end speaker that is so reasonably priced that it will leave you with at least some funds left over for non-audio pursuits. The Soul Superfly sports a 10.3” quasi-full-range driver whose output is augmented by a horn-loaded composite dome tweeter. As a 16 ohm speaker with 101 dB sensitivity, the Soul Superfly is a piece of cake for small tube amps to drive, and it exhibits a delightfully lively and, well, soulful sonic persona.
The second was the gorgeous Vaughn Zinfandel ($6495/pr.), which is a wonderfully clever variation on single-full-range-driver theme. The Zinfandel is a tower-type speaker whose core driver is a quasi full-range Fostex unit. But designer Jim Vaughn doesn’t stop there. Instead, he augments the Fostex with a rear-firing 8” passive radiator, a 5” ribbon tweeter, a side-firing 12” woofer, and a side-firing 12” passive radiator. By bringing these supplemental drive units into play, Vaughn is able to overcome two of the main problems that typically limit single-full-range drive designs: namely, bass that doesn’t go low enough with adequate authority, and upper mid and highs that are often beamy and a bit brash. In short, Vaughn’s approach leverages the purity and coherency of the Fostex driver, while beautifully compensating for its limitations. All in all, a brilliantly balanced design that sings effortlessly with high-quality, low-powered tube amps.
Best Sound, Cost No Object
The Magico Q5 speaker system as powered by Spectral electronics. Most of us are pursuing a sort of “Platonic ideal” of clarity, neutrality, accuracy and transparency to the source. This system comes as close to hitting the center of that theoretical target as any I’ve ever heard, at any price.
Best Sound, Lowest Price
The Naim Ovator S-400 loudspeaker as driven by Naim electronics and source components. If heard from behind a visually opaque but sonically transparent scrim, I think this $5250/pair speaker system could easily pass for a system two-to-three-times its price, meaning it offers terrific sonic sophistication/dollar.
Audez’e LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones. Imagine a pair of Quad 2905 electrostats you could wear on your head. Now image they offer virtually unlimited dynamic headroom and bass that—no jive—extends flat to 20 Hz. Now imagine they cost $945/pair. Bingo!
Most Significant Introduction
HiFiMAN HE-6 planar magnetic headphones. Here’s the deal: HiFiMAN’s new flagship ‘phones offer listeners essentially all of the resolution, dynamics and frequency extension of top-tier, five-figure loudspeakers—for just $1199! It doesn’t get much sweeter than this. World-class sound has never been more accessible to music lovers on a budget.