High End 2015

High End 2015: CH Precision, Vivid Audio, TechDAS

CH-Precision-05259

HE15_Logo_GB_01Some companies do not simply “show up” at Munich High End, they try to dominate the show. Some, like CH Precision, present more than one amazing room — they presented their line of electronics with Stenheim, Wilson Benesch and Vivid Audio, an “en plein” of sophisticated speaker designs among the best out there. Normally I would choose the best sounding room and report just that one, only there was no best; it came down to personal taste, room size and even musical selections.

The Stenheim room was stunning, the size and impact of the reference speakers (not to mention the price, frequency extension, and just about everything else) was simply impressive. The Wilson Benesch speakers on the other hand were pulling a perfect disappearing act and if ones lives in a normal sized house (and not Buckingham Palace), this is where he should be looking.

The Vivid Audio Giya is somewhere in between, at least size wise. Impact is there, soundstage is wide and imaging is precise; paired with the CH amplifiers, the G2 managed to create perfect contours of instruments on stage. Still this would have not been enough for me to cover a third CH room if it was not for the P1 phono stage taking care of the titanium-bodied TechDAS TDC01 Ti cartridge mounted on Graham Phantom tonearm and (perhaps obviously) with the Air Force One taking care of the spinning.

What is so special about this phono stage? Everything. Three balanced inputs two of each are current mode thus perfect for low impedance moving coil cartridges (the TDC01 has a Z of only 1.4 Ohms); the third input is a “classic” voltage design so it can handle moving magnet designs as well. For 24.000 Swiss Francs (close to $24K with today’s exchange rate) you obviously get a fully balanced topology with all discrete parts, ultra wide bandwidth and a noise floor buried 6 ft. underground. If all this is not enough you can add an external power supply for an even lower S/N and an even higher price tag.

In the end there is a reason why CH got so much coverage, all three rooms delivered musical pleasure in spades; with the Giya G2s and that awesome TechDAS analog front end we heard Ray singing and Basie swinging right there with us.

Aurender_banner_forTheAudioTraveler_640x300

Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

Standard
High End 2015

High End 2015: Stenheim, CH Precision, Audio Consulting, ZenSati

Stenheim-1171

HE15_Logo_GB_01Usually, all the “serious players” show up in the upper floors of Munich’s Order Center (aka MOC) where the High End show has taken place in recent years. Usually … but not always.

This year, the Halls saw an amazing combination of Swiss high-end manufacturers presenting a system that one might easily consider as candidate for Best In Show, even before listening to it. And after?

Main attraction were Stenheim’s new Reference Statement Ultimate Super Duper Supreme speakers (the name is just “Reference Statement,” but I want to be sure that you get the idea). Four towers, the full range pair with 8 drivers in D’Appolito configuration, plus another two “bass towers” to make sure the system is as full range as it gets adds another six 13” woofers per tower, each driven by integrated amps putting out 1200W each. The frequency response is a reference-ultimate-ultra 10Hz to 100KHz — this should settle the full range discussion once and for all. Other “uber” facts that you should consider (if you have $400.000 burning a hole in your pocket) are the weight of 1200kg, 122dB max SPL and the 10 year warranty.

Electronics came from CH Precision, and included the entire catalog that the company has to offer, with all cabling from the top of the line “Seraphim” line from ZenSati of Denmark. The analog front end came from Switzerland as well, and consisted of Audio Consulting’s R-evolution Minima turntable, Thales Easy tonearm with ZYX UNIverse MC cartridge, and again Audio Consulting’s new Meteor Silver Rock Toroidal Phono Amplifier (and yes, this is the real name of the phono stage, I am not embellishing anything here).

The price tag on this system would be close to $800.000, and as I said, it should be up there fighting for best of show. The system absolutely delivered in terms of timbre and detail, and the low-end was truly ground-shaking.

