CES 2011

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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 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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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 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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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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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
All of Bel Canto’s equipment was powered by their VBS-1 Virtual Battery Supply ($1495), which effectively takes their equipment off the electrical grid. The VBS technology was debuted at last year’s CES, but new this year are the VB-Ref power cables which connect the 12V output of the VBS-1 power supply to the component. Having tried these cables out in my own system at home during my audition of the Bel Canto DAC3.5 VBS, I can testify to their ability to bring out the best in this new Bel Canto gear.
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 2 comments
Onkyo showed a nice new set of high-quality, two-channel separates, including the M-5000R Power Amplifier ($2499). This amp puts out 80Wpc into an 8 ohm load but can also deliver dynamic power of 450W into 1 ohm. The products begin shipping this January. It was great to see a mainstream company like Onkyo keeping up a commitment to two-channel music!
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Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Hi-Fi shows can be notorious for playing the same audiophile approved dreck over and over again. Not so in the VTL room. Luke and Bea Manley played one great tune after the next and introduced me to a bunch of albums I need to go get. Helping me enjoy this great music was VTL’s MB185 monoblock amplifiers ($14,500/pair). Using EL34 output tubes giving 185W in tetrode and 90W in triode, the MB185 offers a unique three-way setting that allows the user to dial in the amount of global negative feedback used in the amplifier. According to Luke Manley, this will allow users to fine-tune the sound of the MB185’s to best match the accompanying speakers and listeners’ tastes.

This system, the smaller of the two in the VTL room, was certainly to my taste. I preferred the MB185 in tetrode mode, finding that it offered the best balance between dynamic bass punch and smooth midrange and extended treble with the Avalon Indra speakers being used. VTL has always struck me as a serious company making serious products, but I had serious fun in their room at this year’s CES.

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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 2 comments
With the show spread out between a half dozen hotels, and Las Vegas one of the most inefficient cities to move around in, it's tough to see everything. I simply ran out of time before getting over to the Bellagio to see Olive, but Kal Rubinson was able to make it one morning.

His photo above shows the company's new O6HD which is described as a "music server for audiophiles". On top is a modest 10.1" touch screen and inside is a fully balanced differential DAC design that can run at 24bit/192kHz. There is also a headphone jack and slot for ripping discs under the lip on the front. Internal storage is 2TB and it has both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs in addition to HDMI, USB, Ethernet and WiFi which supports the free iPad/iPhone apps. Price is $4,999.

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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Another Cayin/Spark mini-system on display, the MT-iP40 combines a 40Wpc amplifier with iPod dock, FM tuner, USB input, and matching speakers. Like the MM-1, price is to be determined and the package will be available sometime in late spring or early summer.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 1 comments
It was released in 2009, but Krell's Modulari Duo Reference loudspeaker ($65,100/pair) was new to me when I visited THE Show and ventured up to the 28th floor of the Flamingo. The two-box speaker features all-aluminum enclosures, and features twin port-loaded woofers and a ring-radiator tweeter. The Modularis were hooked up with Zen Satori cable to Krell's new Evolution 2250e amplifiers, which offer 250Wpc into 8 ohms and 500Wpc into 4 ohms ($20,000/pair). Also new to the Connecticut company's line at CES was the Phantom preamplifier ($17,500, or $20,000 with optional crossover module, completely adjustable for high-pass and low-pass slopes and frequencies) and the 525 CD player ($12,000 in basic form).
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Famed audio designer/engineer Demian Martin, known for his work with Spectral Audio, Constellation and others, is also part of Auraliti, who were displaying their wares at T.H.E Show in the Flamingo.

Shown above is the heart of their new product line, the L1000 File Player, which is controlled by either a wireless iPhone/iPad type device or networked web browser and runs Linux. The company says there are no moving parts in the L1000 which boots from a Solid State Drive and has an AES/EBU output for connecting to your DAC. The L1000 Outputs up to 24 bit/192kHz and can handle FLAC, WAF and AIFF files. Price is around $3,000.

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