"Daedalus Audio and ModWright Instruments have teamed up to show how good a sound you can get for close to $15k," Daedalus' Lou Hinkley explained as I entered the room. Indeed, for as much as I could hear over a very loud conversation, the sound of a track from River, Herbie Hancock's Tribute to Joni Mitchell, and another from a Norah Jones album was very, very nice.
The AVM electronics were being used to bi-amp the midrange and treble units of the enormous Legacy Helix speakers ($48,000/pair), which use 750W ICE-powered 15" subwoofers and a digital-domain crossover with room correction, like its smaller and less expensive cousin, the Whisper XD. The big speakers lack the Whisper's unique cardioid woofers, however. The classic Radka Toneef performance of Jimmy Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" sounded suitably delicate, but the bass on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" sounded ponderous, due, I think, to the sub-optimal acoustics of the air-wall ballroom.
Turning the bits into music in the Channel D room was this $2495 standalone D/A converter, the Hilo from high-end soundcard manufacturer Lynx. Offering USB2.0, ADAT, S/PDIF, and AES/EBU inputs, the Hilo features a 4.3" LCD touchscreen to allow navigation of its menu system as well as, when the music is playing, a choice of peak bargraph or VU meters, as shown here. The Hilo supports 24-bit word lengths and sample rates up to 192kHz and can be used with both Windows machines and Macs.
. . .is a $4295 D/A integrated amplifier with a tubed line stage and solid-state output stage that offers 440Wpc into 8 ohms and 650Wpc into 4 ohms. Hooked up with Straightwire cable to a pair of Dynaudio Confidence C1 speakers and fed by a MacBook in the fourth of the Sunny’s Audio rooms, this system rocked hard on a surprisingly successful reggae treatment of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” (I am always amazed by the new music I discover at shows, thanks to the perverse taste of exhibitors!)
Scaena's imposing systems never fail to provide one of the highlights of the Show experience. Once the flashing light show on the VAC tube equipment was turned off, I was able to settle in and enjoy sensational sound through the Scaena Spiritus 3.6 System with Trifecta subwoofers ($130,000), VAC Statement 450 monoblock amplifiers ($78,000, presumably for the pair), VAC Signature MK2a preamp with phono option ($19,500), Audience Adept aR-12-TSS power conditioner ($10,000) and, for analog, the Kronos counter-rotating dual platter turntable ($28,000) with Graham Phantom Supreme 12" arm ($6000), Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge ($15,000), and Audio Research Ref phono 2 ($11,995).
Zu Audio's room was like no other. While the "normal" set-up has components facing attendees and carefully stacked on equipment racks, Zu more or less duplicated the DJ experience. Spinning vinyl as if in a cage, and very happy to be there, I might add, sat Zu owner Sean Casey's delightfully high-spirited son, Ian.
The Thiel CS 3.7 loudspeakers ($12,900/pair) were making bright and incisive sound with PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium monoblock amplifiers ($4395/pair), DiaLogue 3 preamplifier ($2700), and ProLogue CD player ($3000); PS Audio Perfect Wave II DAC with Bridge/NAS server ($4795) and P10 Power Regenerator ($4495); and Analysis Plus Oval speaker cable ($500/pair).
One of my fondest memories of a past CES was sitting with John Atkinson at T.H.E. Show, playing a track from one of his superb recordings of Cantus on an all-out darTZeel /Evolution Acoustics system from Jonathan Tinn's Blue Light Audio. Here, on more modest speakers and electronics, I was again blown away, this time by the fabulous soundstage height, three-dimensionality, and realistic depiction of horns and cymbals on Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Mahler's Symphony 3.
Canadian speaker manufacturer Totem had a rather schizophrenic room, in which they had no fewer than three complete systems being demmed, one based on MBL electronics, the second on McIntosh electronics, and the third on Cary electronics. Totem’s Vince Bruzzese is shown here operating what I felt to be the best-sounding system, featuring a C31 CD player ($9200) and C51 300Wpc integrated amplifier ($11,100) from MBL’s Corona series driving the Earth speaker from Totem’s Element range ($9000/pair) via Clarus cables. The Earth uses the same tweeter and Torrent Technology woofer as the other Element designs, coupled to a passive radiator. There is no crossover in the woofer’s path, leading to an almost preternaturally clear midrange, but with big, almost too big bass.
One of the three rooms at T.H.E. Show created by Scott Walker Audio of Anaheim excelled in solid, grounded sound with a firm bottom and natural tonalities. Ah, don't we all long for a firm bottom and natural toning. But I digress. In this room, YG Acoustics paired its excellent Kipod II Signature loudspeaker ($49,000/pair) with Sim Audio's Moon Evolution 700i 175Wpc integrated amplifier ($13,000) and 650D CD player ($9000)both products that have been highly praised in Stereophile's pagesand Synergistic Research's Galileo cables, PowerCell 10 SE (probably Mk.III), and full complement of Acoustic ART devices. The latter were doing an excellent job, because the two Kipod II's powered woofers were in firm control in a room that rendered many other speakers' bass boom city. "Beautiful triangle. . .wonderful midrange. . .good three-dimensionality" I wrote in my notes. I wasn't handed a price sheet for the Synergistic Research products, but the company makes its entire price list available online here.
As fate would have it, on my third attempt to enter the Venice Audio Suiteintense conversation made the other passes futileMark Waldrep of AIX Records/iTrax had brought in some of his hi-res files for store proprietor Peter Selesnick to hear. The room was quiet, and for good reason: the sound was too beautiful to talk over.
Gary Katayama of Affordable Audio constructed a system that allowed Randy Bankert's Sonist Concerto loudspeakers ($5895/pair) to show how much sound they can deliver. With apologies for my potentially flawed attempts at deciphering Gary's handwriting, I heard the Baetis Media Server ($2595) and Mach 2 Mac mini (approx. $1000) using Amarra 2.3, Human Audio Table USBS/PDIF converter ($1000), Bel Canto 3.5 USB DAC ($3500), Audion 300B amplifier ($5500), EAT E-Flat turntable ($6000), and Synergistic Tranquility Base ($1000). The soundstage was impressively big, and the sound warm but overly smooth, to the point of softening the leading edge on Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's glorious mezzo-soprano.