But there were two issues: the makeshift “room” and some lingering setup gremlins. In Munich, the upper floor rooms (arranged around “the Atriums”) do not have what anyone would consider “excellent acoustic properties”, but the makeshift iso-box ones dotting the base-level floor, “the Halls”, are even worse. That didn’t really account for the wiring being crossed, however (auditioning an Adagio by Albinoni / Giazotto, the music stopped and the organizers played a test-track with channel identification. “My voice is recorded on the right hand speaker” … but it was all coming from the left, and so on). Anyway, set up in an appropriately treated (and just plain bigger) room, with proper setup, this could have been among the best systems one can possibly imagine.

[Scot adds:] Aside from the major issues with the venue, this was a staggeringly impressive array of gear. Bass was completely percussive, and the build-quality of all of the gear in the room was absolutely beyond reproach. My favorite bits had to do with the completely odd-ball shapes of the Audio Consulting gear, with their … unusual … (American) football shapes. Unfortunately, none of it was in use during my visits, but that stuff deserves some air-time.

Very much looking forward to seeing (and hearing) all of this gear in more agreeable conditions in the future.

Stenheim-1170

Stenheim-1167

Stenheim-1165

Stenheim-1163

Stenheim-1162

Stenheim-1161

Stenheim-04961

Stenheim-04966

Stenheim-04957

Aurender_banner_forTheAudioTraveler_640x300

Aurender is the Proud Sponsor for High End Munich 2015

Standard
CES 2015

CES 2015: A long overdue wrap up

CT6A0051

Before, after and during. That’s when I heave out the long sigh. An audio show — any audio show — wrings that out of me. But this year, CES was … different.

Whinging

ces-logoFor me, a show is equal parts work and play. I get out of the house, away from responsibilities, for two or three days. It’s like a vacation — or so my wife says. I get to sleep late, eat and drink myself silly, and hang out with all of the weird and wonderful folks that make up high-end audio. In short, my wife is absolutely right. It’s a party and I love it.

I also have to work, however. Yeah, yeah, I can hear you crying for me, Argentina. But I feel compelled to mention that I do have a day job that isn’t audio-related, so every audio show also means about 3 weeks of Scot-is-annoyingly-unavailable-to-his-family, while I sift, retouch, edit and presumably write. And by “write”, I mean something like 25k words. That’s a lot. For those of you keeping track, that’s about 100 pages of words, before you slice in the hundreds and hundreds of photos.

To help me make sense of what I’m sorting through, to enable Traveler to cover much more ground, and to acknowledge that a burden shared is a burden lightened, I’ve attempted to enlist a series of collaborators for most of the audio shows. Especially for a show like CES, with over 200 rooms all stuffed full of audio tasties. Without help, there was really just no way it was going to happen.

So, as with the last few shows I’ve attempted to tackle, I lined up a pair of likely lads and we set off. We split up the work. We grappled with the crowds. We slung our hash and ate that shit up. We departed, victorious. All the work was laid out and ready to be tackled.

And … they disappeared.

For the record, the missing personages are, to the best of my knowledge, no longer on Planet Earth or anywhere within the Inner Ring of Planets, but I’ve given up looking and referred the matter to Boba Fett to collect on the advances they were paid.

As for me, well, I’ve been practicing yoga. Okay, not really “practicing”, per se, so much as doing it in my head. And by that I mean that I’ve been drinking, binge-watching Archer on Netflix, and periodically pounding my head into a table. Mostly the latter.

Anyway, I’m finally getting my arms back around the beast. But yes, this is a long way to go to explain why CES took 3 months to “finish”, even if we’re really only 1/3 of the way through, and there was that big ol’ month-long gap in the middle. To those that pitched in and pinch-hit, you have my gratitude.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get to everything at CES this year. I didn’t even get close! My excuse — that I had folks lined up and ready to help me do just that — is just an empty suit. It’s all on me: mea culpa.

But now … well, now it really is time to move on.

So, before we stick a fork in it, there were many things I wish I’d had more time to see and talk about from CES. I mean, aside from just about everything. Let’s start with Chord.

Chord Electronics

Chord has been making truly exceptional electronics for longer than I’m aware of, but the most recent impact on my awareness (and the general awareness of the personal audio community) was with their remarkable battery-powered combo DAC and headphone amplifier, the Hugo. At CES this year, Chord launched Hugo’s big brother — the Chord Hugo TT.

