Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Japanese high-end speakers?

Pioneer has announced some interesting new speaker designs, which incorporate drivers from Pioneer's reputable TAD division: bookshelf S-2EX, floorstanding S-1EX and central unit S-7EX (see picture below). Like JMLab Be series speakers, these new Pioneer offerings use ultra-light, ultra-stiff , ultra-hard-to-work beryllium in tweeters. According to Stereophile, "Beryllium is 2.5 times less dense than titanium and 1.5 times less dense than aluminum, but is three and five times stiffer, respectively. For domes of identical mass, beryllium is seven times more rigid than one made of titanium or aluminum, and the velocity of soundwaves traveling through it is three and 2.5 times faster than through, respectively, titanium or aluminum. While there's a huge upside to a beryllium dome, many complications are involved in the manufacturing. The metal is scarce and horribly expensive in its pure form, which is produced in only three countries: the US, Russia, and France. It can also release highly toxic and dangerous fumes when worked or machined."

The French Revue du Son in its September 2005 issue reviewed other interesting Japanese speaker, a bookshelf Onkyo D-302E (€2400 a pair). A solid recommendation. The review was published simultaneously in French music review magazine, Diapason, in where D-302E received Diapason d'or award 2005. Specs are intriguing: ring-dome tweeter with frequency extension up to 100kHz, innovative cross-over and 16cm woofer with 14cm high-strength ferrite magnet and super overall finish.

"These Onkyo D302E have a fantastic set of qualities like we have never seen before for any other speaker of that category. The qualities which clearly stand out are an unusual sound articulation, a feeling of acceleration, of sound material and an incredible speed which gives guitar, piano or any other instrumental sounds that form an orchestra such an impressive relief along with a feeling of clarity which we are clearly not accustomed to."

In addition of being astounded by awesome transient attack and resolution, the RDS reviewers were equally astonished how big this just 15.2 litres volume bookshelf sounded.

Viewpoint: Increased usage of esoteric, expensive materials (beryllium, diamond) in mid-priced speaker designs (like latest models from JMLab, B&W and now Pioneer) is just the proof that high-end audio market functions just like any other high-end segments in other industries. New innovations are commercialised on high-price points for early adopters, and then gradually over the years innovations run downstream into mid- and low-price products. Think SACD hardware roll-out here, for another example.

My guess is that even if these little Onkyos are such wonders, they'll find home in very few audiophile homes - just are our prejudices.

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