Anthony Gallo's new Reference 3.1 loudspeaker ($2995/pair) proved that it's better to set up a room properly than it is to try to beat it into submission with expensive components. Not to take anything away from Gallo's Ref 3.1, which sounded fantastic, but his demo proved that God truly is in the details, sounding bigger, realer, richer, and more dynamic than most of the googolbuck systems we heard today. In fact, one importer, who shall remain nameless, confessed that he had a pair in his living room rather than the costly lines he brings into the country.
Penaudio's Tommi Forss was excited about the Finnish company's new Alba ($4000/pair). "We wanted a smaller floorstanding speaker than our Serenade, but a larger speaker than our Charisma, so we used the 1" SEAS Excel fabric dome tweeter from the Serenade and the 7" SEAS treated paper cone midrange/woofer in a compact time-aligned cabinet."
Dusty Vawter's Channel Island Audio has made its reputation building high-performance audio components in extremely small packages, but we were still surprised to see how tiny CIA's new VDA-2 DAC ($599)is. How small? Try 4.4" W by 2.65" H by 4.4" D.
Parting the colorful wooden beads makes a sound like brushes against snare. I'm enveloped in soft green glow and the sweetest scents of liquor and jazz. I stand in the corner, trying to figure it all out. Two of the tallest speakers I've ever seen vintage Acoustat 2+2s climb all the way up to the ceiling. There's a glowing palm tree dancing between them. Along the walls are concert posters and all sorts of album art. To my right is a mirrored alcove, a bar area, holding many varieties of absinthe and other liquors I've never seen. The room is filled with smiles and everyone seems very comfortable, intoxicated. The space isn't set up for optimal listening. There are no rows of neatly arranged metal conference chairs. Instead there are couches and armchairs. In one, sits a man with his daughter in his lap. He taps his hand to the jazz, while the young girl nods her head in time to the snare hits. Together, they move from one seat to the next, and the girl immediately reacts to the difference in sound. The father I learn his name is Marty explains to his daughter, Briana, that they have just moved into a better listening position. "It sounds so different," she says.
When your company is called Muse, I guess some product names just suggest themselves. When Kevin Halverson needed a moniker for his CD, DVD-A/V, and SACD player, he thought of Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred poetry, geometry, mime, meditation, and agriculture. Halverson says, "It means 'many voices," which it also does.
Leave it to a bass player. John Atkinson sidled up to Jon Iverson and me last night and said, "Have you heard Ascendo's room yet? It has a bandpass woofer that doesn't sound like a bandpass woofer at all—it sounds good."
It has been a while since we saw a new design from Egglestonworks, so we were happy to see the Fontaine II ($5500/pair.) The Fontaine has a small footprint and looks even smaller than its 41" height would suggest. the driver complement is a 1" fabric dome tweeter and two 6" midrange/woofers. Like the other EW designs, the Fontaine II utilizes a transmission line.
Balanced Audio Technology's Geoffrey Poor proudly showed off BAT's new Solid-state preamp, the VK42SE ($5995). Those ominous looking black cans are brand new state-of-the-art oil-filled capacitors, which will sport a different livery in the production model, by the way. The 42SE features BAT's power supply bypass, dual mono, zero feedback circuitry and it sounds "more tubelike than some of our tubed designs," Poor proclaimed. "It's like a VK42 on steroids! It has more air, more liquidity, and more testicular fortitude. I don't know why we don't have it in the system."
Jon Iverson has a nose. I mean, he just knows—for instance, we were walking through the Alexis Park, I mean Alexis Villas, when he stopped in front of Zu's logo and said, "I think this might be worth investigating."
If anyone was even in danger of presuming vinyl was passé at CES, all they had to do was come within earshot of the energetic DJ manning dual Stanton turntables at Intel's Las Vegas Convention Center booth. The DJ, Vince Pistricola, aka DJ Shortround, emerged from the Detroit music scene as a DJ and magazine publisher covering the latest in hip-hop with his Detroit Equipment Quarterly. As I took some time out to listen, DJ Shortround blasted through the din from thousands of rushing conventiongoers with a steady diet of techno. Although you'd think DJ Shortround's frantic scratching would wear out 10 phono cartridges an hour, he says that he has a "light" touch. And no he doesn’t have green skin—that was the effect of the lights!
Esoteric's two-box (transport plus D/A converter) SACD player, feeding A70 amps (not sold in the US), an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp, and a pair of Aerial Acoustics 20T speakers combined to produce one of the smoothest, most musical sounds I heard at the show.
I think it's fair to say that Bryston is one of the more conservative manufacturers of audio electronics, with solid engineering and avoidance of anything that smacks of fads or esoteric tweaks. It then comes as a convincing endorsement of power-line conditioners as a product category that the Canadian company now distributes the new Torus power-line conditioners. Based on hefty toroidal transformers from Plitron, these are aimed at the pro as much as the audiophile market; the top-of-the-line A5AB delivers up to 100 amps and weighs 220 lbs. Bryston’s James Tanner seems quite pleased with it.
We heard the HE-333 v1.3 monoblocks ($69,000/pair) in the Signals-SuperFi room, but we don't know a lot about 'em, other than the price, the fact that the new guy outputs 150W rather than 100W, and that they are drop-dead gorgeous. Us guys are so easy—sometimes all it takes to get our interest is a flash of stocking.