Loudspeakers from German manufacturer Canton have impressed Stereophile's review team over the past few years with their combination of careful, solid engineering and excellent sound. CES saw the launch of Canton's revised Reference line. The Reference 3.2 ($15,000/pair), seen here cradled by chief engineer Frank Göbl, features a new tweeter with a ceramic/aluminum /ceramic sandwich dome replacing the earlier version's aluminum/manganese-alloy diaphragm, which pushes up the primary dome breakup mode from around 21kHz to 30kHz. The tweeter dome is recessed within a short waveguide to optimize dispersion in its bottom octaves, and is damped by a small circular plate suspended in front of the center of the dome. The lower frequency drive-units, too, have been extensively revised, while the multilayer enclosure, with its gently curved side panels is acoustically inert, at least as far as the accelerometer measurements Frank showed me were concerned. I was sufficiently impressed to request a pair of Reference 3.2s for review.
CES is traditionally where new brands come to find US distribution, and the room next to Stereophile's at the Venetian featured some well-finished and good-sounding speakers from Croatian company Audio Epilog, which they shared with Czech tube amp manufacturer KR. (Dig those humongous tubes!) The two-way Cocoa2 should sell for between $7000/pair and $8000/pair when it reaches these shores.
Visiting Kara Chafee of de Havilland, whose amplifiers invariably grace music with a wonderful sense of air, enabled me to take a first listen to Cable Research Lab (CRL) cables. CRL's mid-level "Silver" line is a very recent recipient of a "Product of the Year Award" from a certain publication known for its absolutism. Another very positive publication fed CRL an award in 2007.
As I was heading out dazed from the Sennheiser headphone experience, Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis invited me to briefly listen to their demo. In the middle of the Convention Center’s huge South Hall, and at a reasonable volume level that did not attempt to drown out the ubiquitous din, a very cool Patricia Barber had claimed the space as her own. Abetted by a Wadia player and Simaudio amplification, speakers that I think were the Focus 360Mike, help me out here; I hadn’t yet come down to earth from the Sennheiserswere doing a marvelous job of filling the space with inviting sound. If anything could entice me to transition from Richard Strauss’ Alpine heights to Patricia Barber’s sensual coolness, it was this speaker/electronics combo.
Ron Sutherland had a new battery powered phono section, the Hubble ($3800). The batteries come in a special battery compartment, so that there is only a single point of contact at each pole. He reckons the batteries are good for 800 hours of use and he has incorporated at clock in the unit so you can keep track. Each time you fire it up, program in you anticipated listening session and it will count it down and turn off the power at the assigned timethe same LEDs that serve as the timer also indicate battery strength as well.
Rega had a (ta dah!) high-end integrated, the 90Wpc Elicit Mk.II ($3000). "We wanted something that was actually a step up from our separates," Steve Harris, president of The Sound Organisation, Rega's US importer confided. "The Apollo CD player was so far above its competition, we felt as though we needed to up our game with the new oneespecially since the older version was considered the finest amplifier we ever made."
Also on display at Esoteric was the nifty E-03 phono section ($5500). It has two phono inputsMC and one that can play either MC or MM cartridges. It also sports a demagnetizing function, which takes a scant 30 second. It has externally selected impedance and capacitance for each input. The E-03 also has a high-voltage custom power supply. It should be available in March.
Esoteric has upgraded the wiring and parts inside the flagship P-01 and D-01 SACD/CD transport and DAC and has renamed them the P01-VU and D01-VU respectively. Each DAC is a single channel and retails for $16k and the transport will run you $32k. These are superbly built and incredible sounding digital products. Even if you can't afford them, just be glad they exist in our world.
Innovation comes from surprising places. Esoteric has always focused on pushing the state of the art with their flagship and pricey digital players (the financially squeemish can skip to another post now), but they've also begun to accommodate digital media wherever it may be found.
Mutoaki Ohmachi, Esoteric's founder and resident genius, is a man full of passion. At CES2009, he spoke about the importance of music in his life and how hewing true to he sound of music had always been the motivation for Esoteric products.
I went into the Blue Light Audio room at T.H.E. Show to hear the new Dartzeel amplifiers (Wes Phillips will be blogging on these presently) and to chat with designer Hervé Délétraz. But my attention was caught by Evolution Audio's beautifully finished MMMini Two speakers ($40,000/pair). Ostensibly a two-way design combining a 5" aluminum ribbon with a 7" ceramic-cone woofer, the stand also contains an 8"x12" subwoofer.