I was so impressed by the 9" Feastrex drivers designed by Haruhiko "Hal" Teramoto of Japan that I was excited to hear how the 5" Feastrex DF Monster alnico driver sounds in MaxxHorn's new Lumination loudspeaker. The speaker, which also incorporates the Tractrix horn technology developed by Johan van Zyl, is so new—the pair at THE Show had been finished a mere 12 days before—that only the dealer price ($18,500/pair) has been set. All speakers are hand constructed, with 3–5 pairs produced a month.
Microsoft wanted to talk to me about its Windows Home Server division—and I wanted to hear what they said because I was impressed last summer at the company's commitment to making its Home Server software as simple as pie.
Instead of using conventional CD playback technology, the Rockport room featured the DC-powered Black Box Audiophile PC from Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems of Chicago. (Preliminary pricing, expected to lower before the unit reaches the market, is $7999.) With no moving parts in the box into which one inserts a CD, the DSP-based system reclocks the data after reading the CD, basically eliminating jitter. It copies the audio data from a CD onto a hard drive, reading the CD multiple times if necessary to eliminate data-reading errors. It is said to be far more accurate my own conventional stick it in the iMac and burn it in iTunes setup. The unit can process data up to 24/192. Lordie did it sound good.
Poor Kevin Halverson! Since Hesiod only named nine muses in Theogony, Kevin has had to double up as Muse's line of players has increased. The Erato II is available as a transport ($5300) or one-box CD/DVD/DVD-A player ("up to" $7300).
Music Culture Technology Corporation's Reference line has been designed and engineered by MBL's official engineers. Though not yet distributed in the US, the combination of MC's partnership with MBL and their components' arresting good looks drew me in for an extended listen. It was also a belated listen, but that had to do with the Hard Rock Café across the street from the St. Tropez, whose bass blasting from the rock video they project in their parking lot between 5pm and 10pm made listening to anything other than equally blaring rock music an absurdity. Call it high end trumped by high insult.
In their suite at the Mirage, Nagra introduced the VPS (Valve Phono Stage), shown here under the Swiss company’s well-regarded PL-L line preamplifier. The front-panel switch selects between A and B inputs and mute, while the rear panel features two sets of inputs and outputs and an output level switch. The A inputs accommodate MC cartridges, while the optional B input can be set for either MM or MC operation. Capacitive and resistive loading can be changed with modules that plug into the pcb close to the input connectors. The MC circuit is based on high-quality transformers wound in-house by Nagra, followed by gain and RIAA stages using ECC81 and ECC83 tubes. The RIAA equalization can be set with internal jumpers either to the 1953 standard or to the 1976 standard. The circuit boards are mounted on compliant supports, to minimize microphony and the power supply is housed in a separate chassis. Unusually, the output can be taken either directly from the tube stage or via a solids-state buffer.
I've never heard of Navision Audio, and when I looked at their amps and preamps, all featuring wooden chassis, I automatically thought "Italian." Well, it turns out that they're actually designed and manufactured in Viet Nam. Whatever their country of origin, they're beautiful pieces (the wood is "Barian kingwood," whatever that is), the NVS-211PSE power amp ($21800/pair) offering 80W of parallel single-ended triode using two 211s, and the NVS-003G ($8900/pair) an OTL design using the 6C33C.
D&M Holding is the name of the company that owns Marantz, McIntosh, Boston Acoustics, and several other audio/video brands; they had a mini-exhibit of their own at the Mandalay Bay. There were some formal home-theater demos, but I didn't have time to sit through those. However, I did get a good look at the new SM-11S1 Reference Power Amplifier (110Wpc, $3999), SC-11S preamplifier ($2999), and SA-11S1 two-channel SACD/CD player ($3499) from Marantz. Gorgeous stuff. Michael Fremer has these for review.
In what has become a tradition, Anton Dotson (aka Buddha on the Stereophile forum) and Michael Alazard set up a room at T.H.E. Show as NFS Audio (Not For Sale), which they describe as "a chill out zone for people tired of the show's relentless grinding down of the human spirit."
It's hardly the same as clicking your heels three times and finding yourself back in Kansas, but Stereophile's metaphoric Good Witch of the High End, John Atkinson, has granted me my big wish for CES. Instead of finding myself wandering around and around in circles, following my ears, I’ve been assigned specific turf: T.H.E. Show. And since T.H.E. Show’s two venues, the St. Tropez and adjacent Alexis Park, are literally across the street from our bloggers' home for four nights, the newly and quite tastefully refurbished, remarkably low-key Hyatt Place Las Vegas (formerly the AmeriSuites), yours truly could not be happier. The Sands/Venetian may have more–well-known, higher-profile players, and is certainly attracting more visitors, but I've entered a number of wonderful-sounding rooms on my first day at the St. Tropez to make me quite happy to be here.