Most-Read Opinion Articles (Last 365 Days)
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- 2016-11-01 - The Best of the 2016 Tokyo International Audio Show
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- 2016-10-01 - Bespoke One-Bit and Multibit DACs -- Assaults on the State of the Digital Art from Aqua–Acoustic Quality and EMM Labs
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- Written by Doug Schneider Doug Schneider
- Category: Monthly Column Monthly Column
- Created: 01 November 2016 01 November 2016
I enjoyed the 2013 Tokyo International Audio Show (TIAS) -- and Tokyo itself -- so much that when I asked myself if I should attend TIAS 2016, held September 30 through October 2, the answer was easy: Yes. (For my coverage from the show, see our SoundStage! Global site.)
Tokyo is a huge, crowded city, but it’s also very safe, impressively clean, and fascinating to walk around -- even a short visit is an experience. But my main reason for visiting Tokyo is TIAS. Although High End, held annually in Munich, Germany, is now the biggest hi-fi show in the world, TIAS has its charms. The venue, Tokyo’s International Forum, is a wonder just to look at; the show itself is very well organized and professionally run. Japan is an important market for audio companies, and TIAS offers many chances to see new products that are available only in Japan; and many other new products are launched at TIAS even before their debuts at the Consumer Electronics Show, held each January in Las Vegas. For this editorial, I chose from this year’s assortment of new products the five I found most interesting -- the Best of TIAS 2016.
Note that I said “most interesting,” not “best sounding” -- if TIAS has one downside, it’s that it’s extremely difficult to listen to many of the systems critically. Most show demos are scheduled at specific times throughout each day; at the appointed time, anywhere from 40 to 80 people rush into the room to grab seats, making it damn near impossible to find a listening position near the center and an appropriate distance back -- unless you want to arrive early, then make that mad dash. I gave up that tactic in 2013; then and this year, for each demo, I just listened as best I could from wherever I managed to get a seat. That limitation didn’t matter for my first two Best Ofs -- electronics on silent display. But my next three choices were active demos of speakers, none of which I could hear optimally; keep that in mind while reading my impressions of their sound.
That said, here are the products that most interested me at TIAS 2016.
Luxman LX-380 integrated amplifier
In 1981, when I was shopping for my first stereo, one audio salesman tried to discourage me from buying a brand-new integrated amplifier; instead, he thought I should buy the used (ca. 1975) Luxman integrated he had on hand. “It will sound better than what you can buy new today,” he swore. Instead, I bought a brand-new NAD 3140. I was happy with it -- but I’ve always wondered if he was right.
When I saw Luxman’s new LX-380 integrated, it immediately caught my attention -- it looks a lot like the Luxman integrated that salesman had shown me. The LX-380 is said to be the 12th generation of Luxman’s “38” series of tubed integrated amplifiers, which began in 1963 with the SQ38, and for over half a century they’ve retained the same basic look, right down to the 1970s-style wood panels on the LX-380’s sides, bottom, and top. They’ve also retained the feature set -- the LX-380 has tone controls, a Loudness switch, a moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage, and a subsonic filter -- common features four decades ago that can still be useful today, especially if you have a turntable. The LX-380 uses 6L6 output tubes in a circuit specified to produce 18Wpc into 8 ohms, 20Wpc into 6 ohms, or 14Wpc into 4 ohms. That’s not big power, but it should be enough for efficient speakers in small rooms. The LX-380’s price in Japan is ¥460,000; the US distributor, On a Higher Note, estimates that the US retail should be $6000.
Accuphase DC-950 digital-to-analog converter
On my first visit to TIAS, in 2013, my jaw dropped when I saw the sheer number of models displayed by Accuphase -- so many more than I thought they offered, including some product types, such as equalizers, that I didn’t know they still made. Accuphase doesn’t seem to be well represented in North America, and particularly in the US. A pity, because they make good stuff -- and lots of it.
