After seeing audio components that cost thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars, I always find it refreshing to encounter ones that cost a fraction of those prices. Case in point: the Nu Force S-1 integrated amp (10Wpc), which costs just $199, shown here by Jason Lim, CEO of Nu Force. The company also offers a matching speaker, the Icon-1, a small unit using a single driver, the combination, including cables, selling for $399. The system sounded pretty good, too!
The KEF Muon, dreamed up by idiosyncratic industrial designer, Ross Lovegrove, is unlike any other speaker I know. At $140,000/pair, it should be special. KEF's Marketing Director, Johan Coorg, explained that the Muon started out as an attempt to create the absolute best possible speaker, and evolved into something more"a work of modern art, like a Henry Moore sculpture."
Continuing my game of guess-the-nationality-of-the-manufacturer, I walked into a demo room that had a very-nice-sounding system with the brandname Nightingale. My thought was British (I recall vaguely a British speaker designed by John Jeffries many years ago bearing that name) or Japanese (as in the Emperor’s Nightingale). However, the answer was Italian. They make electronics as well as speakers: they were demming the prototype PTS-03 battery-operated preamp ($8000), the Gala power amp ($6000), and the new CTR-2 speakers ($9000/pair). I also saw what I thought was another power amp (the one on the right in the picture), so I asked about it, and was told that it was actually the power supply for the amp. I wasn’t doing too well in my guessing here!
Jon Iverson, our magazine group's self-proclaimed “Web Monkey”—that’s how his business card describes his role—mentioned that a reader, now living in Dubai, wrote him Tuesday night about Gallo Loudspeakers. "I'm hoping your CES 2008 show blog will bring me up to speed on the latest loudspeaker from Anthony Gallo," he wrote.
We're stunned at how few exhibitors spend money for the larger rooms on the 35th floor of the Venetian, since they are so sonically impressive. Sumiko's room with the $28,000 SME 2012, $6000 Audio Research PH7, $10,000 Audio Research Reference 3, Audio Research Reference 210 monoblock amplifiers ($9000/each), and brand-spanking new $25,000/pair Vienna Acoustic Die Musik loudspeakers had us glued to the sweet spot.
After hearing the Stello stack, I thought I had heard it all. But in the next room, April Music President Simon K. Lee blew my mind even more with the one-piece Aura note Music Center ($1850). This little baby, available through a dealer network, even includes a USB port on back, a second USB memory stick port on the side, a built-in tuner, and two RCA inputs. Paired with the Aura speaker ($650/pr), the parallel single-ended MOSFET design (thank you, Nelson Pass) sounded a bit more mellow and soulful than the Stello stack. (It would have probably extended as low as that stack if it had been paired with the B&Ws).
VTL's room is always an oasis at shows, playing music at levels that actually match rather than trying to impress the listener with mere volume, the system
meticulously set up. The same was true at CES 2008, a pair of Wilson WATT/Puppy 8s being driven by the new MB450 Series II tubed monoblocks ($9500/pair), the
"budget-priced" (a mere $50k) Continuum Criterion turntable, and VTL's new TP6.5 phono section ($8500) as the source. The MB450 and other VTL components are
pictured here with the company's co-owner, the ever-gracious Bea Lam.
"It's the finest two-way loudspeaker we've built to date, "said B&W's Chris Smith," as he stood next to the short white tubular Signature Diamond. "We've decided to make it a special edition of just 500 pairs, each pair numbered." I was very interested because the previous two-way model, the John Bowers Silver Signature, was very well-reviewed by Stereophile back in 1994 and became John Atkinson’s reference for many years.
"We wanted to do something special to celebrate our 30th anniversary in business," said Dynaudio's Michael Manousselis, "so we created the limited edition—only 1000 will be made—$16,500/pair, three-way, four-driver, floorstanding Sapphire loudspeaker. The Sapphire uses our finest technology in drivers, including the soft-dome Esotar2 tweeter and two 8” Evidence-grade woofers with magnesium-silicate diaphragms. The cabinet is designed to have no parallel surface, with the two-toned cabinet featuring 12 distinct surface planes and twenty-four adjoining lines"
April Music's tremendous achievement deserves two blog entries. In one room at the Alexis Park, the Korean-based company demmed an absolutely amazing for the price Stello stack of low-cost, truly high-end mini components: the Stello CDT-100 transport ($695), DA100 Signature ($895), HP100 headphone amp/preamp ($595), and S100 50W/channel power amplifier ($745). Auditioning Harmonia Mundi's beautiful recording of Schubert's Arppeggione Sonata, this diminutive set-up (complete with B&W 805 loudspeakers and Red Rose cabling) created an amazingly deep, involving soundstage that would make many a manufacturer of components costing 10 times the Stello price envious. The system also did a fine job of capturing the complex harmonics of the piano. An I2S bus connection between components—shades of Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies—sure helps matters. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this set-up fully captured the soul of every piece of music I auditioned, or that its solid-state pedigree wasn't apparent, but it blew the socks off most mass-market doo-doo and a helluva lot of supposedly audiophile-grade components.
Naim has created a separate line of music server products that will be marketed independently of its component distribution system. On display at CES2008 was the DigiLinX compatible six-stream NaimNet NS01 Music Server ($6200), which has an internal ripping drive, a 400GB RAID 1 array, so data is secure.
I think it's now official: moving the high-performance audio exhibits last year from the Alexis Park to the Venetian has been a complete success. The sound in the tower rooms has been excellent, and exhibitors seem to be finding ways to tame the more problematic acoustics of the large conference rooms on the third floor. And whenever you wanted to take a break, you were only a few steps away from the fake-but-surprisingly-convincing ambience of St. Mark's Square, where it's always early evening, and you don't need an excuse to have some gelato. Ciao!
While Day 1 at the Venetian was all hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at the Las Vegas Hilton was something different, was almost contemplative. Navigating the Venetian halls was an exercise in agility. I found myself weaving in and out of massive traffic with a skill perhaps common only to a weary New Yorker, making quick and random stops to chat friends and colleagues. But when I arrived at the Hilton, the silenceas we like to saywas palpable.
The Atohm Grand Thrill Series made its world premiere at CES 2008. Designer Thierry Comte is pictured here with the very handsome GT 1 bookshelf speaker which exhibited an almost uncanny ability to fill the room with deep, powerful bass. Highs were also impressive: crisp, clean, and fast. Overall, I felt the presentation was tightly focused and lively, without being overly sharp.