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.
When I went into the Magnepan room at T.H.E. Show, the speakers were hidden behind a curtain. Magnepan's Wendell Diller ushered me into the sweet spot and started playing some sounds on the all-Bryston front-end: BCD-1 CD player (which LKG raves about in our February 2009 issue), BP-26 preamp, and a pair of 7B-SST monoblocks.
I can't believe that it's been 21 years since Thiel founders Jim Thiel and Kathy Gornik and I emptied the first of many bottles of fine wine talking about music and loudspeakers. But here they are, snapped outside the dem room they were sharing with Bryston and Wireworld, as passionate about audio, music, and the high-end audio industry as ever. And in the case of Kathy, looking even better than ever!
Shunyata, which first made its mark with a novel line of US-made power cables named after various snakes and using a ferrite-based powder filling to absorb RF, has come out with five new serpentine products. According to sales manager Richard Colburn, the company has learned how to put more metal inside its cables, thereby increasing their gauge. The copper used is CDA-101, the only copper certified for its purity. Proprietary connectors are unplated brass, which company founder/designer Caelin Gabriel considers to sound the best.
Loudspeakers from German manufacturer Canton have impressed Stereophile's review team over the past few years with their combination of careful, solid engineering and excellent sound. CES saw the launch of Canton's revised Reference line. The Reference 3.2 ($15,000/pair), seen here cradled by chief engineer Frank Göbl, features a new tweeter with a ceramic/aluminum /ceramic sandwich dome replacing the earlier version's aluminum/manganese-alloy diaphragm, which pushes up the primary dome breakup mode from around 21kHz to 30kHz. The tweeter dome is recessed within a short waveguide to optimize dispersion in its bottom octaves, and is damped by a small circular plate suspended in front of the center of the dome. The lower frequency drive-units, too, have been extensively revised, while the multilayer enclosure, with its gently curved side panels is acoustically inert, at least as far as the accelerometer measurements Frank showed me were concerned. I was sufficiently impressed to request a pair of Reference 3.2s for review.
The Wavemaster monoblock power amplifiers ($9000$10,000/pair) can put out 200W into 4 ohms. They employ an Audience discrete-component front end, switching power supply, and come with an Audience Power Chord. They accommodate single-ended and balanced inputs.
With a factory in Brooklyn's Navy Yard, John DeVore's DeVore Fidelity is almost a neighbor, and he is that rare bird, an American speaker manufacturer who makes his own cabinets. Or rather, he benefits from leasing space to a high-end wood-working company. New at CES was the Gibbon 3XL (around $3500/pair), an impressive sounding two-way standmount that, unusually, features a cabinet made from bamboo. Bamboo is "green," in that it is a fast-growing renewable material, yet its combination of stiffness and damping makes it very suitable for use in speaker cabinets.
Whenever I think of Totem Acoustics, I tend to associate the Montreal-based company with relatively affordable high-performance speakers like the Model One and The Forest. But designer and founder Vince Bruzzese has attempted to reach for the stars with his floorstanding WInd design ($12,500/pair, according to the cryptic spider scratchings in my reporter's notebook) . Acquisition of a new CNC wood-working machine has allowed him to update the Wind, and at CES, Totem was showing the latest version, finished in high-gloss automotive paints. (The speaker shown with Vince is finished in "De Tomasso Blue.")