At TIAS 2016, I covered six new Accuphase models; of those, the one that stood out was the DC-950 digital-to-analog converter, which retails in Japan for ¥1,200,000. The DC-950’s USB input accepts signals of resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256, and it has seven other digital inputs -- though I haven’t found a list of which input handles PCM and/or DSD at which resolutions. However, one of those inputs is Accuphase’s HS-Link connector, with which the DC-950 can be connected to an Accuphase disc transport; e.g., the companion DP-950 at the same price, which plays SACDs and CDs. I’d love to review this DAC -- and maybe the transport, too.
Magico M3 loudspeaker
In some ways, Magico’s M3 doesn’t seem new -- it was first announced in May, around the time of High End 2016. But the speaker was then still nowhere near completion, and its appearance at TIAS 2016 was its first. The M3 sells for ¥9,500,000/pair, or $75,000/pair in the US.
The M3 is similar to Magico’s Q3, which it replaces: a three-way speaker with a tweeter, midrange, and three woofers. The M3’s drivers are roughly the same sizes as the Q3’s, but there the similarities end -- the drivers used in the M3 are all made with Magico’s latest technologies, including a coating of graphene on the midrange and woofers, and a diamond coating on the tweeter. The M3’s cabinet, too, is a considerable departure from the Q3’s -- it resembles the enclosure of Magico’s limited-edition M Pro, of which only 50 pairs were made. Aluminum is used for the speaker’s main armature, as well as for the front, rear, top, and bottom panels; carbon fiber is used for the side panels, which are gently curved to give the M3 a far more elegant appearance than any of the Q models. As I said in my coverage from the show, the M3 is at least the best-looking speaker Magico has made. (I won’t say best built; Magico’s Q and S models have all been of exceptional build quality.) The M3 also signals the direction in which the company is taking the M series -- eventually, we’ll probably see an M1, M5, M7, and maybe an M-something else.
I heard the M3s a couple of times under the less-than-ideal listening conditions described above, and was able to get at least a taste of what they could do. I thought the M3s reached fairly low in frequency with some bass-heavy recordings, though it was obvious that any real authority in the bottom octave would require a subwoofer -- or two. (From what I understand, the M3s were used with subs in demos at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, held in Denver a week later.) Still, the bass I heard didn’t overload the room, and was clean and tight. However, what jumped out at me were the mids and highs -- they sounded exceptionally detailed and very natural overall, never fatiguing or bright. If you’re into cost-no-object speakers with extraordinary build quality, the M3 is worth checking out.
Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirit loudspeaker
Unlike Magico, whose M3 we’ve known about since spring, Vivid Audio surprised everyone by introducing the Giya G1 Spirit, at an estimated Japanese price of ¥9,000,000/pair. (According to Vivid’s US distributor, On a Higher Note, the US price has yet to be set, but at time of writing ¥9 million equaled $85,599.) Vivid’s designer, Laurence Dickie, said that the Giya G1 Spirit is like the Giya G1 on steroids, spiced up with some tricks he’d learned in designing the Oval B1 Decade, which I reviewed earlier this year and loved. (The Giya G1 will remain in production at $68,000/pair.) In fact, two of Vivid’s speakers, the Oval B1 Decade and the Giya G2, are the two best speakers I’ve ever reviewed -- so I was more intrigued about the Giya G1 Spirit than about anything else shown at TIAS 2016.
The Giya G1 Spirit’s cabinet has the same volume as the G1’s, but is wider at the bottom and a little shorter -- which, Dickie says, puts the tweeter and midrange at a better height for most listeners. The G1 Spirit’s woofer cones are no larger than those in the G1, but their motor systems include what Dickie claims is a greatly improved magnet assembly that provides twice the power handling and, as he likes to say, “more shove,” which he feels is needed to reproduce the lowest bass with great authority. The lower-midrange driver has been improved, Vivid claims, by the addition of carbon-fiber rings, which work to move the cone’s resonant breakup frequency even higher than in the G1, to very far above its passband. To implement these new drivers, and work in some tricks Dickie learned from the Oval B1 Decade, the G1 Spirit’s crossover is a completely new design, and completely detached from the speaker -- all crossover components occupy their own box, connected to the speaker with a 1m-long umbilical. There are more differences, but those are the biggies.
