I'm still amazed at the sheer number of new high-end CD players announced at this show. Either someone didn't get the memo about the disc format's impending demise, or else we've entered that phase, as with turntables, that playback advances will continue to win new customers with big collections.
While I was basking in the sound of Richard Vandersteen's stunning new Model 7s ($45,000/pair), I asked about the tube amps he was using. "Those are Jim White's Atlasesand I think they're damn good." Richard never minces words, so a "damn good" from him is almost as high praise as a "doesn't suck too bad" from JA.
At the end of every CES, we struggle to find the underlying themes that bind the show to the industry and the world at large. The overwhelming theme this year was the economy. Attendance was downthe official estimate was 10% off of last year's, but everyone I spoke with snorted in derision at that figure.
JA caught up with me at the Blue Light Audio room and suggested we saunter down to hear the 25Wpc Audio Note Ongaku integrated amplifier ($95,000) featured in his photograph above. Yes that's a jaw-dropping price, even after four days of CES. The Ongaku has five line level inputs. It employs two NOS VT4-C (211) tubes, an original NOS Telefunken 6463, and two NOS 5R4WGB rectifiers. Audio Note builds it own silver-wired driver transformer on a double AN-Perma nickel C-core. AN tantalum resistors, Black Gate electrolytics, and another silver wired transformer (output this time) complete the innards.
Frank Cheng's Acoustic System International now produces LiveLine cabling. Combining acoustic resonator technology with super thin, solid-core wire, the cabling is composed of different segments that contain wires made from different metals that are ultimately soldered together at 850 degrees. The RCA interconnect costs $995 (length not stipulated in the press materials), XLR interconnect $1450, 1.8m power cable $995, and 2.4m speaker cable $1750. One online publication gave each of these cables a product of the year award.
I walked into Balanced Audio Technology's room and almost couldn't leave. Geoff Poor was driving a pair of WATT/Puppy 8s wth an all BAT system consisting of a VK-D5SE/Superpack CD player ($9500), VK-32SE preamplifier ($8000), and the new 55Wpc VK-55SE amplifier ($5995).
Magico had two rooms at the Venetian, the first of which featured the Californian company's new 4-way M5 ($89.000/pair). Weighing in at 360 lbs, the M5 features a ring-radiator tweeter built into the baffle, two 6" Nano-Tec-coned midrange units, and two 9" Nano-Tec woofers, these featuring 5" voice-coils. The sealed enclosureno ports in Alon Wolf's designsis constructed, like other Magico speakers, from multiple layers of Baltic Birch plywood. The convex front baffle is machined from a 200lb slab of aircraft-grade aluminum.
Rives Audio's Richard Bird introduced me to Navison, a brand I was aware of but not familiar with. Navison products are aesthetic knock outsgorgeous wood (or black lacquer), etched gold faceplates (or chrome), and deep black transformer pots. They are audio confections.
I was not previously aware of Vexo, a Milan-based manufacturer of tube amps, but I was very impressed by the 15Wpc VXSE-KT88/C ($3900). I asked Koetsu USA's Hiram Toro if that price meant the amps were designed in Milan but built in Asia. "Oh no," he said. "Vexo is designed and built in Italy and it is stuffed with European components.
Although it was shown in protype form at the 2008 CES, the Giya from South African manufacturer Vivid ($58,000/pair) is now in production and was being demmed in US distributor On A Higher Note's penthouse suite at the Mirage hotel with Luxman amplification, Nordost Odin cabling, Quantum power conditioning, and open-reel tapes from The Tape Project's second batch of releases played back on a Tim de Paravicini-modified Technics deck.
Richard Vandersteen showed me the new midrange unit he designed for the Vandersteen 7. The cone is a sandwich of balsa wood between two carbon-fiber skins, the voice-coil is titanium, and most notably, there is almost nothing in the skeletal chassis that would obstruct the cone's rear-wave.
George Kaye had his 120Wpc Moscode 402Au Stereo power amplifier ($6495) on display. Like the 401HR before it, the 402AU accepts a variety of tubes in its front end. The 402 adds low negative feedback, optically coupled floating bias circuit, and dual mono power supplies.
One of the most impressive speakers I have auditioned in the past few years was the three-way Aerial 20T, which was reviewed by Michael Fremer in April 2004. I spoke to Aerial's Michael Kelly a while back about getting a pair for a Follow-Up review, but he declined, saying that he was working on an improved version.
Over at the Boing Boing blog, it is customary to run a "unicorn chaser," an overly cute picture of a unicorn after posting a post that makes you go "eeeew." German Physiks Unicorn mk II ($21,500/pair) were sort of like that, only for show sound. Ahh, that's better.