CES 2011

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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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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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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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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 15, 2011 1 comments
Dan D’Agostino is no newbie to high-end audio, but his namesake company is. In the new company’s first showing at a CES, Dan brought in his new Momentum monoblock amplifiers ($42,000/pair). The amps, visually inspired by Swiss watch design, are among the most distinctive and beautiful pieces of equipment I’ve seen. The sides of the amplifier are made of copper, which not only gives the amps a lustrous, glowing color, but also serve as very efficient heatsinks for the 28 output transistors.

The amplifier is completely made in-house, including such things that are usually handed off to subcontractors, like stuffing the printed-circuit boards. There are no surface-mount parts used, Dan feeling that traditional through-hole parts offer better long-term performance consistency.

A 1.2kVA power transformer is packed into the compact chassis and in the tradition of Krell, the company that he cofounded 30 years ago, the new amplifier puts out 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4 ohms, and 1200W into 2 ohms, all with class-A/B biasing. Yet, there was nothing about this system that sounded like class-A/B amplifiers. Driving Wilson Sashas, the sound was warm, fast, open and generous—tonally and spatially. Voices all sounded balanced, life-like and three-dimensional. Dan told me a matching preamplifier is on the way.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 15, 2011 0 comments

The Devialet D-Premier directly converts the wall current to DC, then uses a high-efficiency switch-mode power supply running at a very high frequency to power the audio circuitry. I asked Matthias Moronvalle if this meant that the power transformer could be much smaller than usual? His response was to show me the two small wafers sitting on his laptop. "That's the transformer," he told me, "with a continuous rating of 600VA." Ulp!

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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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John Atkinson Posted: 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.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 2 comments
Musical Fidelity also displayed their V-Link which can take USB from your computer and convert it to S/PDIF for use with your non-USB DAC. Priced at $169, John Atkinson mentioned to me that "it measures really good" and found it did indeed operate in the better-sounding asynchronous mode.
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John Atkinson Posted: 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:

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
The first trickle-down from The Sonus Faber project is a revised Amati model, the Amati Futura ($34,000/pair). Beautifully finished in a mirror-gloss lacquer, as you can see, it was also almost unphotographable. It was also only on passive display in the Sumiko penthouse suite at the Venetian.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 1 comments
The Trenner & Friedl Duke's diamond-diaphragm supertweeter fires upward at a Golden-Ratio–proportioned Swarovsky crystal that acts to widen its dispersion.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Touraj Moghaddam, based in Windsor, UK, near London, manufactures the relatively new TM Systems Pulse cables. The complete line includes tonearm wires and internal wiring for loudspeakers.

Not yet distributed in the US, Moghaddam’s handmade interconnects ($8000–$9000/1.1m pair) will be followed in February or March by the machine-made Pulse R interconnects ($4000–$5,000), which include special proprietary connectors made of copper alloy. Below them, Pulse B and Pulse C entry-level interconnects are in the works.

Veteran audiophiles will recognize Moghaddam as the 25-year veteran designer of Roksan turntables and loudspeakers. He began designing and manufacturing Pulse cables three years ago after he discovered that some Roksan ‘tables were being used with incompatible cables.

Gary Koh of Genesis, who had invited Moghaddam to exhibit his cables in the Genesis room, noted that they both attended the same college in England 25 years ago. “And now, 25 years later, we discover that we are both making our own cables because of similar concerns, such as their incorrect use by some people as tone controls,” he said.

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