T.H.E Show Los Angeles – Crazy Speaker Round Up

I love me some crazy speakers. This round-up is a dedication to not only speakers of crazy design, but also crazy good sound. I saw some things this weekend, some amazing and unspeakable things.  Now let me start by saying that I will most likely never purchase most of these speakers in my lifetime.  Some of them are EASILY a down-payment on a 2 story townhouse overlooking the Pacific ocean.  Heck, some of them are a down-payment on one of Oprah’s houses.  That however does not mean we cannot all appreciate the beautiful artistic sights and sounds that these modern-day trophy pieces have to offer.  This collection is just a small sample of a vastly larger pool that was available for ogling at The Home Entertainment Show.  There was a nearly limitless number of speakers to hear (more so than personal audio exhibits) and see, some accompanied by accessories and turntables of biblical proportions.  All good fun in my book–after all, this is supposed to be an entertainment show.

These blue beauties are the Acapella Violon MK VI. Very blue, very horn-like.  I found the vocal presentation to be quite agreeable.  I could have sworn that there was a blue diode light emanating from the smaller gold horn, not sure how they pulled that one off, but still, full credit for aesthetics.  These spherical horn speakers were driven by an Enstine amplifier for the show.

I spent some time talking with the guys from Audio Artistry about their DYI CBT36 Circular-Arc link array loudspeaker.  The idea here is that more speakers deliver better coverage, bigger sweet spots and less distortion. You can have one of these in your man cave for $8.5k, or if you are more of a “hands on” guy, you can get the parts for $6.5k.  You may want to set aside a few weekends for the undertaking though: each speaker array contains 18 3.5-inch mid woofers and (count ’em) 72 3/4-inch tweeters!The set up I heard at the show did include the addition of a sub, and was played through a simple Denon CD player with a Crown preamp and ATI power amp.  The effect was interesting.  The soundstage was fairly well represented with all 181 speakers firing at once.  Designer Don Keele told me that the shape of the unit effectively uses “ground-plane” floor reflections to double the acoustic height of the speaker, which he then effectively demonstrated with a mirror.

Bonus points go to Magnepan for their new spouse-friendly design.  This on-wall speaker model actually rotates out for use and retracts when not in use.    Interestingly enough, the demo I heard employed the use of both a center channel and bass panels, so I wasn’t able to get a fine read on these Magnepanes all by themselves.  

KEF has an interesting design and name with their Blade model ($30k).  No extra letters of numbers with this one, just Blade.  Cool design, good clarity and balance.

One of the most eclectic demos of the weekend was delivered by a very interesting presenter – complete with a bow tie and a proper English accent.  Unfortunately I didn’t catch his name, but he did treat me to an unusual music selection for an audiophile event: Beyonce on vinyl. I’ll be honest, Destinys Child’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” is not on regular rotation on my Squeezbox, but the harmony layering and dynamic bass did provide an interesting demonstration of Vivid’s B1 loudspeakers.  These relatively simple speakers delivered big sound, impactful bass and great imaging.  The real twist came when he turned the record over and played an a capella version of the same song.  Without any backing music to distract or detract from the vocals, the immediacy of the harmonys became very apparent.  The vocals layers came though strikingly clear, as if Beyonce and co were in standing in the room with us, just much much louder.  Unfortunately, the design wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but looks aren’t everything right?

The crazy best award for this year’s show goes to a unique speaker that represents on both the design and musicality front.  MBL’s Radialstrahler 101 E MKII (the extra #/letters make it sound better) stole the show for me.  The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea” showcased what has to be some of the best soundstaging I have ever heard.   MBL did have a slight advantage with room size though.  Many of the standard size rooms where demos were held felt a bit cramped for the speakers, especially larger ones.  Acoustic treatments can provide an audio band-aid of sorts, but I think that room size is something that a lot of loudspeaker companions struggle with at shows like this.  The MBLs rung clear and true, and sound seemed to surround us in the most pleasing way possible.  The stunning design of these speakers are so unique, they could undoubtedly serve as a conversation piece for many a dinner party.  But we don’t live in a perfect world, and unfortunately as good as these speakers are, they are not perfect.  Mids and highs felt so natural, but I did hear better bass representation from other speakers over the weekend.

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