Music server manufacturer Blue Smoke returned to CES this year as part of the Rockport Technologies suite in the upper echelons of the Mirage. The company's product is the $6,995 Black Box music server where they focus on creating an optimal environment for digital music on the hardware side and assume the customer will choose a Windows compatible music player and interface. For their demo, Windows Media Center was used with a Dell touchscreen (seen on the right) and keyboard/mouse combo for the control functions. A MSB DAC, located under the Black Box in the photo above, converts the data to analog.
Designer Peter Madnick, one of the original founders of Audio Alchemy a couple decades back, has returned as part of a new Southern California company called Constellation Audio. In addition to preamp and amplifier offerings, on hand was the $50,000 Sirius DAC and CD player two box system. One box (which they call the "clean box") contains the DAC and audio stuff and then the "dirty box" houses the transport and power supplies (pictured above).
Irresistible warmth in the midrange. It's not what you usually associate with digital, but it's the only way to describe digital reproduction in the EAR USA room. Auditioned were the EAR Acute CD player ($5495), EAR 509 monoblocks ($14,000), and EAR 912 preamplifier ($11,500), played through the brand-new Marten Getz loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) and connected by Jorma Origo cabling. The new Marten Getz, part of the Marten Heritage series and seen hear in JA's photo with EAR's legendary designer Tim de Paravicini, is a three-way model that combines an active and passive woofer in a single box. The Getz boasts 87dB sensitivity, and a frequency response that extends from 30Hz (3dB) up to 40kHz.
Directly across the hall from Musical Surroundings, Garth and Jim White, owner and designer of Aesthetix Audio Corporation, played the same French jazz recording I had just heard. This time, the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable ($10,000) with TT2 linear tonearm ($9500) and daVinci v2 cartridge ($5500) did the honors. Handling the rest were the Aesthetix Rhea Signature phono stage ($7,000), part of the Saturn series and named after one of the moons of Saturn; and the same Aesthetix Atlas power amp ($8000) as used across the hall. Vandersteen Quatro Wood speakers, HRS equipment stand, Kubala-Sosna cables and Running Springs Audio power products completed the chain.
Nothing can beat starting off a morning in a state of grace. That's how it felt when Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings warmed up the new Clearaudio Concept turntable ($1400) with Borodin's Quartet No.2, appropriately performed by the Borodin Quartet and reproduced on an immaculate Decca pressing. The sound was warm, liquid, and eminently pleasing - everything I would want from good vinyl reproduction.
I was real excited to hear the advanced prototype of the new the SMC-1, a fully balanced linestage preamp collaboration between Steve McCormack and Gary Koh of Genesis. The preamp will come in two versions, the higher-priced of the two probably coming in around $8000. For the extra money, you get higher quality parts and a different sonic signature, which amounts to quite a lot.
I've now heard The Lotus Group Granada UB II Loudspeaker with an Active Crossover ($125,000/pair) twice. The first time was in Northern CA, where I joined Joseph Cohen of The Lotus Group and designer/engineer Manny La Carrubba for an extended listening session devoid of all the usual CES attractions. The second time was in the less-hospitable environment of the Venetian. (You have not lived until you try to focus on Fritz Wunderlich singing a transporting Mozart aria while the sounds of Maria Callas suffering through Verdi blast from the other room, and the person sitting behind you decides to discuss the stock market with his companion).
I've been a major fan of Echole Obsession cabling ever since hearing it paired with Kaiser Kawero loudspeakers at RMAF 2008. With those marvelous babies lamentably absent, here it was paired with a loudspeaker new to me, the towering, 500 lb Tidal Sunray ($178,600/pair), whose 6'8" designer, Jörn Janczak, is equally imposing.
At the last few Nordost demos I've witnessed, I've been amazed by the huge soundstage, deep bass, and tonal accuracy produced by Raidho's diminutive C-1.0 loudspeakers. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this little speaker, no larger than many a bookshelf design, lists for $18,000/pair. Then again, it produces a fuller, larger, and more coherent image than many a full-range floorstander of comparable price. It also has a pretty even 6 ohm impedance, and is said to be very tube friendly.
If anyone could possibly bewitch me, it's Ella Fitzgerald. I found it impossible to resist her spell as she sang "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" through the wonderful pairing of Karan Acoustics' KA L Ref MK2 line preamplifier ($17,500) and KA S 180 stereo power amplifier ($9700), Zanden Model 2500 Signature CD player ($20,000), Finite Elemente racks, Cardas Clear cabling, and new Avalon Acoustics TIME dynamic loudspeaker system with new diamond tweeter, ceramic mid, and two 11" Kevlar woofers ($47,000/pair). This system's intimacy, midrange warmth, and complete lack of barriers beckoned me deeper into the magic of Ella's delivery. Wonderful.