In my previous product-coverage articles, I tried to include a broad range of product categories. For this third and final installment, I’m keeping it mostly to loudspeakers, since I came across several interesting ones. But I also added one amplifier into the mix because I felt that it was important to include in the coverage. All prices are in US dollars.
At the end of the previous article, I alluded to the high prices of hi-fi gear that so many audiophiles consider “normal.” Or maybe it was more like a jab at what the industry has become. That’s because what’s actually normal to most people are products priced in the hundreds or low thousands of dollars—not tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The people at the UK’s Q Acoustics seem to get that point about price, since their speakers sell for hundreds or low thousands of dollars. Case in point: the company’s new Concept 30 and Concept 50 loudspeakers, which I learned were being shown publicly for the first time at Florida Audio Expo 2022. The 30 is a stand-mounted design, priced at $1299 per pair without stands, while the latter is a floorstander that carries a price of $2999 per pair. An attractive stand specially designed for the Concept 30, the Q FS75, is available for $499 per pair. Both speakers are available in black, white, or silver painted finishes.
The 30 has a 5″ midrange-woofer below a .9″ soft-dome tweeter, while the 50 has two 5″ midrange-woofers vertically flanking a .9″ tweeter. The tweeter in both speakers is said to be a new design that is hermetically sealed and isolated from the baffle, which the company says “means lower distortion and a lower crossover point for seamless integration through the crossover region.” The midrange-woofer used in both is said to have a large voice coil that “increases motor strength, resulting in a 50% increase in power handling over a comparable driver with 25.4 mm voice coil, making the speaker easier to drive and pair with different amplifiers.” The crossover—something that many consider the heart of a loudspeaker, since it blends the drivers’ outputs together—is mounted on an isolation base that shelters it from the drive units to, according to the company, keep it “free of sound-effecting vibrations and away from the electromagnetic influence of the drivers themselves.”
As I travel the world, I like to talk to speaker designers to pick their brains. And one person I like to speak with often is Karl-Heinz Fink, who’s designed a boatload of speakers for some of hi-fi’s best-known brands—some of which I’ve reviewed. His vast knowledge and blunt verbal delivery make him interesting to talk to and someone I can learn from.
Fink still designs speakers for other companies, but FinkTeam, the company he founded several years ago, is where he can make speakers that illustrate his own vision. The company’s first product was the WM-4 loudspeaker, which was more of an experimental exercise than a commercial product. The late, great Ken Ishiwata often used WM-4s for his Marantz demos. Instead, the floorstanding Borg was FinkTeam’s first “real” product. Now FinkTeam has followed that up with the KIM, a name I think is an acronym, but I haven’t figured out what it stands for yet. I plan to ask Fink the next time I talk to him. The KIM was announced last fall and is now available in the United States through Matterhorn Audio Group, a distributor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for $12,800 per pair, with stands.
The KIM measures 19.5″H × 11.75″W × 12.25″D and weighs about 55 pounds. It’s a two-way that marries an 8″ midrange-woofer and a 4.33″ Air Motion Transformer (AMT). The crossover point is 2200Hz. On its backside are two switches, one to adjust the AMT level and the other to alter the damping on the midrange-woofer. I’ll be straight up—of all the speakers I saw at this show, the KIM is the one I’d like to review next.
The On a Higher Note company is the North American distributor for Graham Audio, a UK-based entity that bills itself as “a family-owned British company based in Newton Abbot, a small market town in Devon, southwest England.” On display in the OaHN room throughout Florida Audio Expo 2022 was the LS8/1 loudspeaker, which launched about six months ago. It’s priced at $9700 per pair, with stands.
Graham’s website describes the LS8/1 as the company’s “take on the classic 8-inch bass driver in a 2-cubic-foot box format, as used by many designers over the years, including our own Derek Hughes (and his father, Spencer, who of course designed the BBC LS3/6).” Graham’s interpretation is interesting, because placed above the 8″ bass driver, which appears to operate all the way up to 3.5kHz, are two tweeters—a 1″ unit that delivers sound from about 3.5kHz to 13kHz, plus a .75″ one that takes over for frequencies above 13kHz. The cabinet is made with “thin-wall birch plywood,” which is what many of the BBC-styled loudspeaker cabinets have been made of over the decades. A front-baffle-mounted switch is there to adjust the high-frequency balance plus or minus 1dB from flat. Suffice it to say that the LS8/1 is an interesting design—and something else that could be appealing to review.
