Parting the colorful wooden beads makes a sound like brushes against snare. I'm enveloped in soft green glow and the sweetest scents of liquor and jazz. I stand in the corner, trying to figure it all out. Two of the tallest speakers I've ever seen vintage Acoustat 2+2s climb all the way up to the ceiling. There's a glowing palm tree dancing between them. Along the walls are concert posters and all sorts of album art. To my right is a mirrored alcove, a bar area, holding many varieties of absinthe and other liquors I've never seen. The room is filled with smiles and everyone seems very comfortable, intoxicated. The space isn't set up for optimal listening. There are no rows of neatly arranged metal conference chairs. Instead there are couches and armchairs. In one, sits a man with his daughter in his lap. He taps his hand to the jazz, while the young girl nods her head in time to the snare hits. Together, they move from one seat to the next, and the girl immediately reacts to the difference in sound. The father I learn his name is Marty explains to his daughter, Briana, that they have just moved into a better listening position. "It sounds so different," she says.
A product that impressed me last year was OliveMedia Products' Symphony music server. The size and appearance of a conventional CD player, the Symphony incorporates an 80GB hard drive and a WiFi hub so that it can act as a music-file server, all for just $899. I wrote my positive impressions of the Symphony with its digital output driving my high-end rig in our mid-November eNewsletter, so I checked out Olive at CES. The company was demonstrating the new Opus, which increases the HD size to 400GB and uses a high-end D/A section. The Opus will be available mid-February for $2999.
Orb's Curt Van Inwegen explains how his company's software allows you to access your music collection on your home PC from anywhere in the world. All that's required is a connected web browser or a connected device that plays audio and Orb's service. What this means is that instead of having to carry your collection of tunes on an iPod or as a batch of CDs, you store them all on your home music server and leave them there. If you are at a pal's house and want them to hear that tune you are describing, you can use your pal's computer to call it up and play it on his system. Seems like the obvious step beyond using an iPod to carry your collection around.
Penaudio's Tommi Forss was excited about the Finnish company's new Alba ($4000/pair). "We wanted a smaller floorstanding speaker than our Serenade, but a larger speaker than our Charisma, so we used the 1" SEAS Excel fabric dome tweeter from the Serenade and the 7" SEAS treated paper cone midrange/woofer in a compact time-aligned cabinet."
"Larry, I've just come from the Alexis Park." Tom Norton, editor of Ultimate AV" button-holed me. "I think the Pioneer speaker is worth a visit. It's one of the only new things I've found over there." Tom's words rung in my ears. Had to see it!
I was sipping my gin'n'tonic, watching a hologram of a scantily clothed dancer and soaking up some serious party ambience at Stereophile, UAV, and Home Theater magazines' annual CES bash, held this year at the Venetian Hotel's Vivid night club, when a tap on my shoulder snapped me back to business. It was jolly Craig Oxford, president of former Nearfield Acoustics, the company responsible for the balls-to-the-wall, cost-no-limit, Pipedreams loudspeaker system.
When your company is called Muse, I guess some product names just suggest themselves. When Kevin Halverson needed a moniker for his CD, DVD-A/V, and SACD player, he thought of Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred poetry, geometry, mime, meditation, and agriculture. Halverson says, "It means 'many voices," which it also does.
I think it's fair to say that Bryston is one of the more conservative manufacturers of audio electronics, with solid engineering and avoidance of anything that smacks of fads or esoteric tweaks. It then comes as a convincing endorsement of power-line conditioners as a product category that the Canadian company now distributes the new Torus power-line conditioners. Based on hefty toroidal transformers from Plitron, these are aimed at the pro as much as the audiophile market; the top-of-the-line A5AB delivers up to 100 amps and weighs 220 lbs. Bryston’s James Tanner seems quite pleased with it.
Prima Luna, Dutch maker of affordable tube electronics, had two new monoblock amplifiers: the EL34-equipped Model 6 and the KT88'd Model 7. What's particularly interesting is that the Model 7 can also be used with EL34s, so the indecisive audiophile can get a Model 7 with an extra set of EL34s, and, voilà! For the tube cost of $160 you effectively have a different amplifier.
We're suckers for Proacs, so we were delighted to hear importer Richard Gerberg explain that the Studio line was designed to be affordable. "Well, affordable for Proac," Gerberg said. Our hearts fell—until Gerberg told us that the handsome stand-mounted Studio 110s were $1500/pair and the floorstanding Studio 140s were $2800/pair. Not cheap, but in line with our expectations for the venerable Northamptonshire manufacturer.
Walking through the halls of T.H.E. Show, Jon Iverson and I were caught by John DeVore as we tried to cruise the halls quickly. "You've got to hear this," he gushed. "This is probably the worst sound and the best music you'll hear at the show."
Walking through the halls of T.H.E. Show, we stumbled across Ray Samuels (of Ray Samuels Audio) manning his table of headphone ecstasy. We listened to Samuels' Raptor ($1175) driving AKG's new K 701 headphones ($400), which HeadRoom's Tyll Hertsens told us were his new reference cans. Maybe ours, too, based on the sound Ray was getting. Wes has begged for a pair for review. Stay tuned.
"What's new?" we asked Halcro's Philip O'Hanlon. He ushered us into a room with the brand new ("North American premiere") dm88 250W monoblocks ($40,000/pair). Also in the room were Hanlon's own pair of Classic Audio Reproductions T-3s ($16,500/pair and up, depending on finish)—updated reproductions of James B. Lansing's Hartsfields.