"Go and hear the KEF Concept Blade Loudspeaker," encouraged John Atkinson, "it’s their current statement on the state of loudspeaker art." For reasons unclear, KEF selected a hard-to-find Hilton Hotel suite for their exhibit, far away from the high-end exhibits in the Venetian Hotel. But when I whispered the word "Blade," I was ushered into a dark room where the set of twin loudspeakers, looking like aircraft wings, were standing. The cabinet curvature eliminates cabinet resonances, I was told. The KEF engineer explained that the company had not set a price on the Blade because they regarded it like a concept car, a one-off, handbuilt test model.
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?
Because of the Stereophile writers' need to share a cab (and keep costs down) I visited the Nagra suite at the Mirage hotel with JA, JI, KR, and LG. As we walked through the Mirage I felt like we weren't a group of audio writers, we were a posse. I kept humming the music Quintin Tarantino used in Kill Bill for the Crazy 88's whenever we walked around. All right, we weren't that bad ass.
It was a case of Johnny Hartmann the third time over. In the room shared by Hansen and Tenor Audio, my third encounter with Hartmann's vocalism at CES 2010 came via a CD transfer of a 1964 recording. Happily, the CD retained much of the vocal richness of the two Hartmann LPs I had heard earlier in the show.
I hadn't seen this almost two-year-old company before, but was familiar with founders Andreas Koch, formerly with Studer ReVox and EMM labs, and Jonathan Tinn through his relationship with darTZeel. Sharing a room with darTZeel, Playback's MPS-5 was sitting in the center equipment rack spinning discs.
Those who follow computer audio forums have probably heard the name Amarra a few times. If you have an Apple computer running iTunes and want to get the most out of high resolution audio, Sonic Studio's Amarra software offers a way around some of the inherent problems when switching resolutions and the way the Apple OS handles audio.
My last stop of the day, and of the show, was the Audio Research room. Dave Gordon showed me their new DS-650 (I'm not sure that the designator was DS) stereo amp and laughed that it was their "Magnepan amp." Yup, I agree. As I discovered when I paired a pair of MG-3.6s with Classé CAM-350s, while any competent 20Wpc amp will drive a pair of MG-3.6s adequately...any top-notch 300400W amp will actually drive them well. Then Dave casually noted that the 650 was a class-D amp and told me to put my hand on its top. Sure enough, it was cool as a cucumber in spite of having been on and making music for several days. "The entire amp is ours, from the bottom up," Dave noted, "there's nothing standard or off the shelf in there."
I felt as though I had entered sacred space. As I walked into the huge TAD suite, designer Andrew Jones was playing Aaron Neville's recording of "Amazing Grace." Everything about the sound, the speaker layout, and the rapt silence of the full house felt like a holy shrine.
I have heard Acapella horn loudspeakers and Einstein electronics on other occasions, but they have never sounded as glorious as they did paired together in one of the Aaudio Imports room at CES 2010. I only wish Erick Lichte and John Atkinson had been present as I played John's 2008 recording of Cantus' While You Are Alive, which Erick produced. (Erick was also Cantus' Artistic Director at the time). The sound was bighuge, in factmaximally transparent, and thanks to the Einstein electronics' euphonic presentation, absolutely luscious.
Visiting one of Aaudio Imports' rooms gave me another opportunity to hear Tidal loudspeakers from Germany. I initially encountered an extremely imposing pair of these speakers on the first day of the show, paired with BAlabo electronics and Echole cabling. Now before me was a smaller pair of the Tidal speakers, either the Contriva Diacera SE ($73,500/pair) or Piano Cera ($28,400/pair). (The equipment sheet listed both models).
What a relief to revisit VTL electronics, and breathe in the mellow midrange of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartmann singing on the Original Recordings Group reissue of I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. There's a beauty and timbral truth to VTL electronics that you do not hear from many tube products that cost more than the $50,000/pair Siegfried monoblocks, and far more than the wonderful VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks ($15,000/pair).
My penultimate stop at THE Show, held for the first time this year at the Flamingo, was the Audience room, where they were playing a system full of new gear. Their line stage combines a relay-controlled autotransformer volume control and zero-gain active buffer. The unit has four inputs, all single-ended, and very clever switching to keep noise to an absolute minimum. Ohit also includes a headphone amp and all of Audience's power and signal-transfer technology, in a sleek, compact package.
CES is where you can see the new but it is also where you can catch up with old acquaintances. Caught here in the CES Press Room in Jon Iverson's photo, I'm standing on the left with my partner in Stereophile Inc. for 12 years, Larry Archibald, who is both enjoying his retirement from the high-end audio industry and missing it, and Larry's wife, Laura Chancellor. It was on the 700-mile drive back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from the CES in January 1986 that Larry, Laura, and I mapped out the future of Stereophile.
Beckoning like the mythical paradise for which the Coloradon company is named, the Avalon Acoustics Time loudspeakers ($47,995/pair) stood in a large suite on the 34th floor. Surrounded by a large complement of room-tuning devices that only partially controlled their low end, the beauty and clarity of the Time's diamond tweeter transmitted the beauty of Renaud Capuüon's violin as few other speakers I have heard.