October 12-14, 2012
All prices in US dollars unless indicated otherwise
Companies featured in gallery below: Wyred 4 Sound, Emerald Physics, Sutherland Engineering, Light Harmonic, Triode Corporation, Benchmark Media Systems, Ayre Acoustics, Thiel Audio, Totem Acoustic, Simaudio, PSB Speakers, Hegel, Aragon, dCS
Companies featured in gallery below: Crystal Cable, April Music/Stello, Octave Audio, PMC, ifi Micro, SVS, Audio Physic, Aperion Audio, Music Culture, Nagra, Zellaton, Sonus Faber, Peachtree Audio, Resonessence Labs
Companies featured in gallery below: Nordost, Legacy Audio, Sanders Sound Systems, Tenor Audio, Von Schweikert Audio, Your Final System, Vapor Audio, Mojo Audio, DeVore Fidelity, Zu Audio, Joseph Audio, Estelon, MSB Technology, Bob Carver, Sonic Studio
High-end audio is fragmenting. There are companies such as KEF and Devialet -- Doug Schneider favorites, written about ad nauseum -- that are pushing the performance envelope at lower price points further than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. At the higher prices, there are research-driven companies such as Vivid and Magico that are doing the same at the outer limits of what is possible.
Last night, I overheard a conversation between Ken Kessler and some other hi-fi journalists about why high-end audio is dying and why so much hi-fi equipment doesn't sell well to people who are rich enough to afford it. Ken, who's big into luxury goods, was adamant that most high-end manufacturers simply don't know how to sell their high-priced products to well-heeled customers. The other journalists, a couple of whom work for a popular but continuously shrinking print magazine, disagreed vehemently with him. It was at that point that the conversation turned heated and, occasionally, ugly, with some shouting and stern words between both sides. I listened and smiled as I watched these old guys fight, but I also knew one thing -- Ken was quite right and the other fuddy-duddies were wrong. That's when I joined in . . .
When I walked into the SV Sound (SVS) room and saw their new Ultra-series speakers, comprising a floorstander, monitor, center-channel, and surround, I admit to first thinking, "Are the attractive, sloped, shiny-black cabinets simply acting as pretty faces to conceal that there's little in terms of true design work behind them?" Plus, the prices seemed too good to be true -- the Ultra Tower will retail for about $2000/pair, the Ultra Bookshelf about $1000/pair. In high-end audio, that's cheap -- and cheap sometimes correlates with no time spent engineering anything at all.
Esoteric is now the US distributor for the French loudspeaker brand Cabasse. Tim Crable, Esoteric's director of sales, said, "The synergy is magical between their point-source loudspeakers and our electronics." Esoteric is no longer in the loudspeaker-manufacturing business, so the pairing is natural because now Esoteric can display and, ultimately, distribute a complete high-end-audio system.
Walking through the displays at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012, I'm struck by the number of manufacturers that are squeezing what seems to be an amazing amount of performance out of products that are priced in reach of the common consumer. Talking to designers, company presidents, sales managers, and others, I heard story after story describing product-development projects that were conceived to offer more value, more performance, and more connectivity for audiophiles looking to maximize their dollars.
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