I have heard Acapella horn loudspeakers and Einstein electronics on other occasions, but they have never sounded as glorious as they did paired together in one of the Aaudio Imports room at CES 2010. I only wish Erick Lichte and John Atkinson had been present as I played John's 2008 recording of Cantus' While You Are Alive, which Erick produced. (Erick was also Cantus' Artistic Director at the time). The sound was bighuge, in factmaximally transparent, and thanks to the Einstein electronics' euphonic presentation, absolutely luscious.
Dynaudio had something for almost everyone with an exhibit that ranged from affordable to cost-no-object. At one of the room stood the imposing Consequence SE, whose bass was so powerful that it would interact with the spongy wall behind it unless the mighty Michael Manousselis braced himself against the corner. But on the other end of the long room sat a marvelous little system composed of the Contour S 1.4 ($3500/pair, with optional stands costing an additional $450), Octave V40SE 40Wpc integrated amp ($4900), and an optional capacitance Black Box ($1200) that increased the capacitance of the integrated amp's power supply. Interconnects were from Tara Labs, and speaker cables the Ocos Pro ($900/3 meter pair).
Beckoning like the mythical paradise for which the Coloradon company is named, the Avalon Acoustics Time loudspeakers ($47,995/pair) stood in a large suite on the 34th floor. Surrounded by a large complement of room-tuning devices that only partially controlled their low end, the beauty and clarity of the Time's diamond tweeter transmitted the beauty of Renaud Capuüon's violin as few other speakers I have heard.
Visiting one of Aaudio Imports' rooms gave me another opportunity to hear Tidal loudspeakers from Germany. I initially encountered an extremely imposing pair of these speakers on the first day of the show, paired with BAlabo electronics and Echole cabling. Now before me was a smaller pair of the Tidal speakers, either the Contriva Diacera SE ($73,500/pair) or Piano Cera ($28,400/pair). (The equipment sheet listed both models).
It was a case of Johnny Hartmann the third time over. In the room shared by Hansen and Tenor Audio, my third encounter with Hartmann's vocalism at CES 2010 came via a CD transfer of a 1964 recording. Happily, the CD retained much of the vocal richness of the two Hartmann LPs I had heard earlier in the show.
Vandersteen's $45,000/pair, time- and phase-correct, four-way, floorstanding, Model Seven loudspeaker made its debut at the 2009 CES but is now in production. I sat with Richard Vandersteen in his suite at the Venetian, and listened intently to his description of how he designed the Model Seven. He started by saying, "I didn't really understand the advantages of carbon-fiber as a material that could help speaker design until I built my own airplane." From there, he described how he developed a patent-pending sandwich of high-Young’s Modulus carbon-fiber skins bonded to a balsa-wood core for the mid-bass, midrange, and tweeter diaphragms, which combines very high stiffness for proper pistonic operation, with high self-damping. Carbon-fiber construction for the enclosure also allowed him to restrict the cabinet resonance to very high frequencies, where they will have no effect on sound quality. The drive-units use Vandersteen’s patented method of avoiding rear reflections from the magnet structure. The powered 12" subwoofer fires down at the floor. All this was evident when he played a vinyl recording of Holst's The Planets. The Model Seven, driven by Aesthetix amplification, played with unusual clarity and definition, and I could easily follow different motifs in this orchestral selection that I had not been aware of at home. From what I heard at the Show, I anticipate the Model Seven doing very well in the review scheduled to run in the March, 2010 issue of Stereophile.
Music server manufacturer Blue Smoke returned to CES this year as part of the Rockport Technologies suite in the upper echelons of the Mirage. The company's product is the $6,995 Black Box music server where they focus on creating an optimal environment for digital music on the hardware side and assume the customer will choose a Windows compatible music player and interface. For their demo, Windows Media Center was used with a Dell touchscreen (seen on the right) and keyboard/mouse combo for the control functions. A MSB DAC, located under the Black Box in the photo above, converts the data to analog.
With 1TB of internal music storage, backup management program and Shoutcast internet radio capability, the Cary Audio Design Music Server appears to be a screaming deal at the estimated $2000-2500 price range. You can also add additional music storage via USB and control everything with an iPhone or Touch running their app.
NAD is well known for its traditional, high-quality, and relatively affordable integrated amplifiers. At this year's CES, NAD introduced a revolutionary new integrated, the M2 ($5999). NAD's Stephen DeFuria (right) told me that the M2 is what NAD calls a "Direct Digital" amplifierthere is no analog circuitry!
One of my favorite sounds of the show came out of the PrimaLuna room. Their sound was full of dynamics, texture, body and balance. Kevin Deal of Prima Luna (seen here like a proud Papa) was one of the few people at CES who made sure that folks visiting his room got the right mix of information, listening time, and fun. At least that was the vibe when I visited. At Kevin's feet are the DiaLogue Seven monoblocks ($5499 per pair), which Art Dudley wrote about in the December 2009 issue of Stereophile.
One of my favorite things I experienced at CES this year was encountering new audio companies I'd never heard of, especially the ones that seem to be making high-quality components at real-world prices. One of these new surprises was Mystère Audio, distributed in the US by Kevin Deal. Made, like PrimaLuna, in China for Durob Audio, a Dutch company who has been making gear for over 30 years, Mystère showed a full line of amplification components but were playing their pa21 stereo power amplifier ($2995) and ca21 preamplifier ($2195).