The annual Consumer Electronics Show is right around the corner, in January, and Munich’s High End won’t be long in following. As always at those events, we’ll see new products, and see and hear announcements of products soon to be launched. I’m most interested in components that are unique and/or extreme in some way -- products that fit the Ultra in SoundStage! Ultra. What follows is my wish list, with a caveat: I have zero insider info about whether or not any of this high-end gear is actually in anyone’s pipeline.
Topmost in my mind: Will there be a new flagship subwoofer from JL Audio? The facts: JLA unveiled their W7-series drivers in 2001, and two 13W7s anchor the woofer section of their Gotham g213, launched in 2004 at a retail price of $12,000 USD -- then the highest price ever for a JLA sub. The current version, the Gotham g213 v2, costs $15,000 and improves on the original with refinements of JLA’s Automatic Room Optimization (ARO) circuitry, now DSP-enabled, and an increase in power from 3800W to 4500W. Still, the basic enclosure design and woofer platform remain largely unchanged from the original Gotham g213 of 12 years ago. Also consider that JLA has probably gone as far downmarket as they can with their affordable Dominion-series subwoofers ($799.99-$1099.99). So isn’t it time to start at the top again? It sure wouldn’t surprise me to see a brand-new Gotham in 2017. Those guys from Florida are serious about bass, and the top of their range has been quiet for too long.
A new class-A power amplifier from Krell Industries? Have you seen the prices on the used-gear market of classic Krell amps such as the KSA-250 ($5700 in 1991)? A mint example with new capacitors will set you back about $3000. A mint unit of the FPB-600 -- a design 20 years old! -- which cost $12,500 when introduced, will still set you back five grand. As I’ve said before, Krell has blown it big time by seemingly abandoning their core customers in favor of a custom-installation market that I’m not sure is interested in five-figure amps. If anyone at Krell is listening -- how about giving us a KSA-275 with an updated version of Krell’s Sustained Plateau Biasing and an 85-pound transformer -- you know, a real Krell? It would strike a chord among audiophiles. And if you could keep the price below $12,000, I suspect it could become the next classic Krell. But if we don’t see something like that, I’m not sure Krell is long for this world.
An expansion of Magico’s M series of speakers is surely coming. As an owner of a pair of Magico’s flagship Q7 Mk.IIs ($229,000/pair), recently fitted with a set of the company’s MPod constrained-layer-damped footers (review coming), I’m starting the watch for their replacements. My appetite was whetted by the M Project, or M Pro for short, a limited-edition model created to celebrate Magico’s tenth anniversary, in 2014. If you snagged one of the 50 pairs made, that privilege set you back $129,000. The M3, released in 2016, will eventually supplant Magico’s Q3 ($46,650/pair). At $75,000/pair, the M3 is still mighty expensive, but a good bit more attainable -- and obtainable -- than the M Pro. My question: Which M model will we see next? Magico could introduce an M5 or M6 to replace the longest-lived Q model, the Q5. They could also make an M7 or even an M9, to retire the Q7 Mk.II. Either way, smart money says that 2017 will see the launch of at least one new M model from Magico.
Another product line that seems overdue for replacement is Focal’s Utopia series, which is seriously long in the tooth -- the original Grande Utopia ($65,000/pair when last available) was launched in the mid-1990s. Even the current Grande Utopia, the EM ($180,000/pair), is going on a decade old, and is largely reminiscent of the original. With Focal’s Sopra range still enjoying what seems like universal appeal, I suspect the time is right for us to see a new flagship from this French company, with styling trickled up from the Sopra. My guess? The new Focal flagship will be a semi-active speaker with electronic influence from sister brand Naim.
Lastly, now that Samsung has announced their purchase of Harman International, for upward of $8 billion, I seriously doubt we’ll ever see a Revel Ultima3 line. The Ultima2s began shipping in about 2007, which will make 2017 their tenth year of production -- in the speaker business, that’s too long. Maybe the Ultimas will plod along for a few more years, but I imagine folks are losing interest, and the Revel contingent will have to replace the line. I guess that all depends on what Samsung has to say about it.
What do you predict for high-end audio in 2017? I mean, other than more headphones, more turntables, and more streaming products . . .
. . . Jeff Fritz