Derived from Finite Elemente’s Emperor rack, the Soundbase equipment shelf ($1800) is filled with aluminum foam whose random patterning allows it to absorb energy and dissipate it as heat. Immedia’s Stirling Trayle notes that the shelf works as well for turntables as for other components.
Each Soundbase comes complete with four Cerabase Slimline coupling feet that use a combination of three internal ceramic ball bearings and stainless steel for ultra-efficient energy transfer. The Cerabase Slimlines are also sold separately for use under components ($550/set of four). Their three internal ceramic balls represent an advance in “resonance deflection” technology for the company.
“Go check out the Constellation Audio room,” said Jon Iverson. So I did. As I entered the room filled with unworldly looking gear I spied Michael Fremer, engrossed in one of his famous mix CDs, burned from his vast vinyl collection. Michael, ever the gentleman, relinquished the sweet spot to me and both of us took in some big, clean, transparent sound. Driving a pair of $150,000 Tidal speakers was Constellation’s Hercules amplifiers ($70,000 each), which are each able to put out a kilowatt of juice into 8 ohms and runs its first 250W in class-A.
The visual design of the amps is both striking and understated, clad in an all aluminum chassis. Each side of the amp has a diffuser grid which hides the amp’s heatsinks and allows for a chimney action to help cool the amplifier. All that aluminum also serves the purpose of mass-loading the amps to control vibration. Internally the amps mechanically float the sensitive signal carrying parts. That attention to vibration damping could be heard as stillness and ease, particularly when I played a high-resolution file of Robert Silverman playing the final fugue from Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Handel. My time in the Constellation room was stellar.
Constellation also showed a brand new line of products at a more “real-world” price point. The components of the new Performance line will each go for between $15,000 and $20,000 and feature (from left to right) a preamp, digital source, phono preamp, and power amp. I was told that the circuit designs of the Performance line are exactly the same as Constellation’s Reference line but use less expensive parts.
The Metrodome may have collapsed but Minneapolis-based Bel Canto sure hasn’t. Brand new at CES is the C5i, a DAC/integrated amp/headphone amp that sells for the feel-good price of $1895. The amplifier, said to be stable into 3 ohm loads, puts out 60Wpc into a 8 ohms. The amp also includes two S/PDIF digital inputs, a USB input capable of handling 24bits/96kHz data, a moving-magnet phono input, an RCA line input and a headphone amplifier. I marveled at this little gem’s price but also its sound as it played files from a nearby laptop driving a pair of Joseph Audio speakers. This was my first room of CES 2011 and it was a great start!
Also on display was Bel Canto’s new headphone amplifier (shown right), a product so new it doesn’t yet have a proper model number or name. Bel Canto’s John Stronczer let me take a listen to the amp through a pair of in-ear headphones. The sound was lovely, but I couldn’t really get the cans to stay in my ears (I must have very large ear canals).
When I checked out the back of the headphone amp I noticed that it was in the signal path of the room’s big rig. The DAC3.5VBS’s outputs went into the headphone amp and the outputs of the headphone amp went to the rig’s amplifiers. I asked John, “What gives?” He told me that he has been experimenting with using the new headphone amplifier as a unity gain buffer, taking advantage of the headphone amp’s ultra-low output impedance. John said that he hears improvements in the system using this configuration and that Bel Canto is exploring new applications for this technique. No price has yet been set for this headphone amplifier.
All of Bel Canto’s equipment was powered by their VBS-1 Virtual Battery Supply ($1495), which effectively takes their equipment off the electrical grid. The VBS technology was debuted at last year’s CES, but new this year are the VB-Ref power cables which connect the 12V output of the VBS-1 power supply to the component. Having tried these cables out in my own system at home during my audition of the Bel Canto DAC3.5 VBS, I can testify to their ability to bring out the best in this new Bel Canto gear.
Last year I marveled at the visual design of Resolution Audio’s Cantata Music Server. This year, Resolution debuts a new matching integrated amp, the C50 ($4000). The C50 puts out 50Wpc. According to Resolution’s Jeffery Kalt, on paper the C50 doesn’t look much different than most integrated amplifiers. However C50 benefits from custom capacitors, a unique application of feedback above the audio band, and a circuit layout that minimizes eddy currents. The C50 must be doing something right as it made a modest pair of Epos speakers sing with clarity, focus and body, sounding great song after song.
Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand. The home of the Maori, Kiwi birds, an upcoming shoot for Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit, and Plinius Audio. On display in the Plinius room was the Hiato integrated amplifier ($9100). The Hiato is a 300Wpc integrated, able to kick out peaks of 50A of current. The amp is a high-biased class-A/B design that allows the first few important watts to benefit from class-A purity and then switch over A/B for greater efficiency and maximum power. The Hiato had me grooving to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on, Reggae Woman” and stopped me in my tracks playing a live duet version of Johnny Cash singing “Don’t Take You Guns to Town” with none other than Willy Nelson. The Hiato can also be installed with an optional phono preamp which brings the price up to $11,000.
Synergistic Research’s Ted Denney was eager to show off the great midrange and bass transmitted by his Galileo System of hand-built cables. His choice of music: Michel Jonaz’ “Le Temps Passé,” a classic recording whose abundance of space and choice of contrasting, slightly gimmicky instrumental timbres makes for one of those ideal audiophile demo discs.
