Mark O'Brien of Rogue Audio was showing off the new Tempest III integrated amplifier ($2999). The III (an update to the Tempest II) offers 90Wpc and comes with a remote control. It also features an optional 10dB boost of solid-state gain before the signal hits the tube section, which is selectable on the front panel. Also on the front panel is a high quality headphone output. Mark was playing the Apollo monoblock amps in the room's live system, so I did not get a chance to hear it. Hey Stephen Mejias, might this be the new amp you are looking for?
Rogue Audio was also showing off the yet-to-be-released Ares phono preamplifier. The preamp can be run in all-tube or hybrid tube/solid-state to allow it to work with any cartridge you might want to throw at it. Mark O'Brien told me he was completing the design as recently as two weeks ago. The Ares will retail for $1995 and will start shipping at the end of June 2010.
Walking into the Jeff Rowland Design Group room is like walking into a dreamscape of audio bling. To look at a Rowland faceplate is like gazing into the face of God...well, maybe that's overstating it a bit. Whoever set up the Rowland room knows how great their gear looks and even set up floor to ceiling poles full of lights, strategically aimed to heighten their hypnotic, 3-D look.
I hadn't seen this almost two-year-old company before, but was familiar with founders Andreas Koch, formerly with Studer ReVox and EMM labs, and Jonathan Tinn through his relationship with darTZeel. Sharing a room with darTZeel, Playback's MPS-5 was sitting in the center equipment rack spinning discs.
Denmark's Holm Acoustics set themselves up at the Flamingo with their beautifully-designed CD1 transport at $7,300 and DSPre 1 DAC/preamp/DSP starting at around $8,000 depending on the number of processing channels and analog output.
Those who follow computer audio forums have probably heard the name Amarra a few times. If you have an Apple computer running iTunes and want to get the most out of high resolution audio, Sonic Studio's Amarra software offers a way around some of the inherent problems when switching resolutions and the way the Apple OS handles audio.
Some disc players simply look better than others when the lights go out. The Raysonic CD168 Tube CD-Player is one such machine and retails for $2,550. The CD168 uses 4 Russian 6922EH tubes and upconverts your CDs to 24 bit/192kHz to either balanced or unbalanced outputs.
What a relief to revisit VTL electronics, and breathe in the mellow midrange of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartmann singing on the Original Recordings Group reissue of I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. There's a beauty and timbral truth to VTL electronics that you do not hear from many tube products that cost more than the $50,000/pair Siegfried monoblocks, and far more than the wonderful VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks ($15,000/pair).
My last stop of the day, and of the show, was the Audio Research room. Dave Gordon showed me their new DS-650 (I'm not sure that the designator was DS) stereo amp and laughed that it was their "Magnepan amp." Yup, I agree. As I discovered when I paired a pair of MG-3.6s with Classé CAM-350s, while any competent 20Wpc amp will drive a pair of MG-3.6s adequately...any top-notch 300400W amp will actually drive them well. Then Dave casually noted that the 650 was a class-D amp and told me to put my hand on its top. Sure enough, it was cool as a cucumber in spite of having been on and making music for several days. "The entire amp is ours, from the bottom up," Dave noted, "there's nothing standard or off the shelf in there."
Most of the time at CES, Stereophile's writers prowl the corridors in solitary fashion. But occasionally we find ourselves in the same room at the same time, which was the case in the Blue Smoke suite at the
Mirage, where we had gathered to check out the company's new server that Jon Iverson blogs about elsewhere in this report. Seen in this photo are (from left to right): Erick Lichte, Jon Iverson, Kalman Rubinson, Larry Greenhill (partially hidden), Blue Smoke's Peter Sills (back to the camera), and someone whose name tag I couldn't see. It gives you an idea of the inquisitorial mode we are in at Shows, desperate for detail but eventually satiated with sound.
My penultimate stop at THE Show, held for the first time this year at the Flamingo, was the Audience room, where they were playing a system full of new gear. Their line stage combines a relay-controlled autotransformer volume control and zero-gain active buffer. The unit has four inputs, all single-ended, and very clever switching to keep noise to an absolute minimum. Ohit also includes a headphone amp and all of Audience's power and signal-transfer technology, in a sleek, compact package.
I felt as though I had entered sacred space. As I walked into the huge TAD suite, designer Andrew Jones was playing Aaron Neville's recording of "Amazing Grace." Everything about the sound, the speaker layout, and the rapt silence of the full house felt like a holy shrine.
John Atkinson introduced me to English engineer Laurence Dickie, who was sharing our ride up the elevators to the 34th floor of the Venetian Hotel. Mr. Dickie is a well-known loudspeaker designer, responsible for the original B&W 800 and B&W Nautilus loudspeaker designs, and as well as the cute little Blue Room Minipods, and is now creating new products for South African company Vivid from his design studio in Brighton, England. "Dick," as he is known to his friends, designed the G1 flagship for Vivid, which retails now for $65,000/pair and was being demonstrated in the Convergence Audio suite with, among other things, the piano recordings John Atkinson made and wrote about in the February issue’s “As We See It.” Laurence is shown here with the smaller G2, which was being demmed in the Halcro room and so impressed Erick Lichte.
CES is where you can see the new but it is also where you can catch up with old acquaintances. Caught here in the CES Press Room in Jon Iverson's photo, I'm standing on the left with my partner in Stereophile Inc. for 12 years, Larry Archibald, who is both enjoying his retirement from the high-end audio industry and missing it, and Larry's wife, Laura Chancellor. It was on the 700-mile drive back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from the CES in January 1986 that Larry, Laura, and I mapped out the future of Stereophile.