CES 2011

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
My other joint best sound at CES was to the On a Higher Note room at the Mirage Hotel across the street from the Venetian. On dem was the G2Giya ($50,000/pair), which made its debut at the 2010 CES, driven by a Luxman stereo amplifier, and the Audio Aero La Source tube preamp/digital player, hooked up with Shunyata's new Anaconda line of cables.

The G2 has half the cabinet volume of the similar-looking G1Giya that Wes Phillips reviewed last July, and replaces the larger speaker's twin 11" woofers with 9" units. Whether it was the smaller speakers not exciting the penthouse room's acoustics as much as had the G1Giya the previous year—the Mirage's glass-fronted rooms may give spectacular views of Las Vegas, but they also flap at low frequencies—or the new front-end and cables, but the sound on José Carreras singing the audiophile classic Misa Criolla, Peter Gabriel's idiosyncratic but convincing reading of Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble," and the unexpected combination of John Lee Hooker dueting with Miles Davis, from the soundtrack to the movie Hot Spot was to die for, the system simply stepping out of the way of the music. As it should.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
Without a doubt, the four-way, five-driver Magico Q5 that Michael Fremer reviewed last November was one of my loudspeaker high points of 2010. But at $59,950/pair, the Q5 is definitely a speaker aimed at the deep-in-pocket. Magico's Alon Wolf proudly showed his new Q3 at CES, which, at $34,000/pair, is going to appeal to a somewhat wider market.

A three-way sealed-box with three 7" Nano-tec–cone woofers, the 47"-tall floor-standing Q3 uses the same proprietary beryllium-dome tweeter as the Q5 in the same type of space-frame enclosure, with a 6" Nano-tec midrange unit. The lower woofers roll off earlier than the upper one, to optimize the crossover to the midrange unit. Frequency response is specified as 20Hz–50kHz, sensitivity as 90dB (which is significantly higher than the Q5's 86dB), and impedance as 5 ohms.

I auditioned the Q3s in a system comprising Soulution pre- and power amps hooked up with MIT's new cables, and listening first to a Red Book file of Patricia Barber, then to a Jordi Savall/Hespèrion XXI recording of a baroque double-violin concerto, this was one of the best sounds I heard at CES, with excellent LF extension and definition, if a touch on the mellow side.

Magico were showing a prototype of the Q1 stand-mount in a back room, which they will be introducing at the 2011 Munich Show. This combines the beryllium-dome tweeter with a single Nano-tec midrange-woofer, but the price has yet to be decided upon.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments

Michael Fremer and I got up early Friday morning and headed to the Mirage hotel where Devialet, a new French audio company, and its new North American distributor, Audio Plus Services, hosted a breakfast gathering to unveil their new D-Premier ($15,995). Encased in a mirror-finished solid aluminum chassis, the D-Premier is an all-in-one DAC, streamer, preamp, power amp, and phono stage. Not only does the D-Premier combine all these features in one product, but it also has a new and novel amplifier section; a patented Analog Digital Hybrid.

The input signal goes directly to a class-A amplifier. Though the output of this connected to the speaker terminals, it can’t deliver enough current to do so without help. The necessary high current is sourced from a class-D amp. The analogy of this amplifier is like power steering on a car where the driver is assisted by a powerful engine to turn the wheels; the driver turns the wheel but the power steering does the heavy lifting. In the same way, the class-A section of the amplifier controls the class-D section. The idea is that the amp retains the sonics of class-A yet maintains 85% efficiency in a 240Wpc amp.

The Devialet design team— Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel and Matthias Moronvalle (the latter shown in JA’s photo holding a demonstration version of the amp housed in acrylic)—was insistent during the presentation the D-Premier is not a class-D amp.

The sound with Focal speakers was clear, balanced, open, and grain-free, with no hint of the hash sometimes associated with class-D amplification. (The eggs at the breakfast were also excellent.)

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
Wisdom president Mark Glazier holds one of the two-way, push-pull, planar-magnetic modules, four of which are used in each LS4.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 15, 2011 2 comments
A sister company of Argento Audio of Denmark, Organic Audio now launched a complete line of copper cables. These include Organic Audio interconnects ($995/1m pair RCA, $1075/1m pair XLR), speaker cable ($1950/2m pair), and power cords ($995/2m). By contrast, interconnects in the all-silver Argento range from $2000–$9500/1m pair. All products are distributed by Ricardo Reyes (left) of Musical Artisans in Skokie, IL.

