I was astonished to come across a room at T.H.E. Show featuring the Scientific Fidelity brand. Back in the early 1990s, SciFi had some of the most stunning-looking tube amps and preamps, as well as a speaker, the Tesla, that offered spectacular imaging, SciFi's founder, Mike Maloney, exited manufacturing many years ago and founded T.H.E. Show, which he subsequently sold to Richard Beers. I bumped into Mike at a CES a few years back, and he had become a best-selling author on valuable metals trading. But the brand was back for 2012 with the stunning-looking, three-way Stylust loudspeaker ($30,000/pair), which sounded clean and detailed driven by the triangular Trillium amplifier ($25,000). Although the gentlemen in the room didn't speak English very well, I gathered that Mike was still the creative force behind the brand.
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering taught me all I need to know about Nixie tubes at CES. Used as the main visual display device used in his Reference N-1 preamplifier and in his Destination Line-Stage preamplifier's control unit shown in the photo, the Nixie tube was invented in 1955 as the first electronic display tool for reading out the numbers 09. The Nixie's designers fashioned a wire mesh into 9 layers, each layer in the shape of a number, resulting in a tidy small stack. This tiny wire stack was inserted into a small glass envelope, filled with neon gas, and then sealed. When any of the separate metal layers was charged with 175 volts, the neon gas around the wire ionized, and lit up. When plugged into a circuit board, the tube would read out the numbers, with each number appearing at a different depth. Paul was fascinated with the retro look of this type of readout, so he has installed it in his $15,000, three-chassis Destination line stage, and into his new $10,000 reference N-1 preamplifier.
Rockport Technologies' Andy Payor alerted me before CES that VTL would be using his new Avior speaker at the Show. A three-way design using twin 9" carbon-fibersandwich woofers, a 6" carbon-fibersandwich midrange unit, and a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter, with Transparent Cable internal wiring, the Avior costs $29,500/pair. Driven by VTL's new S400 II monoblocks, a TL7.5 Series III preamp, YP6.5 phono preamp, and Spiral Groove LP player, the sound of Shelby Lynne singing "Just a Little Loving"the song of the 2012 Showsent shivers down my spine. "Deliciously real!" said my notes.
I heard very detailed and rich sound in the exhibit run by Lamm Industries and by Verity Audio. The system setup included $95,995 Verity Audio Lohengrin II speakers, $37,190/pair Lamm ML2.2 single-ended, dual-chassis 18W amplifiers, a $28,000 Kronos turnable with a $5,200 Phantom II XL12 tonearm, $5500 Dynavector X1Vs cartridge, and $97,000 worth of Kubala-Sosna interconnects, speaker cables and power cords. Julien Pelchat, the Vice-President of Verity Audio, walked me through the design of the Lohengrin II speakers.
The Sonist Concerto 3 ($3495/pair) is a favorite of Art Dudley's, who praised its "SET-friendly" nature (April 2009). The system I heard in the Sonist room at T.H.E. Show used the Concerto 4 ($5895/pair), which JA wrote about in his report from the 2011 Atlanta Axpona, The Concerto 4 is claimed to have a sensitivity of 97dB, 2dB higher than the Concerto 3, and the bass is claimed to extend 3Hz lower, to 27Hz. (When it comes to the extremes of sensitivity and bass extension, even small gains are hard to come by.) With a Cary 306 Pro SACD/CD player as the source, Increcable Acoustic Lab TIA216 integrated amp (300B-based), Acoustic Revive power conditioner, and Exakte cables, the sound was clean, open, and "fast" on percussion.
The New York debut of Sonus Faber's stunning-looking Aida ($120,000/pair) was compromised by sub-optimal room acoustics and too much noise from outside the dem area. But the speaker, powered by Audio Research's new Reference 250 monoblocks ($25,900/pair) lived up to the promise in Las Vegas. But as I had found in New York, the true magic of the Aida was only to be found if you sat exactly in the sweet spot, when the speakers disappeared and the end of the room dissolved into the recorded acoustic. Certainly the team from WhatsBestForum.com sitting in front of my cameraHi, Steve!were enjoying what the Aidas' were doing.
