The Sony press conference is arguably the most prestigious at CESand the largest. It would have been even larger if Sony did not have the policy of allowing only select invited members of the media to attend. Having a Press badge by itself does not guarantee admission. Even so, I overheard a Sony rep saying to one of his colleagues that attendance at the Sony press conference was over 1600.
At the 2012 CES, Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hamer introduced me to the Swiss company's reference line of 700 monoblock amplifier ($130,000/pair) and the dual-mono, dual-differential 710 stereo (now $55,000) amplifier Michael Fremer reviewed and liked so much in August 2011. At this year's CES, Soulution presented its less-expensive 500 line. While keeping the same appearance as the Reference line, the 500 line features different internal designs, including the company's first integrated amplifier, the 530 integrated preamplifier/amplifier ($49,000).
Promoted as "the first pocket-sized portable speaker good enough for the audio purist,” the Soundmatters FoxLv2 has had endorsements from renowned speaker designersincluding Michael Kelly (Aerial Acoustics), Gayle Sanders (MartinLogan), and Peter Tribeman (Atlantic Technology)and a rave review by Michael Fremer on AudioStream. There are three models, the price ranging from $149 to $229, the basic model accepting analog input only, the other two connected with Bluetooth (including aptX technology) as well. The top Platinum model has a longer battery life (20 hours vs 12 for the other two) and includes an AudioQuest interconnect. I have some interest in portable speakers, and have listened to a fair number of them, including the audiophile-oriented offerings from B&W, Arcam, and B&O, but somehow the FoxLv2 was not among them. CES 2013 gave me an opportunity to remedy this omission. The Soundmatters booth was in the iLounge section of the Convention Center, and when I got there it was surrounded by a full TV crew. There is apparently a lot of interest in this product.
In our November 2012 issue, Michael Fremer reviewed the Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable ($25,000) with its complementary Centroid tonearm ($6000), an interesting unipivot design that places the pivot point and stylus in the same plane to increase the system’s overall stability. At CES, Spiral Groove showed the new universal version of the Centroid tonearm, a 10” arm with a standard mount. With the supplied setup jig and the Centroid’s easily accessible pivot point, users should be able to determine the correct spindle-to-pivot distance and “accurately set the geometry for overhang and offset angle,” said Immedia’s Stirling Trayle. The universal version of the Centroid tonearm is available now; price remains $6000.
Sarah Tremblay and Caroline St-Louis, representatives of the Montreal Salon Son & Image (SSI) show were at CES, promoting their upcoming show in March. Visitors to the Montreal show may be expecting to see Sarah and Caroline wearing blue wigs, but they've apparently abandoned that look. They're now dressed up as hockey playersthe Montreal Canadiens, of course. I'll be reporting on SSI 2013, along with, hopefully, Art Dudley. There's a chance that John Atkinson may attend as well. Boys and girls, if you all write to him about how much you would like him to attend SSI, perhaps he can be persuaded.
I expect there’s a movie industry connection to the name of this cable company, whose new Kraken flagship power cable goes for $8400/1.5m. With internal wiring a silver-palladium alloy, the housing is a combination of carbon-fiber and epoxy resin. Even the ceramic plug is a composite, complete with pins that are a silver-copper alloy with palladium coating. They also look as good as you’d expect for cable that is 100% handmade in Pasadena.
Thirteen years after the Maryland-based company’s founding, Stealth Audio Cables stand out for their unique geometry. According to R&D Director Serguei I. Timachev, the cables go from thicker to thinner to assist impedance matching in analog transmission. Handmade, including the connectors, prices range, to use interconnects as an example, from the “amorphous wire in Helium, VanCross geometry of Sakra v12 ($12,000/1m pair) to the pure 99.99% solid-core Gold Signal of PGS rev08 ($1000/1m pair).
For many years, Edge Electronics were inseparable from the electrifying presence of the company's publicist, Denver's Steve Norber. Now Norber has come out with his own line, whose initial offerings include the PranaFidelity Purna amplifier ($8950) and PranaFidelity model Fifty90 loudspeakers ($3950). The amplifier, shown beneath a prototype preamp, outputs 400 W into 8 ohms (700 into 4 and 1200 into 2), and accepts both balanced and single-ended inputs. The loudspeakers in the system were a two-way symmetrical array with dual 15" woofers, a 30mm tweeter, and a frequency range of 39Hz22 kHz. In my brief listen, I found the sound amazingly coherent, controlled, and convincing for a small room. Major thumbs up to this one.
