CES 2011

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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Wireworld’s David Salz released two new USB cables, the Platinum Starlight ($600/1m) and the Silver Starlight ($300/1m). The Platinum Starlight USB uses molded carbon-fiber connectors, while the Silver Starlight uses aluminum connectors.

Both cables use a new technology, called DNA Helix, that Salz originally developed for use in Wireworld’s premiere PS and SS HDMI cables. DNA Helix utilizes twice as many signal conductors as conventional USB cable designs.

When Salz was first developing the DNA Helix design, he began to measure the transmission speed of cables. By designing a more efficient cable, he found he was able to increase transmission speed by 20%.

“I always start with the direct connection as my reference,” he explains. “What I heard from cables at the start of my work was really disappointing. This new design allows me to get substantially closer to the purity of the direct connection.”

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
“Go check out the Constellation Audio room,” said Jon Iverson. So I did. As I entered the room filled with unworldly looking gear I spied Michael Fremer, engrossed in one of his famous mix CDs, burned from his vast vinyl collection. Michael, ever the gentleman, relinquished the sweet spot to me and both of us took in some big, clean, transparent sound. Driving a pair of $150,000 Tidal speakers was Constellation’s Hercules amplifiers ($70,000 each), which are each able to put out a kilowatt of juice into 8 ohms and runs its first 250W in class-A.

The visual design of the amps is both striking and understated, clad in an all aluminum chassis. Each side of the amp has a diffuser grid which hides the amp’s heatsinks and allows for a chimney action to help cool the amplifier. All that aluminum also serves the purpose of mass-loading the amps to control vibration. Internally the amps mechanically float the sensitive signal carrying parts. That attention to vibration damping could be heard as stillness and ease, particularly when I played a high-resolution file of Robert Silverman playing the final fugue from Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Handel. My time in the Constellation room was stellar.

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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
I finally got to meet Roy Hall of Music Hall. I, along with many of you, have been recently delighting in his colorful and off-color manufacturer’s comments in the pages of Stereophile. New to the stable of products Roy distributes is Creek’s Wyndsor phono preamplifier ($2495). This is a fully adjustable phono preamp with all of the settings available as you scroll through the on-screen menus. The preamp is powered by an external power supply and has just started shipping.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
After Thursday’s full day at the Venetian’s high-performance audio exhibits, it was time to throw all caution to the winds and head to some of the major headphone exhibits at CES’ official three-ring circus, aka the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South, Central, and North Halls.

I’m glad that John Atkinson suggested I spend no more than a half-day at the LVCC. That’s how long it took to navigate through tens of thousands of people (or so it seemed) in the South and Central Halls to reach the displays of Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Monster.

First stop was Audio-Technica, where I encountered former audiophile critic turned publicist Frank Doris. Together we examined three new over-ear “Audiophile headphones” and one set of in-ear noise-canceling headphones.

I sampled the most expensive of the audiophile bunch, the Audio-Technica ATH-W1000x Grandioso ($699.95) that Tyll Hertsens writes about elsewhere in this report. I also briefly checked out their new in-ear QuietPoint active noise-canceling (ANC) ATH-ANC23 headphones ($99.95). Complete with an in-line volume control, the phones will first reach the market in February 2011. I found them a pleasure to use. Unfortunately, Unfortunately, all that was available to audition were MP3s of highly compressed, noisy pop and rock.

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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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