Evaluating the performance of a loudspeaker or hifi system under show conditions is a tricky enterprise, to say the least. Hotel room acoustics are poor (no wonder DSP tuned systems do better at shows), you don’t know all the components and you don’t even select the music or the level it’s played at by the demonstrator.
People keep coming in and out during demos, and most of the times you are sitting off axis, at the back of a packed room, or even standing, and sound quality shifts with your position relative to the loudspeakers. On top of that, the choice of music is eclectic, or even weird, and most likely unfamiliar.
Room location and dimensions are also important variables in a ‘Best Sound’ contest: the larger the room, the more potential voters can be influenced by a good demonstrator…
To quote my friend Ken Kessler: ‘Anyone who attends a show with the intention of listening to equipment to form a valid opinion is an idiot’.
So keeping in mind that the following exercise might make me look like an ‘idiot’, this would be my voting for the ‘Masterpiece 2015’ had I participated in the election, which I am sure will be much different from the visitor’s choice. It is based on my references supported by 30 years of listening experiences using the best highend audio equipment in the world.
All video soundtracks were recorded ‘live to tape’. However they are merely illustrative and do not reflect the real sound quality of the different systems in each room. Hence the following conclusions were drawn not from listening to the video soundtracks, as will be the reader’s, but from notes taken while listening ‘live-in-room’ to several tracks on different occasions.
Son&Image Masterpiece 2015 by JVH
Nr1. Jean-Marie Reynaud Adara/3D Labs
Jean-Marie Reynaud’s Adara louspeakers are plain ugly, and look like B&Ws made in a garage. But looks are deceptive. Driven by 3D Labs electronics and DSP equalized and well-tuned to the room acoustics, they sounded natural, full bodied, 3-dimensional. A fine blend of transparency, micro dynamics, textural and harmonic richness. Vive la France!
Nr. 2 - Meridian DSP 8000 Special Edition
Meridian DSP000 Special Edition (MQA ready) is another DSP capable loudspeaker system which sounded lifelike in a large room filled with people all the time. MQA high resolution files were used to demonstrate the potential of the new format to good effect. Sinatra’s voice had that captivating golden tone that separates the pick from the (rat)pack.
Nr.3 Audio Research/Sonus Faber 'Il Cremonese'
The latest effort from Sonus Faber, a downsized Lilium aptly named Il Cremonese (yet another homage to A.Stradivari), driven by ARC tubed electronics, including the new Ref6 preamplifier, sounded very promising, although it still smelled of fresh paint. This was number 001!
Bass travelled way low in a corner room with poor acoustics, and midrange was still mildly recessed and needed to evolve, while treble lacked some ‘burn-in’.
But all the potential quality of a great speaker was there: transparent, musical, breathing Sonus Faber class with a theatrical soundstage worthy of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.
Nr.4 Micromega M1/Focal Sopra 2
Focal Sopra 2 driven by Micromega M-1 were demonstrated in a room too large for their own good. Bass was tight and articulate, midrange clean and informative, while lower treble energy put a little emphasis on sibilants. And the choice of electronic music during most of the demo did not help here. Image stability and focus was excellent, so was soundstage dimension and transient response. A little hifiish in character though.
Nr.4 (ex-aequo) - Rotel/B&W 805 D3
Both takes are from the B&W 805 D3 performance driven by Rotel electronics, which I preferred – and this may come as a surprise - to the 802 D3 driven by Classé. The 805 D3 did not move so much air in the room, neither did it go as low. But it sounded cleaner, less cluttered and more accurate, as opposed to the slight nasal colouration I may have detected in the 802 D3.
I admit I was standing off axis, which might have influenced my opinion, so take it with a pinch of salt.
Considering that all the scheduled demonstrations were ‘sold out’ (as were the Focals by the way) the new generation B&Ws or the Sopra may very well be voted as ‘Masterpiece 2015’ by the visitors anyway…
Nr.5 - Ayre/Kharma Elegance
For the last two years, this has been my ‘best sound’ room, with a system comprising Magico loudspeakers and Soulution electronics. This year the distributor tried a different approach by demonstrating Kharma Elegance loudspeakers with Ayre/Melco electronics.
I sensed a mild compression and lack of transparency by comparison (auditory memories are fallible). Low level detail was very good though. But there was something missing, I don’t know where, I don’t know what, I don’t know why. So call me an ‘idiot’ if you want…
José Victor Henriques, Editor
As escolhas do público (e dos profissionais)