So why is Amanda Sweet from Telarc smiling? Well, in addition to being a wonderful person, she's happy that the Concord Music Group chose to sell its wares in The Venetian. Rather than the nightmare everyone predicted, customers only had to walk 20 steps to the official CES cashiers to purchase their SACDs and CDs from Telarc, Heads Up, Concord, Prestige and the like. With only one other CD vendor—5.1—in the area, Telarc did a booming business.
What does $275,000 buy you these days besides a used Porsche Carrera GT with 20,000 miles on it? Yes, there is now a loudspeaker system with that asking price, which gets you 900 lbs of hardware, including two midrange—tweeter towers, two subwoofers, and two subwoofer amplifiers. Frequency response is rated from 8Hz to 50kHz, and the minimal load impedance is 3 ohms. Furthermore, the Force is made of glass.
Albert Von Schweikert is on the move. After any number of Von Schweikert lovers have asked for smaller, space-saving speakers that function optimally tucked into corners or up against walls, Von Schweikert Audio is about to launch the Studio Signature Series. With three models, the Unifields 1, 2, and 3 ($6000, $10,000, and $15,000/pair respectively) and optional polished marble stands, the Signature speakers are designed to "compete with guys who build $20,000 monitors." The Unifield 1's frequency response is said to be 40Hz—22kHz; the 2 offers 32Hz—22kHz; and the 3 boasts a whopping 32Hz–50kHz. Not bad for a small speaker, eh?
You wouldn't tell by looking at him, but Martin Tremblay is camera-shy. He's modest, though he has every reason to be proud. Triangle's new Genese Series continues the French firm's tradition of sophisticated styling. With its slender, elegant cabinet and smooth, glossy finish, the $4900/pair Quartet descends from Triangle's Magellan Series and is just as lovely.
In the Loiminchay room, I listened to the standmounted Degas loudspeakers (starting at $15,000/pair). Designer Patrick Chu was a painter before he starting building loudspeakers, and finds inspiration in his favorite artists. He named his smallest loudspeaker after the French Impressionist whose paintings, Chu says, are "romantic and musical." Other Loiminchay speakers include the $35,000 Chagall and top-of-the-line $45,500 Kandinsky.
"Wes Phillips said you would be coming by to take pictures of our loudspeaker," said Paul DiComo, Vice President of Marketing at Definitive Technology. Paul then took me over to a pair of the company's slim Mythos ST Super Tower loudspeakers driven by Pass Labs XA 100.5 100W solid-state monoblocks. Standing just over 48" tall, the speakers had a width of 6.75" and a depth of only 9.5" What a change from the massive transducers I had seen at other venues at CES 2008!
Poor Kevin Halverson! Since Hesiod only named nine muses in Theogony, Kevin has had to double up as Muse's line of players has increased. The Erato II is available as a transport ($5300) or one-box CD/DVD/DVD-A player ("up to" $7300).
"The technology to create a full, wireless, 5.1 channel audio system simply wasn't available before, "said Mike Gough, B&W's Senior Project Manager on the Liberty System, "so we waited until it was possible to do it right." The Liberty employs a proprietary, robust wireless protocol with channel switching capabilities—called dynamic channel selection—to avoid interference from existing WiFi networks. Its wireless transmitter broadcasts 8 separate channels, allowing for full 5.1 in one room, and a stereo setup in a second room. Alternatively, the Liberty can support 4 separate stereo zones throughout the house.
In a room dominated by imposing Antique Sound Labs tube electronics and Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers, the Chang folks were demonstrating their new Hyper Drive "hyper noise shunting mechanism." Designed to bring AC noise down further than conventional Chang Lightspeed power conditioners, the Hyper Drive will be incorporated into 2008 Reference models such as the Chang Mk III ($3500).
Conrad-Johnson Design, well-known purveyors of vacuum-tube electronics, introduced the ET2 Enhanced Triode preamplifier, featuring a single-ended triode voltage gain stage direct-coupled to a high-current output buffer. For once, this is not another $18k preamp; the price is a relatively modest $3500.
After hearing the Stello stack, I thought I had heard it all. But in the next room, April Music President Simon K. Lee blew my mind even more with the one-piece Aura note Music Center ($1850). This little baby, available through a dealer network, even includes a USB port on back, a second USB memory stick port on the side, a built-in tuner, and two RCA inputs. Paired with the Aura speaker ($650/pr), the parallel single-ended MOSFET design (thank you, Nelson Pass) sounded a bit more mellow and soulful than the Stello stack. (It would have probably extended as low as that stack if it had been paired with the B&Ws).
As usual, Totem did a wonderful job of transforming their booth to provide a fun and distinct listening environment. The company was also playing their Tribe wall-mount, which provided a surprisingly robust sound.
The highlight of the VRS Audio Solutions room was witnessing VRS' Vincent R. Sanders and Neil Sinclair (high-end pioneer and former owner of Theta Digital) engage in a heated discussion over optimal methods for achieving hard disk-stored music playback. These two went at it as if dealing with life and death itself. Which, in the case of high-end audio, isn't far from the truth.