One of the many delights of CES was running into Neil Sinclair, former owner of Theta Digital, in the hallways of the Venetian. In answer to my question, "What would you recommend I check out?" Neil led me to the King's Audio suite.
John Devore was using this diminutive integrated amplifier, the German-manufactured Acoustic Plan Mag Amp, to drive his new high-sensitivity loudspeakers. According to Jonathan Halpern, the US importer, the Mag Amp uses a tubed voltage-gain stage and an output stage comprised of two small transformers with dual primaries. He described it as the "world's first switching integrated amplifier, and added that it was designed by Lars Lundahl in the 1960s. The 19 kg stereo chassis offers 15Wpc into 8 ohms and will cost $18,500. It played both a 1980s recording of Ella Fitzgerald and one of Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite with great dynamics, speed, and detail. This is the kind of odd and fascinating gem one can uncover at the end of a day when one is too tired to rush out of an exhibit room, and instead collapses on the couch to listen.
I was highly impressed with the dynamics, speed, and pace of a new $8000/pair loudspeaker from John DeVore, a speaker maker from my area of the country, Brooklyn, New York. I had first read about John in the New York Times when it featured new and brave entrepreneurs making their way in Brooklyn during the recent recession. I was interested, because of my medical research background, that the very tall Mr. DeVore had been positively influenced in his younger years by an uncle who was a leading primatologist, and had take him to Africa to view various monkeys living in their natural habitat. As a result, John names his loudspeaker lines for various species, including the Gibbon, Silverback, and now Orangutan. This floorstanding, two-way, high-sensitivity (dB/2.83V/m) loudspeaker features a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a reflex-loaded, 10" treated-paper woofer (rear port) in a cabinet with a lace walnut finish. I was struck by the similarity between John's energy and enthusiasm and the dynamics and pace of the music the Orangutan generated driven by the 15Wpc Mag Amp.
Vandersteen's $45,000/pair, time- and phase-correct, four-way, floorstanding, Model Seven loudspeaker made its debut at the 2009 CES but is now in production. I sat with Richard Vandersteen in his suite at the Venetian, and listened intently to his description of how he designed the Model Seven. He started by saying, "I didn't really understand the advantages of carbon-fiber as a material that could help speaker design until I built my own airplane." From there, he described how he developed a patent-pending sandwich of high-Young’s Modulus carbon-fiber skins bonded to a balsa-wood core for the mid-bass, midrange, and tweeter diaphragms, which combines very high stiffness for proper pistonic operation, with high self-damping. Carbon-fiber construction for the enclosure also allowed him to restrict the cabinet resonance to very high frequencies, where they will have no effect on sound quality. The drive-units use Vandersteen’s patented method of avoiding rear reflections from the magnet structure. The powered 12" subwoofer fires down at the floor. All this was evident when he played a vinyl recording of Holst's The Planets. The Model Seven, driven by Aesthetix amplification, played with unusual clarity and definition, and I could easily follow different motifs in this orchestral selection that I had not been aware of at home. From what I heard at the Show, I anticipate the Model Seven doing very well in the review scheduled to run in the March, 2010 issue of Stereophile.
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.
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).
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.
Dynaudio had something for almost everyone with an exhibit that ranged from affordable to cost-no-object. At one of the room stood the imposing Consequence SE, whose bass was so powerful that it would interact with the spongy wall behind it unless the mighty Michael Manousselis braced himself against the corner. But on the other end of the long room sat a marvelous little system composed of the Contour S 1.4 ($3500/pair, with optional stands costing an additional $450), Octave V40SE 40Wpc integrated amp ($4900), and an optional capacitance Black Box ($1200) that increased the capacitance of the integrated amp's power supply. Interconnects were from Tara Labs, and speaker cables the Ocos Pro ($900/3 meter pair).
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.
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.
John Atkinson introduced me to English engineer Laurence Dickie, who was sharing our ride up the elevators to the 34th floor of the Venetian Hotel. Mr. Dickie is a well-known loudspeaker designer, responsible for the original B&W 800 and B&W Nautilus loudspeaker designs, and as well as the cute little Blue Room Minipods, and is now creating new products for South African company Vivid from his design studio in Brighton, England. "Dick," as he is known to his friends, designed the G1 flagship for Vivid, which retails now for $65,000/pair and was being demonstrated in the Convergence Audio suite with, among other things, the piano recordings John Atkinson made and wrote about in the February issue’s “As We See It.” Laurence is shown here with the smaller G2, which was being demmed in the Halcro room and so impressed Erick Lichte.
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.
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.
Most of the time at CES, Stereophile's writers prowl the corridors in solitary fashion. But occasionally we find ourselves in the same room at the same time, which was the case in the Blue Smoke suite at the
Mirage, where we had gathered to check out the company's new server that Jon Iverson blogs about elsewhere in this report. Seen in this photo are (from left to right): Erick Lichte, Jon Iverson, Kalman Rubinson, Larry Greenhill (partially hidden), Blue Smoke's Peter Sills (back to the camera), and someone whose name tag I couldn't see. It gives you an idea of the inquisitorial mode we are in at Shows, desperate for detail but eventually satiated with sound.
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."