CES 2011

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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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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 13, 2011 3 comments

When I walked into the Boulder room, I actually started to giggle. I was told Boulder was showing off some large new amps, but I was not ready for what I saw. Sitting atop plinths of solid granite were the new 3050 monoblock amplifiers. Unlike most monoblocks, the left and right amps, seen here with Boulder's genial Rich Maez, are designed as mirror images of one another for greater visual appeal. These class-A amps put out 1500W into 8 ohms, use 120 output devices, require a dedicated 240AV AC outlet, and weigh 400 lbs each. Oh yes, they cost $180,000/pair. They will begin shipping soon and I am told that orders are already in for these beasts.

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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 12, 2011 0 comments
Also on display was Bel Canto’s new headphone amplifier (shown right), a product so new it doesn’t yet have a proper model number or name. Bel Canto’s John Stronczer let me take a listen to the amp through a pair of in-ear headphones. The sound was lovely, but I couldn’t really get the cans to stay in my ears (I must have very large ear canals).

When I checked out the back of the headphone amp I noticed that it was in the signal path of the room’s big rig. The DAC3.5VBS’s outputs went into the headphone amp and the outputs of the headphone amp went to the rig’s amplifiers. I asked John, “What gives?” He told me that he has been experimenting with using the new headphone amplifier as a unity gain buffer, taking advantage of the headphone amp’s ultra-low output impedance. John said that he hears improvements in the system using this configuration and that Bel Canto is exploring new applications for this technique. No price has yet been set for this headphone amplifier.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 1 comments
British Naim Audio showed an adorable new product in their room at this year’s CES. The appropriately named Unitiqute (pronounced Unity–cute, $2500) is an all-in-one streamer, DAC, preamp, amp, FM tuner and headphone amp. The Unitiqute also has the ability to pull the datastream off an iPod and be controlled by an iPad or iPod. The amplifier section puts out 30Wpc into 8 ohms and has just one button on its front plate. I thought the Unitiqute struck the perfect balance of functionality, cuteness and elegance.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 12, 2011 1 comments
The latest in a growing line of fuses from HIFI-Tuning, enjoyed by Bob Deutsch and Michael Fremer, is the Supreme. Robert Stein of The Cable Company explained that the Supreme fuses are made of 99% silver impregnated with 1% gold, combining the smoothness of HIFI-Tuning’s gold fuses with the openness and resolution of their silver fuses. Prices range from $50–$75, so you can tweak away!
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand. The home of the Maori, Kiwi birds, an upcoming shoot for Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit, and Plinius Audio. On display in the Plinius room was the Hiato integrated amplifier ($9100). The Hiato is a 300Wpc integrated, able to kick out peaks of 50A of current. The amp is a high-biased class-A/B design that allows the first few important watts to benefit from class-A purity and then switch over A/B for greater efficiency and maximum power. The Hiato had me grooving to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on, Reggae Woman” and stopped me in my tracks playing a live duet version of Johnny Cash singing “Don’t Take You Guns to Town” with none other than Willy Nelson. The Hiato can also be installed with an optional phono preamp which brings the price up to $11,000.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Lew Johnson has been bitten by the computer audio bug and was proudly displaying Conrad-Johnson's new USB-only DAC, the HD USB3. While the digital portion was designed by Kevin Halverson of Muse, Johnson emphasized that their own designers spent quite a bit of time getting the analog part of the DAC just right. He likened the analog circuitry and its importance to final audio quality with the vital function a phono preamp plays in a vinyl playback chain.

The new DAC should be available in late February for $3,000. Johnson added that maybe they will also include a C-J logo on the front panel for the final product.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
If you don’t want to worry about how to best match amplification with loudspeakers, Cayin might have a solution for you. Cayin is a subsidiary of the Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., and in the Cayin room at T.H.E. show, the company displayed a couple of Spark mini-systems, including the MM-1 Mini Hi-Fi integrated with FM tuner, USB input, and matching speakers. Cayin’s representative, John Hwang, explained that the company will be improving the original Spark designs for the US market. Price is to be determined and availability will be sometime in late spring or early summer.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments

A highlight of my reviewing year in 2010 was living with and writing about the Acapella High Violoncello II speaker from Germany ($80,000/pair). With its horn-loaded, ionic tweeter and horn-loaded midrange unit, this speaker offered both high sensitivity and some of the most satisfyingly musical sound I have experienced in my room.

Current production has been modified a little compared with the much-traveled samples I auditioned for my review. (They were the same pair I had auditioned at the 2010 CES, Axpona and RMAF Shows.) The drive-unit complement, cabinet, and crossover are all the same, but there is now a greater range of level adjustment for the ionic tweeter and isobaric-loaded woofers. But the sound of the latest version at CES. driven by Einstein electronics, sounded just as I remembered: dynamic, transparent, neutrally balanced, and not a trace of horn colorations.

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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
An iPod Touch (you must supply your own) embedded in the face plate.
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Back in the Audience room, PR representative Frank Doris mentioned that Audio-Technica was displaying a turntable at the Convention Center. Of course, I wanted to see it: Audio-Technica’s AT-LP240-USB direct-drive professional turntable ($499) was mated to a pair of M-Audio BX5a active loudspeakers ($400/pair), making a fun and easy system.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 1 comments
Hansen's cost-no-object speakers have always sounded excellent at CESes, so one of the first rooms I visited at the Venetian was Hansen's, to hear the new The King E (for Enlightened) loudspeaker ($98,000/pair). A 63"-tall, 6-driver, 3-way design weighing 420lbs, The King E was being driven by Tenor mooblocks and preamp, with the front-end a Clearaudio turntable fitted with a Graham Phantom II tonearm. (My apologies for not noting the phono cartridge being used.)

Listening to a 45rpm remastering of Manuel de Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat, I was struck by the effortless sweep of sound and low-frequency performance that suggested that The King's specified frequency response of 18Hz–23kHz was not hyperbole. Percussion and pizzicato strings had a start-stop character that was very lifelike, with not a hint of overhang or boom.

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Tyll Hertsens Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
For a decade or more, I’ve begged Japanese company Audio-Technica to bring more of their domestic models into the US. Woot! Seems like they’re doing it. The recent addition of the ATH-A900 (closed back; $249), ATH-AD900 (open back; $299), and the beautifully finished Black Cherry wood of the ATH-W1000x Grandioso (closed back; $699) will broaden choices for the strong following among headphone enthusiast who prefer a tastefully done fast and airy sound.

I know you guys have more stuff over there . . . if you’re listening, bring it on.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
I chilled with Lionel Goodfield of Simaudio in the Canadian manufacturer’s room around noon on Friday. We were both hitting our midday energy slump, so we sat on their comfy couch and chatted about two new products in Simaudio’s Evolution Series. The Moon 880M monoblock amplifiers ($38,000/pair) offer 800W into 8 ohms, 1600W into 4 ohms, and a staggering 2400W into 2 ohms. The amp utilizes bipolar output devices biased into class-A/B and uses zero global feedback. The amps sounded as relaxed as the Bob Marley tunes Lionel played near the end of our discussion. It was a great break from the CES frenzy.

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