Thursday Aug 17

CES 2011 Day 1 - T.H.E. Other Show

During CES days in Las Vegas, The Home Entertainment Show also comes to town. It operates in the Flamingo Hotel, just a couple of long Las Vegas blocks away from the CES venue at the Sands Expo center. T.H.E. Show, as it prefers to be known, has been rolling along for years as an audio-oriented alternative with a mom and pop feel to the general-purpose high style and high profile CES.

I spent the better part of this morning wending my way among the various demo rooms at the Flamingo. That was some serious wending, by the way, the maps in the show guide--marked with arrows to direct the visitor--were totally out of sync with reality at the exhibition level. Rooms marked for display held packing crates, were set up for serving lunch, or being used in some other way. In some cases, divider walls had been removed so what looked like two rooms had been turned into one.

There was a lot less on that floor than met they eye. Actually that's usually the rule for the show's exhibits. Many of the rooms abound with amazing looking and amazingly priced audio gear that impresses the eye more than the ear. I find that I can move pretty quickly from one demo to the next. It only takes a few seconds of auditioning to know that further attention is pointless.

But I spent a lot of time in the SoulSonic room. The company makes speakers, very tall speakers with four bass drivers on an open backed glass panel and a ribbon tweeter along one edge. They come in mirror image pairs and are available in two sizes: large (10" woofers) and larger (12" woofers). The larger is the Impulse model. The smaller is the Wave. [But see the NOTE below.]

SoulSonic Wave

Since there's no enclosure as such, the crossover networks that route the frequencies to the appropriate drivers are in their own separate cases, one for each panel of speakers. They are each about the size of the proverbial bread box.

Speakers mounted out in the open with no box, radiate sound from front and back in dipole fashion. The trapezoidal shape of the glass panels helps keep the back bass waves from canceling those from the front.

When the front of a speaker cone is pushing the air, the back is pulling air in, hence the need for baffling of some sort. The baffle is usually a box, either fully closed or ported. SoulSonic feel that boxed speakers pressurize the listening room in an unnatural manner that their open dipole construction avoids. Other speaker design advocates may disagree. But what I heard convinced me that these speakers are doing what needs to be done to produce an incredibly lifelike presentation of musical sound in a very special way. (My own reference speakers do the same. They're of closed box construction, but configured in an non-traditional way that avoids the typical boxed driver issues. That's a story for another day.)

The sonic presentation of SoulSonic's Impulse was, to my ears, ideally musical and natural. I strolled around the room as I listened and no matter where I stood, the sense of reality was palpable. It just didn't matter whether I was in front, behind, beside, nearer one speaker or the other. The music was there. Any differences in perspective were similar to those that one would experience while listening to live music from different locations in a salon or hall. With most loudspeaker reproduction, those perspective differences are more like discontinuities in the sound field than changes in one's point of view.

Miro Krajnc SoulSonic Impulse

Now for the bad news. The worst of it is that at the time I was listening to the SoulSonic speakers, no US distribution was in place. These are made in Slovenia and this is, I believe, SoulSonic's first unveiling over here.  [NOTE:  I removed previous mentions of the likely North American cost of the Impulse and the report of destruction of one of the speaker in transport from Europe.  Updating of design and construction has drastically reduced the selling price of Impulse and for rooms of 375 sq ft or less a new Impact model appears highly promising with a selling price well under $10,000 a pair.  The Wave model has been discontinued.]

The better news is that according the the SoulSonic website smaller systems based on the same design principles are in the works. Those should cost less to fabricate (perhaps using some other material for the mounting panel) and ship more easily. I hope to hear some samples of those at next year's T.H.E. Show.

I'll pass along more about other demos at this year's T.H.E. Show in another posting, probably in a week or so.