The day before CES opens is designated Press Day, with press conferences scheduled every hour, including presentations by major consumer electronics manufacturers such as Pioneer, Toshiba, Philips, Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. These are extremely well-attended, to the point that last year some of the press conferences were so full that members of the audio/video specialty press ended up being turned away. As Wes Phillips noted in a recent news story, for the 2008 Show CES announced that, to deal with this problem, it would be more stringent in determining who gets a Press badge. While they may indeed have done so, there were still huge crowds at all the press conferences I attended, although I think this time at least all my fellow audio/video writer colleagues managed to
get in. (That's www.ultimateavmag.com's Tom Norton in the foreground.)
I've never heard of Navision Audio, and when I looked at their amps and preamps, all featuring wooden chassis, I automatically thought "Italian." Well, it turns out that they're actually designed and manufactured in Viet Nam. Whatever their country of origin, they're beautiful pieces (the wood is "Barian kingwood," whatever that is), the NVS-211PSE power amp ($21800/pair) offering 80W of parallel single-ended triode using two 211s, and the NVS-003G ($8900/pair) an OTL design using the 6C33C.
Britain's Cambridge Audio is known for its modestly-priced integrated amps and such, but now they've decided to move upmarket by introducing separate preamps and power amps. The Azur 840E ($1499) preamp and Azur 840 power amp (200Wpc,
$2199) are based on top-of-the-line Cambridge Azur 840A integrated amp, with upgraded power supplies and other improvements. Here they are, pictured with Ian McArthur of Audio Plus, the North American importer.
Carat Audio's products are sufficiently new to North America that the only prices available are still in Euros. (They do have distribution.) Designed in France and made in China, the A57 integrated amp (80Wpc, 899 Euros), C57 CD player (649 Euros), and T57 tuner (349 Euros) look like anything but budget products, resembling products from Primare or YBA. An indication of the quality of the design is that the power output of the A57 nearly doubles into 4 ohms (80 into 8 ohms, 150 into 4 ohms)—very unusual at this price level.
"We wanted to do something special to celebrate our 30th anniversary in business," said Dynaudio's Michael Manousselis, "so we created the limited edition—only 1000 will be made—$16,500/pair, three-way, four-driver, floorstanding Sapphire loudspeaker. The Sapphire uses our finest technology in drivers, including the soft-dome Esotar2 tweeter and two 8” Evidence-grade woofers with magnesium-silicate diaphragms. The cabinet is designed to have no parallel surface, with the two-toned cabinet featuring 12 distinct surface planes and twenty-four adjoining lines"
"It's the finest two-way loudspeaker we've built to date, "said B&W's Chris Smith," as he stood next to the short white tubular Signature Diamond. "We've decided to make it a special edition of just 500 pairs, each pair numbered." I was very interested because the previous two-way model, the John Bowers Silver Signature, was very well-reviewed by Stereophile back in 1994 and became John Atkinson’s reference for many years.
The KEF Muon, dreamed up by idiosyncratic industrial designer, Ross Lovegrove, is unlike any other speaker I know. At $140,000/pair, it should be special. KEF's Marketing Director, Johan Coorg, explained that the Muon started out as an attempt to create the absolute best possible speaker, and evolved into something more"a work of modern art, like a Henry Moore sculpture."
KEF would begin their multi-room demo with their small, but surprisingly room-filling, KHT home theater range and work their way up from there. The stunning KEF Muons would be the great and final attraction of the KEF event, and they were all I was looking forward to, really. However, the highlight of the show turned out to be the brilliant sound of the Reference 201/2 stand-mounted speakers ($6000/pair). I was instantly reminded of the remarkable performance of the much larger Reference 207/2s, which I recently experienced in JA's listening room and which are now gracing our February cover. The music brought forth was captivating, seductive, gorgeous.