CES 2002

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I write these remarks for those  who were unable to attend the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2002 in Las Vegas.  I will include some comments concerning those I met, the equipment I auditioned, and some other stuff I learned.  I will first comment on some of the people I met.

Mr. Siegfried and Mrs. Eike Linkwitz

I was fortunate enough to be in the right place and the right time during lunch one day.  Siegfried and Eike Linkwitz sat down at my table.  It was truly a blessing.  Speaking with Mr. Linkwitz about speaker building was like speaking with the Pope about religion.  Siegfried had a definite presence about knowing what made a good speaker.  He also expressed an emphasis in a pure musical reference.  We discussed a few drivers and he affirmed my choice of the W18.

Our conversation also reaffirmed something I have known for years.  Behind every good man is a better woman.  This was likely true with Mr. and Mrs. Linkwitz.  Eike was a very classy lady with a zest for life and a love for music.  My guess is that while becoming a computer wizard Siegfried was also the captain of the rugby team at Darmstadt.  In this capacity he was able to catch the sharpest gal on campus.  Mrs. Linkwitz was a very pleasant lady.  

Joe D'Appolito (Testing Loudspeakers)

I was listening to some of the Usher loudspeakers and checked the name tag of a gentleman entering the room.  The nametag said, "Joe D'Appolito".  I was slightly stricken for a moment, then I decided to discuss something that he and I both had in common - crossovers.  I mentioned the similarities between the Thor and the 1801 during their simultaneous development.  The conversation continued for about 30 minutes.  We discussed a bunch of stuff.  I don't think any of this is "privileged", so I will take the liberty of conveying some of his thoughts.

We discussed paper woofers.  He conveyed that when crossing a woofer low the cone is almost always purely pistonic.  When cones are used at higher frequencies they are stressed by the rapid transitions.  Thus, a paper cone for a woofer is just fine.  He prefers to cross woofers to a midrange at 250hz or lower.  This ensures that one driver covers a greater portion of the midrange.

We also discussed the Usher drivers.  Some of them look very similar to Scanspeak units, but Usher drivers are made in China.  He said that out of 50 drivers only one was considered bad.  This indicates very good quality control.  This leads me to believe that some very good stuff can be produced in China and southeast Asia.

Vance Dickason (The Loudspeaker Design Cookbook and Voice Coil magazine)

While chatting with Mr. D'Appolito I noticed the name tag of another gentlemen entering the room.  I shook Vance's hand and greeted him.  We exchanged a few words, but that was about it.  I didn't really have the opportunity to chat with him.  Mr. Vance Dickason seemed a decent sort.

Jeff Glowacki (SonicCraft)

After many telephone conversations I finally got a chance to meet Jeff.  He was younger looking than he sounded on the telephone because, well, he is young.  Jeff and I spent a solid day together.  It was very educational.  Over the past two years Jeff has told me many things that I have questioned.  I should probably stop questioning them because they all came true.  It just took me time to agree with his statements.  I am slightly thick headed.

Jeff told me that paper woofers sound good.  At the CES show my ears verified this phenomena.  There is something special about a 12" paper cone that really works.  I am not quite sure why.  Maybe it has to do with the dampening properties of the cone.  Maybe it has to do with the mass of air it moves.  There is probably more happening than I understand.

Jeff and visited sound rooms for an entire day.  He confirmed that my ears are maturing.  After leaving many of the rooms I would convey what I heard.  I don't think that I was ever wrong about what I heard.  Nonetheless I remain unsure of my ears.

Jeff shared copious wisdom and insight with me.  In this spirit I hope to convey what I know/learn to others.  I have a long way to go before obtaining his level of knowledge.

Jon Paulsen (SEAS)

I had the opportunity to discuss driver dynamics with someone intimately familiar with drivers.  I spent about 90 minutes with Mr. Paulsen from SEAS.  This was wonderful!  I now know something about the "why" of driver design.  I always thought there were compromises.  Now I know what some of the compromises are.  I would go into all of his exegesis, but it would be extremely lengthy.

I asked Jon why the W18 sounded better in the midrange than the SS8545.  I conveyed that both had an excellent motor structure and a very stiff cone.  Jon said that the W18 cone is indeed much stiffer and that this comes into play at midrange frequencies.  He explained two things regarding this issue. 

The first was that most folks think low frequencies place a great deal of stress on the cone.  Jon conveyed that this is not true.  Jon essentially conveyed that cone whiplash occurs at higher frequencies and that a stiffer cone will do much better at higher frequencies.  At low frequencies the cone stiffness becomes progressively less important.  Later I asked Joe D' and Jeff Glowacki to confirm this.  They agreed that stiffer cones are necessary for clearer high frequency reproduction but not low frequencies.

