We have received a lot of email lately because of our show report, and one of the more interesting had details concerning a group called The Mixibitors.

Apparently, every year at CES, about 30 people quietly got together in the middle of the Alexis Park courtyard, late, late Saturday night.

Their plan: to hear the unhearable. Too many rooms were unsatisfactorily setup. Too many had fustratingly problematic components paired with the barely legal primo stuff. There were just too many ‘What If’ system setups that were just a few heaves and a helluvalotof ho’s away from realization, perhaps never to exist before or after this special night.

They had carefully crafted, over the previous days and evenings of the show, designs for the systems that would be carefully pieced together, existing only for a few hours, for the pleasure of a very few… for the pleasure of The Mixibitors.

Only they would experience the glory of hearing some of the most awesome and outrageous hifi systems perhaps only glimpsed before during the most hardcore audiophile’s fanatic wetdreams.

Not that the plan hadn’t had it detractors and major revisions.

The email went on to describe some details about the discussions concerning the Kondo room. The Kondo room had been particularly difficult to plan. Everyone agreed they wanted to put different speakers on the Kondo Gakuon system – but which ones? There were the ‘use small speakers and keep it in the same room contingent’.

Everyone agreed that the ‘keep it in the same room’ approach did have some appeal – especially as some of the senior members (and some are apparently very old, but just cannot bear to quit) had starting growing tired of lugging 100s of lbs of equipment across show hotels over the years, and, even more so, because they also remembered that they all had to lug all this stuff back and set it up again before the show started stirring again in the morning.

The choices were of course limited to what was on hand at both T.H.E. Show and CES – but this was not too limiting as there were a number of excellent candidates and the weather was great this year. The small speaker candidates were Audio Note U.K. speakers, the Acapella Filedio II, the Oskar Heil Kithara. The large speaker candidates were the Wilson MAXX II, the Acapella Violon, and the Cogent horns.

The optimal configuration of this and other rooms were debated long and hard. Secret hand signals had been developed over the previous years so that votes could be curried and polled inconspicously during the days as they all appeared to be just like all the other wacky audiophiles wandering in and out of rooms listening for the holy grail.

Only they knew that the Holy Grail was not here, yet was here.

Here is the list of some of the rooms they setup that night (the actual plan goes into much more detail including cables, power cords, electronically calculated speaker system positions, potential tube replacements, etc):

* All Kondo Audio Note system components, on a HRS rack and platforms purloined from the Audio Aero room, driving Coltrane Supreme speakers all installed in the very large room at the St. Tropez where the VR-7 speakers had been setup. The Continuum turntable with the Boulder phonostage from the Alexis Park were used for analog.

* The Audio Note U.K. Gakuon system, except the turntable which was replaced with the Continuum, also on HRS rack and platforms, moved to the very large Thiel room and drivng the big Cogent True-to-life horns.

* The Kharma Mini Exquisites, moved next door to the larger Kharma room, driven by the ML2.1 amps from the Lamm room and the Meitner from the VR-9 room as digital source and pre, all equipment on HRS racks and platforms

* It was decided that the big Joule Electra OTL amps from the Joule room would be put on the Wilson MAXX 2s, largely as an experiment. But the Mixibitors Charter allows this so it was agreed. They needed a larger room and decided on the large Genesis room (which wasn’t very far away). The digital front end and preamp was the Meitner.

I asked, but No, they emphatically DO NOT have any pictures.

What did these rooms sound like? I wish I knew! They did say that many Mixibitors learn to wear diapers during this evening.


This CES 2006 room review was added after the report had been published and so is available here as well.

The Kharma mini-Exquisites – like the Kharma 3.2 but with a diamond tweeter and made to look a lot like its bigger brother, the midi-Exquisites. Driven by the small Kharma amps and MBL electronics with Kubala-Sosna cables.

The Kharma room
The Kharma Mini Exquisite room at CES 2006

Very engaging, very musical in that classic, ‘what we want music to sound like this’ fashion. Not so much a ‘you are there’ presentation like the Marten Coltrane Supremes – more like a ‘you are alive and feel good about it’ kind of thing. I really loved the sound in this room – for a small scale system it really does ‘it’ for me.

