The very first room I visited at CES featured VTL and dCS electronics powering Avalon Eidelon speakers via Transparent cabling. This was a good start. I had become an instant convert to VTL sound at HE2006 last May, where Wilson Sophia speakers, driven by VTL electronics via Cardas cable and a Jadis tranposrt and DAC delivered some of the best sound I heard at the show. Since then, I've heard VTL gear in three other environments, this being the fifth. Each time, it has sounded different, but always musical.
Zanden's Kazutoshi Yamada builds amplifiers like Medieval villages built cathedrals: To glorify the quintessence. Jon Iverson and I were lured into his room because his Model 9600s were so . . . shiny (hey, we're guys, we're not complicated). Then we heard 'em driving the Ascendo System Z-F3 loudspeakers. Wowsers.
Ypsilon Electronics was a new name to me, so I wasn't sure what Jon Iverson and I would see when we entered its room. Whatever we expected, it wasn't the ginormous hybrid SET-100 monoblock amplifiers ($69,000/pair).
Rives Audio and Talon Audio (now owned by Rives) proudly introduced the Thunderhawk, a $25,000/pair, composite speaker consisting of the $10,000 Hawk positioned atop the Thunder cabinet. The latter’s woofer is available either with a passive crossover, or with the new Rives Sub Parc, fully adjustable active crossover, which includes a 1000W switching amplifier. Said to deliver full-range sound down to 18Hz, the system sounded absolutely seductive playing jazz vocalist Susanne Abbuehl’s Compass (ECM).
Von Schweikert Audio's VR-5 SEs ($25,000/pair) aren't new, but once again they impressed Jon Iverson and me with their verve and natural presentation of acoustic guitar. Nils Lofgren's "Keith Don't Go" kept us nailed to our seats for the whole 12 minutes—which, in CES Show mode, is equivalent to seven human years.
"I'm not done," Lew Johnson said. "I showed you our high-aspiration products, now here's one more from the heart: the ET250S is a more realistically priced product at $7500 for 250Wpc. At the heart of the amp is a single-ended triode amplifier that supplies the voltage gain. A high-current buffer stage couples that to the speaker load. That architecture gives you tube grace and finesse, but deliver all the brute force you need for any loudspeaker. We'll ship them in February."
When Stereophile webmaster Jon Iverson speaks, I listen, so when, in a conversation the night before the Show opened, he mentioned that he felt wireless speakers would be big in 2007, I looked out for examples.
Pathos products don't resemble anything else in the audio world, but the $35,000/pair 150W Adrenaline Class-A monoblock is stunning even in a room packed with other Pathos gear. It's a zero feedback design and it sounded even more stunning than it looked.
At the GamuT house, the first beauty that caught my eye was their new Phi3 loudspeaker dressed in drop-dead gorgeous zebra wood. "In Europe," said designer Lars Goller, "anything striped is really hot right now."
After encountering several rooms filled with overly warm, romanticized tube sound, it was a welcome shock to discover tube gear from Rogue that sounded far more neutral. Alas, the sound from Rogue’s Zeus amplifier (225Wpc, $7495) and prototype reference-level linestage preamp seemed a bit soft around the edges, lacking detail. However, who knows how much of what I heard was due to the plethora of Echo Buster paneling with which the exhibitors had tried to tame the room's acoustics. Paired with the Egglestonworks The Nine ($12,900/pair), introduced at the show, I heard much promise until competition from adjoining rooms forced me to retreat. What I did learn is the speaker uses an 8" Morel woofer, two of the same 6" Morel drivers featured in the company's earlier Andra 2, and an Eggleston favorite, the Dynaudio Ecostar tweeter. Available in virtually any automotive color, the speaker will start shipping in March.
VAS Audio's Sze Leung is the most consistently up audiophile we know—he's always raving about his latest listening session or discovery. "This one's incredible," he exclaimed, pointing to the 80Wpc Cayin H-80A Class-A tube hybrid integrated amplifier (approximately $4000)."
A number of Stereophile writers have been having unexpected musical moments with JBL's massive horn-loaded K2 9800 loudspeaker at recent shows, but the 2007 CES saw the US debut of the awesome Everest ($60,000/pair).