Powered by Nagra electronics, the three-way, floorstanding, WATT/Puppy-like Verity Audio Sarastro 2 ($40k)—with 12" woofer (in its own ported enclosure), and a 5" midrange and Verity’s own ribbon tweeter (in an enclosure of their own)— also showed very well, making Baez’s voice and guitar on “Gospel Ship” sound beautiful, if not particularly “youare- there” real. Though a bit smaller in size and more forward than I’m used to, Heifetz’s violin and Brooks Smith’s piano also sounded lovely. Nitpicks aside, I’d have to say that this was the best I’ve heard a Verity speaker sound at a trade show.
At first glance, I thought the four-way Vivid Audio G1 Giya loudspeaker ($54k) was a B&W Nautilus clone, with its gorgeous hand-layered-fiberglass cabinet capped with a curl, like the girl in the nursery rhyme. Little did I know that the G1 was engineered by Lawrence Dickie, the same guy who designed the Nautilus for B&W! The little curl on top turned out to be an exponential tube to load the aluminum-domed tweeter, which Vivid makes in its own facilities. (Indeed, Vivid makes all the drivers used in the G1.) The Giya was very neutral on voice, with a nice sense of delicacy on Baez’s “House Carpenter.” I did think that the center image was canted a bit to the right (undoubtedly a room or set-up problem) and that the G1 was a bit better on voice than it was on guitar, which it reproduced with more body than string. I heard the same slight image wander on Chris Isaak’s “Dangerous Game,” and the same (perhaps room-induced) touch of lower midrange/mid-to-upper bass thickness, which slightly obscured the ostinato of the Fender bass.
The Abbington Music Research LS-77 Professional Monitor ($13.5k) is a two-way with an “iso-planar” tweeter (a direct descendant of the legendary Decca “Volt” tweeter) and a 10" Kapton mid/woof in an aluminum chassis. I heard a stacked pair, driven by AMR’s own electronics, and the sound was light and fast, with exceptional pace, rather like a Naim speaker—but less irritating. A little leanish in balance, the LS-77 was exceptionally open and clear on all the cuts I played, with a very good blend of planar tweet and cone woof.
The American Acoustic Development 7001i ($12.5k) is a stand-mount ribbon/cone-hybrid two-way with a 6" passive radiator on the back of its sealed box; it is intended primarily for studio-monitor use. Driven by Parasound electronics, it had a nice neutral midrange and very good detail. A little forward and nasal, it sounded very present on “Ghost Train,” although it lacked bass extension (as studio monitors tend to do).
The three-way floorstanding Avalon Acoustics Eidolon Diamond ($34k), with diamond tweet, ceramic midrange, and Nomex/Kevlar woofer, was being driven by Hovland electronics. On Marc Cohn’s “Ghost Train,” the Diamond sounded a bit smaller-than-life-sized but downright beautiful, with exquisite delicacy of timbre and dynamic. It was also supremely lovely-sounding on Guitar Gabriel’s “Keys to the Highway,” making the old man’s gravely voice sound rich and robust, albeit a little “prettified.”
The Tidal Contriva ($44.9k), an all-ceramic-driver multiway floorstander powered by ASR electronics, reproduced Mario Lanza with superb focus, a nice sense of spatiality, and very good bloom. Although I detected a bit of strain on the fortissimos of the Cilea aria, the speaker never broke up. It had excellent bass extension and definition. Though the Contriva was quite neutral on voice and instruments, it was also a little bleachedsounding, forward, and polite, as ceramic-driver-equipped speakers (and ASR electronics) can sometimes sound.
The multiway floorstanding Chario Serendipity with isobaric bass modules ($32k), driven by Wavestream electronics and a Continuum ’table with Koetsu Coral cartridge, was also a bit disappointing. On the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, the pizzicatos in the Passacaglia were muffled (perhaps the volume was too low, although the rest of the orchestra was at once bright, confused, and muffled, too).
Driven by Western Electric electronics, the three-way Isophon Arabba ($60k), with Acuton ceramic and diamond drivers, was bright, clear, and uncolored, with good bass. Like several other diamond/ceramic-driver speaker, however, it was also a bit antiseptic, sounding positively clinical on the Lutoslawski. The Silverline La Folia ($12k), also a three-way with Acuton ceramic tweeter and Eton midrange, fared much better than the Isophon, with a nice, smooth presentation.
Comes now one of the show’s genuine surprises, the McIntosh XRT1k multi-driver line-source loudspeaker ($35k), powered, of course, by McIntosh tube electronics and McIntosh’s new record player (sourced from Clearaudio). Smooth, sweet, robust, and breathy, it shocked me with its realistic presentation of “Ghost Train.” As lifelike and enjoyable as anything I heard at CES, the Mac speaker was not just an ear-opener but also a clear candidate for Best of Show. Who’d have thunk it?
The Escalante Freemont ($21k), three-way floorstanders with a Manger midrange (see below) and a concentrically-mounted tweeter and two 10" woofers inside a bandpass enclosure, was being powered by KR Audio’s cool-looking DX amps, which use the giant T1610 dual-triode output tube. The sound here immediately reminded me of contemporary ARC equipment, which is a very good thing. Marc Cohn’s voice and guitar had nice presence, bloom, and air. The Freemont didn’t develop much soundstage width (due to the room) and the bass was a bit subdued, but the midrange was marvelous. Some swell amps.
We move now to the 30th floor, where the twoand- a-half-way Kharma Exquisite Galileo ($87k), with diamond tweet and two ceramic mid/woofs in Kharma’s superb “Exquisitegrade” cabinet, made its debut, driven by Tenor electronics. On the Lutoslawski, the Galileo reproduced both harp and bass pizzicatos in the Passacaglia with excellent transient speed and astonishing detail, albeit without the full weight of the basses (or later, in the chorale, of the bass drum). String tone was bright but lovely, although flute and piccolo were a touch too bright to my ear. However, the Galileo was nearly peerless on Bredemeyer’s highly percussive “Schlagstück 5,” making every instrument from piano to scraper sound spine-tinglingly realistic. The speaker was a bit of an enigma. Clearly, the fastest, most dynamic, most detailed, most transparent Kharma I’ve ever auditioned, it was also just the slightest bit canted toward the treble (perhaps because it was not yet fully broken in).