"Now that can't work," I thought, as I went into the Crystal Cable room and saw the Dutch company's new Arabesque loudspeaker (45,000 Euros/pair, equivalent to around $60,000). A glass enclosure? But as I listened to a variety of recordings that I thought would expose cabinet problems, such as female vocals and solo cello, I didn't hear any flaws that I could lay at the feet of the enclosure.
Featured in Magico's second room in the Venetian was the new V2 ($18,000/pair), a smaller sibling to the V3 that I reviewed last May. It combines the same ring-radiator tweeter as the V3 with two 7" Nano-Tec drivers, the latter arranged so that the lower woofer rolls off at a lower frequency than the upper one to give much of the sonic benefits of a two-way design.
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.
The speakers from Colorado-based Avalon Acoustics have either featured conventional, rectangular boxes (in the less-expensive NP series, like the Evolution 2.0 I reviewed last July) or the unique, multifaceted enclosures that I first saw in 1990's Eclipse, which are used in the cost-no-object designs like the Indra.
To judge by some of the comments that have been posted to this Show report, some American audiophiles resent the fact that so much audio manufacturing has been outsourced to China. But the fact remains that if you wish to be able to purchase high-end quality at rock-bottom pricing, manufacturers have little choice but to turn to China. The irony is that even when price is taken into account, the quality of Chinese manufacture is very often superb.
Not an audiophile product per se, SE2 Labs ITC One "Integrated Theater Console" takes all the components typical in a high-end audio/video rack, and strips away everything but the circuit boards and transports and puts them all in a single climate-controlled chassis.
"It's like the Pearl but in a more easily digestible form," explained Jeff Joseph, as he demmed the Long Island's company's new Pulsar speaker for me. The stand-mounted speaker keeps as much as possible of the cost-no-object Pearl's qualities, but uses a new magnesium-cone woofer from SEAS with the same throw as the Pearl's 7" unit.
Loudspeaker manufacturer VMPS ran a series of live-vsrecorded dems throughout the four days of CES, at the Zeus Ballroom in T.H.E. Show's Alexis Park venue. In dems organized by VMPS's Brian Cheney, groups of musicians and singers first performed live while being recorded by some of Ray Kimber's staff in DSD, using crossed figure-8 mikes, Millennia Media mike preamps, and Meitner converters. The recording was then played back on VMPS speakers and subwoofers, driven by Ampzilla amplification, with Audience Adept Response power conditioning and Audience Au24 e cables. The playback level was matched to that of the original, allowing legitimate comparisons. (The mikes were close enough in the solo singer dem I witnessed to minimize the double contribution of the room acoustic.)
Directly across the hall from the PrimaLuna exhibit, I discovered its somewhat more expensive big brother line, Mystère. While PrimaLuna amps operate in triode mode, Mystère gives you the sound of tetrode. These aren't high power babiesthe ia11 integrated amp ($1995) puts out 40Wpc watts and the ia21 integrated amp ($2995) gives you 50Wpc. The electronics are manufactured with a different partner in China, and are the dream project of their designer.
The omnidirectional MBL speakers, which use a unique pulsating quasi-spherical array of ribbons, make a strong argument for the benefits of this design approach. Featured in their room when I visited was the new 111F ($35,000/pair), which uses the "Radialstrahler" drivers for the treble and upper midrange, with conventional drive-units used for the lower frequencies. A big change from the earlier version I reviewed in 2002 was the use of side-firing direct radiators for the bass rather than the 111B's coupled-cavity LF enclosure. These are mechanically coupled to eliminate vibrational excitation of the enclosure.
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!