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The SoundStage! Network’s coverage of High End 2014 in Munich, Germany, has officially begun! This year’s event runs from May 15 to 18 and has 20% more exhibitors than last year’s show. The SoundStage! Network is updating “live” from the event as it happens. The first-day coverage includes details on new products, such as KEF’s Blade Two and Reference-series loudspeakers, Devialet’s updated amplifier line, T+A’s SACD/CD player, Focal's headphones, and much more. All the coverage appears on SoundStage! Global, the SoundStage! Network’s special site for show reports, company tours, and product debuts.

SoundStage! Global

On May 12, Doug Schneider visited Octave Audio, which is located in Karlsbad, Germany. Octave Audio, which has been in business since 1980, makes tube-based amplifiers, preamplifiers, and phono amplifiers. When he was there, Doug talked extensively to Andreas Hoffman, the company’s founder and chief designer, and he toured their factory to see the production and testing first-hand. He also had the world’s first look at the company’s new HP 700 preamplifier, which will debut at High End 2014 on March 15, but you can see today by visiting SoundStage! Global and looking through the four-part tour.

Octave Audio tour

Oppo Digital, which is based in California, USA, and is best known to audio- and videophiles for their universal disc players, has recently branched out into headphones and, most recently, headphones amplifiers. The company’s first headphone amplifier is the HA-1, which they say borrows technology from their award-winning disc players. According to the company’s press release on May 7: “The analog audio section of the HA-1 is a fully balanced design with an emphasis on keeping the audio signal in the analog domain once it leaves the DAC. The HA-1 is anchored by a hefty toroidal power transformer, and linear power regulators and filters with custom-made capacitors ensure that the headphone amplifier has a clean power source with plenty of reserve energy. The fully balanced class-A power amplification section uses hand-picked and -paired discrete components to ensure symmetry, and a motor-driven precision volume control knob allows for both manual and remote control volume adjustment while keeping the audio in a pure analog audio path.

“The HA-1 is especially suitable for high-resolution digital audio playback. Its digital inputs include coaxial, optical, balanced AES/EBU, and an asynchronous USB DAC. It is easy to connect the HA-1 to digital audio players or to a computer running the listener’s favorite playback software. The USB DAC supports PCM audio up to 384kHz/32-bit resolution and DSD audio up to 256x the CD sample rate. The same ESS 9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC and output driving stage used in Oppo audiophile Blu-ray players ensure extremely low noise and low distortion performance. The HA-1 is compatible with Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad for use as an external DAC, enabling the listener to directly tap into digital music played from these devices. For additional convenience, the Bluetooth audio transport with high quality aptX CODEC sets music free from your mobile phones with a performance boost.”

The HA-1 features 1/4” and four-pin, balanced XLR headphone jacks. The rear panel has balanced and single-ended outputs so that it can also be used as a stereo preamplifier. The chassis is made from aluminum and the front panel sports a 4.3” color screen to allow for easier operation and can be configured to “show a classic VU meter, a modern spectrum display, or detailed technical information about the audio signal.” Oppo Digital describes the look of the HA-1 in their press release as a “classic design.”

The HA-1 can be ordered right now in black for $1199 USD through the company’s website. A silver version of the HA-1 is scheduled for release in June.

Oppo Digital website

According to a new article published today on Strata-gee.com, Thiel Audio is moving from Lexington, KY, which is where they’ve been based for 38 years, to Nashville, TN. The article, called “Thiel Audio Story Takes a New and Troubling Turn,” indicates that all the company’s manufacturing equipment was sold at a public auction earlier this year. The author also speculates that the factory is or will be closed and no speakers are currently being manufactured. A statement attributed to company representatives appears in the article and states: “Thiel is moving to Nashville, TN and outfitting two new facilities including a high visibility showroom in the heart of Music City and a factory/administrative office complex outside the city. Thiel held an auction of older factory equipment because they are outfitting the new facility with modern gear and bringing on new employees including additional engineering support.” No other details on Thiel's future plans were given.

