CES 2011

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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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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 14, 2011 4 comments
Peachtree was showing off its new iNova integrated DAC/preamp/amplifier, the replacement for their best-selling Nova. The iNova upgrades some parts from its predecessor including better capacitors, a 24-bit/96kHz USB input and an upgraded iPod dock. The amp is rated at 80Wpc and will sell for $1799.

The iNova was hooked up to the brand new Aerial 7T speakers, which employ some major cosmetic, and structural changes from previous Aerial speakers. The 7T ($9850/pair) is a three-way loudspeaker, nominally rated at 4 ohms and 89dB sensitivity. The finish on the cabinet, made from MDF bent to shape, was excellent. (Though the enclosures are made in China, the speakers are manufactured in Aerial’s Massachussetts facility.) Playing files from a server to the iNova, Aerial 7T sounded huge and clear with fantastic bass extension and articulation.

I was impressed by the fact that the Peachtree was able to drive these speakers with such scale and authority.

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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
mbl products always make you wonder, is it technology I'm looking at or art? Their new Corona Line continues this tradition with, depending on your taste preferences, some of the most drop-dead gorgeous casework you'll see in the audio world, or some of the most over-the-top gratuitous metal (choose between gold or palladium alloy palinux), paint (white or black) and gloss this side of a Kustom Kar show.

Nonetheless, you can't argue with how carefully these products are made. The C31 wil be available sometime this summer for around $8,000 (depending on exchange rate at the time) and has coax, toslink and USB inputs in addition to its disc playing function. The C31 can also communicate with the other products in the Corona line via the SmartLink ethernet connector on the back

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 14, 2011 2 comments
“Trickle-down effect” is an expression manufacturers often use to describe the application of lessons learned in developing a flagship model to the development of lower-priced products. However, according to Wendell Diller of Magnepan, in developing the new Magneplanar MG 3.7, what has taken place is a trickle-up effect. (Wendell celebrates 36 years marketing Magnepan this year!) The lessons learned in going from the MG 1.6 to the MG 1.7 were applied to the more expensive flagship MG 3.6, with what he says are results that represent at least as much of an improvement as the change from the MG 1.6 to the MG 1.7. I’ve been quite impressed with the MG 1.7 on previous occasions, and listening to the MG 3.7, driven by Bryston electronics at T.H.E. Show, made me think of the MG 1.7, except for greater bass extension and dynamics. Magnepan has kept the price at $5495—$5895/pair, which must represent a bargain for a planar speaker of this performance and pedigree. Standing proudly next to the MG3.7 in JA's photo is Mark Winey, son of founder Jim, who now runs the Minnesotan company.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 1 comments
The Estelon speakers from Alfred & Partners ($43,900/pair) were one of the hits of last year's RMAF, so I made a point of taking a listen to them at CES. The ceramic-diaphragm floor-standers were being used in more than one room—Conrad-Johnson was also using them, in their first "live" Show dem in two decades—but I was drawn into the Kubala-Sosna room by the sound of Jimi Hendrix playing "Born Under a Bad Sign." Source was a Korg DSDx2 recorder, which Joe Kubala had used to record the track from LP, and the sound, with Audio Research Reference 5 preamp, Tenor 350M monoblocks, and Kubala-Sosna Excitation cables, was rich, full-range, and clean. The speakers are internally wired with K-S cable.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 3 comments
If you look closely at the easel to the right of the photo of the YG room at the Sands/Venetian Convention Center, you can see the text "with drivers machined in-house." Usually, this means that the manufacturer has machined the baskets and polepieces, but in the case of YG, they are also talking about the cones!

Called "BilletCore" by the Colorado company, the aluminum cone for the midrange and low-frequency drive-units used in the top-of-the-line Anat III Reference ($111,000/system) and the smaller three-way Kipod is milled from a solid block of aluminum. In the case of the Anat subwoofer, the starting point is a billet of aluminum 2.5" thick weighing 16 lbs, compared with the finished cone after a day of work, which is 0.008" thick and weighs less than 1 ounce. Stiffening ribs are left on the rear of the cone and the final step is to black-anodize the aluminum. The benefit of machining the cone is said to be improved unit-unit consistency and rigidity compared with a conventional spun, cast, or pressed metal diaphragm, which pushes break-up modes even farther out-of-band.

