Martin Appel reports:
Another year has come and gone and our team has returned from the bombast of Las Vegas with a mixed bag of impressions and experiences that make these shows worthwhile. The big names were well represented and some not so well represented.
We spend so much effort in trying to see and hear everything, that one sometimes forget that this is supposed to be fun! Seeing old friends, making new ones, establishing relationships, listening to new equipment is all part of what we do. We also understand that conditions at a show are not ideal, and, whether first impressions are positive or negative, it is only the start of any evaluation process.
It was also apparent that turntables have become the source of reference. Computer files were also the norm. More and more rooms were using computer based sources to demo their systems. CD players were getting harder to find. When I go to a show I always bring a select group of my reference CDs to make an evaluation. I think next year I better be prepared with a flash drive containing the same music.
Before starting our sonic adventure we visited the Peppermill (our CES tradition) where we fortified ourselves with an ample breakfast Vegas style. Now we were ready to attack the show.
One of the first people we visited was Kevin Hayes in his VAC room with all their new reference amps and preamp. It was similar to last year’s set up except the Tannoy Kingdom Royale speakers were replaced by JM Labs Utopias. The Utopias didn’t have the same impact and exhibited a little too much high frequency energy than the Tannoy’s and not as much bass. Poor room interactions the problems? The next day the Utopias were gone and replaced by Magico S-5’s which proved a better match, but still not as good as the Tannoy’s. As the JM Labs speakers have received uniformly great reviews, I was surprised.
MSB Technology was next and had a room filled with its line of digital electronics paired with its 200 watt class ‘A’ monoblocks. Played through YG Acoustics speakers, they were creating a very musical sound. Not a tube in sight, yet the sound was sweet, smooth and musical. Bravo Vince Galbo.
Next, the EAR room where tubes and analogue were the primary means of making music. They also used computer files as a source. Clearly, the very cordial Dan Meinwald of EAR preferred his turntable. Dan was introducing the Django L speaker from Marten for $9,000/pr which sounded quite commendable. They were hooked up by Jorma interconnects — $9,900 per 1 meter pair. We visited this room several times.
Our group discovered the Raidho Acoustics room where the diminutive C 1.1 stand mounted monitors were making a rather large sound via Rowland electronics. I was reasonably impressed but at 28K a pair, I’ll pass.
Parts Express was showing a system with a curved tower containing a curved vertical array of drivers and matching sub-woofers via Emotiva gear that was on the other end of the price spectrum. The sound was not ideal but headed in the right direction and they were offering a way to get into the audiophile world without selling your first born.
Changing directions again, we walked into the Talon room where we heard their new speaker, the Phoenix, powered by the latest VAC gear. This room had to be one of the best we heard. What was interesting was the fact that the speaker contained an internal powered woofer with room correction and active crossover. The sound was splendid.
Our next port of call was the Avid room where I finally had the pleasure of meeting Conrad Mas, the head man at Avid. We chatted for a while and he introduced us to his latest table, the Ingenium. A new entry level venture that incorporates many of the techniques used in his more expensive models. He mentioned the development of new tables above his benchmark Acutus SP Reference. New electronics, too. Apparently, the high end audio turntable scene in England is just fine.
The KEF room highlighted its very cool Blade Loudspeaker with Parasound Halo gear. It was a very impressive sounding speaker but lacking, at least in this room, really low bass. Room interaction continued to be problematic.
Moving on to the Magico suite where I saw and heard the new S1 Speaker, a mere $12,600. It is a two way floor-stander and was amazingly good. It sounded more coherent than some bigger, far more expensive models. Unfortunately there was no CD player in the system and I could only evaluate the sound from what they were playing from the server. Further investigation will be required.
Verity Audio had a mega-system using Lamm 2.2 amplifiers to bi-amp their large Lohengrins. I must say I was a bit disappointed by the sound of this system. I think it was a poor match of amplifier and speaker. I expected so much more knowing the quality of the products. We also had a similar letdown from another suite where the Wilson Maxx speakers were holding fort with amplification by Lamm 3.0 amplifiers. No bass and lackluster highs manifested themselves in a sound lacking in dynamics. How could this happen with such lauded equipment?
Moving along we came upon the Cary Audio suite where I found two systems that made wonderful music. The first was a large system with the Tannoy ‘Kingdom Royale’ speakers with Cary tube electronics. The sound was full, dynamic, and I didn’t want to leave. Then I was pulled into the next room by Dick Diamond of Cary, where he insisted that we give an all tube mini-system an audition. It goes by the name Audio Electronics and is Cary’s value brand and sold direct. It contains the Constellation preamplifier, $1,495,the Hercules power amplifier, $1,895 and the Lightning DAC for $1,295. Total of $4,685. There is also an available headphone amplifier for $1,195. Tannoy’s mini-monitor speaker at $1,200/pr was being used to demonstrate the system. It was wonderful giving one a full range musical experience. This system was a knock out. If you need a system for a small room this is a no-brainer. It makes music.
On the opposite end of the scale (you are going to need a really big scale) sits Boulder. The room was a static display of their creations that must support the aluminum industry. They had some amplifiers that were almost coffin size.
Back to sanity. Our next room was the Acoustic Zen/Triode room. It was great to see Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen and Santos Oropel of Triode again. Lee’s Crescendo speakers were sounding wonderful and his cables and power cords were doing the job — carrying all that information and power accurately from those amazing Triode amplifiers. Here was a room where the symbiosis of equipment produced some of the best sounds of the show. Bravo.
The VPI room was headed up by Mat, son of the company’s founder, Harry Weisfeld. He is as genial a host as his father. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and it sounds like the torch is being passed to a very capable individual. The sound was very good especially through very sculptural speakers from Estelon. The form is molded from a material made from crushed marble particles in an epoxy matrix which makes it very dense, weighty and acoustically dead. The resultant full range sound was excellent. There is a wide range of colors available.
