CES 2011

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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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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 13, 2011 2 comments
When I walk into the room, Amphion’s Anssi Hyvönen is demonstrating a small, attractive system made of Audio Analogue electronics and Amphion loudspeakers. He talks about the calming nature of music, and then he does something unexpected: He turns the volume down...
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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Do you hate box speakers, and can’t abide planars, either? Well, a company called Everything But The Box (EBTB), based in Bulgaria, has some products that might be just what you want. Their speaker cabinets are all rounded, made of aluminum and polyester resin. (The drivers look conventional, though.) Some, like the $3000/pair Venus in the photo, are designed to hang from the ceiling via steel cables. The speakers are finished in high gloss lacquer, available in 16,000 (!) custom colors.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 3 comments
Looking at the ginormous horn speakers in the Silbatone room, all I could think was "how did they get them through the door?" The speakers were a hybrid, the lower half being vintage Western Electric with field-coil–energized 18" woofers, and the midrange and highs being modern recreations from GIP in Japan.

I hadn't been aware of the Silbatone brand before this CES. Their website says that "The goal of Silbatone Acoustics is to recreate the musical enjoyment of the great theater systems in the home, creating practical realizations for today's serious music listeners." Okay. It turns out that their beautifully constructed power amplifiers ($150,000, depending on tube choice) are vehicles for unusual and rare tubes. The amplifier seen in front of the speakers, for example, used square-base Marconi DA100 broadcast modulation tubes (around $5000 each) for the outputs, with pre-WWII Siemens ED red-base tubes as the drivers. The audiophile air in this room was rarefied, indeed.

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
There’s a kind of hierarchy of prestige among speaker manufacturers (which may or may not have anything to do with the sound quality of their offerings). At the bottom you have manufacturers that use off-the-shelf drivers which are available to any hobbyist, and don’t do anything other than mount these speakers in an enclosure and connect the drivers to a crossover (which may also be an off-the-shelf unit). Then you have manufacturers that start off with an off-the-shelf unit but modify this unit to their purposes. (The modification can be as simple as adding a bit of mass to the cone or adding a foam ring around the tweeter cone.) The next higher level in the hierarchy are speaker manufacturers that have the drivers made to their specifications by a specialist manufacturer of speaker drivers. And at the very top of the hierarchy are the speaker manufacturers that make their own drivers. This allows them to not only control of every step of the manufacturing process but also the ability produce drivers that are proprietary.

It is this top level of speaker manufacturer hierarchy that Totem has reached with the new Element series, shown in JA's photo with designer Vince Bruzzese. The 7” woofers used in the Element Series are of the Canadian’s company’s own design, manufactured in-house, which requires three hours of machining and more than four hours of assembly. I don’t know enough about loudspeaker driver design to talk with any authority about how the new Totem woofer differs from other woofer designs (the magnetic design was inspired by something called the Halbach array); suffice it to say that it has a free-air resonance of 16–17Hz, and its mechanical top end frequency rolloff is such that it’s matched with the tweeter without any crossover components in the woofer path. The top-of-the-line Metal ($12,995/pair) sounded good in a brief listen. I look forward to having more of an opportunity to listen to these new Totems at the 2011 Montreal show.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Purist Audio Design, founder/designer Jim Aud has just introduced their 25th Anniversary cable. Shown at T.H.E. Show for the first time, the 25th anniversary line consists of interconnects ($8100/1m pair) and speaker cable ($18,000/1.5m pair).