The TT (“table top”) is not meant to be portable, like it’s little brother. Not that you’d really be tempted to stuff $4,795 worth of amplifier into your backpack, but hey, whatevs. The new form-factor is significantly larger than the relatively petit Hugo, but this one features a variety of delightful things unavailable to the smaller package. One is a galvanically isolated USB port. That’s good. Two 1/4″ headphone jacks are paired up with XLR and RCA analog outputs. A bigger battery and dramatically upgraded capacitors (supercapacitors, is what I heard) mean more power and more slam. The digital circuitry is unchanged from the Hugo.

Are you ready for a table top Hugo? Me, I’d love to try one out.

CT6A0048

CT6A0049

CT6A0050

Calyx

The big news at Calyx this year was actually quite small — say hello to the PaT. A headphone amplifier and DAC, the PaT is tidy, totally portable, even if it is somewhat limited with only 16bit/48kHz file playback support. While this means no DSD (sniff) and no ultra-high-res audio, you have to realize that the target market — iPhone users — can’t really do that anyway without some custom software that no one I know regularly uses. Thus, the PaT is pretty much perfect, and at $99, it’s a pretty good deal. Buttons on the case will interact directly with IOS for pause, volume and fast-forward/reverse.

IMG_3254

CT6A0025

CT6A0026

Scansonic

I don’t really know much about Scansonic, other than it seems that the designer also worked on Raidho. Makes sense, looking at the speakers — ribbons here framed by carbon-fiber drivers, caged in a svelte towers, some of which also house a pair of aluminum bass drivers — but the prices are what caught my eye. Even before my ear. That is, they’re cheap. The MB 3.5 is $5,000 per pair — and yes, that is not cheap. Except it is. That sound, here paired with electronics from Jeff Rowland and Hegel, was shocking. And yes, I mean that — I was taken aback. Surprised. Eyebrows fleeing into the hairline. Yep. Was not expecting that. 6Ω, 30Hz-30kH, this speaker kills. And it’s one of several available models, all at price points below this, their flagship offering. Looking forward to seeing (and hearing!) a lot more from them.

CT6A0087

CT6A0092

Raidho

While we’re on the theme, Raidho seems bent on an up-market tear. The super-narrow X3 ($30k) was festooned with drivers (five on the front, plus two 8″ on the sides). Honestly, this speaker was way too much for the room, but the promise was there — give it oodles of space, and bask in it’s subsonic glories. Also shown was the new $30k Aavik U-300 integrated that Dr Karavitis saw last year in Athens. It’s an impressive beast, and that dial is wicked clever looking.

CT6A0099

CT6A0098

SOtM

SOtM is an odd brand. My familiarity really only extends to their famous computer-audio audiophile-grade USB card, but that card was the best thing since sliced bread — according to just about everyone I know that tried it out in their DIY servers. But SOtM does quite a bit more than that.

Shown here with big speakers from Eggleston Works, SOtM fronted the system with a DAC/Pre, an amp, external power supplies, and proprietary cables and filters for both USB and Ethernet. There was a lot more on offer, and quite frankly, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of bits and bobs the company is offering.

CT6A0074

CT6A0072 CT6A0071

Audioarts

Gideon Schwartz of Audioarts is a charming fellow and no one is ever going to fault him for his excellent taste. Lately, I’ve found him championing a speaker I’d never heard of, a brand called Zellaton. The speakers’ drives aren’t actually aluminum, but instead are a rather complex sandwich of space-age materials, resulting in a super-light and super-rigid cone structure. The cabinets are also not ported — they’re completely open on the back. I’m pretty sure Schwartz was using the Zellaton Grand ($80k/pair) here at CES, and drove them with a top-of-the-line electronics from CH Precision. That gear, including the $95k/pair M1 monos, have these giant digital meters on the front that give you a real-time readout of the output. Mostly loafing, the amps nonetheless slammed up to several hundred watts near-as-I-could-tell instantaneously. That was pretty awesome.