The rest of the system comprised an SME Model 20/3 turntable/tonearm ($17,000) with a Palos Presentation cartridge ($3995), an Audio Research CD8 ($9995) and DAC8 ($4995), Reference Phono 2SE ($12,995) and Reference 5SE linestage ($12,995), all connected with Shunyata cables. Racks were the ubiquitous Harmonic Resolution Systems SXRs and power conditioning was also by Shunyata.
The Tréo ($5995/pair), shown in prototype form at the 2011 CES, is the latest speaker from Vandersteen. Indications are that it offers the same sort of musical accuracy that characterizes all of Richard Vandersteen's designs. It's a three-way design, with a 1" ceramic-coated alloy-dome tweeter, 4.5" tri-woven composite-cone midrange, 6.5" woven fiber-cone woofer, and an 8" subwoofer. Like other Vandersteen speakers, the Treo is time and phase correct. Through the years, Vandersteen has moved away from the strictly functional appearance of the original model 2 and model 3, and the Treo is perhaps a culmination of this trend: the slim, truncated pyramid is stylish as well as functional. My notes on the makeup of the system playing are somewhat difficult to decipher (I need to take a course in remedial handwriting or start to carry an iPad with me), but I can tell you that it used Aesthetix electronics and a turntable source. The LP of Mary Black singing "Babes in the Wood" sounded smooth and engaging.
My experience with the Thiel CS1.7 at CES is a story in three parts. Part I: Maybe. On the first day that I was at CES, which was the day before the Press Day, I visited the Thiel room while they were still setting up. I saw a prototype of the CS1.7, and asked if they were going to do a demo of these speakers. "We haven't decided yet. We're not sure if the crossover is finalized. But if the speaker sounds as good here as it did at the factory, we'll demonstrate it." Fair enough. I took some pictures and promised to return.
Totem is expanding their Element line, which features bass drivers running full-range up to the tweeter’s passband. The latest speaker in this line is the Ember ($4200/pair) a two-way using a 6" Torrent driver designed and made by Totem. Driven by Boulder electronics, a pair of Embers produced a full-range sound, with the sort of bass that made you wonder if there was a subwoofer in the system. Not bad for a 6" driver!
UrbanEar's Andrea Miles models their new mustard-colored Platten headphones, which list at $65. This was part of the great upsurge in headphone exhibits found in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, or the "Zoo."
After encountering booths of so many manufacturers I had never heard of, I got some comfort from seeing a familiar name from the world of audio: Velodyne. Well known for their subwoofers, Velodyne has entered the highly competitive earphone market. Their new $90 Vpulse's claim to fame isyou guessed itexceptionally powerful bass performance. Velodyne's David Short was most enthusiastic about it, and told me that although Velodyne is not about to go out of the subwoofer business, they're working on a wide range of headphones.
Vienna Acoustics were demming the latest version of Die Musik speaker, which we first saw and heard at the 2008 CES. VA's Patrick Butler played the role of DJ for me, operating the Jeff Rowland Design Group gear.
Scheduled for a summer 2012 launch with a projected priced of $9000$10,000/pair, the Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Imperial Grand speaker uses a smaller flat, concentric tweeter/midrange drive-unit developed from that used in the Austrian company's top models, The Kiss and The Music. But like them, it uses a supertweeter to cover the range above 17kHz. The cabinet is sourced from Italy and the speakers are assembled in Vienna. And the name? Well, the Bösendorfer company is also based in Vienna and their flagship piano is also called the Imperial Grand.
What we have here is the Vincent C-35 Hybrid HDCD CD Player. It features a 100% vacuum tube output stage (two 12AX7 tubes and one 6N10), dedicated headphone amp with volume control and SPDIF digital output. Priced at $1,999.99.