Friday was the busiest day I and other Stereophile writers found at the CES venues. Pictured here is a lull in the traffic taken from a window at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) near the press room, where the line for the free press lunch stretched hundreds of feet. Later that day, the bus and cab lines at the LVCC stretched half a mile as evening approached and the temperature outside dropped from mid 60s to temperatures in the 40s (Fahrenheit). Little evidence of a recession was visible in pure crowd count, but I ran into many more Asian and European attendees, while missing some friends in the audio high end community who skipped CES this year.
The first night of CES saw a memorial reception held in honor of loudspeaker designer Jim Thiel, who passed away last September. A succession of high-end audio's greatest offered thoughts and reflections on a talented, well-respected, and universally liked man whom everyone agreed was taken from us too soon. Shown in my photo is erstwhile Stereophile publisher Larry Archibald, whose comments were deeply felt and moving. I paid my own tribute to Jim in my November 2009 "As We See It" essay, which I reprised in my closing day's speech at THE Show, discussed above by Jason Serinus..
Directly across the hall from Musical Surroundings, Garth and Jim White, owner and designer of Aesthetix Audio Corporation, played the same French jazz recording I had just heard. This time, the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable ($10,000) with TT2 linear tonearm ($9500) and daVinci v2 cartridge ($5500) did the honors. Handling the rest were the Aesthetix Rhea Signature phono stage ($7,000), part of the Saturn series and named after one of the moons of Saturn; and the same Aesthetix Atlas power amp ($8000) as used across the hall. Vandersteen Quatro Wood speakers, HRS equipment stand, Kubala-Sosna cables and Running Springs Audio power products completed the chain.
In the Laufer-Teknik room, I had the opportunity to audition the Ascendo C8 loudspeaker ($9800/pair) with stand. This three-way includes a rear-firing ribbon tweeter and upward-firing, internal woofer, and has a specified sensitivity of 88dB
"So what you think our new AT1 loudspeaker will cost?" Atlantic Technology's Peter Tribeman had just finished his dem of a fairly small two-way tower that, driven by Parasound Halo JC 2 preamplifier and Halo A21 power amplifier, was producing prodigious amounts of low frequencies in a fairly large room.
My penultimate stop at THE Show, held for the first time this year at the Flamingo, was the Audience room, where they were playing a system full of new gear. Their line stage combines a relay-controlled autotransformer volume control and zero-gain active buffer. The unit has four inputs, all single-ended, and very clever switching to keep noise to an absolute minimum. Ohit also includes a headphone amp and all of Audience's power and signal-transfer technology, in a sleek, compact package.
Elsewhere in this report, Brian Damkroger writes about the new Audio Research DS-450 class-D power amplifier. However, I was more taken by the Minnesotan company's $5995 DSI200 integrated amplifier, which offers 200Wpc into 8 ohms, compared with the larger amplifier's 410W, and had its top off. (This is Las Vegas, after all.) The 93%-efficient class-D outputstage was developed in-house and is coupled with a hefty linear power supply.
My last stop of the day, and of the show, was the Audio Research room. Dave Gordon showed me their new DS-650 (I'm not sure that the designator was DS) stereo amp and laughed that it was their "Magnepan amp." Yup, I agree. As I discovered when I paired a pair of MG-3.6s with Classé CAM-350s, while any competent 20Wpc amp will drive a pair of MG-3.6s adequately...any top-notch 300400W amp will actually drive them well. Then Dave casually noted that the 650 was a class-D amp and told me to put my hand on its top. Sure enough, it was cool as a cucumber in spite of having been on and making music for several days. "The entire amp is ours, from the bottom up," Dave noted, "there's nothing standard or off the shelf in there."
Beckoning like the mythical paradise for which the Coloradon company is named, the Avalon Acoustics Time loudspeakers ($47,995/pair) stood in a large suite on the 34th floor. Surrounded by a large complement of room-tuning devices that only partially controlled their low end, the beauty and clarity of the Time's diamond tweeter transmitted the beauty of Renaud Capuüon's violin as few other speakers I have heard.
Also showing in the Ayre room were their MX-R monoblocks ($9250 each) and also a Stereophile “Product of the Year” in 2007), connected to the actual samples of Vandersteen Model Seven speakers that Michael Fremer will be reviewing for Stereophile in March. The MX-R, like its KX-R brother, is carved out of a single block of aluminum and puts out 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. The amps were fed by Ayre’s CX-7eMP CD player and KX-R preamplifier and the sound of the MX-R amps driving the Vandersteen Sevens was detailed and pun fully intended airy.
Here's Ayre's Steve Silberman holding the new DX-5 universal player that can handle not only SACD, CD and DVD-Audio, but also DVD and Blu-ray discs. Think of it as an Oppo BDP-83 on super steroids. In fact the company starts with an Oppo drive and MPEG processor and throws everything else out, adding in a new power supply and all the important digital bits. Wrapped up in a beautifully machined package and retailing somewhere around $10,000, pre-orders begin next week, and deliveries should happen sometime in the first half of February.
B&W's openng day press conference at the LVCC revealed an entirely new line of Diamond Series loudspeakers in a new piano-black finish. This new vintage comes from the line of monitors that included the Diamond Silver Signature ,an $18,000/pair high-end two-way that had been produced in a limited run of 1000 pairs. The smallest member of this speaker line is a two-way, stand-mounted monitor called the B&W 805 Series Diamond, a strong value at $5000/pair. The stands are extra, but are now available in black.
On the first day of the Show, B&W announced the sixth generation of their flagship, full-range, three-way floorstanding 800 loudspeaker. The new 800 costs $24,000/pair and includes a transmission line-loaded, diamond-dome tweeter with a quad-magnet motor to increase sensitivity and dynamic range. Other features include a dual-magnet motor for the woofers, B&W's proprietary Kevlar FST midrange driver, a matrix enclosure and a crossover that includes silver, gold and oil construction Mundorf capacitors.
The Rockport Alya's 1.25"-thick front baffle is cast from aluminum, then machined to accommodate the drive-units. The tweeter's usual front-plate is discarded and replaced by the baffle, which has the necessary opening and locating pins. This gives a very clean acoustic environment for the dome. Andy Payor's hand is shown here locking the tweeter into place with a ring that screws into a thread tapped into the rear of the baffle.