CES 2011

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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
Several weeks before CES, I got an email from PS Audio, inviting me to a press conference that will be held during CES but not as part of the official CES itself. They promised to provide transportation from the Venetian to the Wynn, where PS Audio had a suite. I knew that PS Audio was very much into computer-based audio, an area that for the most part I’ve stayed away from, so I wasn’t all that interested in that part of their presentation; however, I’ve reviewed, and use in my system, PS Audio’s Power Plant Premier AC power regenerator, so I was intrigued by word that they would have information on the successor to the Power Plant Premier.

It turns out that they have two successors, both representing substantial reworking of the product while staying with the principle of “regenerating” rather than merely “conditioning” power. Alas, the “power plant” terminology—which I’ve always thought was quite apt—is gone: the two products are called PerfectWave P5 ($2999) and P10 ($4499). They differ mostly in terms of the amount of maximum current they can produce, the P5 putting out 1000VA and the P10 1200VA. The bigger unit also has more zones. Output impedance is lower than ever, and so is distortion.

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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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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 13, 2011 0 comments
I was very impressed with the Monitor Audio PL200 that I reviewed last April; apparently, so were a lot of other audiophiles, but many were put off purchasing the speakers by the $8000/pair price. The new Monitor Audio Gold GX series is intended to appeal to these folks. The GX series offers most of the technology and aesthetic appeal of the Platinum, but at substantially lower prices. The GX300 is broadly similar in appearance and driver complement to the PL200, but costs an easier-on-the-wallet $5500/pair. It was making fine sounds at CES with Simaudio electronics and Simaudio digital source.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Cayin was also showing these cute, retro table radios. The four different units (MJ-22U, MJ-23U, MJ-25U, and MJ-27U) are functionally identical, with AM/FM tuner and USB input; prices range from $120–$150.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
I was initially confused when I walked into this room, as there appeared to be two different systems set-up, with loudspeakers from two different manufacturers. However, playing while I was there were the new Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers in Black Pearl finish (left, $8995/pair), with the Lumenwhite Artisan speakers (not quite so left) silent. Common to both system was an Ayon Audio CD55 CD player and Synergistic Research cables, and Ayon Triton tubed monoblocks drove the Legacies.

Broadly similar in concept to the Focus 20/20 speaker that Paul Bolin favorably reviewed in January 2004, the 25th Anniversary Focus SE is considerably more refined. It uses an AMT supertweeter and a leaf tweeter, between two unique 7" midrange units that use a cone comprising a sandwich of Rohacell and a weave of silver wire and graphite. The two 12" woofers take over below 200Hz and have a low-Q ported alignment to take advantage of the usual room gain without booming. Frequency range is specified as 16Hz–30kHz and sensitivity a very high 95.4dB (4 ohm impedance).

The cabinet is narrower and deeper than the older speaker's, with sculpted edges that progressively reduce the baffle width for the HF drivers to optimize diffraction. The crossover uses Solen metalized polypropylene capacitors and braided silver Kimber Kable is used to connect the supertweeter. The drive-units are matched to within ±0.25dB and designer Bill Dudleston hand-tunes the crossover network of each SE speaker.

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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
At the Venetian, Avatar Acoustics' Darren Censullo set up several of the products he distributes including the Purist HDR 6D music server/DAC from AMI HiFi. Darren explains that there are seven versions of the HDR 6D and 6DA, depending on how it is configured, ranging in price from $2,500 to $25,000.

On the front is a slot for loading or playing music from discs and a clever flush-mount receptacle for putting your iPod Touch which then acts as a touch controller and display. There is also a free iPad app.

All the usual inputs and outputs are included: AES/EBU, SPDIF, USB, Ethernet, WiFi and HDMI which supports a full video player. The HDR 6D handles a wide variety of file formats up to 32bit/384kHz (on the 6DA) and the company says that sound quality is enhanced by a process that entirely caches each track for playback. Also included is upsampled Web Radio and multi-room playback.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 4 comments
The Stein Music Harmonizers (approx. $1100 each; distributor Walter Swanborn of Fidelis AV is putting together package deals that include Stein’s Harmonizer accessories) are one of those mysterious sound-improving devices that are hard to explain to those who have not heard them. They certainly impressed Sam Tellig, who recently discussed them in his monthly Stereophile column.

They’ve also impressed me greatly. A set of four Stein Harmonizers has been residing in my reference system in Oakland for several months, bringing me much pleasure. To these ears, when set up correctly, they have a far from subtle effect on three-dimensionality, transparency, and realism. They take me one step closer to the real thing, making what comes out of my speakers sound less like hi-fi and more like music.

I was delighted to spend some time at T.H.E. Show with the Harmonizers’ designer, Holger Stein of Germany. Stein was showing the newest version of the Harmonizers, which were five years in the making.

The latest Harmonizers have a three-position switch on the rear. Those positions are (1) on with light, (2) on without light to preserve battery life for up to two years, and (3) off, to save energy when the system is not playing. Besides that, they function identically to their predecessor (which I have).

So how does the Stein Harmonizer work? Best to quote directly from Stein. Since, for him, English is a second language, I’ve given him an assist in the editing department:

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Tyll Hertsens Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Fang Bian has long been a maker satiating the desires of headphone enthusiasts. Head-Direct's line-up of products includes many headphones including the orthodynamic headphone HE-6 ($1199), headphone amplifiers, and seemingly the only portable music players that could be legitimately called high-end. The HM-801 ($790) looks and feels a bit cumbersome, but the electronic goodness of the Burr-Brown PCM1704 DAC chip and OPA627 op-amps, and the ability to play back 24bit/96kHz FLAC and 16bit/44.1kHz FLAC, WAV, APE, OGG, WMV, and MP3 files will make your portable listening a real treat.