Ulrik Madsen (right), who designs the cables and owns the company, was on hand to discuss his products. All Organic Audio cables are derived from Argento Audio’s entry-level Argento Serenity. “I wanted to take advantage of the connectors I developed for Argento,” Madsen explain. “We make all our Organic Audio connectors ourselves from the same metal as the conductors in the cables, which is OFC 99.997% copper. (The more expensive Argento cabling uses silver). There are no solder points; all attachments are made by applying set-screws to accomplish compression.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 15, 2011 1 comments

The last time I attended CES was three years ago. Although many things have stayed the same, there were also interesting changes—some of them profound. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, it seemed that almost every exhibit had to do with 3D, iPods, or tablet computers. At the Venetian, in addition to the traditional areas of speakers and amplification, it was music servers and related products—ably summarized by Jon Iverson in his wrap-up. Cables were big. (More on this anon.)

It was a very crowded show. At the convention center, the scene was at times like being on a subway platform during rush hour. At the Venetian, home of high performance audio, there were long lineups for the elevators—see photo. Although officially CES is not open to the general public, there were a lot of attendees with “Industry Affiliate” badges, and being an industry affiliate was apparently very broadly defined. This had the effect of increasing attendance, which I guess is not a bad thing, but it also meant that some of these attendees were really consumers, not industry people. One veteran speaker designer told me that some of the questions he was asked at this year’s CES were quite naïve, like “What if you played all these speakers at the same time?” He attributed this to these attendees being consumers (and not very knowledgeable ones at that).

My show report assignment was low-to-moderately-priced speakers, and I was very pleased to get this assignment, leaving John Atkinson to report on expensive speakers. As I said in one of my reviews, I’m more of a Volkswagen/Honda/Toyota than a Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin kind of guy. But CES had lots for the Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin crowd, and sometimes I was taken aback by the prices. In one case, I saw a three-way not-too-huge floorstanding speaker that I thought might be under the $10k that for me defined the top of the moderately-price range. I asked how much it cost. The answer: ninety thousand. I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. Nine thousand? No, ninety thousand. OK, this one is for JA.

One thing I thought was interesting was. . .

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 15, 2011 1 comments
My most emotional moment at the 2011 CES came in the Harman suite on the Venetian’s 35th floor. I finally got to meet Kevin Voecks, Revel Loudspeakers’ head honcho, and he is every bit the gentleman people told me he would be. Playing in one room of the Harman suite was a system comprised of Mark Levinson digital and amplification gear including the new No. 53 monoblock amplifiers ($25,000 each) and the Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers. The No.53 is Levinson’s first digital switching amplifier. One of the inherent problems of a switching amp is that it creates dead bands in the audio signal when the output devices cross over from a positive voltage to a negative one. Levinson says they have eliminated this problem through a patented technology that allows both sets of output devices to be on simultaneously for short periods of time. This is designed to be done without damaging the output devices or reducing their life expectancy.

After listening to a bit of the sample CD they had playing in the room, I thought I would play the opening cut, Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque,” from the CD While You Are Alive, which I had produced with John Atkinson engineering. It was the best I had ever heard it. I sat there listening to this recording, into which I poured my soul, next to Kevin, who headed the speaker’s design team, that delivered my vision back to me in a way I’d not realized was possible. I felt so lucky and thankful that I live in a world where designers like Kevin, and so many others who show their heart’s labors at CES, can help artists connect to listeners and listeners connect to artists. All I could do was thank Kevin and give him a copy of the CD, as he clearly enjoyed listening to it almost as much as I did. I only wish I could have played him the high-resolution master files.

I told Kevin that JA and I mixed While You Are Alive on a pair of Revel Salon2s while John had the speakers in-house for review. Kevin looked at me with a smile and told me that I was listening to the very speakers John had in his house. Life is magic sometimes.

The No. 53’s were clearly doing a great job, outperforming JA’s Mark Levinson No.33Hes we had used during the mixing. I gotta stop dissing the digital amps.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
More than once in my years of CES-going, it has come down to the last day of the show for me to discover an important product. That was the case this time. The product was the Triton Two, the flagship loudspeaker from GoldenEar, the new company founded by Sandy Gross and Don Givogue, who had been partners at Definitive Technology, Gross having also co-founded Polk Audio. The company is new, but it draws on a wealth of experience in the speaker business, and it shows.