“Basically we’re using solid silver, single crystal wiring surrounded by Ferox 103, which is a proprietary doped silicon,” Aud explained. “Our other cables only use copper or copper alloys, and don’t use the Ferox 103.” While Purist still makes two cables that contain fluid, the 25th Anniversary cabling does not.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
The Talon loudspeaker brand has been revitalized since it was purchased by Richard Rives Bird. Richard is see here with the new Phoenix, a floor-standing three-way with ceramic drive-units. The Phoenix costs $72,000/pair in passive form, which is what was being demmed at CES, driven by VAC amplification. The crossover is mounted in a separate compartment at the rear of the woofer section and an upgrade (approximate price $15,000) is planned whereby the passive crossover module can be replaced by one containing a line-level crossover, Rives' PARC bass equalizer to provide room correction, and a class-D amplifier to drive the woofers.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Jim Fosgate’s forthcoming Signature headphone amplifier (right), scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2011, has an industrial design that echoes his Signature phono stage (left). Combining a tube input stage with a solid-state output, it will include a loudness control, spatial enhancement circuit, and built-in DAC. Scheduled for distribution by Musical Surroundings of glorious Oakland, CA, its price has yet to be determined.
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Pass Labs showed off two nice beer fridges, er, amplifiers at this year’s CES. Lacking any model numbers or nomenclature, the top monoblock amp (the top two units) is a single-ended 200W amp ($45,000/pair) and the bottom monoblock is a single-ended 300W amp ($75,000/pair). Nelson Pass is shooting to use no feedback on these circuits and maintain the Super Symmetry design made popular in far less extreme applications. The new part for these amps is a brand new silicon-carbide FET. These FETs were initially designed for the military—way to turn swords into plow shares and space heaters, Nelson!—and Pass Labs intends on exploring their use in future products.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
The Antique Sound Lab AQ 1003 Mk.II DT integrated amplifier ($1495) is optimized for EL34 tubes and provides 30Wpc. Though the basic design has been in production for over 15 years, the MK.II DT version has been updated with an attractive extruded-aluminum chassis and improved winding technique for the transformers. These same improvements can now also be found in ASL’s 50Wpc AQ 1001 Mk.II DT ($1995), which, according to Divergent Technologies’ Tash Goka, represents the company’s “best value for money.”
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
The Stello Ai500 integrated amplifier was shown in the April Music room. A 150Wpc integrated with a built-in high resolution DAC, the Ai500 sells for $3500 and ably drove power-hungry Magnepan speakers.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Internally, Ayre's new VX-R stereo amplifier features the same carved-from-solid-aluminum chassis construction as the famed MX-R monoblock. And that chassis is packed full!
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Tyll Hertsens Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
CES 2011 was the Show of the Android tablet. Once form has followed function into the form of a movable picture in the palm of your hand, buttons have disappeared into the picture, weight trends towards zero, and, like the first wind-tunnel designed cars of the ‘90s, everything looks astonishingly alike.

I don’t know if Archos has the bitchen’ box, but their cred as a long-time portable audio player maker had me going to their booth and not the bazillion others. Their gadget was fun to play with (just like all the other Driods out there), and sure, I’d like to play more with an Android tablet . . . it is cool stuff. I hope Archos does well in the sea of tablet competition, but wow, tablets have been overwhelming this year.

Bon chance, mes amis!

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 1 comments
Sony has a track record of sporadically producing high-quality loudspeakers, like the SS-M9 that I reviewed in 1997. But as good as these speakers could be, their commercial success was limited. But at the last two Rocky Mountain Audio Fests, Ray Kimber had been getting great sound with a prototype Sony floorstander and the 2011 CES saw the official launch of the Sony SS-AR1 ($27,000/pair).

A three-way design, the SS-AR1 uses Scanspeak drive-units made to Sony's specification, housed in a unique, Japanese-made enclosure. Seen here standing next the basic enclosure, designer Yuki Sugiaro explained that the walls are made from Finnish birch ply and the front baffle from maple ply. The latter is sourced from trees grown in Hokkaido.) The woodworking is so precise that the cabinet shown here is holding itself together without any glue (thoigh glue, of course, is used on the production line).

Driven by Pass Labs amps and an EMM SACD player, the SS-AR1s were demmed in too small and crowded a room for me to pronounce on their sound quality, other than to note that the midrange seemed exceptionally clean and uncolored. But my prior experience at RMAF suggests that this will be a contender.

Availability is said to be "spring" and Sony announced that they have already signed up blue-chip US dealers like Goodwins, Definitive, David Lewis, and Music Lovers.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Like the Marten room, the Engström & Engström room also played the new large Coltrane 2 speakers by Marten of Sweden. This year, the Coltrane 2 speakers met The Lars Type 2 monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), which each use two 300B tubes and deliver 36Wpc.

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