Utah-based Zu Audio does indeed goes its own way, with retro, almost-full-range pulp-cone drive-units used in high-sensitivity designs. (See Art Dudley's review of the $4000/pair Essence in the October 2009 Stereophile. All of Zu's speakers have been moderately priced, so I was not expecting to see and hear a design costing $40,000/pair when I went into the Zu room at T.H.E. Show.
The Dominance uses three 10" paper-cone drivers, each with a whizzer cone, to cover the range from 27Hz to 12kHz. Each is in its own sub-enclosure featuring Zu's proprietary ZuRG loading (See AD's review) with the outer two tuned identically and the central drive-unit adjusted to give a bit more upper-midrange energy. There is also a downward-firing 15" subwoofer, covering the octave below 27Hz, and completing the line-up are two horn-loaded ring-radiator tweeters operating above 12kHz. Unusually, these are placed at the top and bottom of the Dominance.
For the dem, the subwoofer was powered by a Pass Labs XA30.5 but the main drive-units were driven by a 1.5Wpc Yamamoto SET amp. Yup, just 1.5W, but the Dominances still managed to fill the room with sound. Lows were tight and extended; imaging was tangible; jump factor was startling; but I couldn't get away from a touch of character in the mid-treble imparted by those whizzer cones.
Looking at the ginormous horn speakers in the Silbatone room, all I could think was "how did they get them through the door?" The speakers were a hybrid, the lower half being vintage Western Electric with field-coilenergized 18" woofers, and the midrange and highs being modern recreations from GIP in Japan.
I hadn't been aware of the Silbatone brand before this CES. Their website says that "The goal of Silbatone Acoustics is to recreate the musical enjoyment of the great theater systems in the home, creating practical realizations for today's serious music listeners." Okay. It turns out that their beautifully constructed power amplifiers ($150,000, depending on tube choice) are vehicles for unusual and rare tubes. The amplifier seen in front of the speakers, for example, used square-base Marconi DA100 broadcast modulation tubes (around $5000 each) for the outputs, with pre-WWII Siemens ED red-base tubes as the drivers. The audiophile air in this room was rarefied, indeed.
Glenn Phoenix, President of Westlake Audio, was touting the loudspeaker company’s cable muffs. Made of foam, the muffs are used to support and separate cables. They are also said to benefit cables that are under-damped.
“We have a rule in the company to keep cables between 2” and 4” apart,” he said. “Putting left and right channels too close together can increase crosstalk, while positioning them too far apart may lead them to generate and pick up interference.” I hope I got that right.
Westlake Audio manufactures cable muffs with a number of different size holes and slots to accommodate a wide assortment of cables other than the extremely thick variety. Prices range between $59.50 and $88/set.
Gary Koh of speaker manufacturer Genesis was happy to show off the new Absolute Fidelity Interface cables. Being sure to note that the product does not use the Genesis name, because it has been designed to be used with all loudspeaker brands, it has been give its own dedicated Absolute Fidelity website.
“To me, a cable should not function as a component; it should be an interface between two components,” said Koh. “Since every component is different, and draws power differently, I’ve designed different cables to interface between different components.”
The Absolute Fidelity Interface line currently includes the Loudspeaker Interface ($3000/2m pair); Turntable Power interface, Amplifier Power interface, and Component Power interface (each $1800/1m pair); and Component Interface (for use between source components, $1800/0.6m pair).
Koh explained that, a few years back, when he could not find a cable sufficiently transparent to do full justice to his Genesis 1.2 loudspeaker, he began rolling his own. Steve McCormack and a few other designers he works with were so impressed with the cable that they urged him to market it.
“I didn’t really launch them,” Koh said with a smile. “They just started selling. You can call this the official launch.”
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Purist Audio Design, founder/designer Jim Aud has just introduced their 25th Anniversary cable. Shown at T.H.E. Show for the first time, the 25th anniversary line consists of interconnects ($8100/1m pair) and speaker cable ($18,000/1.5m pair).
“Basically we’re using solid silver, single crystal wiring surrounded by Ferox 103, which is a proprietary doped silicon,” Aud explained. “Our other cables only use copper or copper alloys, and don’t use the Ferox 103.” While Purist still makes two cables that contain fluid, the 25th Anniversary cabling does not.
Debuting at CES 2011, Running Springs Audio’s Elgar Powerline conditioner is so new that Dan Babineau has yet to produce product literature. A trickle-down, opening price-point piece ($999/6 outlets), it can handle 1800W maximum. The 100% passive, noncurrent-limiting design employs the same filters as all other Running Springs Audio products, but uses a smaller-laminate inductor to increase dynamics.