Thiel Audio was founded in 1976 by Jim Thiel, Tom Thiel, and Kathy Gornik. The company was best known to audiophiles for their time-and-phase-correct loudspeaker designs. Jim Thiel, who was the company’s chief designer, died of cancer in 2009. Kathy Gornik remained as president until 2012, which is when the current ownership took over. For more information about Thiel's move, read the full article on Strata-gee.com, which is linked below.

Strata-gee.com: “Thiel Audio Story Takes a New and Troubling Turn”

Gryphon Audio Designs, based in Denmark, has announced the fourth member of its loudspeaker line, the Pantheon. This new model slots into the Gryphon lineup as the brand's most compact floorstanding model alongside the larger Pendragon and Trident II models. The standmounted Mojo is the smallest Gryphon loudspeaker.

Like Gryphon's other speakers, the Pantheon employs proprietary constant-phase technologies to ensure that all drivers are in phase at all frequencies at all times, allowing the Gryphon Pantheon to "recreate the original acoustic event with holographic realism and ultimate resolution," according to Gryphon Audio Design's press release on April 9.

Other details described in the press press include the use of "an extraordinary Air Motion Transformer (AMT) drive unit with an extremely low-mass folded-metal diaphragm capable of instantaneous response and a highly desirable point-source sonic presentation. The Pantheon cone drivers are made in Denmark by Scan-Speak to Gryphon’s exacting specifications and custom designed for low Q and minimal dynamic compression. The dual 8” bass drivers and dual 5” midrange units are specially developed with tightly focused, ultra-linear motor systems for maximum force and focus and total control of the motion of the layer-damped fiberglass cones.

"The fourth-order filter network is based exclusively on the finest components (Duelund, Jensen, Holm, Mundorf) in a layout carefully calculated to eliminate electromagnetic interaction and fitted to a decoupling platform to prevent vibration. The crossover network is pre-biased by a 28V battery for constant charge to the electrolytic capacitors in the impedance-correction circuit. Battery-biased 'class A' operation ensures a smoother, more richly detailed three-dimensional presentation. The hand-adjusted Pantheon crossover network performs with impeccable precision and transparency.

"The five-driver, three-way Gryphon Pantheon is housed in a sleek, tall, massively braced sculpted enclosure with precisely contoured modular baffle and driver surrounds and baffle covering carefully selected and applied to effectively address baffle reflections and eliminate diffraction phenomena. Independent baffle elements for each driver break up the pathway through which vibrations would otherwise be transmitted in a single, shared baffle. The five dedicated Pantheon baffles allow precision time alignment of the individual drivers based on the now classic, subtle Gryphon baffle curvature.

"Beneath its stylish exterior, Gryphon Pantheon offers an inert, non-resonant platform for the drive units combining extensive internal bracing and damping material with separate, precision-tuned reflex chambers for the dual bass drivers and an isolated, sealed chamber for the twin midrange units. The side panels are an ingenious modular construction for simple removal and replacement at any time."

Like every Gryphon Audio Designs product, the Pantheon was designed by Gryphon founder and CEO, Flemming E. Rasmussen, and is manufactured in Denmark. The Pantheon will be introduced at the upcoming High End show, held May 15-18, 2014, in Munich, Germany. The price for the Pantheon in Europe is €35,000 per pair (plus local taxes).

Gryphon Audio Designs website

Pro-Ject Audio Systems, which is based in Austria and established itself in 1991 with the P1 turntable, has announced the release of the Xtension 9 Evolution turntable. The Xtension 9 Evolution incorporates the company’s 20-plus years of know-how, and is intended to offer ultra-high-end turntable performance for a reasonable price. According to the company’s press release on April 3: “[the] Xtension 9 Evolution chassis is made from high-class ultra-dense MDF, that gives high mass and is non-resonant. Unique magnetic feet decouple the main plinth from its base. These feet effectively isolate the weighty 16kg total turntable mass from outer vibration and adds up to a combination of 'mass loaded' principle and 'floating turntable' design.