We described the sound of the Midi Exquisites driven by Lamm amplification at the Home Entertainment New York show in May, HE2005, as being almost drug-like, like a magnetic force it tried to suck you into the music, and, if you let it do this, if you gave in to it, there was a rush of feeling and emotion that swept one away, flying with the music.

The ASR amps on the Midi Exquisites, at this show, did not have the same effect, on me anyway, for whatever reason, but the Mini Exquisites…now they had an interesting effect, though somewhat different, from my perspective. Instead of having to consciously ‘let it’ do its magic, the magic just ‘was’. And whereas the ‘magic’ was thick and dense, like a hot summer night with the Midi Exquisites / Lamm system, the Mini Exquisites were light and airy, like a sunny Spring day.

The Mini’s magic was less intense, but more accessible. Perhaps this was in some part attributable to the better support the Mini had for an audiophile-quality presentation compared to the Midi system – I was able to relax more because the Mini presentation was more balanced and more realistic – albeit at a smaller scale.

Lots of detail, stable imaging, good separation, a rather narrow soundstage which we blamed on the room, good dynamics, and bass was scaled nicely to the room. Based on our two, admittedly short auditions, we think these are a slam-dunk, you are going to be so happy, upgrade for people who have the similarly sized Kharma 3.2’s and have had the money for the bigger Kharmas, but not the room.

In fact, I have a sneaky suspicion that the little 2-way 3.2s may have been the best speaker, for my tastes, of any in the amazing Kharma lineup of much more expensive speakers – and that now I have found a new ‘best’ speaker, the Mini, also a 2-way, with more of the Kharma magic and more of the audiophile attributes that make the music both more realistic and enjoyable.

The associated equipment is interesting: warm, smooth, and somewhat detailed MBL into a small (sized anyway) detailed solid state amp. The system was quite detailed sounding and engaging. It would be interesting to put these speakers on something more conventional, like Lamm amps and Meitner digital. THEN, with this cross-section of equipment, we could perhaps pinpoint the location in paradise these speakers come from – or whether, after all, they are from planet earth like most other speakers.

Oops, being a little overly effusive, I am. Time to turn Effusive menu option to OFF.

Only problem is the price: $45K. At this price it is going up against the similarly-priced Wilson Maxx II, Acapella Violon, Marten Coltrane, Avalon Eidolon, and Audio Note speakers.

Let’s discuss the competition some.

The Kharma room
The Mini Exquisites are for small to medium sized spaces for people who want engaging and startlingly emotional and detailed renditions at the expense of having less detail in the low bass.

The Lamm room
The Wilson Maxx 2 is for larger spaces, and for people who want an impressive sound: large scale soundstages, midrange and bass details, and dynamics at the expense of an almost complete lack of emotional capability and some unruly behaviors like drivability and an overly enthusiastic treble / upper midrange.

The Acapella room
The Acapella* Violon is also for larger spaces and for people who like a very natural musical realism and large engrossing soundstages at the expense of some bottom end slam.

The Marten Design* Coltrane speakers are for people who like a very accurate and realistic presentation, at the expense of not having a big and open type of sound.

The Argento room
The Avalon Eidolon Diamond is also for bigger spaces and people who like emotional yet dynamic presentations at the expensive of deep bass control and drivability

The Audio Note U.K. room
The Audio Note* U.K. AN-E SEC Signature is for smaller spaces, like the Mini, and for people who want very dynamic and exciting and harmonically rich and detailed presentations, supplied by the necessary Audio Note electronics upstream, at the expense of looking at a box.

Looking at this run down – it seems that there is indeed a place for a $45K 2-way speaker, as much as this price for a relatively small speaker may make us uncomfortable. And that place is for people with relatively small rooms who still want one of the best, no compromise, musical experiences that money can buy.

The only alternative, from the perspective of this quick survey, is the Audio Note speaker, (though the Coltrane speakers are known to work very well providing a full-range experience in as small a room as 12.5 x 16 feet) and it is also an expensive 2-way speaker – albeit one that can be driven by that amazingly pure first watt of a small SET amplifier – and it does not quite have the visual presence and beauty of the Mini, but then few speakers do.


