CES 2011
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CES 2011
Erick Lichte 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.

CES 2011
Stephen Mejias 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 . . .

CES 2011
Jon Iverson Jan 15, 2011 3 comments
So many music servers and related products appeared at the 2011 CES, that we can now sort them into various sub-categories depending on what is included in the box. I was looking for new or upgraded digital products, but likely missed a few. Feel free to add what I missed in the comments.

Click through to see the complete list of what I found with links and an informal taxonomy.

CES 2011
Robert Deutsch 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. . .

CES 2011
Robert Deutsch 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.

CES 2011
John Atkinson Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Utah-based Zu Audio does indeed goes its own way, with retro, almost-full-range pulp-cone drive-units used in high-sensitivity designs. (See Art Dudley's review of the $4000/pair Essence in the October 2009 Stereophile. All of Zu's speakers have been moderately priced, so I was not expecting to see and hear a design costing $40,000/pair when I went into the Zu room at T.H.E. Show.

The Dominance uses three 10" paper-cone drivers, each with a whizzer cone, to cover the range from 27Hz to 12kHz. Each is in its own sub-enclosure featuring Zu's proprietary ZuRG loading (See AD's review) with the outer two tuned identically and the central drive-unit adjusted to give a bit more upper-midrange energy. There is also a downward-firing 15" subwoofer, covering the octave below 27Hz, and completing the line-up are two horn-loaded ring-radiator tweeters operating above 12kHz. Unusually, these are placed at the top and bottom of the Dominance.

For the dem, the subwoofer was powered by a Pass Labs XA30.5 but the main drive-units were driven by a 1.5Wpc Yamamoto SET amp. Yup, just 1.5W, but the Dominances still managed to fill the room with sound. Lows were tight and extended; imaging was tangible; jump factor was startling; but I couldn't get away from a touch of character in the mid-treble imparted by those whizzer cones.

CES 2011
John Atkinson 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.
CES 2011
John Atkinson Jan 14, 2011 1 comments
Pride of place in the Avatar Acoustics room at the Venetian went to the four-way Siena speakers ($24,995/pair) from Italian manufacturer Rosso Fiorentino. The designer teaches electroacoustics in Florence, but is a graduate from the University of Salford in the UK. A pair of aluminum-cone 8" woofers in a separate sealed enclosure are combined with a 6.5" paper-cone midrange unit (a ScanSpeak Revelator), a 1" silk-dome tweeter, and what appeared to be a Murata "ultrasonic generator," to give a specified response of 35Hz–100kHz, –3dB.

The Siennas were demmed in a system comprising Dr. Feikert turntable and tonearm, Abbingdon Music Research CD player, phono preamp, and integrated amplifier, with Acoustic System racks and cables, but I will hand over to Jason Serinus for some additional thoughts:

CES 2011
John Atkinson Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Austrian Vienna Acoustics set up its own distribution company in the US in 2010 and when I popped my head in the door of their suite at the Venetian, I saw they were demming the Kiss speaker ($16,000/pair) reviewed a year back by Wes Phillips. (The rest of the system comprised Ayre KX-R preamp, MX-R monoblocks, and DX-5 "universal audio engine, with Transparent cabling.)

The Kiss looks like a stand-mount but it is really a floorstander with an integral stand. The sound in this room really flattered piano, whether it was a 24/96 file of a jazz trio featuring a Fazioli instrument, or Glenn Gould's 1981 reading of the Bach Goldberg Variations, remastered from the analog backup tapes.

CES 2011
John Atkinson 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.
CES 2011
John Atkinson Jan 14, 2011 3 comments
TAD didn't appear to be demonstrating anything new in their large penthouse suite at the Venetian, but designer Andrew Jones was getting such an enormously involving sound from the Compact Reference CR-1 stand-mounts ($37,500/pair plus $1800/pair for stands) that I had to stop to take an extended listen. Jones had some of HDTracks' new 24/192 files that he was playing with Amarra and one track, featuring Hammond organ, double bass and drums, had the audience stumped. (The fellow in front of me even held up his iPhone and ran a song ID app, only for the screen to flash "No Match.") Then I twigged: it was a jazz arrangement of Pink Floyd's "Money," with sound to die for. DAC, preamp, and power amps were also from TAD.
CES 2011
John Atkinson Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
I first encountered the glass-enclosured Force dipole loudspeaker from Perfect Eight, which combines a full-length ribbon with 8 cone midrange units and a subwoofer handling the load below 60Hz, at the 2008 CES. Their 2011 dem, with the speakers driven by Ypsilon amplification, was noteworthy for having invited Ray Kimber to talk about and play some of his IsoMike recordings. (Ray is seen here on the left in my admittedly rather grainy photo—it was dark—with Perfect Eight's Jons Rantila.) I listened first to soloists from the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields performing a movement from the Mendelssohn Octet, then to a Mozart piano sonata movement by Robert Silverman (the latter one of my "Records to Die For" in the February 2011 issue). Despite my skepticism about glass as an enclosure material, the sound was natural and uncolored.
CES 2011
Erick Lichte 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.

CES 2011
Robert Deutsch 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.
CES 2011
Robert Deutsch Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
“What’s new?” is the question that comes up first with established manufacturers when considering whether there’s something worthy of a blog item. In Polk Audio’s case, the answer was “Everything!” According to Polk rep, Jim Crowley, their entire home audio line has been revamped, with changes in the cabinetry, drivers, and crossovers. Perhaps the most significant change is that now, for the first time, some Polk speakers feature a midrange driver. And with all that, Polk loudspeakers continue to be reasonably priced: the pictured LSiM is a modest-by-audiophile-standards $4000/pair.
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