This show made a marked difference to my expectations when I found a Thöress Phono Equalizer in front of the turntable. Tubes? And CH Precision? Oh, yes please. The life and warmth of this pairing may have been the best I’ve heard from Audioarts to date.

CT6A0077

CT6A0079

Genesis Loudspeakers

I’m a big fan of Gary Koh and Genesis, and was lucky enough to get some serious time on his superb G5.3 full-range speakers. One of the things I love about Gary is his near-miraculous attention to detail. There’s nothing in any of his products that Gary didn’t put there. Take the new $45k/pair G4 loudspeakers. The screws? Gary designed them. The veneer? Gary invented it. The bamboo? Gary grew it from seeds, fertilizing it with his own happy tears. Everything is “just so”. Like the G5.3, the new 4 has all the knobs and tweaks you could want. Gary’s preference, as a designer, may be Accuracy Above All, but he certainly gives us the tools to deviate as wildly as we see fit. Here, there are two knobs, “one that goes from soft to bright, and another that goes from tight to warm. It’ll drive the audiophiles crazy, but as my usual with all my designs, turn the knobs to point straight up, and that will be ‘flat’.” Two new monoblock amplifier lines were introduced as well. More here.

CT6A0029

CT6A0035

CT6A0031

CT6A0030

Magnepan

Wendell and Galina were on hand showing off the newest from Magnepan — the .7 at $1,400/pair. A massive upgrade for the Model 12, the new .7 is cut from the same acoustic (and technological) cloth as the rest of the Dot-Seven series panels, and as such, shares a startling sonic similarity with them. $1,400 is not inexpensive, but calling it the opposite is kind of abusing the word “expensive” — at least in this context.

My first thought, hearing it here with electronics from Conrad-Johnson, was “Holy Cow!” My second thought was, “Are you sure this is not a 1.7?” Seriously. Seriously good.

I’m hoping PTA can field a pair of these in the near future. They’re killer, and for the price, an absolute bargain.

CT6A9914

CT6A9915

The Rest of CES

The problem with CES is that it’s CES. That is, it’s big. That is, it’s kinda all over the Venetian Hotel … and the rest of the city of Las Vegas.

I did not make it to the Convention Center this year at all. I’m sure I missed a lot because of that but oh well.

What I did find, in the Convention Center area down under the Venetian, was a lot of wacky stuff, but robots, 3D printers, and drones were available in such splendid abundance, that I suspect that the coming AI Apocalypse is in fact much closer than anyone might care to admit.

So, I’ll close on this partial catastrophe of coverage with some images of the future-is-now, aka, your impending doom.

Enjoy.

IMG_3268

IMG_3267

IMG_3269

IMG_3270

IMG_3276

IMG_3278

IMG_3279

IMG_3280

IMG_3281

IMG_3282

IMG_3284

Standard
Athens 2014

Athens 2014: Zellaton, Gryphon and CH Precision

DSC03609-2

hes-2014Sometimes delivering is just not enough, you need a story, and Zellaton surely has one. The company’s origins date back in the thirties, when Dr Emile Podszus introduced a series of technological innovations in driver design that granted him a few patents and several industrial contracts. Today his grandson produces a series of high-end speakers that feature unique drivers based on those studies and during the show we had the Emotion two-way floorstander paired with some fine electronics, Gryphon Audio’s Mikado CD player and Pandora pre-amplifier along with CH Precision C1 DAC and A1 power amplifier. Musical Wires took care of the connections.

This system was fast, very fast in Marcus Miller’s bass guitar playing on the tune “Panther”. Zellaton chooses speed over ultimate bass extension and I must say that transients were as quick as it gets. Staying on jazz music, a glorious sense of space emerged from the system on Bill Evans “Waltz for Debby”, a trait I would attribute to the open back design of the speaker cabinet which allows for back waves to freely irradiate in a quasi-dipole manner. If I had to be picky I would point out some grain on certain passages but in show conditions there is quite a lot happening in the room and unfortunately we heard no voices, which would have cleared things up. Still an impressive performance.

DSC03602-2

DSC03605-2

DSC03607-2

Standard