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 300400 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.
Conrad-Johnson introduced their new ET5 line stage preamplifier. According Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, the ET5 is a scaled-down version of the GAT preamp (the silk-screening you see here labeling the ET5 as a GAT is an error). The ET5 shares all of the same parts as the GAT but is a stereo design instead of the GAT’s dual-mono layout. The ET5 uses Vishay resistors, CJD Teflon capacitors, gold plated OFC I/O connectors and vibration-isolated printed circuit boards for the gain circuit. The ET5 ships this month and will cost $9500.
The electrostatic Kingsound speakers were hits at 2010 Shows, so I was anticipating good sound in the room where VAC was demming their tubed electronics with the King II speakers ($11,500/pair) and a Spiral Groove SG2 turntable and arm fitted with a Lyra Kleos cartridge. Stands were all-Symposium.)
The bugbears of electrostatic panels have been limited treble dispersion and a lack of low-frequency definition, but listening to Hans Theesink's and Terry Evans' rendition of "You Can't Tell a Book," from the LP Vision, where the guitarist and singer were accompanying themselves with footstomps, the bass remained in control and the top-octave sounded airy and spacious.
Distributed for the first time in the US by Robert Kelly of Kelly Audio Technologies in San Diego, the unusually designed Bertram cable comes in copper, silver, and gold configurations. Pictured is Proxima 2 balanced silver interconnect ($8000/1.5m pair).
Designed by Soren Bertram of Denmark, Proxima 2’s silver ribbon wire is flattened and twisted into what looks like a braid. Boasting an air dielectric and laser-welded terminations, it is third down from Bertram’s top-of-the-line. Also available are the Proxima 2 silver speaker cable ($25,000/2m pair), signal cables, and power cords.
Some readers may recognize Kelly as the former speaker designer for EgglestonWorks and Cello. Out of the business for a number of years, he has returned with an intriguing portfolio of Scandinavian-sourced products.
Bladelius has created a gorgeous product that includes a touch screen on the front and can play discs, stream media and store music. Hand made in Sweden and retailing for around $9,000, the Embla features internal flash memory for storing music (upgradable to 2TB!!), USB and Ethernet on the back, and built-in analog preamplifier.
Ayre showed off their new VX-R stereo amplifier, a stereo version of their lauded MX-R monoblocks. Rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms the VX-R is priced at $14,950. The amp is a zero-feedback design, featuring fully balanced discrete circuitry. As usual from Ayre, the chassis is beautifully made of milled aluminum. The sound of the VX-R, driving the TAD Compact Reference monitors was wonderful.
Audio Power Labs was a new name to me, and not without reason. The company was recently started up by a number of audio enthusiasts, including a number of ham radio operators and this was their first showing at a CES. The 833TNT monoblock amplifiers (price not set) use an interesting compliment of tubes, including two 833C tubes that are often used in small AM transmitters and a switching power supply.
Cambridge has created the NP30 (the bottom product in this photo) as the bridge between your digital media and a stereo system. As such, it has a built-in Wolfson 24bit/96kHz DAC, two USB connectors, Wifi, Ethernet and SPDIF coax and optical outputs. It can handle most audio file formats and also stream internet radio. I was surprised that it did not have an SPDIF input of any kind.
There is a small display on the front and you can also control the NP30 with your iPhone and their app. Price is $649 and it is available now.
At last year’s CES, many of my favorite rooms featured Sweden’s Marten speakers. The same held true this year. I expected good things when I stopped by Marten’s own room at the Venetian. Not only where they showing off the new version of their Coltrane 2 speaker ($95,000/pair) but also their first amplifier design, the M Amp ($45,000/pair). These monoblock amps have scary low distortion0.05% at 400W into 8 ohms and use a class-D stage that switches at 600kHz. The amp can output 550Wpc into 8 ohms, 1000Wpc into 4 ohms, and 1700Wpc into 2 ohms.
The folks in the Marten room seemed in dire need of some good music when I came in, having suffered through too much audiophile approved crap during the show. I handed them a CD of the XX, a band I love, and we all bobbed our heads to this sparse but funky Pop. I find this album doesn’t work at all if a system cannot get the interplay between the bass guitar and kick drum right. The Marten system did this very well, sounding rich and articulate. The M Amps never let on that they were class-D amps, sounding more like super powerful tubes or a richly voiced class-A amp. I was thanked for playing some sweet cuts off the XX’s album, and I thanked them for making it sound great.
Sonneteer, a UK audio company, was showing off its new Morpheus Music Center ($4000), an integrated amplifier, DAC, and control center for streaming audio. The amplifier section is rated at 50Wpc and will stream music via WiFi or Ethernet, play Internet radio, and USB input. The Morpheus also has three analog inputs and one analog output so it can send signal to an external power amplifier or subwoofer. Standing by his creation is Sonneteer’s Haider Bahrani.
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.
In a show dominated by forward-racing technologies and innovative solutions to complement the ways in which we consume media, DeVore Fidelity and Tone Imports continue to find inspiration in old-fashioned pleasures...
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...
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 1617Hz, 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.
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.