I went into the Blue Light Audio room at T.H.E. Show to hear the new Dartzeel amplifiers (Wes Phillips will be blogging on these presently) and to chat with designer Hervé Délétraz. But my attention was caught by Evolution Audio's beautifully finished MMMini Two speakers ($40,000/pair). Ostensibly a two-way design combining a 5" aluminum ribbon with a 7" ceramic-cone woofer, the stand also contains an 8"x12" subwoofer.
While I was cruising NAD's booth, I noticed the M2 Direct Digital amplifierobviously part of NAD's Masters Series. I asked one Nad rep to tell me about it. "Oh, we didn't bring itit's not going to be released until spring."
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!
Thiel's PR wonk Micah Sheveloff grabbed me as I walked past the room in the Sands Convention Center Thiel was sharing with Bryston to meet with Frank Göbl of Canton. "You've got to hear the new CS2.4 Special Edition." As Wes Phillips had been mightily impressed by the original CS2.4 ($4900/pair) when he reviewed it in November 2005, I looked at my watch. Enough time. I went into the dem room.
Music Hall was showing a new USB DAC wit a tube output stage. The Music Hall dac25.5 ($600) uses an Electro-Harmonix 6922 tube, a Texas Instruments PCM1796 24-bi/192kHz DAC chip, a TI SRC4192 Asynchronous sample-rate converter (with a high-precision active crystal oscillator master clock), and four digital inputs (S/PDIF, TOSLINK, XLR, and USB). It sports re-clocking and user-adjustable upsampling (96kHz or 192kHz). It outputs analog via XLR or RCA.
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.
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.)
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.")
The diminutive Harbeth HL-P3 has been one of this magazine's consistently recommended speakers since we first reviewed it in 1993. While some details have been improved over the years (and been reported on in the magazine), its design has remained consistent over the years: a diminutive two-way stand-mount intended to take the place of the classic BBC-designed LS3/5a for location monitoring and for audiophiles with small rooms who value midrange purity and superbly stable, well-defined stereo imaging over bass extension and ultimate loudness capability.
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.
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.
Siltech Importer Ethan Wood, who claims to be the biggest man in the high-end industry, gave me low-down on the family affair known as Siltech and Crystal Cable. (Note: Crystal Cable is in the process of choosing a new importer for its cable and speaker line). Siltech was founded by Edwin Van der Kleig, while Crystal is property of his wife Gabi. Both companies use highly pure silver and 24K gold in the majority of their products.
As I was heading out dazed from the Sennheiser headphone experience, Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis invited me to briefly listen to their demo. In the middle of the Convention Center’s huge South Hall, and at a reasonable volume level that did not attempt to drown out the ubiquitous din, a very cool Patricia Barber had claimed the space as her own. Abetted by a Wadia player and Simaudio amplification, speakers that I think were the Focus 360Mike, help me out here; I hadn’t yet come down to earth from the Sennheiserswere doing a marvelous job of filling the space with inviting sound. If anything could entice me to transition from Richard Strauss’ Alpine heights to Patricia Barber’s sensual coolness, it was this speaker/electronics combo.