Conrad-Johnson Design, well-known purveyors of vacuum-tube electronics, introduced the ET2 Enhanced Triode preamplifier, featuring a single-ended triode voltage gain stage direct-coupled to a high-current output buffer. For once, this is not another $18k preamp; the price is a relatively modest $3500.
Although Allen Perkins' Spiral Groove has until now focused exclusively on analog products, the company has taken a big step into the digital domain by announcing the forthcoming Spiral Groove DP1 line stage preamp and 24/96 DAC. Projected to become available in four months, the DPI is so new that it has yet to be priced.
"Wes Phillips said you would be coming by to take pictures of our loudspeaker," said Paul DiComo, Vice President of Marketing at Definitive Technology. Paul then took me over to a pair of the company's slim Mythos ST Super Tower loudspeakers driven by Pass Labs XA 100.5 100W solid-state monoblocks. Standing just over 48" tall, the speakers had a width of 6.75" and a depth of only 9.5" What a change from the massive transducers I had seen at other venues at CES 2008!
Jim Thompson from Egg.Works, the firm that manufactures Eggleston loudspeakers, was eager to tell me more about the Eggleston Nine. I'd seen the firm's loudspeakers in many different CES suites over the years, but never had a chance to listen to them before.
Empirical Audio's Pace-Car Reclocker ($1100—2300, depending on number of clocks installed) is designed to reduce the jitter of any source to "inaudible levels." Empirical's Steve Nugent said the device is primarily intended for USB, WiFi, and network devices such as the Sonos and Squeezebox. "The pace-Car is inserted between source and DAC, it can either provide a master clock to the source or accept the source's data stream and 'bracket' the rate of the stream. No modifications to the source are required."
Escalante Design's CEO and Founder, Matthew Waldron, and the company's design engineer, Tierry Budge, were on hand to introduce the $11,000/pair Pinyon, a lighter and less expensive version of their Fremont loudspeaker, which I review in the Febraury issue of Stereophile. Weighing 35 lbs each, the Pinyon includes two direct-coupled 6.5" woofers, and the same 1" ScanSpeak ring-radiator tweeter found in the Fremont. It comes with the Hoodooh Monitor stands that have a brushed aluminum inlay. Waldron had it playing with the 210 lb, 12", powered (500W), UINTA subwoofer, which is rated from 16–100Hz.
At a press conference on the first day of CES, TEAC Esoteric launched a new range of source components. That was expected. But what was not expected was Esoteric's manager of overseas sales, Kazutaka Tsuda (above), introducing a new monoblock tube amplifier, the AT-100. Using KT88s in its output stage, the 50Wpc Esoteric amp features a new variable bias system and an output transformer using specially treated copper foil as the secondary winding to give the best coupling from the primary. The heaters of the input and driver tubes are DC-powered, to give the lowest noise; in fact, Esoteric claims the AT-100 is extremely quiet, despite its all-tube design. While it was designed as a power amplifier, a rear-panel switch, in conjunction with a volume control knob on its front panel, turns the AT-100 into an integrated, with three RCA inputs ands one XLR. Price will be $18,500.
Esoteric unveiled its new X-05 SACD/CD player ($5600), which employs a new VRDS-NEO "VMK-5" drive mechanism that includes a precision machined aluminum turntable and a polycarbonate clamping mechanism. The VMK-5 is said to be extremely rigid and optimized for SACD's high-rotation speeds.
Carat Audio's products are sufficiently new to North America that the only prices available are still in Euros. (They do have distribution.) Designed in France and made in China, the A57 integrated amp (80Wpc, 899 Euros), C57 CD player (649 Euros), and T57 tuner (349 Euros) look like anything but budget products, resembling products from Primare or YBA. An indication of the quality of the design is that the power output of the A57 nearly doubles into 4 ohms (80 into 8 ohms, 150 into 4 ohms)—very unusual at this price level.
Albert Von Schweikert is on the move. After any number of Von Schweikert lovers have asked for smaller, space-saving speakers that function optimally tucked into corners or up against walls, Von Schweikert Audio is about to launch the Studio Signature Series. With three models, the Unifields 1, 2, and 3 ($6000, $10,000, and $15,000/pair respectively) and optional polished marble stands, the Signature speakers are designed to "compete with guys who build $20,000 monitors." The Unifield 1's frequency response is said to be 40Hz—22kHz; the 2 offers 32Hz—22kHz; and the 3 boasts a whopping 32Hz–50kHz. Not bad for a small speaker, eh?
In the Loiminchay room, I listened to the standmounted Degas loudspeakers (starting at $15,000/pair). Designer Patrick Chu was a painter before he starting building loudspeakers, and finds inspiration in his favorite artists. He named his smallest loudspeaker after the French Impressionist whose paintings, Chu says, are "romantic and musical." Other Loiminchay speakers include the $35,000 Chagall and top-of-the-line $45,500 Kandinsky.
Now I know why Robert Deutsch wrote such an enthusiastic review of the Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD712z loudspeaker in the January 2007 issue of Stereophile. This eye-arresting single-driver loudspeaker ($7000/pair with dedicated stands) delivered an absolutely beautiful rendering of Monica Salmazo's voice. Both top and midrange were exemplary, as was transparency. Though early instrument strings on the delightful Channel Classics SACD, Bolivian Baroque v.2, were either a mite too edgy or conveyed with unforgiving accuracy, the system did a wonderful job with the church venue's naturally reverberant acoustic. Soprano Kate Royal's voice on her marvelous EMI debut recital was drop dead gorgeous. Within their frequency limitations, these speakers are superb. And given that the source was a Denon 955 DVD player rather than a state-of-the-art unit, their triumph is even more noteworthy.