At the end of the last day we saw several turntable manufacturers that were visually impressive. One was a clear, acrylic creation by Basis that would fit beautifully in a display at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. The other was Transrotor, whose gold and ivory look seemed to be designed to be part of a Saudi Prince’s ‘fun’ room. Not my taste, but beautifully executed.
It was an excellent show but clearly not as crowded as it has been in the past. There was practically no waiting for the elevators up to the rooms in the Venetian tower. As usual, we could never cover everything and there were many rooms I couldn’t get to. If my report did not cover one of your favourites or requests, hopefully, Henry or Mike’s report that follow will.
Henry Wilkenson reports:
It hardly seems possible that a year has passed since the last CES but here we are again. While the show did seem to be somewhat smaller, it was interesting none the less. The bulk of the high end audio exhibits were held in the Venetian Hotel. After a hearty breakfast at the Peppermill (restraint recommended) it’s time to begin so, let’s get started.
Dan Meinwald’s EAR room was making some very nice sounds with the Django L speakers (9K\pair), these reasonably sized speakers consist of 2 8” aluminum/ceramic woofers and a 2.35” ceramic tweeter. With an 88 db sensitivity I think that they should really like power. At 6 ohms, they present an easy load for most amps. The rest of the entire system consisted of the EAR DACute ($6,595), The EAR Diskmaster turntable ($28,000). Helius Omega Tonearms 2 @ ($3,100 ea.), Dynavector XV-1s phono cartridge ($5,450). The electronics were the EAR 890 70 watt power amplifier ($8,295). The system was wired with Jorma Prime interconnects ($9,900 per 1 meter pair, $4,100 each additional meter. Jorma Origo speaker cables ($7,000per 1meter pair, and @2,200 each additional meter). The sound was full and inviting overall. While the Django L speakers sounded really good under show conditions, I have to wonder how much better they would sound in a home environment.
While I didn’t get to actually hear the Diskmaster turntable or the Redpoint Model D($29K) tables, they were really compelling to see. I have to say the same for the Marten Coltrane loudspeakers ($70K per pair) in EAR’s second room, I look forward to hearing them at future shows.
Another good room was the Nola room where the Nola Concert Grand Reference Loudspeaker ($197K), Yes that’s rigtht $197K a pair! These truly reference quality speakers were filling the room with good sound. Actually it was among the best sounding speakers of the show. At 275 lbs. a side, with 2 12” subwoofers in their own chambers, four 4.5” midrange drivers, 12” ribbon tweeter and a smaller super tweeter, you get a heavy speaker with a lot of drivers for the money. Typically, speakers with multiple drivers make me nervous. Big speakers with multiple arrays of drivers tend to have big multiple array problems. Not so here. The Nola’s were seamlessly integrated sonically and were true full range speakers. You have to hear them to believe them. The Concert Grand’s were driven by the Audio Research Stereo 75 power amp ($9K), the AR CD 8 CD player ($10K) and the Reference 10 preamp ($30K). All of the cabling was by Nordost.
I always expect good things from the VAC room at any show that I attend but this year Kevin Hays has simply out done himself. Last year he featured his Signature line of electronics. This year he has topped the Signature line with the flagship Statement line. This consists of the Statement 450 IQ Monoblocks ($58K each). These amps feature the new VAC IQ intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System In short, this system allows each tube in the output stage to be held precisely at the optimal bias point. This is a true first for tube power amps. The Statement Line Preamplifier ($46 K) and the Statement phono amp are also new this year. The Statement Line amplifier is a high current, Low impedance, balanced Class A1 triode design. All inputs and outputs are transformer coupled. The statement Phono amplifier is a dual mono triode (MM/MC0 design). It featured three gain modes, adjustable loading, and stereo and mono operation. The Statement Phono can accept up to four independent phono sources. All of this good stuff will set you back a mere $50K.
There was an increasing number of manufactures using vinyl and turntables for demonstrations and VAC was no exception. Kevin Hayes chose the Clearaudio Master Innovation wood turntable with the Universal 12” tonearm & VTA lift (32K). The table was topped by the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge (15K). Originally, the system was demoed using the Focal Maestro Utopia speakers. While the sound was very good, it tended to emphasize the midrange and treble. I preferred the sound after a switch to the Magico S5 speakers. The Magico’s had a weightier sound with greater timbral richness and a fuller bass. Either way, sonically the VAC gear was stunning.
￼The Vitius Audio room was another noteworthy for the really good sound coming from it. The lineup consisted of the RD-100 DAC/Preamp ($13K), Rs-100 Power amplifier (13K), RP- 101 Phono Amplifier ($13K). All cabling was by Dyrholm Audio and the turntable was the VPI Aries 3 ($6K) with a Soundsmith Hyperion cartridge. ($7.5K). I was particularly taken by the Estelon XB loudspeakers (33K). While unusual in appearance and, relatively small footprint, they produced quite a full range sound. Given they are anything but cheap, their molded enclosures, ceramic drivers and overall build and sound quality justify the cost.
￼Among the very best sounding rooms at this show was Robert Lee’s room using all Triode Corporation’s electronics and his own Acoustic Zen Crescendo Loudspeakers. The TRX-1 preamplifier ($3,200), the CD 5SE ($3,200), TRX M845 SE monoblocks (22,500) were all connected with Acoustic Zen cabling. These 50 watt mono blocks were driving the Crescendo’s to musical heights that you wouldn’t think possible with a mere 50 watts. The sound was full and vibrant with excellent bass pitch and definition. This is a system that I could live with easily.
Until next year, or, at least New York in April.