With only four years since their first headphone product introduction, Klipsch's Regional VP Johnny Williams says recent market data shows the company now ranks among the top ten headphone brands in monthly sales; and their Image S4 in-ear monitor ranks as the fourth most popular in-ear monitor sold. Pretty impressive. . .and warranted. Balancing broad consumer appeal and audio performance is an act all too often not pulled off in the headphone world now seemingly filled with rapper-endorsed products and monster bass.
With significant success entering the market now under their belt, Klipsch has refreshed their IEM line with upgrades and new introductions, including the S5i Ruggedwhich sports a rubberized look and a sweet hard-shell carry case with built in LED flashlight/runner safety blinker. The big surprise, however, is a new traditional on-ear headphone: the Image One. Not everyone wants to stick things in their ears, after all. Nice to see a maker that knows how to play well.
It was released in 2009, but Krell's Modulari Duo Reference loudspeaker ($65,100/pair) was new to me when I visited THE Show and ventured up to the 28th floor of the Flamingo. The two-box speaker features all-aluminum enclosures, and features twin port-loaded woofers and a ring-radiator tweeter. The Modularis were hooked up with Zen Satori cable to Krell's new Evolution 2250e amplifiers, which offer 250Wpc into 8 ohms and 500Wpc into 4 ohms ($20,000/pair). Also new to the Connecticut company's line at CES was the Phantom preamplifier ($17,500, or $20,000 with optional crossover module, completely adjustable for high-pass and low-pass slopes and frequencies) and the 525 CD player ($12,000 in basic form).
Cable manufacturer Kubala_Sosna has been in business eight years, with business expanding each year. This year, the company’s products were in use in 12 rooms at CES.
Just introduced are two new digital cables, the Emotion S/PDIF ($1500/first meter, $300/each additional meter) and Elation S/PDIF ($2700/first meter, $400/each additional meter). Both cables are a step up from Kubala-Sosna’s previous Expression level.
“We’re raising the bar, no doubt,” said keen recordist Joe Kubala (pictured on the right). In perfect agreement was partner Howard Sosna (left), who designs the cables in collaboration with Joe.
With the new cables used to connect the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport to the Perfect Wave DAC, I heard impressive bass and captivating warmth coming through the not-too-shabby Tenor Audio Reference 350M monoblocks ($100,000/pair) and Estelon Model XA loudspeakers ($43,900/pair) from Alfred & Partners in Estonia. Of course it helped that Estelon’s entire line is internally wired with Kubala-Sosna.
Like the Marten room, the Engström & Engström room also played the new large Coltrane 2 speakers by Marten of Sweden. This year, the Coltrane 2 speakers met The Lars Type 2 monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), which each use two 300B tubes and deliver 36Wpc.
PSB’s Paul Barton, proud designer of the new Imagine Mini. Photo: Bob Deutsch.
I complaina lotabout Vegas. I have to apologize to my family, friends, and colleagues for all the whining I’ve let loose over the last couple of weeks. I’m sorry.
I should apologize to you, too, Las Vegas, because there must be more to you than all your neon lights and annoying buzzers and piped oxygen and smoky casinos, your fancy facades and empty promiseseverything in Las Vegas looks beautiful from afar, but the closer you get, the uglier it becomes, the clearer its lies and flaws, the more readily apparent its cracks and hollow insidesI have to wonder: Are even the mountains a mirage?your insulting buffets and gaudy theme restaurants and those relentless dudes who crowd the sidewalks with packets of coupons for a good time: Slap, “for you,” slap, “for you,” slap, “for you.” I would love to knock you over. You make me ill, Las Vegas. You really do. Where is your soul?
I was apologizing. I was saying there must be more to Las Vegas; I was saying I’ve been unfair. Las Vegas is home to many beautiful people, and for one week out of the long year, the world of consumer electronics gathers in Las Vegas to share its stories, to reconnect, to recharge.
