I timed my arrival in Las Vegas for early afternoon on Wednesday, the day before the Consumer Electronics Show opened, so I'd have enough time to get from Stereophile staff's little of island of sanity in the smoke-free, gambling-free Hyatt Place Las Vegas to press registration at the mammoth Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). The traffic was considerably lighter than during the show, the lines for registration much shorter than I would have encountered on opening day.
On the fourth floor of THE Show, Tim Ryan of Simpli-Fi was demming the Gradient Helsinki 5.1 loudspeaker ($6500/pair, down from $8000 a year ago). This weird-looking loudspeaker produces anything but weird sound. Designed to avoid reflections from the sidewalls and floor, it has 85dB sensitivity, a nominal 6 ohm impedance, and a frequency range of 200Hz20kHz.
I had a great time listening to my own recordings in the Halcro room. Though the room lighting and the alien looking Vivid Audio G2 Giya speaker gave foreboding vibe in this photo, the sound was warm and detailed and the Halcro folks were really friendly. Featured in the Halcro system were the dm10 preamplifier($20,990) and the dm78 power amplifier ($41,990). The dm 10 is Halcro's top-of the line preamp and features its own phono stage. (It was reviewed in the April 2004 issue.) The dm78 is a mono amp that puts out 225W into 8 ohms and handled big dynamic swings in recordings of both Vivaldi and Eric Whitacre with ease and grace.
Denmark's Holm Acoustics set themselves up at the Flamingo with their beautifully-designed CD1 transport at $7,300 and DSPre 1 DAC/preamp/DSP starting at around $8,000 depending on the number of processing channels and analog output.
I still remember seeing the first two HRT Streamers at CES last year, when Kevin Halverson held them out in his hand, thinking what a great idea to improve the lot of cash-strapped PC Audiophiles. One year and thousands of sales later, version two of the original DACs are out as the $149.95 Music Streamer II and $349.95 Music Streamer II+. Joining them is the Music Streamer Pro at $499.95 which sports balanced +4 voltage outputs and other goodies for the pro-audio set.
Walking into the Jeff Rowland Design Group room is like walking into a dreamscape of audio bling. To look at a Rowland faceplate is like gazing into the face of God...well, maybe that's overstating it a bit. Whoever set up the Rowland room knows how great their gear looks and even set up floor to ceiling poles full of lights, strategically aimed to heighten their hypnotic, 3-D look.
I was highly impressed with the dynamics, speed, and pace of a new $8000/pair loudspeaker from John DeVore, a speaker maker from my area of the country, Brooklyn, New York. I had first read about John in the New York Times when it featured new and brave entrepreneurs making their way in Brooklyn during the recent recession. I was interested, because of my medical research background, that the very tall Mr. DeVore had been positively influenced in his younger years by an uncle who was a leading primatologist, and had take him to Africa to view various monkeys living in their natural habitat. As a result, John names his loudspeaker lines for various species, including the Gibbon, Silverback, and now Orangutan. This floorstanding, two-way, high-sensitivity (dB/2.83V/m) loudspeaker features a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a reflex-loaded, 10" treated-paper woofer (rear port) in a cabinet with a lace walnut finish. I was struck by the similarity between John's energy and enthusiasm and the dynamics and pace of the music the Orangutan generated driven by the 15Wpc Mag Amp.
Stereophile editor John Atkinson served as the opening act for the Grand Giveaway on the final day of THE Show 2010. In his short talk, John reflected on the losses of the past year. He first honored two of his departed mentors, John Crabbe and J. Gordon Holt, both of whom were central to the development of high-end audio. He also honored the memory of Al Stiefel, who co-founded the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest with his wife, Marjorie Baumert.
If anyone could possibly bewitch me, it's Ella Fitzgerald. I found it impossible to resist her spell as she sang "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" through the wonderful pairing of Karan Acoustics' KA L Ref MK2 line preamplifier ($17,500) and KA S 180 stereo power amplifier ($9700), Zanden Model 2500 Signature CD player ($20,000), Finite Elemente racks, Cardas Clear cabling, and new Avalon Acoustics TIME dynamic loudspeaker system with new diamond tweeter, ceramic mid, and two 11" Kevlar woofers ($47,000/pair). This system's intimacy, midrange warmth, and complete lack of barriers beckoned me deeper into the magic of Ella's delivery. Wonderful.
"Go and hear the KEF Concept Blade Loudspeaker," encouraged John Atkinson, "it’s their current statement on the state of loudspeaker art." For reasons unclear, KEF selected a hard-to-find Hilton Hotel suite for their exhibit, far away from the high-end exhibits in the Venetian Hotel. But when I whispered the word "Blade," I was ushered into a dark room where the set of twin loudspeakers, looking like aircraft wings, were standing. The cabinet curvature eliminates cabinet resonances, I was told. The KEF engineer explained that the company had not set a price on the Blade because they regarded it like a concept car, a one-off, handbuilt test model.
In the middle of the King's Audio room sat the omni-directional King Tower ($4500/pair). The speaker was created specifically because, according to the distributor, there was no affordable omni on the market. Paired with same substandard cabling as was the King's Audio Prince II electrostat, a $99 Philips CD player, and the mbl Noble series 4004 preamp and 8011 monoblocks, the speakers sounded quite promising. This is a speaker that needs a better source component and better cabling to fully demonstrate what it can do.