CES 2011

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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
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
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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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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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
At T.H.E. Show in the Flamingo hotel, a mere half mile, 500 hawkers, and 2000 gambling-addicted alcoholics away from the bulk of high-performance audio exhibits in the Venetian, John McDonald of Audience was showing his new Adept Response aR6-TS power conditioner. Each unit comes complete with an Audience powerChord. The units sell at two different price points, depending upon choice of Audience power cords ($5000 with a standard Audience powerChord e, or $6550 with the Au24 powerChord).

The 6-outlet version of the Adept Response aR6-TS was in use in the room. A 12-outlet version is also available ($8600 or $10,150, depending upon powerChord choice).

What’s new about the unit is the “S” in aR6-TS. “T” stands for the Teflon version of power conditioner, and “S” for its new Audience Teflon aura-TO capacitors. John McDonald says the new capacitors are significantly more resolute and transparent.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 12, 2011 0 comments
Avantgarde's Armin Kraus stands next to the new version of the three-way Duo speaker, the Grosso ($36,000/pair). Finished in "Lamborghini Orange," the Grosso substitutes two 12" woofers for the Duo's 10-inchers, and drives them with twice the amplifier power. The midrange and treble horn units are the same, but the speaker is now supported by a sturdier space-frame with spikes that are adjustable from above. And again, this is a horn speaker that offers the advantages of horns—high dynamic range, sensitivity, and "jump factor"—without the disadvantages, such as midrange coloration.
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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
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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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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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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