Esoteric's two-box (transport plus D/A converter) SACD player, feeding A70 amps (not sold in the US), an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp, and a pair of Aerial Acoustics 20T speakers combined to produce one of the smoothest, most musical sounds I heard at the show.
Shure's Christian Potts entertained Jon Iverson, Stephen Mejias, and me with his description of the company's high-end E4 ($299) ear buds, which utilize a two transducer system, but he really tantalized us with preliminary information about the E500 ($499), a three transducer in-ear monitor. I shamelessly begged for a demo pair, but Potts told me that John Atkinson had scheduled a session for tomorrow, so I probably won't get no satisfaction—but I'm (ahem) shure we'll enjoying reading about his adventures with them.
T+A's Siegfried Amft thinks different. That's obvious from his beautifully designed tube and solid-state products, an observation that cruelly ignores how good they sound. I was happy to see that Amft made it to the show, because I reckoned that meant he had something new and startling to demonstrate. He did: Criterion TCI 2 Active loudspeakers ($25,500/pair), sarcophagi incorporating twin carbon fiber 10" woofers in a selaed enclosure, a 7" specially tuned midrange cone, and a curved electrostatic panel that Amft claims can produce SPLs above 120dB "while maintaining superb membrane travel and distortion characteristics."
Silverline Audio's new Prelude is a slim floorstander combining an aluminum-dome tweeter with two 3.5" aluminum/magnesium-alloy mid/woofers. Designer Alan Yun was running the speakers with a pair of Pass X600s (600Wpc), an unusual combination intended to show the speaker's potential for dynamics and bass extension—and it certainly did that. Nice, smooth sound, too. The Prelude seems like a real bargain at $1200/pair.
Sony's pre-Show press conference made little reference to sound quality, and SACD did not get even a mention. However, Sony's display did show their latest SACD player and the new MDR-V900HD headphones ($249), which have claimed frequency response extending to 80kHz. These 'phones sounded exceptionally smooth and well-balanced. Comfortable, too.
Soundsmith introduced a strain-gauge cartridge system in the Joseph Audio room at the Alexis Villas. The output of the dedicated battery-powered preamplifier can be fed to a preamp's line input as it does not require any equalization.
A line of speakers that impressed me when I auditioned them at the 2004 London Show was the Vivids, from South Africa. Designed by Laurence "Dick" Dickie, the engineer primarily responsible for B&W's groundbreaking original Nautilus design back in the mid-1990s, the Vivid speakers use proprietary metal-diaphragm drivers in enclosures formed from composite materials rather than wood. Seen here in one of the Audiophile Systems rooms, with VTL amplification and dCS's new P8i SACD player (review forthcoming), the Vivid B1s produced a clean, open sound. It was announced at CES that Vivid is being distributed in the US by Musical Surroundings.
We were on another mission from God—in other words, a request from Editor John Atkinson, which is the same thing for working journalists. "You have to check out Hovland's new power amplifier," JA gushed.
Telarc/Heads Up's Amanda Sweet displays the label's latest three discs: Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Long Walk to Freedom, Hiromi's Spiral, and Vilvaldi's Gloria paired with Bach's Magnificat. The Vivaldi/Handel disc is one of Wes' show demo discs, boasting extremely natural DSD surround.
Technical Audio Devices, better known as TAD, was showing a speaker that looked disturbingly familiar. It was the same size and seemed to feature the same drivers as TAD's Model-1, but it lacked that speaker's silver hood and upper front baffle. That's because Andrew Jones had come to Vegas with TAD's Model-2, which he said would come in between $35,000 and $40,000/pair.
At $9750/pair, Tetra's 506 ain't cheap, but they sounded awfully good with Dissun's Original electronics. An 8" midrange/woofer and a 1.25" fabric-dome tweeter were making pretty music in this rear-ported design. Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock have already purchased pairs, we were told. We asked, "Where's [Tetra's designer] Adrian Butts?"