“Instead of a pure metal main platter, we found a perfect aluminium alloy which is damped with thermo plastic elastomers (TPE). Additionally, we glued recycled vinyl records to the top (which act as a perfect mat) and bake this 'sandwich' before precision balancing it.

“The final product subsequently benefits from a wonderful resonance-free, heavy platter that runs ultra-silent on an inverted ceramic bearing (ball and plate) with magnetic suspension. This virtually reduces the platter-mass, so the platter `floats´ on the bearing with the lowest rumble possible.”

The Xtension 9 Evolution comes with the company’s 9cc Evolution tonearm that is said to “offer a conical carbon-fibre armtube that avoids standing-wave reflections. Inverted bearing design with four hardened ABEC7-spec ballraces allows friction-free arm movement. A solid armbase permits accurate height adjustment of armtube and VTA (vertical tracing angle). Azimuth (horizontal tracking) can be adjusted precisely, by rotating armtube and single-point fixing.”

The Xtension 9 Evolution with the 9cc Evolution tonearm retails in Europe for €1990 (including VAT). The Xtension 9 Evolution can also be purchased with the tonearm and an Ortofon MC Quintet Black cartridge for €2490 (including VAT). No North American pricing has been announced yet.

Pro-Ject Audio Systems website

Oppo Digital, which is based in Mountainview, California, announced the release of the PM-1 planar-magnetic headphones, their first personal-audio product. Up until now, Oppo has been known for their topflight disc players. According to their press release on April 2: “The Oppo PM-1 utilizes a unique and pioneering planar-magnetic driver that sets it apart from the majority of headphones on the market. The Oppo PM-1 driver features a seven-layer diaphragm and an FEM-optimized high-energy Neodymium magnet system. The diaphragm has a spiraling pattern of flat conductors etched on both sides, and the double-sided design allows twice as many conductors to be placed within the magnetic field, which leads to higher sensitivity, better damping, and even drive force. The magnetic field and conductor patterns are optimized for maximum driving force and consistency of the applied force over the radiating area, and its circumaural (over-the-ear), open-back design provides the best in sound quality and comfort. These aspects of the Oppo PM-1’s design combine to provide high sensitivity and extremely low distortion, delivering a transparent, highly dynamic sound that exhibits well-balanced tonal qualities. The high sensitivity and low weight also allow the headphones to be used freely with portable devices without requiring additional amplification.”

The PM-1 headphones will be priced at $1099 and will be available in limited quantities by mid-April. Oppo plans to release a more cost-effective version, the PM-2, by summer 2014 at a price of $699. According to the same press release: “[The PM-2] utilizes the same planar-magnetic driver, the same acoustic design principles and tuning techniques, the same tight tolerances for quality control, and its lower price is achieved without sacrificing acoustic performance. Certain metal parts that require many hours of machining time and have relatively low yields in the PM-1 have been replaced by materials and processes that are more suitable for quantity production, and the luxurious hand-picked lambskin found on the headband and earpads of the PM-1 has been replaced with synthetic leather that offers similar comfort and durability at a much lower cost.”

Oppo Digital website

A few days ago, the SoundStage! Network’s publisher, Doug Schneider, traveled to Italy for the Sonus Faber company’s 30th anniversary and to witness the unveiling of their new Ex3ma loudspeaker. The Ex3ma is a limited-edition speaker based on Sonus Faber’s ‘90s-era Extrema model.

The Ex3ma features all-new Sonus Faber-designed drivers housed in a cabinet comprised of carbon fiber, wood, aluminum and copper. Only 30 pairs of Ex3ma speakers will be made, and each will be individually serial numbered from 1 to 30 and the crossovers for all pairs will be handmade by Paolo Tezzon, the company’s acoustic designer. Unique to this speaker is that there is no retail price. Prospective customers will be allowed to listen to the speakers at the factory and, if purchased, a senior Sonus Faber staff member will arrange to travel to their home and personally set them up. To learn more about the Ex3ma, please visit SoundStage! Global, the SoundStage! Network’s site for show reports, company tours, blogging, and product introductions.

Ex3ma coverage on SoundStage! Global

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