Fairly fresh from Japan—it was announced on September 17, 2021—is the new TAD Evolution Two loudspeaker, priced at $20,000 per pair. All of TAD’s products are distributed in the US and Canada by Pro Audio Design, which is based in St. Hanover, Massachusetts.
The Evolution Two is a 2.5-way design with a 1″ beryllium-dome tweeter buried into the throat of a waveguide made of cast aluminum. According to TAD’s website, “The shape of the diaphragm is determined by an advanced optimization method based on the HSDOM (Harmonized Synthetic Diaphragm Optimum Method) computer analysis to provide a frequency response up to 60 kHz.” In case you didn’t know, 60kHz is really high. The two woofers are each 6.5″ in diameter and are each equipped with what TAD calls a Multi-layered Aramid Composite Cone, or MACC. One woofer operates up to only 90Hz, whereas the other operates up to 2.8kHz, the frequency at which it crosses over with the tweeter.
The wood-based, heavily braced cabinet—TAD calls it Structurally Inert Laminated Enclosure Technology, so SILENT for short—measures about 44″H (with plinth and spikes) × 12.5″W × 16″D. I was told that the wood-veneer finish is walnut sourced from Japan. A large port is positioned on the bottom of the cabinet, with the air exiting from that port into a channel in the plinth that directs the sound waves out the front and rear of the speaker.
When I walked into the RJS Acoustics room and asked if what I saw positioned to the sides of a pair of Magnepan LRSes was a new subwoofer model, I was told that the company, which is based in St. Petersburg, Florida, doesn’t really like to call the low-frequency transducers it makes subwoofers—instead, it prefers the term Bass Augmentation Speaker System, or B.A.S.S. That’s apparently because the company takes its bass seriously—Bass Augmentation Speaker Systems are all it makes. But, yes, I was looking at a new subwoofer, the MD2, priced at $2750 per pair.
According to RJS’s website, “The MD2 is intended to be a free-standing subwoofer system utilized in pairs. It is constructed using the same design concepts as the Patent Pending MD6, however, it is fine-tuned to perform best in a free-standing location instead of against a wall.” But not much more information was available, so I had to investigate. I discovered that the MD2 has two 6.5″ woofers mounted in a force-canceling configuration (so on opposing sides of the cabinet). They are located about two-thirds down from the top of the cabinet, which is taller than most—sorry RJS—subwoofer cabinets. The MD2 measures about 34″H (including feet) × 8″W × 11″D. There’s a port down low on one of the 8″-wide walls.
There’s one more important thing to point out—the MD2 is a passive design, so there is no built-in amplification, nor is there a built-in crossover. As a result, RJS recommends using the MD2 with a Dayton SA1000 subwoofer amplifier, which provides not only power but also crossover circuitry to make a proper blend with speakers.
As for the sound, like all of the products I covered, I didn’t do much listening because I was trying to see as much as I could and get the coverage online. But I suggest you read Jason Davis’s blog post about the MD2. He liked what he heard, so RJS might be another subwoofer maker that audiophiles should look out for, even if the company doesn’t really want you to call them that.
Finally, the above amplifier is from Margules Audio, which is based in Mexico. I went into the Margules Audio room several times and didn’t think to photograph the amp because I thought it was the same ol’ U-280 amplifier that I’d covered long ago. But on my final visit to the room, when I got a chance to talk to founder Julian Margules, I learned that what I was seeing was a brand-new 30th-anniversary version of the U-280. It’s so new that it doesn’t have a firm price, though he did tell me it should be “about $10,000.” As with versions of the U-280 that came before it, this new anniversary model is rated to output 25Wpc in Triode mode or 50Wpc in Ultralinear mode. The output tubes are KT88s. I must say that this new anniversary version looked quite attractive, and the sound, even though I couldn’t listen for long, was compelling as well as surprising as it drove a pair of the company’s Orpheo loudspeakers while in Triode mode. What I heard was gutsy yet refined.