Tech Trends 2012: Two-Channel Rulers

TRADITIONAL two-channel audio never went away. But there’s no denying that since the early ’90s, stereo has been overshadowed by home theater. Most of the audio industry devoted most of its effort to adding more speakers, more channels of sound, and more complexity to our systems.

I’ve always devoted much of CES to sitting through home theater demos, but this year I heard only two. Instead, I listened to music, played through relatively simple audio systems using only a pair of speakers. For almost every manufacturer I spoke with, the focus was on stereo. Why? Because that’s what today’s consumers seem to be most interested in.

BMC Arcadia Speakers

If you think the Arcadia’s finish bears an uncanny resemblance to medieval European stonework, that’s because the cabinet is made from a ceramic compound. The cabinet walls are about 2 inches thick and extremely dense, so they don’t vibrate along with the sound. All you hear is the sound from the drivers. In this case, that’s an especially good thing. For a more spacious sound, the Arcadia features matching driver complements on front and back: two 6-inch midranges and an AMT planar magnetic. It also has an 11-inch woofer on each side. Heavy separate enclosures made from the same ceramic compound house the crossover circuits. At $36,300 per pair, the Arcadia is undeniably pricey, but I can remember few speakers with such a perfect combination of a huge soundstage and pinpoint imaging.

Davone Mojo Speakers

Danish company Davone has caught the attention of audiophiles with radical form factors and retro Danish modern finishes. Until I heard the Mojo, I wasn’t convinced that the company’s sound could live up to its design. A 3-inch full-range driver fi res upward into a little wooden cone, so the sound is dispersed evenly in every horizontal direction. A down-firing 5-inch woofer provides the bass. Not cheap at $2,300 per pair, but you do get your choice of cherry, maple, or walnut for that little cone.

Jamo MS25 Satellite Speakers

The MS25 takes the OmniSat concept pioneered by Mirage Speakers to a whole other level of cool. The tweeter and midrange driver fi re directly at each other, creating “acoustic lenses” that disperse sound evenly across a broad angle. You can attach the MS25 directly to a wall or sit it on a shelf or table. Two plus a subwoofer makes a stereo system, and you can add more MS25s for 5.1 or 7.1 or 11.1. Each MS25 costs $149, and the larger MS35 is available for $199.

Meridian M6 Powered Speaker

Looks like Meridian has started taking design cues from Bang & Olufsen. Yet the new M6 follows Meridian’s time-proven engineering edicts. There’s a separate internal amplifier for each driver. A digital signal processor (DSP) provides precise crossover and equalization to tune the M6’s sound. Like last year’s DSP3200, the $9,000-per-pair M6 employs a single, 3-inch driver to cover the entire range from 200 Hz to 20 kHz. A down-fi ring 5.5-inch driver provides the bass. Despite the M6’s technical pedigree, its gracefully curving, nearly conical design resembles nothing else Meridian has ever done — it’s more high style and less hi-fi.

Monitor Audio Shadow On-Wall Speaker

Okay, so here’s a new speaker that’s at least partly intended for home theater. Monitor Audio’s new 1.5-inch-thick Shadow on-walls might just edge out all the other superskinny on-walls out there because of the Monitors’ ultra-rigid, heavy enclosures. The cabinet walls’ extruded aluminum construction minimizes vibration and thus cleans up the sound. The slim-profile woofers employ a radical design with a spider (the part that suspends the speaker’s voice coil) cut into strips. All of the drivers use the same stiff, ceramic composite diaphragms that have helped make so many of Monitor Audio’s speakers sound so good. The line starts with the $850-per-pair Shadow 25 and maxes out with the $1,650-per-pair Shadow 60.

PSB Imagine T2 Speaker

PSB’s new Imagine T2 is one of the most complex tower speaker designs I’ve yet encountered, at least at a price under $10,000 per pair. Each of the $3,500-per-pair T2’s three 5.25-inch woofers has a different crossover, so the highs for each are fi ltered out at different frequencies. Each one is also mounted in its own ported enclosure. This intricate design allowed PSB’s Paul Barton to achieve excellent deep-bass performance as well as a smoother transition to the 4-inch midrange driver.

Revel Performa M105/C205 Speakers

When a brand known for expensive, extraordinary speakers like the $22,000-per-pair Ultima Salon2 comes out with something for $1,200 per pair, it’s big news for budget-minded audiophiles. The new Revel Performa M105 is a sweet little bookshelf speaker that shares many attributes with the big Salon2, including an extremely well-built cabinet and frequency response tuned to near-perfection. You can add the $1,000 C205 center speaker along with more M105s and the new $2,500 B112 subwoofer to create a full Revel home theater system — or just use a pair of M105s on their own if stereo’s your thing.

Soundmatters foxLO Microsub

Soundmatters’ foxL portable speaker is regarded as a nearly magical product by audiophiles, and even by the company’s competitors. (I’ve seen it in two other companies’ labs, disassembled in an effort to figure out how something so small can sound so good.) The new $149 foxLO — which the company claims is the world’s first palm-size subwoofer — adds oomph to the foxL’s sound. The foxLO combines its special Linear Magnetic Drive woofer, a passive radiator, and a 25-watt amplifier in a box measuring just 2.5 x 4.5 x 6.3 inches. It connects to the subwoofer output of a foxL, or you can connect it between your audio source (i.e., a smartphone) and the portable speaker system of your choice. Better order yours now, because the first shipment may sell out due to demand from other audio companies dying to dissect the foxLO.

Wisdom Audio P4i In-Wall

When Wisdom Audio president Mark Glazier told me his company was showing a $1,500 speaker at CES, I reflexively replied, “No, you’re not!” But his statement wasn’t some cheap ploy to get me to visit the Wisdom Audio CES suite at the Venetian Hotel. Although Wisdom is best known for state-of-the-art speaker systems costing tens of thousands of dollars, the new P4i in-walls really do cost $1,500 each. Each P4i packs four “racetrack” oval woofers and a small planar magnetic tweeter. The larger, $5,000-each L8i has eight woofers and two planar magnetic tweeters that run half the length of the speaker. The three cuts I heard indicated that both deliver something too seldom heard: an audiophile-quality music experience from an in-wall speaker.