CES 2011

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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
It is a truism worth repeating: you can't really draw any conclusions about the sound of a component from an audition at an audio show.

Then there are those exceptions that prompt you to drop your neutrality and reach for the superlatives. The Vienna Acoustics room was like that for me last year. But this year, I've got to hand it to Philip O'Hanlon for creating a sound and scripting a demo that I would rate as extraordinary no matter what the circumstances.

Vivid's G2 Giya loudspeakers and the large room at the top of the Mirage didn't hurt. But I was here for the digital front end, and in this case, the Audio Aero La Source, which was functioning both as a disc player and preamp, connected to a Luxman M-800A Amplifier.

O'Hanlon describes the La Source as "an all-out attempt to put an analog preamp into the same box with the SACD/CD player." The La Source was also hooked up to a computer and streaming files via its USB input. On the back is a set of balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, BNC, SPDIF coax and optical, USB, and AES/EBU digital inputs along with a BNC digital and balanced and unbalanced analog outputs.

You can order the La Source with an Esoteric VMK5 Neo VRDS transport for $44,000 or without the transport for $35,000 and there is a trade-up program for Prestige owners. Also in the box is an Anagram digital clock along with S.T.A.R.S. 32bit/384kHz DSP, dual mono Burr Brown 1792 DAC, and vacuum tube output stage.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: 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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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Hiding in the back room of their palatial suite in the Mirage, Musical Fidelity was running a demo of their M1CL:C Universal Music Controller which is now being finalized. MF says they are shooting for somewhere under $2,000 for the product which operates as a DAC and preamp and includes USB, SPDIF and analog inputs. I noted a USB input on the front and a beautiful color display as well.
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John Atkinson Posted: 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.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 1 comments
Previewed by Michael Fremer in the October 2010 issue of Stereophile (pp.13–16), where he goes in depth into its technology, Sonus Faber's flagship loudspeaker, The Sonus Faber, will only be produced in a limited edition of 30 pairs. Apparently, all 30 pairs have been spoken for by distributors and dealers.

This is a big speaker—it stands 67" tall and weighs 672 lbs—and was being demmed in an appropriately large room with the large Audio Research Reference 610T tubed monoblocks. Or it would have been demmed, as on both my visits to the room, the electricity supply to the room had failed. (If you look closely, you can see the electrician's red toolbox to the left of my photo.)

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John Atkinson Posted: 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.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2011 1 comments
"$175,000/pair?" I gulped. I know my beat at the 2011 CES was expensive loudspeakers, but the price of the Trenner & Friedl Duke took my breath away. Yes, the sound in the large room the new Austrian company shared with Cardas, Profundo, and the Jeff Rowland Design Group was superb, but that's a lot of change, even if the manufacturer will fly anywhere in the world to set the speakers up in the customer's home. (The rest of the system comprised a dCS Puccini used as a transport to feed JRDG's new Aeris DAC (the Colorado company's first digital product), $9800; a JRDG Criterion line stage, $18,500; and two JRDG 625 stereo power amplifiers, $13,500; with Cardas Clear cabling.

Each 12" woofer uses a fiber-glass–reinforced paper cone and is loaded by what is referred to as "a hybrid form of horn-resonator and bass reflex design." The mid/HF module is coupled to the woofer modules with spheres of varying hardness, to drain vibrations optimally, and can be adjusted to bring the drivers into proper time alignment at the listening position. The midrange unit features a papyrus cone with an elmwood phase plug and an alnico magnet, while the enclosure is filled with wool from "locally raised sheep" to reduce internal reflections being retransmitted through the drive-unit cone. The tweeter uses a titanium nitride dome loaded with a Tractrix-flare horn, while the supertweeter is a diamond-diaphragm type. The upper-range crossover is passive; the woofers are fed via a line-level crossover, and internal wiring is all Cardas Clear.

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John Atkinson Posted: 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.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
Joining WireWorld, Thiel, and Bryston in their impressive exhibit in the Sands/Venetian Convention Center was power specialist Plitron. Based in Canada, the company has spent 28 years in R&D and manufacture of toroidal transformers that are utilized by many of the leading companies in the audio industry. Five years ago, Plitron decided to introduce their own Torus Power line to demonstrate their full implementation of their work with toroidal isolation transformers and power conditioning.

Arthur Kelm, formerly chief engineer in a number of recording studios including Record One, the Record Plant, and Skywalker, designed the Torus Power Ground One power conditioner panel that uses Plitron transformers. “I have known that power is the foundation of every audio/video system,” he explained. “It’s also the most misunderstood application you have. People just don’t understand power and its importance.

“The major advantage of using an isolation transformer is that you now have a very low impedance to plug into, and you can rebond neutral and ground which is where 90% of your noise comes from in electrical systems.”

The complete Torus Power line includes units from 2.5 amps up to 300–400 amps. The lowest priced unit, the RM 2.5 ($999), handles 2.5A. The company’s most popular units, ideal for dedicated audio systems, are the RM 15 ($2000) and RM 20 ($3000). There is also a custom installation series with 60A and 100A units, plus Ground One panels for use in all-home AV and theatres. Some models include automatic voltage regulation.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 14, 2011 0 comments
As a former owner of KLH Nines and original Quads, I have a fondness for electrostatics. MartinLogan has taken the hybrid approach, using electrostatic mid/tweeters and powered dynamic woofers, and this has worked well for them. The latest feature of their approach is the use of DSP equalization, used in the Ethos. This is now being applied upmarket, and the speaker incorporating this approach, now in advanced prototype form (“two or three months from being ready for production”), on demo at CES was a speaker that is expected to sell for $9000–$10,000/pair. The sign said Summit X Jr., but I was told that was just an interim name. The speakers certainly sounded most promising.
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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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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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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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