Havng recently used Esoteric's four-box SACD playback system, with its dual-mono DACs and the ultra-high-precision Rubidium Clock unit, I checked out what the Japanese company was displaying in the rooms they were sharing with cable manufacturer Synergistic Research. My eye was caught by this beautifully styled one-box SACD player/DAC/100Wpc amplifier. The RZ-1 is scheduled to sell for $6000 and as well as using one of Esoteric's highly regarded SACD/CD transport mechanisms, it has both 192kHz-capable S/PDIF and 24/96-capable USB digital inputs andsignificantly for the way the audio market is goinga phono preamplifier. The 32-bit D/A section uses an AKM AK4392 chip and offers both a conventional reconstruction filter, one that resembles Meridian's minimum-phase "apodizing" filter.
I spent much of my time at CES roaming around with Stereophile's self-proclaimed Web Monkey, Jon Iverson. I'd never met Jon before I came to the 2010 CES but he was a wonderful guide both to Las Vegas and to CES, as well as a smart and kind person to get to know. On Saturday morning he suggested we head on over the THE Show located at the Flamingo Hotel, right on the strip. One of the first rooms we happened upon was the Edge Electronics room. Jon said, "We've got to go in here."
I had gone into the Koetsu USA room at the Venetian to catch up on the latest developments to the Italian Blacknote DSS30 media server, which I hope to be reviewing later in the year. But I was very taken by the sound of the three-way Odeon Elektra loudspeakers ($19,100/pair), which, driven either by the DSS30,a Goldennote Stibbert CD player, or a Montegiro LP player, via a Goldennote 75Wpc, solid-state integrated amplifier, didn't sound at all like what I expect from horn speakers. Strings had a natural sheen, brass winds a natural "blattiness." Whether solo voice, classical orchestral, or solo piano (a high-rez Beethoven Sonata from 2L), the sound was uncolored, unstrained, and enjoyable.
I know, center-channel speakers are the bailiwick of our sister magazine Home Theater. But as Wilson Audio Specialties' Peter McGrath told me when he explained the speaker's technology to me in the Utah company's suite at the Mirage, two Polarises work magically as a stereo pair. (Unfortunately, the speaker was only being shown, not demonstrated.)
Walking into the Jeff Rowland Design Group room is like walking into a dreamscape of audio bling. To look at a Rowland faceplate is like gazing into the face of God...well, maybe that's overstating it a bit. Whoever set up the Rowland room knows how great their gear looks and even set up floor to ceiling poles full of lights, strategically aimed to heighten their hypnotic, 3-D look.
Rogue Audio was also showing off the yet-to-be-released Ares phono preamplifier. The preamp can be run in all-tube or hybrid tube/solid-state to allow it to work with any cartridge you might want to throw at it. Mark O'Brien told me he was completing the design as recently as two weeks ago. The Ares will retail for $1995 and will start shipping at the end of June 2010.
Mark O'Brien of Rogue Audio was showing off the new Tempest III integrated amplifier ($2999). The III (an update to the Tempest II) offers 90Wpc and comes with a remote control. It also features an optional 10dB boost of solid-state gain before the signal hits the tube section, which is selectable on the front panel. Also on the front panel is a high quality headphone output. Mark was playing the Apollo monoblock amps in the room's live system, so I did not get a chance to hear it. Hey Stephen Mejias, might this be the new amp you are looking for?
Newly unveiled in the Cary Audio room was the CAD 211 Founders Edition amplifier. This fully balanced monoblock retails for $20,000/pair. The amps have taps for 4, 8 and 16 ohm speakers and specified as putting out 70W in class-A, increasing to 110W when pushed into class-AB. They also employ zero feedback so I'm not going to send them to JA's test bench (low-feedback designs seem to make him grumpy). They sounded sweet and full-bodied driving the Marten Coltrane speakers, with cabling by Tara Labs. It is ironic, however, noted JA, that Cary founder Dennis Had retired from Cary in the fall of 2009.
As I wandered the halls looking for the next audio fix, a friendly voice with a thick Swedish accent called out to me. Since I'm pretty new at the magazine, I wondered who might be calling out my name let alone who might be calling out name that's from Scandinavia. It turned out it was Timo Engstrom, the maker of The Lars two-chassis, tube integrated amplifier that Art Dudley wrote about in June 2009. Somehow Timo read my badge and knew I was covering amplification at CES for Stereophilehe must have good eyes. He invited me in to have a listen to the Lars.
Also in the Musical Fidelity suite were the new M6 Series components which include the M6i integrated amp and the matching M6 CD-DAC. Priced at $2500, the M6 CD-DAC includes SPDIF, Toslink and USB inputs on the back for external digital sources which feed into the 24 bit/192kHz upsampling DAC.
Musical Fidelity picked a suite near the top of the Mirage hotel to introduce two new CD players, both available now. Top-of-the-line honors goes to the $9,000 AMS CD player and DAC built around a custom-made Philips CD pro mechanism and 12 internal power supplies.
For those of you who lust after a Benchmark DAC but wish it had remote control, rejoice. And in typical pro-audio fashion, they didn't add just any remote, but a motorized Alps pot that turns the front panel knob. The company claims that digital volume controls can reduce dynamic range and analog IC type controls add distortion and noise, hence their custom motorized design.
One of the companies I continue to enjoy seeing every CES is Sonneteer. Their proprietors are always amazingly perky a couple days into a grueling show, and their products are consistently interesting.
Some of my favorite industrial design in the audio industry comes from Chord. I'm not sure that the cool glass and aluminum flourishes found on many of their products have key functional utility, but they sure look inviting. So the relatively understated casework done for the new Cyan Click Digital Integrated Amplifier still stands out among more staid designs from others.