Erick Lichte was very impressed with the Marten Django XL loudspeaker when he reviewed it last September. The three-way Django costs $15,000/pair, but CES saw the debut of the two-way Django L, at a more affordable $9000/pair. A 1" Accuton tweeter is married to two 8" woofers and the sound on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" was much better-integrated than I would have expected.
With so much new equipment to cover, and so little time, I only listened to a handful of systems at CES. One of the few that really wowed me to the core was in the “Made in the USA” Absolare room at T.H.E. Show. The system mated the parallel single-ended 52W Absolare Passion 845 monoblock amplifiers ($37,500) and single-ended Absolare Passion preamplifier ($25,000)both manufactured in New Hampshirewith a full MSB digital systemMSB Signature DATA CD IV transport ($7995), MSB Diamond DAC Plus with Femto Second Galaxy Clock ($38,950), MSB Signature Transport Powerbase ($3495), and MSB Diamond Power Base ($5995)Rockport Technologies Altair II loudspeakers ($100,000/pair), Absolare Bybee Purifier ($7250), Absolare Speaker Bullets ($3750/set of four), and Echole cables.
"I am a substantial amp, and I deserve your attention," Accustic Arts' new, pure class-A AMP IIMk.2 dual-mono power amplifier ($11,000) seems to declare. Its aesthetics certainly got me to take notice. The 121 lb amplifier includes 24 MOSFETs, and both balanced and single-ended inputs and bi-wire/bi-amping speaker terminals. It outputs 250Wpc into 8 ohms, and 500 into 4. Also available, albeit not pictured, is Accustic Arts' fully balanced, tube hybrid TUBE-PREAMP II ($6500), with 3 XLR and two RCA inputs, and 2 XLR and 1 RCA outputs. The company also makes a transport, DAC, streamer, cables and accessories. While these products, handmade in Germany, have been out for a while, this appears to be the first time they've become available in the US.
"The synergy is palpable between Triode Corporation's Japanese-made electronics and Acoustic Zen's loudspeakers and cables," wrote Jason Serinus earlier in this blog and I just wanted to add my 2 cents. As I had in many rooms at CES, I auditioned my recording of pianist Hyperion Knight performing Gershwin on the Acoustic Zen Crescendo speakers ($16,000/pair). The sound of the Steinway was sweetperhaps a little too sweet?and the soundstage was wide, deep, and stable.
Using the same treble and upper-midrange Air-Motion Transformer units as the Class Column 3 that Bob Deutsch writes about in the next story, the much more expensive Tensor Beta Mk.2 ($35,000/pair) adds new lower midrange unit and woofers, all with Hexacone diaphragms. The massive, cross-braced MDF enclosure features a 22mm-thick aluminum baffle and the interior walls are faced with a unique plastic-honeycomb substance with the cells filled with steel shot. The shot very effectively absorbs vibrations.
Invented by Oskar Heil and made popular by speakers under the ESS name in the ‘70s, the Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter and midrange have lost popularity for a while, but have made a major comeback in speakers made by a number of manufacturers, including ADAM Audio in Germany. The Column Mk.3 ($7000pair), reviewed by Kal Rubinson in August 2012 was used by Cary Audio at CES, and had what I now think is a sonic signature that’s apparent in a variety of loudspeaker designs: low in coloration and detailed without being overly bright.
Cambridge Audio’s good-looking Azur 351A integrated amplifier ($599) is rated to deliver 45Wpc into 8 ohms, has a front-panel iPod input, headphone jack, balance and tone controls, and a handy USB input mated to an onboard Burr-Brown DAC so you can connect your computer and get better performance out of your music files.
Also new to the line are the 75Wpc Azur 651A ($799) and 120Wpc Azur 851A.
Larry Greenhill has reported on Revel's Ultima2 Salon, which, at $22,000/pair, is well beyond my CES coverage limit of $15,000,. But I can tell you about Revel's more affordably-priced offerings. Speakers in the new Performa3 series started shipping in December, the price range starting at $1500/pair (M105 bookshelf-type) to the top-of-the-line $5000/pair F208 floorstanders. The speakers feature new transducer designs, next-generation tweeter waveguides, stylish enclosures, and low-distortion ports. The design process of Revel speakers utilizes position-independent double-blind listening tests.
Partnered with ADL’s Esprit preamp/headphone amp/USB DAC-ADC and playing FLAC files via Foobar from a Sony Vaio laptop, the handsome, lightweight, and comfortable Alpha Design Labs’ ADL-H118 headphone ($299) produced very fine sound.
And then there were five. At the end of the show on Friday evening, the remaining members of the Stereophile crew met for dinner at the same BLT Burger restaurant at the Mirage where they had eaten the night before the Show opened. Larry Greenhill, Michael Fremer, Kal Rubinson, Jon Iverson, Tyll Hertsens, and Jason Victor Serinus had already departed, so remaining were (left to right) myself, John Atkinson, Michael Lavorgna (AudioStream.com), Stephen Mejias, and Tom Norton (Home Theater, erstwhile Technical Editor for Stereophile). We don’t even look too tired!
Nagra of Switzerland debuted its new Jazz preamplifier complete with ACPS II power supply ($12,500). This replacement for the PL-L line level preamplifier, shown with the company's Hi-Fi Director Jean-Pascal Panchard, melds tube technology with an improved circuit design that is said to yield more open and detailed sound. As important, the input and output jacks are now on the back panel instead of the sides! A review of the Jazz is scheduled to appear in the April 2013 issue of Stereophile.
Las Vegas? Why bother to fly across the country or around the world when you can visit New York City, Venice’s Grand Canal, and Egypt’s Great Pyramid in one easy, smoke-filled, retail therapy-rich, constantly stimulating stop? Why search out music on the net when, in Las Vegas, it constantly bombards you in elevators, from outdoor loudspeakers, and at your free lunch at T.H.E. Show?
Ah, Las Vegas. In his wrap to CES 2012, Stephen Mejias did a beautiful job of asking the simple but profound question, “Why?” Why, of all the god-forsaken places on Planet Earth, has the Consumer Electronics Association chosen this compulsion-driven, ecologically devastating, one-stop tourist and gambling destination as the site for the largest industry trade show in the US?
I was looking forward to seeing Antelope's recently announced Rubicon Atomic AD/DA Preamp at CES, but so is the company. At the time I visited the room, DHL still hadn't found and delivered it, so we have Director of Sales and Marketing Marcel James standing next to the poster.