English manufacturer Chord Electronics is known for its sophisticated CD players, which use sophisticated DACs. Indeed there was a huge picture denoting Chord's latest-generation DAC, the QBD 76, at the center of the back wall. As my beat was amplifiers, Chord's designer, John Franks (pictured above), spent the next 30 minutes walking me through the design of Chord's latest amplifier, the SPM 1200 Mk.II ($14,000), a solid-state, 350Wpc stereo mode. The amplifier sits at the bottom of the short stack of audio equipment John is leaning on. He explained that the amplifier has a high-frequency, 2kW, switch-mode power supply, and uses an output stage based on dual-die, lateral-structure MOSFETs with a soft turn/on-turn/off characteristic. This allowed John to use a sliding class-AB design.
T+A (Theory and Application) is a German audio company best known in North America for their electronics and source components, not their speakers. That’s about to change with the appointment of Dynaudio as T+A’s North American distributor, and the introduction of the T+A Criterion line of loudspeakers. Asked whether Dynaudiowhich, of course, is a loudspeaker manufacturerhas collaborated with T+A on the design and/or manufacturing of their speakers, Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis quickly assured me that Dynaudio functions only as the distributor for T+A; the T+A speakers are manufactured entirely in the T+A factory in Herford, Germany. Dynaudio makes loudspeaker drivers that are used by quite a few speaker manufacturers, but T+A is not among them.
Priced at $3,250 and available now, the compact and sturdy DAC 8 features 4 coax SPDIF inputs, BNC, AES/EBU and USB all capable of handling 24/192 data. Both balanced and unbalanced outputs are available along with a small remote that can control input selection and volume.
T+A employs aggressive jitter management, multiple filter options, and runs eight 32 bit Burr Brown converters. All analog stages are fully discrete and I'm going to guess it sounds pretty good too.
One of the highlights of CES this year was a chance to hang out with T+A's CEO Siegfried Amft and Manager of R&D Lothar Wiemann, only to discover they were both huge prog rock fans. No wonder I like their stuff.
And speaking of progress, T+A pulled out all the stops for their impressive new network and CD player, the MP 3000 HV, companion to the PA 3000 HV integrated amp. Retailing for $12,500 (though the first two months production run is already sold out) the MP 3000 HV includes the FD 100 bi-directional remote (with color screen), a CD transport, UPnP and DLNA compatible streaming client, internet radio, FM Tuner, and DAC.
There are plenty of digital inputs (8), with SPDIF Coax running to 24/192 and USB at 32/192, and several user-selectable upsampling and filter options. Beautifully built as well.
Centrally located between exhibits and near the lunch area in T.H.E. Show’s downstairs area of the Flamingo Hotel, a host of exhibitors had set up displays. Here, the folks at Elusive Disk take a breather before helping yet another vinyl and CD enthusiast explore recordings new, old, and remastered. Among other vendors was Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings, with whom I discussed holding a listening discovery party at Casa Bellecci-Serinus for members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society.
The Phoenix, a large, attractive-looking three-way design with ceramic-diaphragm drivers, can be had in passive form for $75,000/pair or in active form for $95,000/pair. The active form includes a 500W class-D amplifier for the woofers and incorporates the Rives PARC low-frequency equalization. Demmed with VAC amplification driving the HF and MF sections, the active Phoenixes worked well on Charles Mingus Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus album, the low end sounding more evenly balanced than in most other rooms.
Handmade by carpenters in Taiwan, the Telos Quantum Diffusor ($600) is said to work on the air molecules of your listening room to “imitate natural electromagnetic waves.” The effect would be a more relaxed, soothing listening environment, putting the listener in a better mood, and consequently enhancing the sense of space and detail in the recording. In short, the Telos Quantum Diffusor augments the listener’s perception of music. It is said to also improve sleep.
“But you wouldn’t want to fall asleep while listening to music,” I kidded.