"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.
I had been impressed by the Prince V2 speakers from Hansen Audio, when Wes Phillips reviewed it for Stereophile a few months back. (Mikey Fremer has written a follow-up for our forthcoming March 2009 issue.) But the 2009 CES was my first chance to hear the Canadian manufacturer's top-line King V2 speaker ($89,000/pair). Powered by CAT amplification, with Stealth cables, the LP of Louis Armstrong's classic performance of "St. James Infirmary" produced a big sweep of sound, with superbly natural tonalities and extended lows, though you could also hear that Hansen's Wes Bender had played this LP a few too many times over the decades!
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.
Sam Laufer of Laufer Teknik has become the US manufacturer and distributor of Bybee Wire and the distributor of the Bybee Power Purifier ($4500) that is manufactured by Transparent. Here he's pictured holding the new Bybee wire, which contains the equivalent of three Bybee Golden Goddess Speaker Bullets. While I haven't tried the wire, I have two sets of Bullets on each of my reference speaker inputs, and am continually startled by their ability to clarify and refine low-level bass detail. I never, ever thought I could get this much bass clarity from my speakers, especially from closely spaced, multiple parallel lines of double basses and cellos.
Montreal-based company Verity has been slowly building a reputation for sound quality with its unique speakers, which combine a conventional head-unit on-top a woofer module that, unusually, mounts the drivers on its rear. CES saw the launch of two new models, the Leonore ($15,995/pair) and Finn ($5995/pair). Both speakers offer high sensitivities in the low 90s, and while the Leonore produced an impressive sound from Keith Jarrett's Live at Carnegie Hall CD powered by Nagra's forthcoming MSA stereo amp that Wes Phillips blogged about earlier, I was also impressed by the more affordable, one-box Finn, which was demmed with Nagra's PMA "pyramid" amps. The rest of the system included a Basis Debut turntable and Vector 4 tonearm, Nagra PLL preamp and Nagra's new battery-powered BPS phono stage, which I am sure Mikey Fremer will be reviewing in the near future.
The name "Loiminchay" comes from a line of high-end pens, I am told, and the prices of the superbly finished Loiminchay speakers are also high-end, the three-way Chagall pictured here coming in at $48,500/pair. But combining a 30mm diamond tweeter with ceramic-cone midrange and LF units in two multi-layer Birch-ply enclosures with a concrete plinth, the Chagall produced smooth, extended sound driven by a Bel Canto class-D power amp and a Nagra CD player.
Zu Audio goes its own way when it comes to speaker design goals, emphasizing sensitivity and dynamic range. The Utah company's new Essence ($5000/pair) covers almost the entire audioband with a single 10" drive-unit, augmenting this unit's output from the central "whizzer cone" in the top octave with a ribbon supertweeter. Sensitivity is claimed to be in the high 90s! The enclosure is constructed from Baltic birch ply with an outer MDF cladding, and the internal wiring is, of course, Zu's own cable, with cold-forged, solder-less connections to the Cardas binding posts.
Soundstring designer Leonard Miller, whose eight years in business has garnered a host of positive reviews and product awards, manufactures reasonably priced cables that boast a progressive geometric, multi-gauge/multi-conductor design. Rather than 75 models at 95 different price points, the company has one line, of cables, all of comparable quality, all manufactured in Connecticut. The power cables and speaker cables have three conductors each, the equivalent of 10.5 gauge copper. Interconnects have eight individual conductors, the equivalent of composite 22 gauge. A specific geometric progression promotes signal transmission in the fastest way possible, creating the fastest path for each frequency, thereby allowing components to function optimally with less effort. Soundstring's Tricor Maxial Speaker cables cost $425 for a 6' pair, and the power cord costs $450. Soundstring's HDMI, DVI, and USB cables were used to record Jim Merod's jazz albums, one of which I will soon sample. (Thanks, Jim. The proof is in the pudding, so they say). A line of digital cables is in development.
There are always live concerts at CES and the 2009 Show was no exception. Cable manufacturer Ultralink/XLO brought Showgoers virtuoso bass guitarist Dean Peer Friday evening. Dean, whose audiophile sound-quality CDs Ucross and Travelogue are being reissued by Ultralink/XLO, used artificial harmonics, flamenco right-hand techniques, and a battery of effects pedals to create complex yet funky soundscapes. Thanks for the sonic treat, Ultralink/XLO.JA
When John Atkinson requested that I check out the new state-of-the-art Sennheiser HD 800 headphones ($1399.95), which will debut next month, I dreaded descending into the madness of the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Little did I know that instead of encountering an impossible throng of tech-crazed computer geeks, I would have my peak sonic experience of CES 2009.
Ypsilon was showing a monster of an amplifierthe 120W SE-100 Mk. II($70,000/each). A single-ended hybrid, it uses a 5842 input tube and a row of MOSFET output devices. It's entirely wired point-to-point and sports custom power transformers. Of course, it's stuffed with boutique components.
Somewhere in the maze of air-walled convention cells in the Sands, I stumbled upon PSC Audio's Pure Silver Connection cable. Handmade in Perth, Australia using the finest, purest Australian silver one can find6Ns, or 99.99997% pureeach cable receives three to six annealing heating and cooling treatments (without cryogenically freezing) to increase the length of silver crystals, thereby increasing conductivity by 20% over untreated silver.