It was even harder to get a good spot in Vivid’s room than in Magico’s. All I can say with confidence is that the Giya G1 Spirit has the bold, visceral, incisive sound that’s been the hallmark of every Vivid speaker I’ve heard, and enough bass power and weight to render a subwoofer superfluous. I’d love to review a pair, but I fear that the space I have wouldn’t be big enough. At the very least, I’d like to hear the Giya G1 Spirits again -- this time, from the sweet spot.
Yamaha NS-5000 loudspeaker
The speaker that most impressed me at TIAS 2016 was Yamaha’s NS-5000, which was inspired by the company’s classic NS-1000 and NS-1000M models, both released in 1974 and notable for having the world’s first dome diaphragms made of beryllium -- the element was used in their tweeters and midrange drivers. (According to Yamaha’s website, “the NS-1000 featured an ebony luxury urethane paint finish exterior, while the NS-1000M . . . sported a birch semi-gloss black paint finish”; otherwise, the speakers were identical.) As most audiophiles know, beryllium is now all the rage in high-end tweeters, and is creeping into other drivers -- Paradigm’s new Persona line has beryllium tweeters and midranges.
But there’s no beryllium anywhere in the NS-5000. Instead, the speaker’s 1.2” dome tweeter, 3.1” dome midrange, and 11.7” woofer cone are all made of a woven material called Zylon, which Yamaha coats with Monel, an alloy of nickel (70%) and copper (30%). Those new materials were the first surprise. The second was a cutaway cabinet that revealed more interesting features, especially the plastic tubes behind the midrange and tweeter -- each splits into three tubes that then rejoin to again form a single tube before terminating, all, presumably, to dissipate the rear-directed energy from the drivers’ diaphragms. I also noticed a kind of transmission line affixed to one of the inner walls, probably to eliminate internal standing waves. Then there was the cabinet itself -- very thick plywood joined with exceptional craftsmanship, along with uniquely placed braces to prevent resonances in certain panel areas. The quality of the speakers’ high-gloss, piano-black finish was beyond reproach -- Yamaha does make fine pianos, after all. Finally, as in the NS-1000/1000M, the NS-5000’s drivers are asymmetrically positioned on the front baffle -- the speakers come in mirror-imaged pairs. All in all, I was impressed with how much effort and care Yamaha has put into this modern update of a classic design from more than 40 years ago.
Build and features aside, what really took me aback was the NS-5000s’ sound. As with the other speaker demos, I had a tough time finding a good seat; however, in each of my five visits to Yamaha’s room, I noted levels of midrange clarity and detail that were the best I heard at TIAS. Recordings of acoustic piano, in particular, were reproduced exceptionally well, and voices sounded as if they were there in the room.
No one at Yamaha whom I talked to knew what the NS-5000 would sell for in the US, but the price in Japan is ¥1,500,000/pair ($14,266). Regardless, the NS-5000 was, for me, the star of TIAS 2016, and should be on every audiophile’s must-see, must-hear list. With the introduction of the NS-5000, Yamaha once again seems serious about high-end hi-fi.
Not stopping yet . . .
When I booked my trip, I thought the 2016 Tokyo International Audio Show would be the last show I’d cover this year. But just before I left for Japan, I was invited to attend Audio Video Show 2016, to be held November 4-6 in Warsaw, Poland, a place I’ve long wanted to visit. This is the 20th annual edition of AVS, which apparently has been growing like gangbusters and is now, with more than 100 display rooms in three venues, the second-most-relevant hi-fi show in Europe (High End being the most). How could I refuse?
Next month, check this space for “The Best of Audio Video Show 2016.”
. . . Doug Schneider