We call it the Consumer Electronics Show. It brings me to Las Vegas. At a little after 7pm on Wednesday evening, I arrived at the Hyatt and was greeted in the lobby by our web monkey, Jon Iverson. This was the perfect way to begin the show. I gave Jon a bear hug and almost knocked him over. We settled into our rooms and later met up for dinner with John Atkinson, Kal Rubinson, Bob Deutsch, and Jason Victor Serinus. We exchanged stories, we took pictures, we talked about music, literature, movies, and we devised a plan of attack: John Atkinson would cover expensive speakers, Jon Iverson would cover digital components, Kal would cover multichannel for his April issue column, Bob would tackle moderately priced speakers, Jason would hunt down accessories and cables, and I would be responsible for lower-priced products. (Subsequently Tyll Hertsens joined our team with some well-informed headphone coverage.)
CES represents the only time I get to hang out with most of these guys. (It was, in fact, the only time I’ve ever hung out with Erick.) And, for me, that’s the big story. More than for the gear, even more than for the music, I look forward to CES for the people.
I was initially confused when I walked into this room, as there appeared to be two different systems set-up, with loudspeakers from two different manufacturers. However, playing while I was there were the new Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers in Black Pearl finish (left, $8995/pair), with the Lumenwhite Artisan speakers (not quite so left) silent. Common to both system was an Ayon Audio CD55 CD player and Synergistic Research cables, and Ayon Triton tubed monoblocks drove the Legacies.
Broadly similar in concept to the Focus 20/20 speaker that Paul Bolin favorably reviewed in January 2004, the 25th Anniversary Focus SE is considerably more refined. It uses an AMT supertweeter and a leaf tweeter, between two unique 7" midrange units that use a cone comprising a sandwich of Rohacell and a weave of silver wire and graphite. The two 12" woofers take over below 200Hz and have a low-Q ported alignment to take advantage of the usual room gain without booming. Frequency range is specified as 16Hz30kHz and sensitivity a very high 95.4dB (4 ohm impedance).
The cabinet is narrower and deeper than the older speaker's, with sculpted edges that progressively reduce the baffle width for the HF drivers to optimize diffraction. The crossover uses Solen metalized polypropylene capacitors and braided silver Kimber Kable is used to connect the supertweeter. The drive-units are matched to within ±0.25dB and designer Bill Dudleston hand-tunes the crossover network of each SE speaker.
Veteran electronics and speaker designer Walter Lindemann decided to expand Lindemann’s line to include cabling after he discovered he was never quite satisfied with cables and didn’t want to resort to cables that cost $50,000. Instead, he decided to enlist a German company to help him roll his own Kind of Blue Cable Series. The cables are said to be a “perfect complement” to the company’s 800 series of electronics.
Soon to be distributed by Jonathan Josephs of One World Audio (smilingly showing off his babies), and so new that the US price has not been set, Lindemann’s Kind of Blue cable line includes power cables, speaker cable, and interconnects. All are cryo-treated.
Power cables, which come either shielded or unshielded, contain up to 14 separate “twisted pair” conductors composed of high-purity copper. Insulation is “Teflon-like,” there are neither ferromagnetic materials nor magnetic screws, shielding (when used) is a conductive Gore-Tex coasted with carbon. Interconnects come single-ended or balanced, the latter with a special XLR connector that is completely free of steel and includes gold-plated contacts.
The last time I attended CES was three years ago. Although many things have stayed the same, there were also interesting changessome of them profound. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, it seemed that almost every exhibit had to do with 3D, iPods, or tablet computers. At the Venetian, in addition to the traditional areas of speakers and amplification, it was music servers and related productsably summarized by Jon Iverson in his wrap-up. Cables were big. (More on this anon.)
It was a very crowded show. At the convention center, the scene was at times like being on a subway platform during rush hour. At the Venetian, home of high performance audio, there were long lineups for the elevatorssee photo. Although officially CES is not open to the general public, there were a lot of attendees with “Industry Affiliate” badges, and being an industry affiliate was apparently very broadly defined. This had the effect of increasing attendance, which I guess is not a bad thing, but it also meant that some of these attendees were really consumers, not industry people. One veteran speaker designer told me that some of the questions he was asked at this year’s CES were quite naïve, like “What if you played all these speakers at the same time?” He attributed this to these attendees being consumers (and not very knowledgeable ones at that).
