Then there was the Sicily based Ars Aures Audio Essential loudspeakers. A two way, with a one inch tweeter and two five-and-a-half inch mid woofers, made for company. This sounded very well played through the aforementioned Aurender music player, a SOtM digital converter (also from Korea) and Accuphase amps. Like the Capriccio, these came in at under €3,500 per pair. At the other end of the scale, NAD was showing its new wireless DAC 1. No price given at the show – not even a person in the room, but a UK price of £295 has been bandied about subsequently. Next to this was an unnamed, unheard of NAD variation on the theme of iPod dock speaker systems named after dirigibles. What it’s called, how much it costs, when it will be available and any other information was met with at best a shrug from the person in the other room.
There were new loudspeakers from more than just Italian sources. Neat Acoustics new Ultimatum XL10 flagship was unveiled at Top Audio. This tall, slim floorstander comes from a brand very popular with UK listeners but is new to the US (its first formal outing will be at next year’s CES). Replacing the twelve year old MF9, the Neat speaker features eight separate internal chambers, a pair of upward firing EMIT supertweeters, isobaric bass loading for the bass, making a total of nine drive units per side. Despite this, the loudspeakers sounded very tight and ordered when played on CD, even if the Sound of the Valve air-bearing turntable sounded as if everyone playing music had been given a sly dose of Thorazine. Naturally, the amps used in the system were pretty far from solid-state, but vinyl aside, the system sounded fine. Other turntables of note included the new E-Flat turntable from EAT and some good sounds from Avid decks and phono stages in the Bowers & Wilkins room.
Good sound was not impossible to find. Burmester made a very fine sound from its top line products in a surprisingly small room. The system – comprising 089 CD, 088 pre 911 power 948 conditioner and B50 speakers was topped off with a magnificent vinyl front end - a Scheu deck, Koetsu SD7000 mk7 arm and Koetsu Azure Platinum cartridge. In another room, another Burmester and Scheu combination, this time with the remarkable display of BMC electronics made a good sound too, this time with a price in the thousands, not in the tens of thousands.
Pearl loudspeakers, on display in this case with Norma electronics, perhaps best typified the overall trend. A distinctive, if slightly shouty system, it was perhaps overshadowed by the sound of a carpenter building the flagship speaker in the back room! The open baffle gave a very direct sound, but more a collection of frequencies than a real coherent sound, but still... Interesting when the glue dries. Prices start at €4000 for ballerina 308, three way and go up from there.
And then there was the truly Froot Loop Nutcase Odd-Ball maniac products, in all the right ways. All audio shows have at least one product so unutterably crazy that it flips over into greatness. And that product is the PNOE loudspeaker from Arcadian Audio. A vast damped fiberglass horn, fed by a AER MD3B drive unit. At 100dB efficient and costing around €28,000 it drove the room extremely well. I’m predisposed toward disliking horns on principle, but this one sounded promising.
A close second was the Audiosonica Dragonfly; an interesting €11,500 sub/sat system with a drop-down front baffle to mask and diffuse the bass drivers. Curiously, this worked much better than you might expect it might do.
I hope this doesn’t sound petulant. Yes, some of my difficulties in communicating at the show was due to language difficulties on my part. And if I was in a room where there was a prospective client, I’d expect to play second or even third fiddle to those buyers. But in too many places, I felt that anyone who wasn’t known to the distributor was effectively invisible, irrespective of whether they were wandering English editors or potential customers. This is no way to survive in a boom, but in the current economic crisis, it’s suicidal.