CES 2011

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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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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
AAudio Imports' Brian Ackerman holds what must the world's most expensive AC strip, the Weizhi PRS6. Priced at $3200, the PRS6 is machined from a block of Super Duralumin alloy and features a graphite grounding module. There are no isolating transformers or conditioning circuits, the PRS6 is purely passive. The thinking behind the product, said Brian, is "to get the noise out of the line without changing the sound."

Yes, the Weizhi is a gorgeous piece of audio jewelry but do people really pay $3200 for peace of mind? Brian told me that he is currently shipping 10 units a week, so I guess they do.

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Derived from Finite Elemente’s Emperor rack, the Soundbase equipment shelf ($1800) is filled with aluminum foam whose random patterning allows it to absorb energy and dissipate it as heat. Immedia’s Stirling Trayle notes that the shelf works as well for turntables as for other components.

Each Soundbase comes complete with four Cerabase Slimline coupling feet that use a combination of three internal ceramic ball bearings and stainless steel for ultra-efficient energy transfer. The Cerabase Slimlines are also sold separately for use under components ($550/set of four). Their three internal ceramic balls represent an advance in “resonance deflection” technology for the company.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Melody Valve HiFi of Australia was a new company to me. Pictured here is the Pure Black 101 Preamplifier ($4499) and PM815 monoblock power amplifiers ($7959/pair). The Pure Black 101 features an Alps remote attenuator, point-to-point wiring and Jensen copper foil paper in oil capacitors. The PM815 delivers 70W of pure class-A power using 845 output tubes.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Joe Lavrencik, owner of Critical Mass Systems, designs all Critical Mass Systems Precision Component Support Systems. All of the company’s products are built in the Chicago area.

The newest Critical Mass product is Maxxum ($5650 per shelf), a precision component-support system. The shelf and rack architecture operate together to mitigate vibration in the floor, the rack, the shelf, and the component at the same time.

“We do more than isolate,” the sleep-deprived designer offered by way of explanation. “We give energy in the air a pathway out of the component so that components are not saturated with vibration from the loudspeakers.”

Lest you think Critical Mass Systems only manufactures high-priced products, prices start at $195 for a set of four MXK spikes, and $195 for a basic shelf. “Even though we’re very expensive, we start very low,” says Lavrencik.

At CES 2011, Critical Mass Systems products were used in the Lamm, Hansen/Tenor, and BAT rooms. In the photo, Lavrencik kneels near his Maxxum amplifier/component stands ($5650/each) and the Lamm ML3 Signature monoblocks ($139,290/pair) being used to drive Wilson Alexandria II speakers.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Constellation also showed a brand new line of products at a more “real-world” price point. The components of the new Performance line will each go for between $15,000 and $20,000 and feature (from left to right) a preamp, digital source, phono preamp, and power amp. I was told that the circuit designs of the Performance line are exactly the same as Constellation’s Reference line but use less expensive parts.
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Audio Research of Minnesota is located only a mile from my home, yet my visit to their room at this year’s CES was the first time I’d really met any of their staff. Getting pride-of-place in their CES system this year was the Reference Anniversary Preamplifier ($24,995), a two-chassis preamp celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary. According to the folks at Audio Research, this preamplifier has been a huge hit and has, to their own surprise, exceeded their sales expectations. Orders for the preamplifier will be taken through April 2011 and, unlike Brett Favre, will not come out of retirement.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Although Sennheiser has come out with nothing that surpasses their wonderful, state-of-the-art HD 800 headphones, they have released three new, far less expensive audiophile models: the HD 598 most prominent in the photo ($329.95), the HD 558 ($229.95), and the HD 518 ($169.95).

I auditioned the HD 598, whose beige soft velour pads contrast elegantly with their black body. The salesperson who showed me around made a big deal of the packaging. Far more important were the frequency range, 15Hz–28kHz, and the sound. Although the rather bombastic source material was supposedly MP3, the headphones delivered impressively smooth bass and a far more natural-sounding presentation than I would have expected.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Last year I marveled at the visual design of Resolution Audio’s Cantata Music Server. This year, Resolution debuts a new matching integrated amp, the C50 ($4000). The C50 puts out 50Wpc. According to Resolution’s Jeffery Kalt, on paper the C50 doesn’t look much different than most integrated amplifiers. However C50 benefits from custom capacitors, a unique application of feedback above the audio band, and a circuit layout that minimizes eddy currents. The C50 must be doing something right as it made a modest pair of Epos speakers sing with clarity, focus and body, sounding great song after song.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
We're still in that transition period where most folks who move to music servers and care about quality are going to source their tunes primarily from discs. As a result, most of the current server crop has a disc slot and the new Weiss MAN 202 is no exception.

The MAN 202 also includes AES/EBU, SPDIF, Ethernet and USB inputs on the back along with AES/EBU, SPDIF and Firewire outputs. Since there is a DAC inside, there are also a pair of balanced and a pair of unbalanced analog outputs. And there's more: Wordclock in and output via BNC connectors and a WiFi antenna is included for communicating with an Apple iPad through a free app which serves as the interface to run all of the music.

Weiss says that the MAN 202 will handle all digital formats up to 24bit/192kHz (with comparable quality to the Weiss DAC 202) and should be shipping in 4 or 5 months for a retail price of between $10,000 and $15,000. I love this kind of product, which is optimized for the modern audio enthusiast who doesn't have time to play around with computers.

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