I occasionally check in with local high-end audio dealers to see what's new, and they're never at a loss to demonstrate something to catch my ear. Th listening rooms at Audioarts have been refreshed since my last visit, and the store is now the best appointed shop in town. Audioarts doesn't cover entry-level or midrange gear, but there are plenty of other shops covering that market here in New York City.
I spent an hour or so listening to the Stenheim Alumine speakers, which were played with Nagra electronics and a Holborne Analog 2 turntable (the entire system was made in Switzerland). The velvety sheen finish on the Alumine's aluminum alloy cabinets is stunning, the quality is far beyond what I've seen (or felt) with other metal speakers at any price. The Alumine is available in 30 different anodized colors. The three-way design has an 8-inch woofer in the base cabinet, and the top cabinet houses a 6.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter.
The sound was deliciously warm and inviting, and vocals had a flesh and blood presence that's all too rare, even with some of the very best high-end speakers. We listened to a random assortment of LPs, starting with one of Paul McCartney's less popular gems, but one of my favorites, "Wildlife." I've heard it countless times before, but here on the Stenheim Alumine the sound was less like a hi-fi, and more like live music.
Audioarts isn't all about pursuing ultra high-resolution or detail extraction from recordings, their sound is more musical than that. Acoustic guitars sounded remarkably present and realistic, and while "Wildlife" sounds like McCartney knocked it out in a few days, his loose and playful performance totally sucked me in. The Stenheim Alumine made that aspect of "Wildlife" clearer than I've ever noticed before. These speakers are so darn relaxed and natural you don't think about sound per se, just the music.
While I was at Audioarts I also checked out the big, jet black Zellaton Reference Ultimate speakers. They're designed and built in Germany, and if Mercedes-Benz ever took a stab at making high-end speakers, they'd probably resemble these Zellatons. They're gorgeous and sound as good as they look.