Designed for smaller, modest systems, the Elgar Powerline conditioner is hand-built in Anaheim, CA. “It does three things really,” Babineau said. “A high quality circuit breaker, it also takes care of atrocious noise anomalies, and cleans up the power without negatively affecting the source. This has always been my goal since I started the company ten years ago.”
Distributed for the first time in the US by Robert Kelly of Kelly Audio Technologies in San Diego, the unusually designed Bertram cable comes in copper, silver, and gold configurations. Pictured is Proxima 2 balanced silver interconnect ($8000/1.5m pair).
Designed by Soren Bertram of Denmark, Proxima 2’s silver ribbon wire is flattened and twisted into what looks like a braid. Boasting an air dielectric and laser-welded terminations, it is third down from Bertram’s top-of-the-line. Also available are the Proxima 2 silver speaker cable ($25,000/2m pair), signal cables, and power cords.
Some readers may recognize Kelly as the former speaker designer for EgglestonWorks and Cello. Out of the business for a number of years, he has returned with an intriguing portfolio of Scandinavian-sourced products.
Pass Labs showed off two nice beer fridges, er, amplifiers at this year’s CES. Lacking any model numbers or nomenclature, the top monoblock amp (the top two units) is a single-ended 200W amp ($45,000/pair) and the bottom monoblock is a single-ended 300W amp ($75,000/pair). Nelson Pass is shooting to use no feedback on these circuits and maintain the Super Symmetry design made popular in far less extreme applications. The new part for these amps is a brand new silicon-carbide FET. These FETs were initially designed for the militaryway to turn swords into plow shares and space heaters, Nelson!and Pass Labs intends on exploring their use in future products.
When I walked into the Boulder room, I actually started to giggle. I was told Boulder was showing off some large new amps, but I was not ready for what I saw. Sitting atop plinths of solid granite were the new 3050 monoblock amplifiers. Unlike most monoblocks, the left and right amps, seen here with Boulder's genial Rich Maez, are designed as mirror images of one another for greater visual appeal. These class-A amps put out 1500W into 8 ohms, use 120 output devices, require a dedicated 240AV AC outlet, and weigh 400 lbs each. Oh yes, they cost $180,000/pair. They will begin shipping soon and I am told that orders are already in for these beasts.
Ayre showed off their new VX-R stereo amplifier, a stereo version of their lauded MX-R monoblocks. Rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms the VX-R is priced at $14,950. The amp is a zero-feedback design, featuring fully balanced discrete circuitry. As usual from Ayre, the chassis is beautifully made of milled aluminum. The sound of the VX-R, driving the TAD Compact Reference monitors was wonderful.
I met designer Hans-Ole Vitus in his room at the Venetian, where he was showing his new stereo amplifier, the Vitus SS 101 (pictured in the middle, $40,000). The SS101 puts out 50Wpc in class-A and 100Wpc in class-A/B. It also has a volume control, making it a single-source integrated amplifier that can be operated by remote control. The system really sounded great and Hans-Ole was a delightful chap.
At last year’s CES, many of my favorite rooms featured Sweden’s Marten speakers. The same held true this year. I expected good things when I stopped by Marten’s own room at the Venetian. Not only where they showing off the new version of their Coltrane 2 speaker ($95,000/pair) but also their first amplifier design, the M Amp ($45,000/pair). These monoblock amps have scary low distortion0.05% at 400W into 8 ohms and use a class-D stage that switches at 600kHz. The amp can output 550Wpc into 8 ohms, 1000Wpc into 4 ohms, and 1700Wpc into 2 ohms.
The folks in the Marten room seemed in dire need of some good music when I came in, having suffered through too much audiophile approved crap during the show. I handed them a CD of the XX, a band I love, and we all bobbed our heads to this sparse but funky Pop. I find this album doesn’t work at all if a system cannot get the interplay between the bass guitar and kick drum right. The Marten system did this very well, sounding rich and articulate. The M Amps never let on that they were class-D amps, sounding more like super powerful tubes or a richly voiced class-A amp. I was thanked for playing some sweet cuts off the XX’s album, and I thanked them for making it sound great.
Like the Marten room, the Engström & Engström room also played the new large Coltrane 2 speakers by Marten of Sweden. This year, the Coltrane 2 speakers met The Lars Type 2 monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), which each use two 300B tubes and deliver 36Wpc.
“Biggest. Tube. Ever.” I said, in my best Comicbook Guy voice. The Kronzilla DX Mk.II ($32,000/pair) from KR audio of the Czech Republic uses two T1610 output tubes in parallel to achieve 100Wpc of triode power. The amp also uses zero negative feedback.