My show report assignment was low-to-moderately-priced speakers, and I was very pleased to get this assignment, leaving John Atkinson to report on expensive speakers. As I said in one of my reviews, I’m more of a Volkswagen/Honda/Toyota than a Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin kind of guy. But CES had lots for the Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin crowd, and sometimes I was taken aback by the prices. In one case, I saw a three-way not-too-huge floorstanding speaker that I thought might be under the $10k that for me defined the top of the moderately-price range. I asked how much it cost. The answer: ninety thousand. I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. Nine thousand? No, ninety thousand. OK, this one is for JA.
The Lotus Group's Granada speaker ($125,000/pair) combines 21st-century technologya digital-domain crossover realized with DSP, including room correctionwith distinctively retro loudspeaker engineeringfrequencies above 200Hz are handled by a single Feastrex unit featuring a field-coil magnet and a paper diaphragm with a coincident "whizzer" cone. The paper used for the diaphragms is sourced from a Japanese "National Treasure" paper maker, Ichibei Iwano, and the surrounds are made from lambs' skin. Two woofer handle the bass and all three drivers are open at the back to give a dipole radiation pattern. There is also a rear-firing 0.75" dome tweeter to maintain the speaker's power response in the top octave. (The treble energy from the whizzer is emitted in a quite narrow frontal beam.)
My photo doesn't do justice to the beauty of this speaker; the rest of the system included Musical Fidelity AMS-50 class-A amplifiers, a Steve McCormack VRE-18 preamp, a Hanss T-10A turntable with phono stage and fitted with Dynavector DRT XV-1t cartridge,with interconnects and power cabling by Pranawire and speaker cabling by Acoustic Revive. Total system costs was $324,245! Listening to Joan Armatrading's "Show Some Emotion" then the Roy DuNann-recorded The Eleven LP by Art Pepper, I was struck by the effortless nature of the sound and the sheer musicality of the system, though I have to admit that instruments didn't quite sound tonally correct.
Mach2 Music offers two services: they will sell you an upgraded Apple Mac Mini computer optimized for digital audio music serving, or take your already purchased 2010 or later Mac Mini and perform their upgrades on it.
They had the first option on hand, which includes a 40GB solid state OCZ Vertex drive to replace the factory drive, Amarra 2.1.1 installed and set up, 8GB RAM installed, cables from Most Beautiful Sound (they cut the power lead in the Firewire 800 cable) and a power cable from PI Audio Group.
Also included, but missing from the photo above due to shipping issues, is a PI Audio Mac Sandwich clamp system. Dayton Audio Brass Speaker Spikes (shown in black) complete the package which retails for $2,995 through the end of this month. All you need to add are external hard drives, a monitor (or iPad/iPod control device) and music.
“Trickle-down effect” is an expression manufacturers often use to describe the application of lessons learned in developing a flagship model to the development of lower-priced products. However, according to Wendell Diller of Magnepan, in developing the new Magneplanar MG 3.7, what has taken place is a trickle-up effect. (Wendell celebrates 36 years marketing Magnepan this year!) The lessons learned in going from the MG 1.6 to the MG 1.7 were applied to the more expensive flagship MG 3.6, with what he says are results that represent at least as much of an improvement as the change from the MG 1.6 to the MG 1.7. I’ve been quite impressed with the MG 1.7 on previous occasions, and listening to the MG 3.7, driven by Bryston electronics at T.H.E. Show, made me think of the MG 1.7, except for greater bass extension and dynamics. Magnepan has kept the price at $5495$5895/pair, which must represent a bargain for a planar speaker of this performance and pedigree. Standing proudly next to the MG3.7 in JA's photo is Mark Winey, son of founder Jim, who now runs the Minnesotan company.
If you look closely at the easel to the right of the photo of the YG room at the Sands/Venetian Convention Center, you can see the text "with drivers machined in-house." Usually, this means that the manufacturer has machined the baskets and polepieces, but in the case of YG, they are also talking about the cones!
Called "BilletCore" by the Colorado company, the aluminum cone for the midrange and low-frequency drive-units used in the top-of-the-line Anat III Reference ($111,000/system) and the smaller three-way Kipod is milled from a solid block of aluminum. In the case of the Anat subwoofer, the starting point is a billet of aluminum 2.5" thick weighing 16 lbs, compared with the finished cone after a day of work, which is 0.008" thick and weighs less than 1 ounce. Stiffening ribs are left on the rear of the cone and the final step is to black-anodize the aluminum. The benefit of machining the cone is said to be improved unit-unit consistency and rigidity compared with a conventional spun, cast, or pressed metal diaphragm, which pushes break-up modes even farther out-of-band.
