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.
Jim Aud of Purist Audio Design has released several new products. The diminutive Digital Isolation Adapter ($300) plugs into the S/PDIF output of a CD transport or music server with then the RCA digital cable that connects the transport and DAC plugged into it. The Adapter is claimed to electrically isolate the transport to the DAC, reduce jitter via control of the 75 ohm impedances, and reduce EMI/RF noise.
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.
"Do you have a low-cost amplifier that Stereophile hasn't reviewed that you'd like people to know about?" I asked VTL's glamorous Bea Lam. With a grace and surety usually reserved for Vannah White, the incomparable Ms. Lam glided over to the diminutive VTL ST-85 Performance Amplifier ($2750).
Want to hear silver turn to platinum? Check out Wireworld's new line of Platinum Eclipse Reference audio cables, whose interconnects are composed of four flat conductors made of Ohno continuous cast solid silver of 99.99997% purity.
Nagra's new 60Wpc MSA stereo power amp ($8000) is loosely based on its older "pyramid" PSA amp. This MOSFET stereo amplifier (geddit?) sounds far better than the older one, IMHO. Verity's John Quick played some tracks from Manu Katches stunning Neighborhood and the new guy had better pacing and, more importantly, far better timbre. I heard deeper into the soundstage, especially hearing more of Katche's superlative stick work.
"We are your one-stop shop for cables and tweaks," proclaimed Joseph Cohen of The Lotus Group, while leading me through two rooms filled products. Even the new products took up two pages of notes. Through it all, I remained extremely jealous of legendary mastering engineer Steve Hoffman, who had settled onto a couch in front of the fabulous Feastrex $55,000/pair speakers, and was blissfully tapping his foot to the extremely realistic, full-range sound of a jazz combo playing back on a A Feastrex modified EMT studio type CD player with outboard line transformer.