This CES 2006 room review was added after the report had been published and so is available here as well.

We spent the end of the show listening to the Marten Design* Coltrane Supreme speakers, with Bladelius electronics, Jorma Design* cables and the Power Wing power conditioner.

This system re-created the recording venue nearly as well as the Acapella Triolons here at the Audio Federation, on a smaller scale but with more resolution. Nothing else comes close in our experience to this kind of feat. Everything else creates this simulacrum, this hoax, which requires you to forcibly suspend belief to imagine that there are real ‘musicians’ out there.

On the Triolons, you don’t have to do this nearly as much, and this leaves our poor overtaxed brains much more free to ponder the quality of the musicianship, the score, the soundboard engineering, the art, the spirit, the love, the meaning of it all. To see much, much deeper into music’s other dimensions than just the physical dimension of vibrating compression waves moving through air.

This difference has had a unexpectedly intense emotional impact on our perspective of what music is, and on our lives as a whole. Seriously, this just isn’t a fucking stereo anymore.

The Coltrane Supremes gave us a taste of this. We would love to have them here and put our favorite electronics on them – and see just how far we could push them. To see just how far they could take us.

Picture from the show
One channel of the 2-channel system at the show

The Swedish Statement room presented a sonic experience that was incredibly true, but not in that in-your-face style that so many large, high-end speakers do these days. It make take a few minutes for a listener to relax and realize that the music here is not a parody: it is not pumping the bass dynamics in your face to impress, not spotlighting midrange detail to distract from a uneven frequency response (these speakers are +/- 1.5 dB up and down the scale). All aspects of the performance, EVERYTHING is absolutely top-notch in quality, and EVERYTHING is treated fairly, nothing has more tone, more jump factor, more warmth, more presence, sharper images, more stability in the soundstage, than anything else.

To be clear: very, very few speakers in the world are able to do this. I would say that just about none of them even try. They try to make something that sounds pretty damn good, pat themselves on the back, and go home.

So here you have a sonic presentation that sounds and quiets and quickens and slows just like it is supposed to, just like what our brains have been wired to expect and treat as real for millions of years. What does this do for the listening experience? It allows us to relax many of our layers of defenses and buffers and filters and shields we have built up around our listening processes to both protect us (from physical damage, from harmful and socially unacceptable psychological reactions, from headaches, from who knows what else) and to interpret for us what we are hearing.

When was the last time you heard a piano and had to think ‘that is a piano’. I challenge the listener to hear a piano on a stereo without thinking ‘that is a piano’ AFTER considerable, (and lengthy, taking perhaps up to 1/2 second, causing much of the music to be lost while we are trying to determine ‘just what the hell was that note, anyway?’) mental calculations and interpretations.

These mental gymnastics often consist of a little voice in our head that narrates a process that goes something like “that was a single note, so it has to be a guitar, piano, harp, or some kind of electronic effect”. Then we rule out things: “I didn’t hear a pluck (assuming the system is capable of rendering such a thing, stick in probability factor here that there was, in fact, a pluck), so it is not a guitar or harp. It wasn’t an open ended kind of decay, so it might be an electronic keyboard, but was there an associated sound of the echoes in the piano body? Hmmmmm… that was awhile ago now, lets see if I can pull it from the very short term aural memory…” Oops, song is over already.

The solution for most people to this dilemma, of not being able to tell what they are listening to in real-time, is to not even care. They enjoy the tune and the bombast, and do not care that they do not, and cannot, hear or understand what the musicians are actually doing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. You can still groove to the tune, tap to the beat, and get a smile on.

Ginevra de' Benci  - National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

But if you, personally, think there is a difference between a snapshot of a woman’s face and a painting by Leonardo da Vinci (if you have ever seen a Leonardo painting in person, you know exactly what I mean),

if you personally want to experience the art and the majesty, the talent and the skill and the message and the emotion and the awesome delicacies and complexities of the human condition as communicated by the musicians to listeners just like you throughout the ages, then perhaps a system like this is for you.