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.
Stillpoints, a vibration-control company that has been making equipment support racks since 2003, has just introduced a 40"-wide, low mass, open-air rack that allows you to stack two components side by side on each support shelf. Each ultra long support shelf holds two 20"x16" equipment shelves, each of which can hold a separate component on the appropriate support technology. Each equipment shelf also contains six pockets of Stillpoints' multi-patented vibration damping technology, making for 12 pockets of vibration control per large support shelf. Stillpoints' Paul Wakeen claims that each time you add another layer of Stillpoint isolation, the sound of your system improves.
CES presented me with my first opportunity to make the acquaintance of Stephen Hill and Straight Wire. The Florida company has just released a "push prong" re-usable, solderless RCA plug that makes Straight Wire cable termination a snap. Especially appealing to custom installers, the termination actually leads to a higher level of performance by enabling quick silver-plated termination without piercing cable insulation.
Tenor's promised Tenor Pre preamplifier ($40,000) is a hybrid, using tubes for the input stage and MOSFETs for the output. It should be available in two months. As a whole, the Tenor system (fleshed out with Hansen Emperors and Kubala-Sosna cables) was outstanding.
Chord demonstrated the absolutely stunning Indigo Advanced D to A ($15,000). Yes, that's an iPod dock on top, but the Indigo isn't just another iPod dock. For one thing, you can only dock Chord modified iPods directly into it, allowing Chord to access the digital data in the iPod. The Indigo also has a A2DP radio "dongle" that can seamlessly stream digital radio ir music from anywhere in the room. Another dongle is supplied to stream analog output from unmodified iPods.
RBH Sound is best-known for its home-theater speakers, but CES saw the Utah-based company launch a "Signature" series of speakers that were demo'd in two-channel systems. I listened to a Telarc Aaron Copland recording on the three-way, sealed-box 8300-SE/R towers ($8449/pair), with a Boulder 1021 CD player and Boulder 860 power amplifier, and was impressed by the natural balance, extended low frequencies, and good dynamics.
Visiting Kara Chafee of de Havilland, whose amplifiers invariably grace music with a wonderful sense of air, enabled me to take a first listen to Cable Research Lab (CRL) cables. CRL's mid-level "Silver" line is a very recent recipient of a "Product of the Year Award" from a certain publication known for its absolutism. Another very positive publication fed CRL an award in 2007.
Lamm was driving the new Wilson Maxx series 3 with its 32Wpc ML3 Signature SE triode monoblocks ($139,290/pair). It was my first chance to hear either, so I can't tell you if it was the speakers or the amps that were making the magic happen, but happen it did.
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.
Tara Labs has so many levels of cables that factory manager Matthew Sellars, who assists designer Matthew Bond with cable design and oversees implementation, had to draw a four-tiered chart just to explain where the company's newest offerings fall in the Tara Labs hierarchy. That may be an exceedingly long opening sentence. But so is Tara Labs' product list.
Perhaps it was the ridiculously expensive 20Wpc Lars tube amplifiers that Wes Phillips blogged about yesterday, but the modest-looking Prio 620 speakers (price starting at $5750/pair) from Finnish manufacturer Amphion, sounded both sweet and powerful on a track from bassist Brian Bromberg. The titanium-dome tweeter is loaded with Amphion's proprietary waveguide, which matches its dispersion above the low 1.2kHz crossover frequency to that of the twin 6.5" paper-cone woofers.
Clarity Cable of Wichita, KS had a neat little demo going at T.H.E. Show. Rather than pairing their single cable line and new Clarity Audio Pillows with high-priced electronics, they intentionally chose inexpensive mass-market electronics. With a twist. The Infinity Beta 50 speakers were rewired with Clarity wire. (You can also find Clarity wire in MaxxHorn speakers). The CD player was a Panasonic DMP-BD30 with a flimsy chassis, etc. Yet the sound was impressively full-range and inviting.
I love this stuff. Ultra System's Robert Stein (pictured right with Bernd Alne of HiFi-Tuning left) greeted me with an entire array of 12 audio enhancement products, a host of which are just entering the US market. One that will surely attract Michael Fremer's attention is the Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner. This German wonder, which retails for $3495, delivers the world's first, fully automatic ultrasonic as well as mechanical LP cleaning bath. The baby treats both sides of an LP to an ultrasonic cleaning, then to a liquid bath, and finally to a blow dry. The only services it doesn't offer are tints and highlights.
Due to a horrible traffic jam in the bowels of the Sands/Venetian Show venue, I was only able to catch the tail end of Greenpeace's January 9 press conference. The good news is that the greenest consumer electronics products on the market today have a smaller environmental footprint than those sold a year ago. The sad news is that there is considerable room for improvement.