Consumer Electronics Show: January 8, 1999

Ah, it's good to be home again. We have finally arrived at the Alexis Park complex, the enclave of specialty audio. It's a much more civilized venue than the Convention Center, but, here as there, new products prevail. Only drawback this year: Someone has apparently rerouted the airplane take-offs from nearby McCarran airport to directly overhead, making it tough to continue a conversation or demo for more than 5 minutes.

Martin-Logan has introduced several new affordable electrostatic-panel/dynamic-woofer hybrid loudspeakers: notably, the $1895 Scenario, which looks like the ReQuest's baby brother; and the Cinema, a $1295 center-channel speaker for video applications. M-L has also brought out the Script, a hybrid for rear-channel use that is light enough to hang on a wall. The system in action here is rounded out with a REL subwoofer in a surround-sound setup. It looks marvelous and sounds promising. Estimated time of arrival for the Scenario in dealers' showrooms is late March.

PS Audio has been revived, with what it claims is an entirely new category of products: AC power synthesizers. "It absolutely doesn't matter how bad the power you feed the Power Plant," claims company head Paul McGowan. "What you get out will be perfect." The devices deal with AC-borne noise not by filtration and suppression, but by generating a low-distortion, high-current AC waveform for audiophile and videophile equipment. The P300 lists at $895; its larger siblings, the P600 and P1200, list at $1495 and $2295, respectively. PS Audio is also actively recruiting dealers.

Linn has a new 500W mono amplifier hyped as "silent power," with a patented "noiseless" circuit design and stunning, ultracompact clamshell case with silver finish. Music on the go gets better: HeadRoom's Tyll Hertsens, eschewing his usual Hawaiian shirt for a suit and tie ("Hey, c'mon, guys---I had meetings, okay?") is hawking his new "AirHead," an ultralightweight portable headphone amplifier for $179, with a dedicated travel case (accommodating player, discs, batteries, and 'phones) for a mere $29 extra. The traveler-friendly system sounds awesome with Tyll's standard-issue Sennheiser HD 580 phones.

Valve Amplification Company is showing its $3490 Avatar, a 60Wpc integrated amp that includes a remote control, with EL34 outputs switchable from push-pull to triode/ultralinear mode. Yes, the "finest integrated amplifier ever made" includes an MM/high-output MC phono stage, and is being advertised as the solution for "budget-conscious music lovers."

We heard a marvelous 24/96 demo in the Moth Audio suite. Trish Turner's Bourbon Rain (Cardas Records) sounded impressive indeed through the $1925 HyperDac. Moth takes the prize for most outrageous retro design. Its M304tl class-A amplifier sports a massive transmitter tube as an output device (it doubles as a reading lamp), and nicely drives the $13,500/pair Crysalis loudspeaker, a high-efficiency two-way with a 15" woofer and a 60-lb ribbon tweeter. It had a bit of trouble reproducing our Massive Attack CD, but brought John Lennon's voice right into the room.

Diablo Acoustics' Steve Patzkowksi, of PolyCrystal fame, tells us he is now providing seamless, high-density, accoustically inert speaker housings for several high-end manufacturers. His Model 6, a large-ish stand-mounted two-way, has look and sound worthy of a visit.

Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand the Weather rocked through PBN Audio's new Montana KAS tower speaker. PBN has moved into the amplification market with a subsidiary company, Sierra Audio, whose statement product, the Everest monoblock, puts out 1200W into 8 ohms, and claims to operate in class-A up to 15W. At 180 lbs each and $19,500/pair, the Everest may not be every audiophile's cup of tea. A smaller amp, the 650W Denali, lists for a mere $15,000/pair.

Lars Christianson is now performing his always-amazing magic act at the Nordost suite, with MoonGlo Quattro Fil interconnect and Pulsar Points vibration-damping feet. The MoonGlo cable offers even better detail, pacing, and resolution than does the reference-quality SPM. Just when you think at least one little corner of the audio universe is stable, someone comes along and tips the tables over. Quattro Fil speaker cables are not available yet, says Lars, but may come along sometime this year. Mucho developmental difficulties, says he, but the project will come to fruition. The $600 Eldorado power cord proved its value this afternoon, as did the aluminum Pulsar Points, two-piece isolation feet for speakers and electronic components. The $100/4 price tag seems within reason for most audiophiles, but the $500/4 titanium version is reserved for the carriage trade. The titanium will be available in February, according to Christianson, who bucks a time-honored high-end tradition by playing less-than-perfect recordings. His view is that mediocre recordings of great music benefit the most from all this industry has to offer.

Houston-based Nova Audio, a relative newcomer to the Show with four years under its belt, has a nice line of solidly built, well-finished loudspeakers here---all of them with ScanSpeak drivers, a source of choice for many top-rung speaker makers. The $4990/pair Applause, a floorstanding two-way, sounded warm and natural driven by Conrad-Johnson Premier 12 amplifiers through Cardas Neutral Reference cables. A C-J DV-2b disc player and Premier 16LS preamp provided the signal. Our attention never wavered from Texas songbird Terri Hendrix during a 20-minute demo. More to come.

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