Sugden's US importer analog George Stanwick proudly preens with his A21SE 30wpc Class-A integrated amp and CD21SE CD player. What made the Keith Jarrett trio sound so good—was it the electronics or was it the Proac Response D28s?
Stephen Mejias mention Garth Powell's passion for what he does in his report from the Furman room at CES. AJ Conti, the man behind turntable manufacturer Basis Audio, has a similar passion for what he does. His current attention is focused on getting the drive belts for his well-regarded turntables as flat as possible, to eliminate the last vestige of drive-system spuriae from the audio recovered from vinyl. Dissatisfied with the highest precision he could get from commercial ground-belt vendors, he invested in his own production machinery.
The unquestionable sonic high point of my second day at CES was the opportunity to hear two of the larger, floorstanding speakers in the line that has already brought us the much-touted $20,000/pair Magico Mini "bookshelf." The largest and most expensive of the pair is the $120,000/pair M6 (Model 6). First released one year ago, this four-way floorstander includes three 10" woofers, one 7" mid-bass driver, one 5" midrange unit, and an air motion-transformer tweeter. Weighing 650 lbs, with an enclosure of extruded aluminum, the speaker is said to extend from 28Hz to 50kHz, with a 90dB sensitivity and a 4 ohm impedance. The M6 recently won the Grand Prix Award from Japanese magazine Stereo Sound, and was featured on the cover of its December 2006 issue.
This is the first year that the high-end audio exhibits are clustered in the Venetian Hotel and Casino. Emphasis on the casino part - to get to the majority of hotel room exhibits, we must negotiate about a quarter mile of hallway and casino to get from the shuttle stop to the elevators. The rooms themselves are nicely appointed, but several exhibitors are already complaining about the acoustics and the challenge of finding ways to make the two level suites music friendly. And on a personal note, the press room is back the quarter mile through the casino near the shuttle stop. End of gripe.
Italian manufacturer Simetel, who makes tube amplifiers with a distinctively "retro" appearance, showed its new Nightingale Gala two-chassis power amplifier in one of the Venetian's lower-level rooms. Tubed power supply is one chassis, the tubed amplification stage, using 300Bs, is is on the second. Projected price is $16,000, and Simetel has now set up its own US distributor. Designer and company founder Luciano Del Rio stands by the silver-finish Gala (black is also available), which was being demmed with Revolver Cygnis speakers.
Press conferences can sometimes be tedious affairs, with the presenter going on-and-on about his company's past accomplishments, and how even greater things are coming in the future. But this description did not apply to the press conference for Usher Audio Technology at this year’s CES. This was more like an informal party for friends than the prototypical press conference. People stood around and chatted for a while, and then Atul Kanagat of MusikMatters, Usher’s North American distributor, talked briefly about how Usher’s line of high-value/high-performance loudspeakers is intended to bring more music lovers into the hobby. We then listened to some music through some very-nice-sounding Usher speakers. Pictured are PR consultant Jonathan Scull (whose name should be familiar to Stereophile readers, Usher chief engineer Joe D’Appolito (whose name should be familiar to students of speaker design), Tsai Lien-Shui (President of Usher), and Atul Kanagat.
Sooloos is a company to watch, and here's the crew assembled in one room: Angus MacDonald, Enno Vandermeer, Rob Darling & Sandro Pugliese. These guys cringed if we even discussed anything less than full-resolution CD on their system.
Because of the restrictions placed on merchandise sales at CES, the usual Acoustic Sounds booth, stocking much-in-demand LPs, SACDs, and CDs, was nowhere to be found. But the Kansas company still had a display room showing the hardware lines it distributes, including Thorens, Sutherland, and Stirling. But founder Chad Kassem was most proud of the new Analogue Productions LP: the Ultimate Analogue Test LP. Produced by Clark Williams and Barry Wolfson, with input from George Marino and others, cut at Sterling Sound, and pressed on 180gm vinyl by RTI, the Test LP has a selection of tracks to enable the LP lover to optimally set up his system.
Convergent Audio Technologies' SL-1, in its various iterations, has been my reference preamp for some time. When the SL-1 Ultimate came out, I kidded designer Ken Stevens about the fact this designation implied that there was simply no way to improve it, so what was he going to do when—inevitably, in my view—he found ways to tweak the design? Well, sure enough, the SL-1 Ultimate is now the SL-1 Ultimate Mk.II, and Ken has a new preamp called the Legend, which is said to be even better. Improvements over the Ultimate Mk.II include a Teflon circuit board, Black Gate electrolytic capacitors, separate left and right volume controls, and a constrained-layer aluminum/steel bottom plate. An interesting feature is that the AV bypass works even without the preamp being turned on, saving tube life. The price is $15,995, which makes the $7995 for the Ultimate Mk.II seem like a positive bargain.
Mikey had brought along to the JBL Everest demo CD-Rs burned with dubs of his favorite LPs played on his Continuum Caliburn turntable. We listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell, and John Lennon, but it was when Mikey asked Greg to play track one on the second CD-R that the listeners visibly relaxed and the room filled up with good vibes.
Roy Hall was blunt as usual. "I'm bringing in some obscenely expensive tubes. They're Telefunken ECC803Ses, which is one of the best tubes available, but Cool Valve measures them and selects the most perfectly matched, and then bonds their EAT Cool Damper to them. The result is lower operational temperatures, longer life, and lower microphonics. They cost . . . "