Though YG was in the same room as in previous CESes, they had taken heroic measures this year to tame its acoustics, as can be seen from the photo. The result was worth the effort. In a system that included dCS Scarlatti digital front-end, a Veloce battery-powered preamp, Tenor 350M monoblocks, and Kubala-Sosna Master Reference cables, the Anat II Reference produced a warm, detailed, full-range sound. Particularly impressive was a version of Sting's "Roxanne" from Italian singer Petra Magoni of Musica Nuda. Both the voice and the solo double bass accompaniment had a palpable presence but without sounding forced or exaggerated.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
The Paragon VL-2 Signature ($8600/pair) from Hong Kong-based Volent Corp. combines a unique dual-ribbon tweeter with a titanium/graphite-sandwich–coned woofer in an attractively curved enclosure filled with wool. Frequency range is specified as 30Hz–60kHz, impedance as 4 ohms, and sensitivity as 88dB/2.83V/m. Driven by MSB's M202 tower amplifiers and MSB digital source, the sound was much larger than I was expecting from these stand-mounts.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Herbert Wong and Alex Yeung manufacture Gutwire cables near Toronto, Canada, where they live. All Gutwire cables, which are distributed by May Audio, are made of triple-braided copper, and all terminations are crimped without solder.

“We find copper is more natural and musical-sounding,” Herbert explained.

The photo shows the newest additions to Gutwire’s cable line. The power cable is the SP Crystal Edition AC cable ($1800/6ft), which lies in the middle of their price spread. Also shown are the EON-Z interconnect ($1600/1m pair) and UNO-S interconnect ($2500/1m pair). By way of comparison, the prices of the company’s top-of-the-line are as follows: the SP-18.1 AC cable ($7500/6ft), Uno-S interconnects ($2500/1m pair), and digital SD-3-SE ($1150/1m).

The terminations on Gutwire’s novel top-of-the-line SP cabling contain Bincho-Tan (white charcoal). Bincho-Tan emits negative ions, absorbs RF and EMI. Herbert first discovered the substance in his water purifier. Intrigued, he began to research it on the net, and learned about its other properties.

Gutwire also manufactures two 4 and 6 outlet power conditioners, the 4 Bar and 6 Bar ($1100–$2600, depending upon the model). Each contains a passive filter, and the top of each is milled from a block of solid aluminum.

In a brief demo, I was struck by Gutwire’s ability to transmit a lovely smooth midrange on the classic recording of Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 14, 2011 4 comments
Bob Deutsch captured this image of Music Hall’s Leland Leard, an image equal to that which I hold in my mind. Anyone who knows Leland Leard will agree that Bob Deutsch released the shutter at just the right time. Say the name, “Leland Leard,” and I will see this wild, carefree smile. Leland would have just finished talking about the new Seu Jorge album or the USB-1 turntables he’s sold to Chicago’s Dusty Groove or the beautiful girl down the hall.

Here, however, Leland is demonstrating how to expose the old-fashioned baffle which hides behind the Epos Epic 2’s slick baffle cover.

People say that Leland and I look alike, but I don’t see the resemblance. Leland wears tighter jeans and frillier shirts, and has a much better smile.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
The first speaker I reviewed for Stereophile was the Alon IV by Acarian Systems, designed by Carl Marchisotto . I remember it as being a very good-sounding speaker, with outstanding bass, and the dipole midrange giving it an “open” sound. Through the years, for business reasons, the speaker brandname has changed (Nola is Alon spelled backwards), and the company is now called Accent Speaker Technology, but the speakers are still designed by Carl, and his wife, Marilyn, is the company’s wife president. Carl’s more expensive speakers still use the dipole midrange arrangement, but in the more affordable line he has turned to the more common unipolar approach, albeit with his own variations, like separate porting of bass drivers. The latest such speaker, introduced at the 2011 CES, is the Contender ($3400/pair), and it sound like. . .well. . .a real contender.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Consider this the baby brother to the La Source. Same overall functionality but with the lower priced Esoteric UMK5 transport, a stereo Burr Brown 1792 DAC and an OEM clock directing the digital. Still, it has the S.T.A.R.S. 32bit/384kHz DSP and vacuum tube output stage as well as the preamp features.

The La Fontaine will be available sometime in February with transport for $25,000 and without for $19,000. O'Hanlon adds that by the end of the year, there should be five Music Centers products without disc ranging in price from $3,000 to $35,000.

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