One of the bugbears of mounting speakers—and especially subwoofers—in a wall is that the drive-unit behavior depends on the less-than-rigid behavior of the sheetrock. Most manufacturers of architectural speakers get around this by using a back box to provide the correct acoustic loading. THX's Laurie Fincham (who is going to hate me for referring him as one of the grand old men of English audio) had a different idea.
Sennheiser’s PXC 450 ($499.95) headphones are both the new top model in their noise-canceling series and the first using the Talk Through technology, which distinguishes between general ambient noise and the voice of a person talking to you. I tried them briefly, and was impressed both by the sound quality and by the acoustical isolation. They’re modeled here by Nicoll Public Relations’ Erika Pearson.
Photographed by Jason Victor Serinus in the Sumiko room on the 35th floor of the Venetian Hotel, this is the prototype of a new flagship speaker from Vienna Acoustics. Its signature elements are an innovative coaxial midrange/tweeter with a flat, reinforced, flat diaphragm for the midrange to eliminate any horn effect on the tweeter dome and an ultra HF unit to optimize polar response in the upper range. Note that the upper enclosure can be aimed to improve imaging.
Convergent Audio Technologies' SL-1, in its various iterations, has been my reference preamp for some time. When the SL-1 Ultimate came out, I kidded designer Ken Stevens about the fact this designation implied that there was simply no way to improve it, so what was he going to do when—inevitably, in my view—he found ways to tweak the design? Well, sure enough, the SL-1 Ultimate is now the SL-1 Ultimate Mk.II, and Ken has a new preamp called the Legend, which is said to be even better. Improvements over the Ultimate Mk.II include a Teflon circuit board, Black Gate electrolytic capacitors, separate left and right volume controls, and a constrained-layer aluminum/steel bottom plate. An interesting feature is that the AV bypass works even without the preamp being turned on, saving tube life. The price is $15,995, which makes the $7995 for the Ultimate Mk.II seem like a positive bargain.
The rooms at the Venetian Hotel that are named after famous Venetians (Marco Polo, Galileo, Bellini, et al), with their ultra-high ceiling, are proving to be a definite challenge for exhibitors. (The rooms in the Venetian Tower, which I haven’t visited yet, are said to be better.) One of the more successful in taming these rooms’ acoustical challenges was Lyngdorf. Of course, this is the all-singing, all-dancing, DSP-corrected RoomPerfectTM system, which is designed to deal with room anomalies. And that it did, the sound from the "2+2" system (two main speakers out from the wall and two subwoofers against the wall) sounding uncommonly well-balanced. Designer Jan A. Pedersen is looking pleased, as well he should be.
People whose memories go back a long way may remember Dick Sequerra’s highly-regarded Metronome Seven loudspeakers. They haven't been made for some years, but the importers of Thorens products have prevailed on Dick Sequerra to start making them, and a pair of these (serial No.3) was being used in a system that included a Thorens turntable (natch), Ron Sutherland’s PhD phono stage and Direct Line Stage, and new $15,000/pair Thorens monoblocks. The speakers are designated Metronome 7.7 Mk.6, and are priced at $1995/pair. Very nice sound, especially considering the fact that the system was in one of the Venetian rooms with ceilings that are much higher than any normal home. Here are Ron Sutherland and Thorens importer Chuck Kennedy, kneeling at the altar of High Fidelity.
Since my first CES, in 1979, I have always enjoyed the chance encounters in the corridors. Some of these turn out to be with people who, unknown at the time, end up being audio superstars. I don't know whether Larry Forbes will succeed, but he certainly has the passion. His Klee Cables use flat, thin conductors of different metals and he has applied for a patent for this conductor configuration, having not found any prior art. Well yes, Larry admits, Goertz did something similar, but that didn't involve different metals. You can contact Larry at Larry_Forbes@hotmail.com.
Italian manufacturer Simetel, who makes tube amplifiers with a distinctively "retro" appearance, showed its new Nightingale Gala two-chassis power amplifier in one of the Venetian's lower-level rooms. Tubed power supply is one chassis, the tubed amplification stage, using 300Bs, is is on the second. Projected price is $16,000, and Simetel has now set up its own US distributor. Designer and company founder Luciano Del Rio stands by the silver-finish Gala (black is also available), which was being demmed with Revolver Cygnis speakers.
The mark of a great large speaker is that it can sound small when the music demands it. Such was the case with the humongous La Sphère speaker from French manufacturer Cabasse, one of the many high-end companies who chose to “outboard” this year at an off-site hotel. With its four-way coaxial design, it resembles a scaled-up version of the Baltic that Mikey Fremer reviewed in September 2005, but is fully active with the crossover realized in the digital domain. Demonstrated in a large room with Cabasse’s own amplification and Bel Canto preamp and source components, it offered tremendous dynamic range and loudness capability on full-scale orchestral music and film soundtracks (for which the pair of Spheres was joined by a full surround system and a subwoofer using a 22” driver). For me, however, the magic was greatest when Christopher Cabasse (shown standing with his company’s creation) played a two-channel recording of solo violin and piano, proving that La Sphère can be a quiet speaker when necessary.
Because of the restrictions placed on merchandise sales at CES, the usual Acoustic Sounds booth, stocking much-in-demand LPs, SACDs, and CDs, was nowhere to be found. But the Kansas company still had a display room showing the hardware lines it distributes, including Thorens, Sutherland, and Stirling. But founder Chad Kassem was most proud of the new Analogue Productions LP: the Ultimate Analogue Test LP. Produced by Clark Williams and Barry Wolfson, with input from George Marino and others, cut at Sterling Sound, and pressed on 180gm vinyl by RTI, the Test LP has a selection of tracks to enable the LP lover to optimally set up his system.