The Atohm Grand Thrill Series made its world premiere at CES 2008. Designer Thierry Comte is pictured here with the very handsome GT 1 bookshelf speaker which exhibited an almost uncanny ability to fill the room with deep, powerful bass. Highs were also impressive: crisp, clean, and fast. Overall, I felt the presentation was tightly focused and lively, without being overly sharp.
Both the GT 1 bookshelf and GT 2 floorstander loudspeakers offer a handy tweeter control for "precise adjustment of the frequency response in relation to the listening room and associated equipment," said Thierry Comte.
The totally new-to-me Indiana Line, imported by VMAX Services, was a great surprise. VMAX Service's Richard Kohlruss tells me the company's been around for 30 years. Their Arbour Series of loudspeakers are finished in an attractive real-wood cherry veneer with nicely rounded front panel edges. At just about 37" high and only 25lbs, the 5.02 is not only easy on the eyes, it's also practical for small listening rooms like mine.
You wouldn't tell by looking at him, but Martin Tremblay is camera-shy. He's modest, though he has every reason to be proud. Triangle's new Genese Series continues the French firm's tradition of sophisticated styling. With its slender, elegant cabinet and smooth, glossy finish, the $4900/pair Quartet descends from Triangle's Magellan Series and is just as lovely.
After days filled with wildly-shaped loudspeakers constructed from all sorts of fantastic materials, I must say it was refreshing to see a familiar facethe DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3, a speaker that looks like a speaker.
PBN's Peter Noerback had emailed me back in December about his new Montana KAS2 tower. The 300lb, 6'-tall speaker has twin 12" woofers top and bottom powered by a 1kW amplifier, with what appear to be top-of-the line 9" lower and 5" upper midrange units from SEAS flanking a 1.125" tweeter. An active, line-level bass extender, the Olympia EX, pushes the low-frequency extension below the resonance point of the woofers. Sensitivity is specified as a very high 93dB/W/m. The sealed cabinet features a solid-maple front baffle and is an asymmetrical hexagon in shape to minimize internal resonances. Price, considering the enormous size of the speaker, is a relatively realistic $38,000/pair, which includes the bass extender.
"Wes Phillips said you would be coming by to take pictures of our loudspeaker," said Paul DiComo, Vice President of Marketing at Definitive Technology. Paul then took me over to a pair of the company's slim Mythos ST Super Tower loudspeakers driven by Pass Labs XA 100.5 100W solid-state monoblocks. Standing just over 48" tall, the speakers had a width of 6.75" and a depth of only 9.5" What a change from the massive transducers I had seen at other venues at CES 2008!
Escalante Design's CEO and Founder, Matthew Waldron, and the company's design engineer, Tierry Budge, were on hand to introduce the $11,000/pair Pinyon, a lighter and less expensive version of their Fremont loudspeaker, which I review in the Febraury issue of Stereophile. Weighing 35 lbs each, the Pinyon includes two direct-coupled 6.5" woofers, and the same 1" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter found in the Fremont. It comes with the Hoodooh Monitor stands that have a brushed aluminum inlay. Waldron had it playing with the 210 lb, 12", powered (500W), UINTA subwoofer, which is rated from 16–100Hz.
Jim Thompson from Egg.Works, the firm that manufactures Eggleston loudspeakers, was eager to tell me more about the Eggleston Nine. I'd seen the firm's loudspeakers in many different CES suites over the years, but never had a chance to listen to them before.
In a room dominated by imposing Antique Sound Labs tube electronics and Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers, the Chang folks were demonstrating their new Hyper Drive "hyper noise shunting mechanism." Designed to bring AC noise down further than conventional Chang Lightspeed power conditioners, the Hyper Drive will be incorporated into 2008 Reference models such as the Chang Mk III ($3500).
Now I know why Robert Deutsch wrote such an enthusiastic review of the Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD712z loudspeaker in the January 2007 issue of Stereophile. This eye-arresting single-driver loudspeaker ($7000/pair with dedicated stands) delivered an absolutely beautiful rendering of Monica Salmazo's voice. Both top and midrange were exemplary, as was transparency. Though early instrument strings on the delightful Channel Classics SACD, Bolivian Baroque v.2, were either a mite too edgy or conveyed with unforgiving accuracy, the system did a wonderful job with the church venue's naturally reverberant acoustic. Soprano Kate Royal's voice on her marvelous EMI debut recital was drop dead gorgeous. Within their frequency limitations, these speakers are superb. And given that the source was a Denon 955 DVD player rather than a state-of-the-art unit, their triumph is even more noteworthy.
April Music's tremendous achievement deserves two blog entries. In one room at the Alexis Park, the Korean-based company demmed an absolutely amazing for the price Stello stack of low-cost, truly high-end mini components: the Stello CDT-100 transport ($695), DA100 Signature ($895), HP100 headphone amp/preamp ($595), and S100 50W/channel power amplifier ($745). Auditioning Harmonia Mundi's beautiful recording of Schubert's Arppeggione Sonata, this diminutive set-up (complete with B&W 805 loudspeakers and Red Rose cabling) created an amazingly deep, involving soundstage that would make many a manufacturer of components costing 10 times the Stello price envious. The system also did a fine job of capturing the complex harmonics of the piano. An I2S bus connection between components—shades of Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies—sure helps matters. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this set-up fully captured the soul of every piece of music I auditioned, or that its solid-state pedigree wasn't apparent, but it blew the socks off most mass-market doo-doo and a helluva lot of supposedly audiophile-grade components.
After hearing the Stello stack, I thought I had heard it all. But in the next room, April Music President Simon K. Lee blew my mind even more with the one-piece Aura note Music Center ($1850). This little baby, available through a dealer network, even includes a USB port on back, a second USB memory stick port on the side, a built-in tuner, and two RCA inputs. Paired with the Aura speaker ($650/pr), the parallel single-ended MOSFET design (thank you, Nelson Pass) sounded a bit more mellow and soulful than the Stello stack. (It would have probably extended as low as that stack if it had been paired with the B&Ws).
More than once, I've teased Convergent Audio Technology's Ken Stevens about calling his preamp SL-1 Ultimate. I mean, once you've got something that's the Ultimate, where can you go if it's improved—and there is no audio product that can't be improved, even if only to a minor degree. He subsequently introduced a preamp called the SL-1 Legend, but it was about double the price of the SL-1 Ultimate, and Ken said that it was sufficiently different from the SL-1 Ultimate that it could be considered a new preamp, deserving of a new name.
Hovland introduced a new preamp; in fact it was so new that it hasn't been named yet, and the price hasn't been determined ($16k–$18k range). The only thing known for sure is that it's a solid-state design, with balanced inputs and outputs, and has the blue back-lighting that Hovland is known for. It's another contender for the “Most Beautiful $18k Preamp” title.