Some disc players simply look better than others when the lights go out. The Raysonic CD168 Tube CD-Player is one such machine and retails for $2,550. The CD168 uses 4 Russian 6922EH tubes and upconverts your CDs to 24 bit/192kHz to either balanced or unbalanced outputs.
The outboarding THE Show, run by the affable Richard Beers, was held for the first time at the Flamingo Hotel on the Strip, two Las Vegas blocks from CES’s “High-Performance” venue, the Venetian. In previous years, THE Show had been held at the St. Tropez Resort, then the Alexis Park, but Richard now has a multi-year contract with the Flamingo. I estimated THE Show had representation from a good 110 manufacturers. One of the big draws was actually outside the Flamingo's back door, where Panasonic was demming HD-3D TV in a huge trailer. It's rumored that some die-hard two-channel audiophiles snuck into the trailer trying to mask the same guilty expressions that they carried to the porno exhibit in the Sands Convention Center.
Theta Digital is at last showing the Compli-Blu universal player ($2995), which begins shipping the week after the Show. The successor to the old Compli universal player and Carmen II digital transport, the Compli-Blu can be used either as a digital transport (which is how I intend to use it with my Theta Gen. VIII Series 2 DAC/preamp), or as a stand-alone multi-format player.
Visiting one of Aaudio Imports' rooms gave me another opportunity to hear Tidal loudspeakers from Germany. I initially encountered an extremely imposing pair of these speakers on the first day of the show, paired with BAlabo electronics and Echole cabling. Now before me was a smaller pair of the Tidal speakers, either the Contriva Diacera SE ($73,500/pair) or Piano Cera ($28,400/pair). (The equipment sheet listed both models).
Most of the time at CES, Stereophile's writers prowl the corridors in solitary fashion. But occasionally we find ourselves in the same room at the same time, which was the case in the Blue Smoke suite at the
Mirage, where we had gathered to check out the company's new server that Jon Iverson blogs about elsewhere in this report. Seen in this photo are (from left to right): Erick Lichte, Jon Iverson, Kalman Rubinson, Larry Greenhill (partially hidden), Blue Smoke's Peter Sills (back to the camera), and someone whose name tag I couldn't see. It gives you an idea of the inquisitorial mode we are in at Shows, desperate for detail but eventually satiated with sound.
Though the Stereophile Product of the Year award is more transparent than an Oscar or Golden Globe, it is no less coveted. In the Ayre room at the Venetian, the proud winners of the 2009 Amplification Component of the Year award show off their trophy next to a cut-away of their winning KX-R preamplifier. The preamp was featured in Ayre’s system at their suite high atop the Venetian.
New to the Pass Labs product line is the XP-25 two-chassis, solid-state phono preamplifier ($10,600). Intended to be designer Nelson Pass’s statement phono stage the XP-25 allows the user to select gain, and resistive and capacitive loading to match any cartridge you might want to use. The XP-25 will accept two line inputs and offers both single-ended and balanced outputs.
Some products at CESall-black products, with black highlights, and with the lettering tastefully done in black, in a darkened roomdefeat all but the most-determined photographers. So my thanks to Larry Greenhill for managing to photograph the new Classé CTM600 600W monoblock amplifier ($6500 each).
Vandersteen's $45,000/pair, time- and phase-correct, four-way, floorstanding, Model Seven loudspeaker made its debut at the 2009 CES but is now in production. I sat with Richard Vandersteen in his suite at the Venetian, and listened intently to his description of how he designed the Model Seven. He started by saying, "I didn't really understand the advantages of carbon-fiber as a material that could help speaker design until I built my own airplane." From there, he described how he developed a patent-pending sandwich of high-Young’s Modulus carbon-fiber skins bonded to a balsa-wood core for the mid-bass, midrange, and tweeter diaphragms, which combines very high stiffness for proper pistonic operation, with high self-damping. Carbon-fiber construction for the enclosure also allowed him to restrict the cabinet resonance to very high frequencies, where they will have no effect on sound quality. The drive-units use Vandersteen’s patented method of avoiding rear reflections from the magnet structure. The powered 12" subwoofer fires down at the floor. All this was evident when he played a vinyl recording of Holst's The Planets. The Model Seven, driven by Aesthetix amplification, played with unusual clarity and definition, and I could easily follow different motifs in this orchestral selection that I had not been aware of at home. From what I heard at the Show, I anticipate the Model Seven doing very well in the review scheduled to run in the March, 2010 issue of Stereophile.
What a relief to revisit VTL electronics, and breathe in the mellow midrange of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartmann singing on the Original Recordings Group reissue of I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. There's a beauty and timbral truth to VTL electronics that you do not hear from many tube products that cost more than the $50,000/pair Siegfried monoblocks, and far more than the wonderful VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks ($15,000/pair).
John Atkinson introduced me to English engineer Laurence Dickie, who was sharing our ride up the elevators to the 34th floor of the Venetian Hotel. Mr. Dickie is a well-known loudspeaker designer, responsible for the original B&W 800 and B&W Nautilus loudspeaker designs, and as well as the cute little Blue Room Minipods, and is now creating new products for South African company Vivid from his design studio in Brighton, England. "Dick," as he is known to his friends, designed the G1 flagship for Vivid, which retails now for $65,000/pair and was being demonstrated in the Convergence Audio suite with, among other things, the piano recordings John Atkinson made and wrote about in the February issue’s “As We See It.” Laurence is shown here with the smaller G2, which was being demmed in the Halcro room and so impressed Erick Lichte.
Two of my colleagues had waxed so enthusiastic about the Vienna Acoustics The Music loudspeaker ($27,000/pair), showcased in the huge Sumiko suite on the 34th floor, that I had to take a listen for myself. Sources were the Wadia 781 CD player and Project Xtension turntable ($6000) with Sumiko Palisantos Presentation cartridge ($3500), feeding an Aesthetix Calypso linestage, Aesthetix Io phono preamp, and Aesthetix Atlas amplifier. Also heard was a pair of REL G1 subwoofers ($3995 each), all connected by a mix of Transparent Audio and OCOS cabling.