Thiel's press conference at the Sands Convention Center on Day One of the 2008 CES opened with a detailed critique of the complexities and challenge of installing a home theater system. Ekin Binal, Vice President, Product Development, of BICOM, an IT company partnering with THIEL to address these issues, spoke in detail about the complex, labor intensive, time-intensive, cost-intensive installation of multiple speakers and channels. Furthermore, updating such a home theater system is never simple nor convenient, nor is moving a system from an old house to a new house either simple or inexpensive. Because installation is custom work, there is no universal package a single manufacturer can create that can fit most domestic locations.
Microsoft wanted to talk to me about its Windows Home Server division—and I wanted to hear what they said because I was impressed last summer at the company's commitment to making its Home Server software as simple as pie.
The prototype speaker I shamelessly coveted at the 2007 RMAF, the Harbeth 40.1, resurfaced in final form at THE Show’s Alexis Park location. Paired with Resolution Audio’s exceptional-sounding components, it again made my mouth water. Now positioned on new, lower stands (which, in my not-so-humble opinion, look far more attractive, and far less like a funeral casket, when not draped in black cloth), the full-range 40.1 monitors have an immensely detailed, beautifully layered, extremely controlled midrange whose harmonic richness is hard to resist. Toed-in toward the listener, the speakers' high end was equally compelling.
It was great to again encounter Andy Payor of Rockport Technologies and hear the stunning 200 lb Ankaa loudspeaker ($26,500/pair). Of all the speakers I heard on the first two days of T.H.E. Show, the Ankaa produced images so large and lifelike that it made other speakers (including several wonderful-sounding models I’ve already discussed) seem like pipsqueaks. I have no doubt that the expensive, neutral-sounding Gryphon Antileon Signature stereo amplifier ($31,000 for 150Wpc) and Mirage preamplifier ($25,000), as well as the debuting Purist Audio Design Proteus Provectus cabling had a lot to do with Andy's triumph. As he rather selflessly noted, "The real reason for a good image lies in the collaboration."
The Replay Turntable ($3499) is Revolver's re-entry into the turntable market after a lengthy absence. It comes packaged with a Jelco tonearm although the company might eventually supply a top plate that can be drilled for any arm. It has a decoupled suspension—which is not sprung–and a large flat belt driven by an AC motor with an outboard power supply. At 50 lbs, it's no lightweight.
It's hardly the same as clicking your heels three times and finding yourself back in Kansas, but Stereophile's metaphoric Good Witch of the High End, John Atkinson, has granted me my big wish for CES. Instead of finding myself wandering around and around in circles, following my ears, I’ve been assigned specific turf: T.H.E. Show. And since T.H.E. Show’s two venues, the St. Tropez and adjacent Alexis Park, are literally across the street from our bloggers' home for four nights, the newly and quite tastefully refurbished, remarkably low-key Hyatt Place Las Vegas (formerly the AmeriSuites), yours truly could not be happier. The Sands/Venetian may have more–well-known, higher-profile players, and is certainly attracting more visitors, but I've entered a number of wonderful-sounding rooms on my first day at the St. Tropez to make me quite happy to be here.
"You know," Alon Wolf told us. A lot of what you liked about the sound of my music server was the Pacific Microsonics Model Two DAC I was using. But that's no longer manufactured, this is even better and only $5000."
The Sony booth had a lot of interesting products on display, but hardly anything specifically dealing with audio. Last year, the only product I found I could find in the Sony booth that I could mention in my CES blog was a pair of headphones. This year, the product that I spotted that I thought would be interesting to Stereophile readers was "a pair of headphones!"
The PS Audio Memory Link ($1695) is a CD/DVD/RAM drive. It's a mechanical player (ie, it still spins the discs), but it has an unusually large cache. Conventional players have caches of around 8–16MB, the Memory Link has a 64MB cache. Why is this better?
I was excited to see Cambridge Audio's TT50 turntable. On display with their small, S30 loudspeakers ($259/pair), the TT50 was looking pretty darn sexy in its high-gloss jet-black finish. If it reminds you of Pro-Ject's popular Debut III, that's probably because the TT50 was developed in partnership with that Austrian firm. It uses a proprietary tonearm, an Audio Technica AT95E moving magnet cartridge, and its elastomer-coated acrylic platter is said to "control resonance and provide matched acoustic impedance to the vinyl record for maximum detail retrieval."
"Wow, that's great," I said, looking down at B&W's new $599 Zeppelin iPod player, the football-shaped Zeppelin, as it played a track from Tal Wilkenfeld's new Transformation album off of my Apple iPhone. Tal Wilkenfeld, a 21 year-old, very pretty, Australian girl, was all the buzz after she played bass with Jeff Beck at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival Concert in Chicago last summer.