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.
Instead of using conventional CD playback technology, the Rockport room featured the DC-powered Black Box Audiophile PC from Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems of Chicago. (Preliminary pricing, expected to lower before the unit reaches the market, is $7999.) With no moving parts in the box into which one inserts a CD, the DSP-based system reclocks the data after reading the CD, basically eliminating jitter. It copies the audio data from a CD onto a hard drive, reading the CD multiple times if necessary to eliminate data-reading errors. It is said to be far more accurate my own conventional stick it in the iMac and burn it in iTunes setup. The unit can process data up to 24/192. Lordie did it sound good.
Music Culture Technology Corporation's Reference line has been designed and engineered by MBL's official engineers. Though not yet distributed in the US, the combination of MC's partnership with MBL and their components' arresting good looks drew me in for an extended listen. It was also a belated listen, but that had to do with the Hard Rock Café across the street from the St. Tropez, whose bass blasting from the rock video they project in their parking lot between 5pm and 10pm made listening to anything other than equally blaring rock music an absurdity. Call it high end trumped by high insult.
As much as I had hoped to write about new companies at T.H.E. Show this time around, I keep finding myself drawn to "old friends" for one overriding reason: their sound is the best I encounter. Such was the case with veteran audio designer Peter Ledermann's Soundsmith. Despite Peter's 1960s-holdover proclivity to turn his consistently impressive, housed-in-wood electronics into multi-colored light shows—thank God you can dim the lights or turn them off entirely—the former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation continues to astound with the sound of his phono cartridges and the amazing frequency response of his small Firefly speakers.
Attendance was light at the Alexis Park on Wednesday, with the rooms closest to the front getting the most attention. That was certainly the case for Evolution Acoustics, whose imposing MM3 modular speaker commands respect. After seven years of development, this huge baby, designed by Kevin Malmgren (left, formerly of Von Schweikert) made its initial debut at RMAF 2006. Then, the company went low-key while Malmgren and his wife were busy raising their first child (who, after almost one year of development, has just made a most auspicious debut in his stroller at T.H.E. Show 2008). Well, not really. The speaker was back-ordered even before it was launched, and has kept Malmgren and its distributor so busy that they haven’t had the time or need to yet establish a dealer network.
Bryston's James Tanner surprised me by showing me a new direction for Canadian amplifier manufacturer Bryston: it has developed a series of class-D (switching) amplifiers. "You'll notice from the line's hybrid name that we combine the class-D output module with regular linear power supplies, not switching supplies," explained James. "The switching supplies are too noisy."
Continuing my game of guess-the-nationality-of-the-manufacturer, I walked into a demo room that had a very-nice-sounding system with the brandname Nightingale. My thought was British (I recall vaguely a British speaker designed by John Jeffries many years ago bearing that name) or Japanese (as in the Emperor’s Nightingale). However, the answer was Italian. They make electronics as well as speakers: they were demming the prototype PTS-03 battery-operated preamp ($8000), the Gala power amp ($6000), and the new CTR-2 speakers ($9000/pair). I also saw what I thought was another power amp (the one on the right in the picture), so I asked about it, and was told that it was actually the power supply for the amp. I wasn’t doing too well in my guessing here!
Anglo-Chinese brand Quad is not one of your consumer electronics companies that revamps their entire line every year (whether it needs to or not). Some might even consider their approach a bit stodgy, resisting change. So when they come out with not just one new product but a completely new series, that has to be considered news.
If one were to judge by the new product introductions from Ayre and Jeff Rowland Design, $18k seems to be the price point for high-end solid-state preamplifiers. Rowland's new Criterion preamp uses NiMH batteries in the power supply; these are more easily available than the lead-zinc ones that were used in Rowland's previous top preamp—and, of course, the design of the Criterion features a number of improvements from its predecessor. Rowland also introduced the new Continuum integrated amp, available in two version: 350Wpc ($7200) or 500Wpc
($8800), the latter featuring power-factor correction.
"Lightning strikes twice," says the blurb on Ayre Acoustics' new KX-R preamp, referring to the 1996 introduction of the Colorado company's original K-1 preamp, considered to be among the best preamps. The KX-R ($18,500 in aluminum finish) retains the zero-feedback, fully-balanced configuration of the K-1, but has a Variable Gain Transimpedance (VGT) circuit, with something called "equilock circuitry" for the gain devices. This was explained to me as a circuit design that does not attenuate the inputs at the front end, and thus improves the S/N ratio. The KX-R is a slim but heavy unit (41 lbs), and as you can see, it looks stunning.
Daniel J. Hodgson, Polk Audio's Senior Vice President, was very enthusiastic about the $3000/pair LSi25, a floor-standing, 3-way loudspeaker."It has a 1" VIFA ring-radiator, dual-pivot tweeter to increase dispersion," said Daniel. There are two midranges that surround the tweeter in D'Appolito configuration, and a powered 10" sidefiring subwoofer. The drivers have cast speaker baskets with aerated-polypropylene cones. He went on to point out the two small ports on the front baffle next to the midrange. "These two small ports are designed to eliminate resonance, which our company calls Acoustic Resonance Control," added Michael Cooper, Florida Regional Sales Manager for Polk.
After seeing audio components that cost thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars, I always find it refreshing to encounter ones that cost a fraction of those prices. Case in point: the Nu Force S-1 integrated amp (10Wpc), which costs just $199, shown here by Jason Lim, CEO of Nu Force. The company also offers a matching speaker, the Icon-1, a small unit using a single driver, the combination, including cables, selling for $399. The system sounded pretty good, too!
Jon Iverson, our magazine group's self-proclaimed “Web Monkey”—that’s how his business card describes his role—mentioned that a reader, now living in Dubai, wrote him Tuesday night about Gallo Loudspeakers. "I'm hoping your CES 2008 show blog will bring me up to speed on the latest loudspeaker from Anthony Gallo," he wrote.
It was midday at the Venetian and show traffic was intense when I squeezed into the Hansen Audio suite. Despite noise from the outer hall and chatter in the back of the room, the several listeners seemed swept away by Natalie Merchant's voice. Her warm wishes were followed by Aaron Neville's "Goodnight," a blanket of voices with impressive clarity seeming to wrap around the entire room.