CES 2011

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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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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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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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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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