Though YG was in the same room as in previous CESes, they had taken heroic measures this year to tame its acoustics, as can be seen from the photo. The result was worth the effort. In a system that included dCS Scarlatti digital front-end, a Veloce battery-powered preamp, Tenor 350M monoblocks, and Kubala-Sosna Master Reference cables, the Anat II Reference produced a warm, detailed, full-range sound. Particularly impressive was a version of Sting's "Roxanne" from Italian singer Petra Magoni of Musica Nuda. Both the voice and the solo double bass accompaniment had a palpable presence but without sounding forced or exaggerated.
My most emotional moment at the 2011 CES came in the Harman suite on the Venetian’s 35th floor. I finally got to meet Kevin Voecks, Revel Loudspeakers’ head honcho, and he is every bit the gentleman people told me he would be. Playing in one room of the Harman suite was a system comprised of Mark Levinson digital and amplification gear including the new No. 53 monoblock amplifiers ($25,000 each) and the Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers. The No.53 is Levinson’s first digital switching amplifier. One of the inherent problems of a switching amp is that it creates dead bands in the audio signal when the output devices cross over from a positive voltage to a negative one. Levinson says they have eliminated this problem through a patented technology that allows both sets of output devices to be on simultaneously for short periods of time. This is designed to be done without damaging the output devices or reducing their life expectancy.
After listening to a bit of the sample CD they had playing in the room, I thought I would play the opening cut, Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque,” from the CD While You Are Alive, which I had produced with John Atkinson engineering. It was the best I had ever heard it. I sat there listening to this recording, into which I poured my soul, next to Kevin, who headed the speaker’s design team, that delivered my vision back to me in a way I’d not realized was possible. I felt so lucky and thankful that I live in a world where designers like Kevin, and so many others who show their heart’s labors at CES, can help artists connect to listeners and listeners connect to artists. All I could do was thank Kevin and give him a copy of the CD, as he clearly enjoyed listening to it almost as much as I did. I only wish I could have played him the high-resolution master files.
I told Kevin that JA and I mixed While You Are Alive on a pair of Revel Salon2s while John had the speakers in-house for review. Kevin looked at me with a smile and told me that I was listening to the very speakers John had in his house. Life is magic sometimes.
The No. 53’s were clearly doing a great job, outperforming JA’s Mark Levinson No.33Hes we had used during the mixing. I gotta stop dissing the digital amps.
At last year’s CES, many of my favorite rooms featured Sweden’s Marten speakers. The same held true this year. I expected good things when I stopped by Marten’s own room at the Venetian. Not only where they showing off the new version of their Coltrane 2 speaker ($95,000/pair) but also their first amplifier design, the M Amp ($45,000/pair). These monoblock amps have scary low distortion0.05% at 400W into 8 ohms and use a class-D stage that switches at 600kHz. The amp can output 550Wpc into 8 ohms, 1000Wpc into 4 ohms, and 1700Wpc into 2 ohms.
The folks in the Marten room seemed in dire need of some good music when I came in, having suffered through too much audiophile approved crap during the show. I handed them a CD of the XX, a band I love, and we all bobbed our heads to this sparse but funky Pop. I find this album doesn’t work at all if a system cannot get the interplay between the bass guitar and kick drum right. The Marten system did this very well, sounding rich and articulate. The M Amps never let on that they were class-D amps, sounding more like super powerful tubes or a richly voiced class-A amp. I was thanked for playing some sweet cuts off the XX’s album, and I thanked them for making it sound great.
mbl products always make you wonder, is it technology I'm looking at or art? Their new Corona Line continues this tradition with, depending on your taste preferences, some of the most drop-dead gorgeous casework you'll see in the audio world, or some of the most over-the-top gratuitous metal (choose between gold or palladium alloy palinux), paint (white or black) and gloss this side of a Kustom Kar show.
Nonetheless, you can't argue with how carefully these products are made. The C31 wil be available sometime this summer for around $8,000 (depending on exchange rate at the time) and has coax, toslink and USB inputs in addition to its disc playing function. The C31 can also communicate with the other products in the Corona line via the SmartLink ethernet connector on the back