There were quite a few speakers that impressed me at this show, but, taking price and sound quality into account, I have say that the Triton Two, shown here with Sandy, was my favorite. It’s a floor-standing three-way, narrow in the front (5¼”), widening in the rear (7½”), and just 48” high, making it visually unassuming. It uses an unusual driver complement, starting with what they call a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeter (a variant of the Heil AMT tweeter), two 4½” mid/bass drivers, and two 5”x9” subwoofers, each coupled with a 7”x10” passive radiator facing the side. Each subwoofers is driven by a 1200W DSP-controlled class-D amp. With all this technology—and truly full-range sound—the Triton Two costs just $2500/pair.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 2 comments
A closer view of the Dan D’Agostino Momentum amplifier, with its watchface-styled meter. Photographs just don't do this gorgeous amplifier justice—I just wanted to stroke that meter, caress those copper flanks!
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
I have been following with interest the goings-on at Nevada-based Wisdom Audio, since the company was revitalized with members of the team that had led Madrigal to success in the 1990s. But their concentration on in-wall speakers, using planar technology developed by David Graebener, means that they fall within the bailiwick of our sister publication Home Theater. Going in their room at CES, however, I was confronted by the LS4 floor-to-ceiling on-wall ($80,000/pair), which sounded magnificent driven by Classé's superb new CT-M600 monoblocks and reinforced below 80Hz by a pair of Wisdom enormous STS 2x15" subwoofers ($10,000 each; STS stands for "Steamer Trunk-sized Subwoofer"). The system controller, which includes an active crossover and room correction, costs $6500.

The LS4 uses four identical push-pull modules, each comprising a central HF section operating above 750Hz flanked by midrange sections covering the 80–Hz range. The backwave is absorbed within the enclosure, but the enormous radiating area still gives a sensitvity of 100dB/2.83V/m. (Impedance is 4 ohms.) Though the LS4 is fastened to the wall behind it, the weight is supported by a single spiked foot.

The LS4 is where architectural audio becomes aspirational audio.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
Veteran electronics and speaker designer Walter Lindemann decided to expand Lindemann’s line to include cabling after he discovered he was never quite satisfied with cables and didn’t want to resort to cables that cost $50,000. Instead, he decided to enlist a German company to help him roll his own Kind of Blue Cable Series. The cables are said to be a “perfect complement” to the company’s 800 series of electronics.

Soon to be distributed by Jonathan Josephs of One World Audio (smilingly showing off his babies), and so new that the US price has not been set, Lindemann’s Kind of Blue cable line includes power cables, speaker cable, and interconnects. All are cryo-treated.

Power cables, which come either shielded or unshielded, contain up to 14 separate “twisted pair” conductors composed of high-purity copper. Insulation is “Teflon-like,” there are neither ferromagnetic materials nor magnetic screws, shielding (when used) is a conductive Gore-Tex coasted with carbon. Interconnects come single-ended or balanced, the latter with a special XLR connector that is completely free of steel and includes gold-plated contacts.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 15, 2011 1 comments
Have you ever had the nagging feeling that there was something that you were going to do- but you don’t remember what it was? I got that feeling when I was finishing my blog entries. There was one more such entry that I remember thinking that I must do, but what was it? There was nothing to jog my memory in the little notebook where I scribble information, and I couldn’t find any product literature that would remind me of it.

It was when I was going through the CES photo files on my computer that I ran across the photo that served as a reminder. Of course—Anthony Gallo! I visited his room in the Venetian briefly on the Press Day, when the exhibitors were still in the process of setting up. What drew me into the room was that, unlike other exhibitors that still had all their equipment in boxes, there was some music playing in Gallo’s room—and it sounded pretty nice. Anthony was hard at work, preparing loudspeaker cables for his speakers. I took his picture and promised to return later.

And I did, too, on the last day of the Show. The speakers that made their debut at the 2011 CES represent a significant change for Anthony Gallo’s approach to speaker design: instead of the spherical enclosures, the new Classico line uses traditional wooden boxes enclosures. The speakers (there are five in the line, plus a subwoofer) combine a cone midrange/bass driver with Gallo’s own Cylindrical Diaphragm Transducer (CDT). (That is, except the lowest-priced Series I, which has a dome tweeter.) The speakers also feature something called BLAST, which “reveals the true potential of the box.” (Yes, I found the product literature, which was hiding in one of the compartments in my luggage. It mentions BLAST, but doesn’t have any information on it.) The speaker that I heard initially, and that I had a chance to listen to again, was the Classico Series II ($1195/pair), the smallest speaker to use the CDT tweeter. And it still sounded pretty nice.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
Stage III Concepts, a Pasadena-based company whose products are distributed by Brian Ackerman of AAudio Imports, has released four newly re-engineered, top-of-the-line cables. All are part of the A.S.P. Reference series (Absolute Signal Purity), and are entirely handmade (including connectors) by Luis de la Fuente. Connectors are made of ceramic with a mixture of special resins to minimize crosstalk between pins, and the entire housing composed of carbon-fiber and epoxy resin. The wire itself is silver-palladium alloy. The A.S.P. Reference interconnect and speaker cable also sport a vacuum dielectric.