The Galileo System of cables includes speaker wire ($40,000/8ft pair) and interconnects ($25,000/1m pair), the PowerCell LE (limited editiononly 20 are being built for $10,000 each), and the Galileo Element series. All cables work universally, with switchable XLR and RCA terminations. If you switch gear from single-ended to balanced, you don’t have to buy an entirely new set of cables with different terminations. Very neat.
The audiophile community was greatly shocked by the death, in September, 2009, of speaker designer Jim Thiel. My acquaintance with him was restricted to brief chats at shows, but he has always impressed me as a modest, gentle man, with a singular devotion to the pursuit of making the most accurate and musically pleasing speakers. Somehow, I thought he would always be around.
The Thiel/Bryston room had a system featuring the Thiel SCS4T ($3690/pair) speakers and a pair of new prototype Thiel USS subwoofers (price and delivery date TBD), partnered with Bryston electronics and digital source. The sound had that famed Thiel clarity, and an astonishing sense of depth on the well-known Misa Criolla recording. The SCS4T is the last speaker that Jim Thiel had a hand in designing: a fitting tribute to one of the greats of the world of audio.
Veteran CES-goers often refer to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) as “the Zoo”a term that I don’t think applies very well. In the zoos that I’m familiar with, the animals are not crowded closely together (as people are during CES), and they’re not there because of choicewhich people are, even though they may grumble about it. I normally spend about half-a-day at the LVCCI refuse to call it “the Zoo”which gives me a chance to catch up on what’s happening in mass-market consumer electronics. And it sometimes allows me to discover the occasional product that could easily have been exhibited in the hallowed halls of high-performance audio in the Venetian.
Case in point: the Titan Series Telesto ($7999/pair) and Tigro ($9500/pair) floor-standing loudspeakers from Earthquake, a company that until now has specialized in subwoofers. According to Earthquake President and designer of these speakers, Joseph Sahyoun, these are speakers that he actually designed several years ago, but could not build them because he was not able to get overseas the kind of molded cabinet construction that he felt was essential to get the results he wanted. The cabinets of these speakers are now made in the USA, and the drivers are also made in-house. The speakers were on passive display, so I can’t comment on the sound, but the design certainly looks like a serious effort, with a lot of attention to detail.
Nate Mansfield, Sales Manager of Kimber Kable, happily showed off the company’s newest products, the complete line of Kimber Select KS 6000 series speaker cables ($4400$18,800/8ft pair, depending upon level and wiring). Introduced in prototype form at CES 2010, the KS series has been shipping for the last six months, and is available in either all-copper, copper-silver hybrid, or full silver configurations. Designed by Ray Kimber, the cable also features a new multi-layer braid that combines stranded and solid core conductors in the same cable. The Kimber Select KS 6000 series represents a technological evolution of the old Black Pearl 88, a highly regarded all solid-core cable which Kimber manufactured in the early 1990s.
In defining what is the maximum cost of “mid-priced” speaker, which was my assignment at the Show, I had tentatively settled on $10,000/pair. Jeff Joseph Audio’s Perspective, still undergoing tweaking, at a projected price of $11, 800/pair, exceeds that self-imposed maximum, but the speaker sounded so good, and Jeff Joseph was so obliging in hamming it up, that I just had to include it in my blog and take Jeff’s picture. JA, you can write up a sub-$10k speaker in return.
I think it was at least a couple of years ago that I first heard that Atlantic Technologya speaker manufacturer that I associate more with value-for-money than cutting-edge productswas working on a patent-pending technology that combines reflex, acoustic suspension, inverse horn, and transmission line approaches to bass loading. Dubbed Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System (H-PAS), this is said to combine the best aspects of each approach, with deep bass extension, good system sensitivity, and reasonable enclosure size.
Well, the patent has been granted, and the floor-standing AT-1 ($2500/pair) is the first speaker to utilize the H-PAS approach. (According to Atlantic’s Peter Tribeman, they have licenzed H-PAS to five other companieswhich he understandably declined to name.)
Having listened at CES to a pair of AT-1s, in a system that included top-of-the line Halo by Parasound electronics, I’m convinced that they’re on to something with this technology. The AT-1 is a modestly-sized floorstander, with two 5¼” woofer/midrange drivers, and yet it generated bass of such extension, power, and control that left me and others who attended the demo shaking their heads in disbelief. The sound was otherwise fine, too: tonally well-balanced (the bass was there only when it was on the recording), and a precisely-defined soundstage. Most impressive.
Furutech is introducing a new speaker cable brand in 2011, ADL, Alpha Design Labs. Designed to make OCC cable products available to entry-level buyers, ADL cables are the lowest priced cables in Furutech’s current line-up. Prices start at $100/1m pair interconnects, with USB and LAN cables going for around the same price.
Pictured is Furutech’s Flux series of cables, which was introduced last year. The Flux power cable runs $1200/6ft, while speaker cables cost $2000/2m pair. On the left is publicist extraordinaire Jonathan Scull, standing aside Furutech’s Graeme Coley. Also present, albeit unpictured, was Furutech’s Engineer and VP, Frank Yoo.