Bowers & Wilkins, commonly known as B&W, was founded in 1966 by John Bowers in Worthing, West Sussex, England. It grew out of an electronics store that John Bowers and his friend Roy Wilkins had started after World War II.
If you regularly read my articles, watch my videos, and/or follow me on social media, you’ll probably already know that I like to travel to hi-fi companies around the world. In fact, I think I’ve already visited more companies than any hi-fi writer ever has—and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
Steyning, West Sussex, England, 26th March 2022
On the weekend of the 26th of March, 2022, a small contingent of the world’s top audio journalists and distributors were invited to witness the launch of a new SME flagship turntable, the first such launch in over 30 years. As if that weren’t enough to warm the cockles of even the most jaded hi-fi hack, we would be hearing the turntable in perhaps the most famous listening room in the world—the room custom-built by Alastair Robertson-Aikman, the legendary founder of SME, as an extension to his delightful Sussex home. Make no mistake: this is holy ground, the audio equivalent of being invited to Balmoral for a weekend of grouse-shooting with the Queen. Since his passing in 2006, even SME hasn’t used the room for listening tests, so its re-opening really was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Alastair, or A-RA as he was affectionately known, was not a man to settle for second best, and his pursuit of audio excellence led to the creation of a hi-fi dynasty revered the world over.
On the evening of August 20, 2019, I attended an event at Georgia Home Theater in Marietta, Georgia, at which MartinLogan previewed seven new loudspeakers in its Motion series. The revamped Motion series includes two stand-mount models, three floorstanders, and two center-channel speakers.
I've written quite a bit about the design details of Vivid Audio's Giya G4 in the previous articles in this series, but not about the sound, which is the focus of this final article. I was privy to the first presentation of the G4 at TIAS 2013, and I managed to sneak in early enough to snag a front-row, center-position seat. Vivid's chief designer, Laurence Dickie, was in charge of the presentation.
Tell Laurence Dickie that you don't like the look of his loudspeakers and, believe it or not, he'll be OK with that. Conversely, tell him that you like them and he'll simply tell you that he's happy to hear that you share a similar "aesthetic appreciation" for form. So he's good both ways. But tell him that you think the styling is simply for show, and he's bound to speak up. He might even get a little angry.
Like the other Giya models, the G4 is a five-driver, four-way design housed in a swooping, uniquely styled enclosure -- some will say "crazy looking." And all the Giya hallmarks are there, including tapered-tube loading on drivers, even on the woofers, to dissipate the rearward-directed energy from the diaphragm; dual, force-canceling side-firing woofers for maximum bass output and minimum resonance; and a cabinet constructed from a combination of fiberglass and balsa. As with all Vivid models, the drivers are effectively detached from the cabinet by an O-ring mounting technique, which greatly reduces energy transferred from them to the cabinet walls as opposed to if they were bolted straight on. All in all, cutting-edge stuff.
Vivid Audio's owners, Phillip Guttentag and Laurence Dickie, are the first to admit that the success of their Giya G3 loudspeaker took them by complete surprise. They knew that some customers wanted a smaller Giya than the middle-range G2 or flagship G1; they just didn't know there were going to be that many. Guttentag, who oversees the operations of the company's factory in South Africa, was in Tokyo for the annual Tokyo International Audio Show (TIAS), and he told me, "I can't tell you for certain right now if more G3s have been sold than G1s in both their lifetimes, but right now we sell more G3s than anything -- by far."
Sonus Faber's March 27, 2014, unveiling of the Ex3ma loudspeaker was so lavish, so well executed, and so inspiring that I could've sworn I was at the debut of a supercar, not a loudspeaker. Such is the way it is these days at the Italian firm under the leadership of Mauro Grange, CEO for the Fine Sounds Group (which owns Sonus Faber, as well as McIntosh, Audio Research, and Wadia). Grange feels that high-end audio should be presented to the same high standard as the products themselves.
When I was granted a first look at Sonus Faber's new Ex3ma loudspeaker, which was in the company's main listening room, I was also allowed to listen. The results, as you'll read, were quite ear-opening, since the Ex3ma sounded quite unlike any Sonus Faber loudspeaker I'd heard.
By all accounts, I should be asleep right now -- I've been up for more than 36 hours. Most of that was due to the 15-hour travel time from Canada to Vicenza, Italy, for the Sonus Faber company's 30th anniversary, and my inability to sleep on a plane. But what got me jazzed enough to stay up even longer and write this was the company's complete reimagining of their stand-mounted '90s-era Extrema loudspeaker, now dubbed Ex3ma (pronounced ex-three-ma), which is being released at this event.
To say that I was impressed with the effort that went into designing the Devialet Phantom and Silver Phantom is as understated as saying Parisian fashion designers know a thing or two about making good-looking clothes. I was absolutely floored by the level of engineering that went into creating both Phantom designs -- acoustical, electrical, and mechanical. The company has gone all out in terms of industrial design, too. From what I could tell, it's left no stone unturned insofar as pushing forward the parameters of loudspeaker design -- or any expense, for that matter, since the effort, which took years, had to have cost a fortune. I was also impressed that the company is pushing forward with technologies that audiophiles have inexplicably resisted -- built-in amplification and digital signal processing, mostly -- because it's the smartest way to go if you're going to push the envelope. Still, the burning question for most audiophiles is: How does this Herculean exercise in audio engineering sound?
I understand enough about loudspeakers to know that when acoustic designer Antoine Petroff told me, "It all started with the acoustic design," he wasn't lying. It was apparent when a box was literally lifted off a table in front of me to reveal a Phantom loudspeaker underneath.
Before Devialet's Manuel De La Fuente introduced me to the Phantom and Phantom Silver loudspeakers, he invited me into the company's boardroom to talk about something he felt was vital for me to understand -- that the resulting loudspeaker designs incorporated plenty of advanced, never-tried-before Devialet-created loudspeaker technologies, but that they were able to implement those new things only because of what the company had previously developed.
As I was having lunch with Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, Devialet's cofounder and the inventor of the company's revolutionary ADH (Analog Digital Hybrid) amplifier technology, he reached over and picked up a colleague's Apple iPhone 6 to first praise but then criticize it. He applauded its shape, size, weight, and feel, but then he pointed to the camera lens and said, "I don't believe Steve Jobs would have allowed that." He could tell by my confused look that I didn't understand, so he pointed out that the lens protrudes slightly from the body, which makes the phone not only ever-so-slightly thicker than Apple claims, but also awkward when you rub your finger over it. It was obvious that Pierre-Emmanuel saw this as a design flaw, as he felt it should be aligned with the area around it. "I think he would have challenged his engineers to find a solution," he concluded.
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