EMM Labs CD-SA Two-Channel Player
Quite simply, the best two-channel CD (and two-channel SACD) playback device of the many, many we’ve tested in Sea Cliff over the past year. Quick reminder: In the evaluation of CD players I undertook [Issue 153], I came to see that the best digital and the best analog sounds existed in two parallel universes—that is, as Wilma Cozart Fine had argued with me when doing CD versions of her Mercury classics, each at its best brought out different strengths of the music itself. The trick to getting great digital is reducing the multitude of distortions that came part and package with the original transfers and players. The Ed Meitner design comes closer to that goal than any other player I’ve heard, and does so to the point that you can listen with pleasure, and for hours and hours. More on this to come.
I wouldn’t have guessed that Nordost could improve upon its Valhalla designs by an order of magnitude, and so it was with some skepticism that I approached the new Odins, especially after I learned of their jaw-dropping price: $16,000 for the first meter of the interconnects (considerably, considerably less per meter for longer lengths) and $20,000 for the first meter of their speaker cables. This would seem to close the case for shorter cable lengths. Nor would I have guessed that the Odins would make the Valhallas sound like, say, the very best solidstate amplifier (perhaps a Keith Johnson/Spectral design) and the Odins like the super-powered Western Electric triode WE- 97s. I never thought the Valhallas a bit “threadbare”—and am deeply chagrined to say that’s how I feel about them now. More to come. Price: Interconnects, $16,000 (per pair, one meter; $2000 per pair each extra half-meter pair). Speaker cables, $20,000 (per pair, one meter; $3000 each extra half-meter pair).
Hansen King v.2
This sophisticatedly sculpted and designed multidriver speaker system, used anew with some of the latest deluxe high-end designs (from conrad-johnson, EMM, Audience, e.g.), reveals even more plainly its overall coherency and lack of the colorations that so plague cone-type drivers. With most multidriver speaker systems, discontinuity runs rife and, in terms of listening ease, ragged on the ears. Not The Kings, which are as untroubled and smooth as still waters, so much so that they allow you to ignore their own “sound” and concentrate either on the other components feeding them, or on the music behind it all.
This may sound obvious, but if you’ve listened to so-called fullfrequency- range multidriver designs, you’ll know that few truly are capable of wide bandwidth response, either in the frequency or dynamic domain. The Kings go down flat to a point below 30 (amazing) Hertz, and up as far as the ear cares to hear. And the soundfield they project can be as big as the recording requires, or as delicate and sculpted. There are two minor burbles: a slight loss of focus in a narrow band between 80 and 100Hz, which may or may not be dependent on the way we have them set up in Room 2— even so, this is far from obvious and you’ll only hear it if you listen over hundreds of hours. The designer, Lars Hansen, urges their placement in a larger acoustic environment (say, Room 3 here in Sea Cliff ). I don’t think the domed tweeter perfectly blends with the cone drivers, but once again, the discrepancy is one nit you’ll have to pick to hear—meaning that in normal listening, The Kings speak with one voice. I haven’t been able to find a descriptive term to describe that voice, its “character” (and it does have something of one), but be derned if I know words to nail it. There is no box coloration. The upshot? A reference, and that’s all there is to that. Price: $74,000 (effective July 1). hansenaudio.com (reviewed in Issue 168)
Talk about a seductive sweetheart of a speaker system, the hybrid Coltrane is just that. The top end is handled by a diamond tweeter and is as transparent and sweet-sounding as any I’ve heard, but not as dynamic as, say, the dual Heil arrangement on the Burmester B-100s (that said, almost nothing else can match the Burmester for true high-frequency dynamic levels). The lower frequencies are attended by two ceramic drivers, whose essential colorations are euphonically just glorious, but maybe too rich for those with diabetic ears. I haven’t heard other makes of speakers that use ceramics in their drivers (Kharma, for one), and I only superficially auditioned a diamond tweeter ensconced in an Avalon system at a Consumer Electronics Show. I can tell you there’s not much in the way of extreme bottom response below 40Hz, but the speaker is so nicely balanced you’ll not likely miss it, unless you are big on Mahler or on full pipe organ recordings. The Coltrane never sounds raw or ragged, and it keeps dynamic swings in check.