So, as if his headphone activities over the past decade or so isn’t a career enough, he’s also been going to school and a few months ago received his doctorate in nano-technologies. Wow! I wouldn’t be surprised to see a HiFiMAN player ten years hence in a pill. Twenty minutes after you swallow it you can hear a CD by rubbing it between your hands. :-)

Congratulations Dr. Fang Bian, on both your academic and sonic successes!

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 3 comments
I was simply delighted by this clock’s slight cheekiness and subtle beauty. Seeing it also served as a reminder of how iconic the McIntosh faceplate has become in American audio. No price determined for this timepiece.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 10 comments
Audioquest formally released their current top-of-the-line reference USB cable at CES, the Diamond USB ($650/1.5m). The cable’s conductor is solid-core, perfect-surface silver (100% silver).

A key feature of the Diamond USB, which is held in the photo by Audioquest’s Andrew Kissinger, is the Audioquest DBS (dielectric bias system). Invented and patented by Richard Vandersteen, with the cable version co-patented by Vandersteen and Audioquest’s Bill Low, the DBS creates an electrostatic field that saturates and polarizes the molecules of the insulation to minimize energy storage in the dielectric. The result is claimed to be much greater dynamic range, lower background noise, and reduced phase distortion.

Steve Silberman, VP of Marketing, explained that all insulators have capacitance. Energy from the conductor enters the insulation and needs to discharge. The DBS’ electrostatic field lowers the discharge, which in turn lowers the amount of phase distortion and makes for a cleaner signal.

In a very short demo, Silberman compared music through a stock USB cable that came with his printer to music through the Diamond. Using the new Arcam R asynchronous USB DAC, Arcam AVR 600 receiver, AQ Niagra interconnects ($1600/1m pair), AQ Redwood speaker cables ($2300/3ft pair), and Vandersteen 2Ce 30th anniversary edition speakers, the difference in transparency and color was striking.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Cable manufacturer Kubala_Sosna has been in business eight years, with business expanding each year. This year, the company’s products were in use in 12 rooms at CES.

Just introduced are two new digital cables, the Emotion S/PDIF ($1500/first meter, $300/each additional meter) and Elation S/PDIF ($2700/first meter, $400/each additional meter). Both cables are a step up from Kubala-Sosna’s previous Expression level.

“We’re raising the bar, no doubt,” said keen recordist Joe Kubala (pictured on the right). In perfect agreement was partner Howard Sosna (left), who designs the cables in collaboration with Joe.

With the new cables used to connect the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport to the Perfect Wave DAC, I heard impressive bass and captivating warmth coming through the not-too-shabby Tenor Audio Reference 350M monoblocks ($100,000/pair) and Estelon Model XA loudspeakers ($43,900/pair) from Alfred & Partners in Estonia. Of course it helped that Estelon’s entire line is internally wired with Kubala-Sosna.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Prima Luna’s Kevin Deal was showing off the new Prologue Premier monoblocks ($4399/pair). These 70Wpc tube amps contain two output transformers per amp and have two, four and eight ohm taps. The amps also feature a bad tube indicator and relay-based protection which, according to Deal, will offer bullet-proof protection for just about anything that could happen to the amplifier. As in all Prima Luna designs, the Prologue Premier auto biases the tubes and is capable of running any number of different output tubes.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 1 comments
Ted Sindzinski, Internet Marketing Director for Monster, introduced me to the Beats by Dr. Dre Pro headphones ($399 street) that Stephen Mejias reviewed a few months back for Stereophile. A partnership with Beats by Dr. Dre, these recently released “mixing phones with high-end capabilities” were designed by Monster and marketed as part of the Beats family products.

Due in spring 2011 will be Monster’s Miles Davis Trumpets in-ear speakers (not yet priced). Featuring drivers in the front instead of the back of the buds, which allows them to be very, very small, these headphones look and feel very special.

Ted Sindzinski, holding the new ‘phones in the photo, believes these are one of the company’s best-sounding headphones. “They’ve been manufactured for a nice, warm, full, rich sound,” he assured me. Note the cute little silver trumpet on the cables. If you ask me, they’ve got Stephen Mejias’s name written all over them.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
The Metrodome may have collapsed but Minneapolis-based Bel Canto sure hasn’t. Brand new at CES is the C5i, a DAC/integrated amp/headphone amp that sells for the feel-good price of $1895. The amplifier, said to be stable into 3 ohm loads, puts out 60Wpc into a 8 ohms. The amp also includes two S/PDIF digital inputs, a USB input capable of handling 24bits/96kHz data, a moving-magnet phono input, an RCA line input and a headphone amplifier. I marveled at this little gem’s price but also its sound as it played files from a nearby laptop driving a pair of Joseph Audio speakers. This was my first room of CES 2011 and it was a great start!
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Cary Audio Design is known for producing both solid state and tube gear. This year Cary unveils a new set of solid-state amplifiers, the SA-500.1 ($4995 each)and SA200.1 ($3995 each). Shown here is the SA-500.1, a 500W monoblock amplifier that can also push 1 kilowatt of juice into a 4 ohm load. Both amps are built around a modular design that allows a dealer to convert an SA-200.1 to an SA-500.1 and vice versa. The amps each use 1500kVA low-noise transformers and employ 16 bipolar output devices. The amps have been voiced to maintain a similar house sound to Cary’s tube amplifiers. The SA-500.1 sounded warm, open, coherent and dynamic playing high-resolution files courtesy of David Chesky and HDTracks.

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