On display were the Zyklop power cord ($6000/1.5m), Gryphon interconnect ($5800/1m pair RCA, $6300/1m pair XLR), and Mantikor speaker cable ($13,200/2m pair). Besides digital and phono cables and speaker jumpers, the company sells hook-up wire for components in a variety of gauges. The least expensive, 22 AWG ($66/1.5m) is followed by 17 and 15 AWG ($280/1.5m).

Asked about the cable’s sonic properties, Ackerman replied, “It has no sound at all. It’s probably the closest thing I’ve heard to having no wire. It’s virtually invisible, like a direct connection.”

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 15, 2011 5 comments
PSB’s Paul Barton, proud designer of the new Imagine Mini. Photo: Bob Deutsch.

I complain—a lot—about Vegas. I have to apologize to my family, friends, and colleagues for all the whining I’ve let loose over the last couple of weeks. I’m sorry.

I should apologize to you, too, Las Vegas, because there must be more to you than all your neon lights and annoying buzzers and piped oxygen and smoky casinos, your fancy facades and empty promises—everything in Las Vegas looks beautiful from afar, but the closer you get, the uglier it becomes, the clearer its lies and flaws, the more readily apparent its cracks and hollow insides—I have to wonder: Are even the mountains a mirage?—your insulting buffets and gaudy theme restaurants and those relentless dudes who crowd the sidewalks with packets of coupons for a good time: Slap, “for you,” slap, “for you,” slap, “for you.” I would love to knock you over. You make me ill, Las Vegas. You really do. Where is your soul?

Sorry.

I was apologizing. I was saying there must be more to Las Vegas; I was saying I’ve been unfair. Las Vegas is home to many beautiful people, and for one week out of the long year, the world of consumer electronics gathers in Las Vegas to share its stories, to reconnect, to recharge.

We call it the Consumer Electronics Show. It brings me to Las Vegas. At a little after 7pm on Wednesday evening, I arrived at the Hyatt and was greeted in the lobby by our web monkey, Jon Iverson. This was the perfect way to begin the show. I gave Jon a bear hug and almost knocked him over. We settled into our rooms and later met up for dinner with John Atkinson, Kal Rubinson, Bob Deutsch, and Jason Victor Serinus. We exchanged stories, we took pictures, we talked about music, literature, movies, and we devised a plan of attack: John Atkinson would cover expensive speakers, Jon Iverson would cover digital components, Kal would cover multichannel for his April issue column, Bob would tackle moderately priced speakers, Jason would hunt down accessories and cables, and I would be responsible for lower-priced products. (Subsequently Tyll Hertsens joined our team with some well-informed headphone coverage.)

Somewhere else in Las Vegas, a wild-haired Mikey Fremer was telling jokes about Ken Kessler to Ken Kessler. And, high above the ground, Erick Lichte was on a plane, daydreaming about mighty tube amplifiers and curiously shaped DACs, looking forward to his sophomore year at CES.

CES represents the only time I get to hang out with most of these guys. (It was, in fact, the only time I’ve ever hung out with Erick.) And, for me, that’s the big story. More than for the gear, even more than for the music, I look forward to CES for the people.

But CES, like most hi-fi shows, is . . .

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments
I heard a lot of good sound at the 2011 CES and T.H.E. Show. But my joint best sound must go to the room at the Venetian where Convergent Audio Technology was demming the new Ken Stevens Statement tube monoblocks with a CAT SL1 Legend preamp, Vandersteen 5A loudspeakers and MSB digital front-end, with cabling from Stealth and AC supplied by The Essence Reference system.

As I walked into the room on the final afternoon of the Show, a Chopin piano work was playing. yes, the recorded perspective was close, but my goodness, the instrument was there in the room! (It was the Gold Collector's Edition on First Impression Music of Jun Fukamachi at Steinway.) Effortless dynamics, palpable instrumental presence, tonality, musical power—you name it, this system did it.

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