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High-Performance Audio Performing Well

NEW YORK — The high-performance audio market is performing pretty well.

Sales are trending up, and so is performance, with suppliers turning to new technologies such as 3D-printed tonearms to improve turntable performance, tweaking Bluetooth to meet the demands of audiophiles, and turning out new monoblock amps at prices of more than $50,000.

John Bevier of Montreal-based importer Audio Plus Services said the audiophile/luxury market is doing better than last year, which did better than the previous year. “People are making money again,” he said, noting that high-end car sales are also up. High-end music streamers and servers are among the growth categories.

Richard Vandersteen, owner of Vandersteen Audio, contended the market has risen slightly in recent years but that the middle of the luxury market has been soft for five years. He defined that segment as including speakers priced from $1,200 to $4,000/pair. Higher produced speakers at $6,500 to $52,000/pair, however, have been growing for the past five years, he said.

He attributed some growth to the vinyl resurgence, which is helping drive up the upper-tier segment because vinyl offers higher resolution than high-resolution digital formats, he contended.

Consumers embrace new technologies such as streaming and music servers for background music and parties, but for an evening of serious music listening, music aficionados prefer vinyl, he said.

Here’s what’s new in the high-performance segment:

Audio Engine: The company’s first Bluetooth receiver/ DAC is the $199 B1, positioned as an audiophile Bluetooth receiver with AptX, 94/24 DAC that up-samples music, and analog and optical outputs. It’s intended to add Bluetooth to legacy sound systems, making in unnecessary to replace a component to get Bluetooth.

Cocktail Audio: A new lifestyle-oriented one-piece networked streamer/server/integrated amp with CD player/ ripper, DACs, FM tuner and Internet music services ships in October. It is the $699 2×30-watt X-12. It joins the year-old $1,595 2×50-watt X-30. Both accept off-theshelf HDDs up to 4TB to store music locally.

Both models time-shift FM and Internet-radio programs, rip vinyl and CDs, and stream music from Ethernet- and Wi-Fi-connected PCs and NAS drives. They also feature USB, analog and digital inputs.

The step-up model is component-width and features 192/24 DACs, and HDMI output to display playlists or stored pictures on a TV. The $699 model is mini-component- size and features 94/24 DACs, fewer inputs, no HDMI output, and smaller amp.

KEF: The Reference series and the Blade II represent the company’s newest speakers.

The $24,000/pair Blade II, which just went into production, is 66-percent-smaller and less costly than the original $30,000/pair floorstanding Blade. Both Blades combine sculpted cabinets and multiple technologies, collectively known as Single Apparent Source technology, to create speakers whose entire frequency range is said to radiate from one point in space.

The Reference series consists of five hand-assembled speakers. They are the Reference 1 three-way bass-reflex bookshelf at $7,500/pair, the Reference 3 three-way bassreflex floorstander at $13,000/pair, the Reference 5 threeway bass-reflex floorstander at $18,000/pair, the Reference three-way bass-reflex center channel at $7,500 each, and the Reference 1,000-watt subwoofer at $5,500 each.

The center channel and sub will be available in November. The other models are already oversold.

MartinLogan: The company expanded its Motion series of speakers with folded-motion tweeters to go higher in price point with the addition of the $1,195/pair two-way Motion XT 35 bookshelf, $899 2.5-way XT 50 center channel, and $2,995/pair three-way XT 60. The Motion series previously topped out at $2,000/pair.

The new models, which began shipping about a month ago, get the XT designation because they feature larger cabinets, larger drivers, higher power handling, and higher efficiency than the other Motion models.

Naim: The $240,000 Statement, which ships in October, is a pair of monoblock amps and a matching preamp, all vertically oriented to sit on the floor. It delivers 746 watts per channel RMS into 8 ohms and 1,700 watts per channel peak. It’s stable to 2 ohms and features only analog inputs. It’s marketed in the U.S. by Audio Plus Services of Montreal.

Nola: The company filled in its top-end Gold series with the $33,000/pair Metro Reference Grand, fitting it between a $72,000 pair and a $22,000 pair. The 3.5-way floorstanding speaker takes up only a square foot of floor space. It features ribbon tweeter, midrange and two woofers to deliver a frequency response of 25Hz to 100kHz.

In October, the company plans to ship another Goldseries speaker, a 4-inch-shorter version of the Metro Grand Reference. The Studio Grand Reference is priced at $19,800 and offers all the same drivers except for the use of one woofer instead of two. It’s also a three-way instead of a 3.5-way.

VPI: The turntable maker is launching several new models, including the $3,500 Prime, which is the company’s first model with 10-inch 3D-printed tonearm. The company has been making 3D-printed tonearms for several turntables for about a year. The epoxy-type resin material creates a “totally dead” and “totally damped” tonearm that lets listeners “hear the pure work of the cartridge,” said Matt Weisfeld of the Cliffwood, N.J., company.

3D-printed tonearms previously cost $3,500 without turntable, he said, citing the falling cost of the technology.

Vandersteen Audio: The speaker maker is delving into the amplifier market for the first time with the high-pass-only (100Hz and up) M7-HPA. It’s intended for use with Vandersteen speakers that incorporate powered subwoofers. The tube-hybrid single-ended monoblock amp is priced at $52,000/pair and ships in December.

The liquid-cooled amp, which delivers 600 watts each into 4 ohms, is optimized for the company’s speakers but can also be used with other-brand speakers in conjunction with the company’s standalone powered subs.