CES 2011

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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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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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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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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 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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