Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Tech Reviews

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Stax's Pro Monitor ear speakers


Audiophiles must check out Taiwan Audio Association's (TAA) International Hi-End Hi-Fi Show taking place at the Holiday Inn AsiaWorld through 5pm tomorrow -- and leave your wallet at home.

TAA has taken over five floors of the hotel and put an exhibitor in nearly every room on each floor. It's like the world's biggest hotel room-hopping party only without the beer, chips and dip. The reason the association chose to house their convention in rather unconventional quarters is obvious as soon as you walk in any of the rooms. Each is stacked floor-to-ceiling with the latest in hi-end hi-fi and home theater equipment. Trying to demo some of these mammoth speakers and amps in an exhibition hall setting would surely spark a stereo war of deafening proportions. Better, then, to put thick walls between the exhibitors and hire cute girls to walk the halls listening for sound systems that get out of hand.

And get out of hand they easily can. Step into the sixth-floor room that's been outfitted with a single McIntosh XRT30 loudspeaker system and you might think Phil Specter has set up his famous Wall of Sound in miniature. Well, miniature by degrees. The XRT30 system is actually four units; two bass units and two towers. The bass units each carry two, 12-inch ultra-low distortion long-throw throw woofers and the ceiling-high towers pack 30, four-inch mid-range drivers and 25 high-end tweeters each. The system is big enough to demand that each channel be powered independently and, for the exhibition, they've been plugged into a pair of 1,000-watt McIntosh amps. The covers have been removed from the towers to show off an array of 55 speakers. Just seeing it before the music comes over can make you think twice about how close you want to stand.

More than raw power, talk among the exhibitors is of sound "image," or how the sound would appear to sit in the room with you. Poor speakers have a flat image, that is, all the sound seems to come simply from the front of the panel. Close your eyes and spin around and you'll always still be able to point to where the music is coming from. This isn't done so easily at TAA's show. What you get here is a lesson in what excellent sound image can be -- and how some big speaker systems can actually produce a rather flat image.

For instance, while McIntosh's XRT30 has enough independent speakers to produce a full image, Laurence Liao's (廖能司) cello-inspired Rosewave speakers actually produce a much fuller image. Liao put a compact disc of Tchaikovsky in the player and, when he pressed play, the members of a symphony orchestra seemed to take their seats in the same room with you; a kettle-drummer in the back corner, a line of violins immediately in front of you chatter and whisper into tune. The conductor clears his throat in your ear, taps his baton on your knee and vavoom! you suddenly understand what sound image is.

(Classical music fans, give a listen. Many exhibitors are selling compact discs of symphonic recordings on the cheap. They'll likely be cheaper come tomorrow, the last day of the exhibit.)

Liao is one of several Taiwanese acousticians whose products are on display and hearing their various loudspeaker systems offers the exhibit's other great lesson: why hi-end audio often isn't high-tech audio.

Hung Renn-yow (洪任佑) is the founder and sole employee of Nantou County-based Horntex Audio Lab. Nantou may seem an unlikely place for an audio lab but Hong says he's a very busy man.

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