CES 2011

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
“Biggest. Tube. Ever.” I said, in my best Comicbook Guy voice. The Kronzilla DX Mk.II ($32,000/pair) from KR audio of the Czech Republic uses two T1610 output tubes in parallel to achieve 100Wpc of triode power. The amp also uses zero negative feedback.
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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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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Here is a close-up of the Qsonix iPad app that offered real-time scrolling through album covers in addition to the playlist editing.
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Tyll Hertsens Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Suweet! Beyerdynamic head headphone designer Gunter Weidemann is responsible for the T1 headphone (open back; $1295) and its extraordinary driver that exceeds 1 Tesla of magnetic field strength. Previous high-end Beyerdynamic designs delivered 0.6 Tesla; the new driver delivers 1.2 Tesla in the gap. Field strength is nothing without low moving mass, so significant effort has been exerted to design a novel and performance-based diaphragm and voice-coil to provide speed and absence of diaphragm break-up. My significant experience with these cans puts them in the world-class category in my mind; especially remarkable for their natural and powerful vocal range reproduction.

Also, I think anything named after Nicola Tesla (and not a rapper, dammit) is really cool.

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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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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Symposium Acoustics has released its upgraded Turntable Top Aircell Level ($1499). Designed to be used with Symposium’s visually arresting Isis Rack, the Turntable Top provides isolation and damping through four AirCell isolators that are level-adjustable for off-center loads. This means that if you have a table or transport with a heavy motor or power supply on one side, you can still level the shelf. Leveling is accomplished via four small underside holes, one in each corner quadrant of the platform, that are accessed with a supplied 1/8” Allen key.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 2 comments
In prior Show reports, we have photographed Tidal's Jörn Janczak standing next to his speakers. But as Jörn stands 6' 8' in his socks, I made him crouch by the Sunray ($151,000/pair). so you can get an idea of how big this bi-amped speaker really is.

As at the 2010 CES, the rest of the system included two BAlabo 500Wpc stereo amps ($77,500 each), and the BAlabo BD-1 24/192 DAC ($37,500). Preamp was the BAlabo BC1 ($60,000) and the source was the Blue Smoke music server. Cabling was by Argento. I listened to a recording that many were playing at CES, piano/bass/drums jazz from the German Tingvall Trio, and was impressed by the effortless sweep of full-range sound produced by this admittedly very expensive system.

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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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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Made in Germany, available in 12 color combinations, the Lindemann Birdland series of loudspeakers is intended to appeal to the consumer who appreciates not only great sound but also stylish industrial design and German craftsmanship. Components include German-made ceramic drivers, German copper-foil inductors, cryogenically treated Swiss-made copper terminals, and various other audiophile goodies. The demo system featured the Dixie!, the smallest speaker in the series, with Lindemann digital source and electronics. The speakers had a sound that was notably free of cabinet resonances, and had much greater dynamic freedom than I would expect from a speaker of such relatively modest size. The speakers were not fazed even by Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man: the lowest octave was missing, but the sound did not otherwise lack in body or dynamic punch. At $9900/pair, the Birdland Dixie! cannot be considered a bargain, but it’s one of the best-sounding small speakers that I’ve heard.
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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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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
One of my more pleasant duties at this year’s CES was substituting for John Atkinson at a dinner for the press held by DTS. (JA had not arrived yet from New York.) What I was particularly looking forward to—in addition to dinner at Nobu, one of Las Vegas’ best Japanese restaurants—was the opportunity to meet the legendary “JJ”: James Johnston (left), audio researcher, who has been called “the father of perceptual coding” for his work while at Bell Labs on MP3 and MP4. JJ is Chief Scientist at DTS, and also a Forum contributor at stereophile.com, occasionally jousting with those who make claims about sound reproduction that he feels have no scientific basis.

The pre-dinner presentation dealt with the latest surround sound format from DTS: Neo X 11.1, which uses 11 channels. Yes, folks, that’s 11 speakers, 11 channels of amplification, plus a powered subwoofer. There is not definite word on exactly when software and consumer hardware for this format will be available, and DTS admits that an 11.1 channel system is not something the average consumer will likely aspire to. However, a point made by JJ was that even if DTS 11.1 does not reach broad consumer acceptance, the research on 11.1 will lead to a better implementation of surround sound with 5.1 or 7.1 systems. He made an allusion to some work that he’s doing now—which he could not discuss—that promises sonic virtual reality with a lot fewer than 11 channels.

I did get to meet and chat with JJ, and found him to be very genial—not at all like the doesn’t-suffer-fools-gladly persona that’s sometimes in his Forum postings.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
The Lotus Group's Granada speaker ($125,000/pair) combines 21st-century technology—a digital-domain crossover realized with DSP, including room correction—with distinctively retro loudspeaker engineering—frequencies above 200Hz are handled by a single Feastrex unit featuring a field-coil magnet and a paper diaphragm with a coincident "whizzer" cone. The paper used for the diaphragms is sourced from a Japanese "National Treasure" paper maker, Ichibei Iwano, and the surrounds are made from lambs' skin. Two woofer handle the bass and all three drivers are open at the back to give a dipole radiation pattern. There is also a rear-firing 0.75" dome tweeter to maintain the speaker's power response in the top octave. (The treble energy from the whizzer is emitted in a quite narrow frontal beam.)

My photo doesn't do justice to the beauty of this speaker; the rest of the system included Musical Fidelity AMS-50 class-A amplifiers, a Steve McCormack VRE-18 preamp, a Hanss T-10A turntable with phono stage and fitted with Dynavector DRT XV-1t cartridge,with interconnects and power cabling by Pranawire and speaker cabling by Acoustic Revive. Total system costs was $324,245! Listening to Joan Armatrading's "Show Some Emotion" then the Roy DuNann-recorded The Eleven LP by Art Pepper, I was struck by the effortless nature of the sound and the sheer musicality of the system, though I have to admit that instruments didn't quite sound tonally correct.

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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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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 13, 2011 2 comments
New from E.A.R. USA is the V12 integrated amplifier ($9595), one of the prettier looking and sounding pieces I heard at CES. Many may remember E.A.R.’s V20 integrated, to which the V12 owes some inspiration. The V12’s visual design is also inspired by a Jaguar V12 engine, minus the motor oil stains. The V12 was designed by Tim de Paravicini and uses six EL84 tubes per channel. It puts our 50Wpc in triode mode. The sound, driving Marten speakers and using Jorma cables, was airy yet colorful.

Jason Victor Serinus elaborates on the Jorma cables: Jorma Koski, who owns Jorma Design of Sweden, designs all of his cables. When asked what makes them unique, he initially replied, “It’s the best cables in the world, except that everybody says that.”

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
I was sort of shocked to see the Kiso Acoustic HB-1. While I’d never heard of Kiso Acoustics, the speaker looked so darn familiar. The HB-1 is nearly identical in size and shape and design philosophy to the Onkyo D-TK10, a collaboration between Onkyo and guitar-maker Takamine, which I discussed back in late 2006...

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