Jon also conveyed that the "giveaway" for a truly stiff cone is in the surround material.  If there is a high loss surround the cone is typically not very stiff.  If there is a low loss surround with no 1khz ripple the cone is indeed very stiff.  This is because surround is used to control the edge resonance of the driver.  A low loss (soft) surround with a paper cone can be seen here via the CC17RC and a high loss surround can be seen via the CB17RCY/P.  The visible difference is in the 1khz ripple.  The soft paper cone with a low loss surround creates a ripple around 1khz.  The method of flattening this ripple is to use a high loss surround on the soft cone.  Most manufacturers use a high loss surround on their soft cones, but it is not necessary with the W18.  Due to the extreme stiffness of the cone it doesn't need a high loss surround to control the edge ripple.  It also sounds very clear when under the rigor of midrange music due to the stiffness of the cone.

The conversations I had with the above mentioned folks was reason enough to attend the CES.  The exposure to some commercial products was a nice additional feature.  I don't remember all of the commercial speakers, but I am able to identify most of the drivers.

Manufacturer "X"

I would like to say that it was "all good" at CES and that everyone present was both honest and very knowledgeable, but this wasn't true.  There was at least one guy that lacked in one of these areas. 

I overheard manufacturer "X" talking to a dealer.  The manufacturer said, "look at this waterfall plot.  Our special XXX crossover is the only way to make this happen with these drivers." 

Either the manufacturer didn't know the truth, or just eschewed the truth largely in favor of marketing.  As I learn more about hifi loudspeakers I find these examples quite pervasive in marketing.  It is malevolent and annoying.  I was quite surprised to hear it straight from a guy who I previously considered very honest. 

There were a few other general things that really impressed me at the CES show.  The first was confirmation of something Dave Elledge told me.  Dave told me that I would be surprised at how bad some of the really expensive stuff sounds.  Dave was right.  For this reason, I will not convey my thoughts about this specific system or that system.  I will only convey my remarks in a very general fashion.  I will also refrain from any subjective commentary.  This will keep the lawyers away. 

1.  There is something really special about larger woofers.  Some of the speakers with 12" woofers really made it happen.  There was just more punch and dynamics with the larger woofers than with the smaller woofers.  The smaller woofers sounded good, but the bigger ones really sounded better IMO.  This was somewhat dependent on the type of music.

2.  Some of the very best drivers didn't produce the very best sound.  Some very mediocre low tech drivers produced a very nice sound.

3.  There is something special about the a smaller midrange crossed at 1000hz.  I heard a few of these in four-way systems using a dome.  The female vocals seemed much better with the smaller midrange.

4.  Some very good stuff is made in China.  There is also much more stuff made in China than I initially figured.

5.  Richard Marsh's preamp used the Audio Cap PPMF.  I read one of his papers concerning the advantages of the MultiCap.  The Multi-Cap article reads like subtle marketing to my eyes.  However, I guess all of that theoretical discussion about the multi-sectional advantages gave way to the cap conveying the best sound for the $ - the PPMF.  It was very refreshing to see that the capacitor wizard (Richard Marsh) chose the same capacitor for his electronics that I choose for mine - the PPMF.

6.  Dennis Murphy's crossover design talent equals/betters the products displayed at CES.  Dennis is significantly better than some of the commercial folks that are getting paid for their time.  

7.  I saw a Plexiglas cutout of a speaker using SEAS Excel drivers in a four-way setup. The Excel drivers were used for the midrange and the mid-woofer.  The Plexiglas cutout revealed 18-22 gauge inductors and some electrolytic capacitors.  This speaker retailed for $225,000.00 (that is the correct number of zeroes)

8.  I will remain faithful to the W18 and the OW1.

9.  There were some high tech gizmos present at the show.  Some of them sounded pretty decent, until my ears found the flaws.  They served as brilliant displays of technology that failed to sonically outperform domes and cones.

10.  There is often much adieu about what sounded "the best" at CES.  In my humble opinion "the best" is largely dependent upon source material and music preference.  "The best" speaker for orchestral recordings will not be the "best" speaker for rock-n-roll.  "The best" speaker for a 7wpc SET tube amp will not be the "best" speaker for a 120wpc SS amp.  One of my subjective favorites was a $3500 2-way speaker with the Focal 7k and yellow Kevlar tweeter.  The speaker was hooked to a push pull tube amp.  It sounded darn good regardless of its relatively diminutive $3500 price tag.

Overall, CES was a wonderful experience that I will repeat, but not for a few years.  The $600 vacation trip was excellent educationally, but I don't think that I would get as much value next year.  I am very glad that I went, and would encourage any serious hifi enthusiast to attend.  If you have specific questions you are more than welcome to email me or arrange a time for a telephone conversation.