Which brings us to another Best of Show contender, the three-way, floorstanding Magico V3 ($25k), reviewed by Robert Harley in Issue 179. Before I discuss this superb speaker, I have to confess (or re-affirm) that I am not wild about the Boulder electronics that were used to drive it. To me they sound too flat and controlled, too solid-state. As a result, Captain Luke’s voice on “Rainy Night in Georgia” didn’t have all the depth, bloom, and whisker-chinned detail I know it has. That said, his rumbling basso still sounded superbly lifelike, as did Guitar Gabriel’s cracked, gravelly, old man’s baritone. Even the electronics couldn’t disguise the realism of timbre and dynamic, the sheer coherence and cohesiveness of Alon Wolf ’s newest marvel. Though, to my ear, the V3 is not quite as “there” as the Mini II in the midband, it was certainly a very close call between these two superb speakers on every cut I listened to (allowing for the differences in electronics and source), with the advantage in dynamic range and power and extension in the bass clearly going to the less-expensive V3.
Hong Kong’s KingSound King System ($16k), a tall floorstanding electrostat with a line array of cone woofers in a separate enclosure, was very dynamic on “Ghost Train” and other cuts, with excellent density of color in the midband, It was, however, slightly thumpy in the low bass and a bit dry overall. Not my cup of Earl Grey.
Another import (this from Great Britain), the venerable B&W 800 D ($20k), sounded (as it usually does) bright, lively, highly detailed, and just a bit aggressive. This is the kind of loudspeaker that will give you a superb sense of the stickwork on drumkits and the fingerwork on bass guitar. Transient response is its forte.
The Art Deco 10 ($23k), a ported floorstanding two-way using a 10" SEAS woof and a SEAS soft-dome tweet with ultra-pricey Jensen caps in its crossover, appeared to be another in the long parade of would-be Magico Mini killers. In the same room were Audio Teckne electronics and the beautiful DaVinci AAS Gabriel turntable ($37k) with Nobile arm ($6200), which gave me the chance to listen to vinyl on a first-rate source. On the Prokofiev First Violin Sonata, the Art Deco got the violin harmonics at the close of the third movement just right; the piano was also excellent. This speaker (or this ’table and arm) had very full bass for a two-way. On top, the fiddle was just a bit wiry, though still lovely. On “Schlagstück 5,” the high-pitched percussion was also a tad bright. The speaker was very interesting, the ’table and arm way cool.
Speaking of way cool, my second huge surprise at CES (after the McIntosh room) was the Nola Baby Grand Reference ($55k), an open-baffle, floorstanding, three-way ribbon/cone hybrid driven by superb ARC electronics. In every way, this was the best Nola loudspeaker demo I’ve ever heard, and undoubtedly one of the very Best Sounds at CES. “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Keys to the Highway,” the Mario Lanza aria, all sounded superbly lifelike. The Grand Reference was exceptional—open, airy, and realistic, with instrumental and vocal images simply bursting with bloom, energy, and color. Nola ought to demo with ARC at every show from here on out—the combination was that winning. The Revolver Cygnis ($14k) is a three-way floorstander with aluminum tweet, carbon-fiber mid, and paper woof in a ported enclosure. Very good on voices, like Joan Baez’s on “Banks of the Ohio,” with nice neutral mids, it was otherwise a bit bright in balance and, thanks to a poor room, relatively lacking in depth.
The Usher Audio Be-10 ($15k), a handsome floorstanding three-way with beryllium tweet, beryllium mid, and Eton Kevlar woofer, was another semi-surprise. Driven by Oracle electronics, it sounded terrific on “Ghost Train” and other acoustic cuts, with very good breadth and depth of stage, nice detail, and excellent transients. The bass might have been a little plummy in this room, but otherwise the speaker was an ear-opener from a company that I haven’t previously paid serious attention to.
Driven by Tenor electronics, the 2.5-way Kharma 3.2.2 ($33.5k), essentially a CRM3.2 with an additional ceramic mid/bass driver, was being shown with an open-reel tape machine that gave it a, uh, slight leg up on source material. It sounded fantastic with the tapes—sweet, rich, and full-bodied. But I was actually even more impressed with the way it showed on select cuts of vinyl, like Baez’s “Banks of the Ohio.” It’s funny to hear tapes and LPs side by side. LPs don’t sound as detailed, transparent, or continuous as tapes, but they’re somehow more solidly there and if not more realistic, more beautiful. At least, they were in this Kharma room. The Siltech Pantheon 25 ($13k) was a three-way, fourdriver loudspeaker, with two 16" woofers (isobaric loading), a patented 6" midrange driver, and a Cadence electrostatic tweeter from India that is energized by internal lithium batteries! The Pantheon was very controlled—too controlled, I thought. Maybe the speaker or electronics needed more break-in, but the sound was a disappointment. Bass was too tight and not as extended as you would expect from such large drivers; as a result, the overall presentation tended toward the dry and analytical.