CES 2012

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
When I gave my Richard Heyser Memorial Lecture at last October's AES Convention, THX's Laurie Fincham was sitting in the audience. Afterwards, Laurie whetted my appetite for what the company would be presenting at CES: a patented non-switching power amplifier topology that would be as efficient as a class-D amplifier but without the side-effects that afflict such designs, high levels of radiated RF, for example. In the photo, Laurie is pointing to the power supply of the amplifier. DC is fed to two oscillators running at 25kHz, one generating a sinewave, the other a cosinewave, ie 90° out of phase with the sinewave. Each wave feeds a transconductance amplifier in the primary pf a small transformer; the output of each secondary is rectified and summed to produce a high DC voltage which is then used to power the amplifier circuit. There are no storage capacitors in the circuit—it looks as if almost all the energy entering the supply is available as the final DC voltage! The new topology was developed by Fincham, Owen Jones (the twin brother of TAD's Andrew Jones) and Andrew Mason.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
Branching away from strictly audio products, the HDMI Streamer has two HDMI inputs and one HDMI output and a stereo audio output. The idea is to peel the audio off of an HDMI signal and send it to your analog stereo preamp while leaving the video intact for your TV. All perfectly legal says HRT. Available sometime around April for $229.95
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 2 comments
The New York debut of Sonus Faber's stunning-looking Aida ($120,000/pair) was compromised by sub-optimal room acoustics and too much noise from outside the dem area. But the speaker, powered by Audio Research's new Reference 250 monoblocks ($25,900/pair) lived up to the promise in Las Vegas. But as I had found in New York, the true magic of the Aida was only to be found if you sat exactly in the sweet spot, when the speakers disappeared and the end of the room dissolved into the recorded acoustic. Certainly the team from WhatsBestForum.com sitting in front of my camera—Hi, Steve!—were enjoying what the Aidas' were doing.

The rest of the system comprised an SME Model 20/3 turntable/tonearm ($17,000) with a Palos Presentation cartridge ($3995), an Audio Research CD8 ($9995) and DAC8 ($4995), Reference Phono 2SE ($12,995) and Reference 5SE linestage ($12,995), all connected with Shunyata cables. Racks were the ubiquitous Harmonic Resolution Systems SXRs and power conditioning was also by Shunyata.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 5 comments
At the previous Shows where I had auditioned it, MBL's extravagantly excessive (or should that be excessively extravagant) X-Treme system had been set-up in inappropriate rooms, Finally, at the 2012 CES, this 4-enclosure system, which basically comprises two of the true omnidirectional upper-frequency modules of the Berlin-based company's 101E Mk.2 speaker (to be reviewed by Mikey Fremer in the April 2012 issue) with two man-sized powered subwoofers, each using six 12" drivers mounted three on each side to cancel mechanically induced vibrations, was set up in a room worthy of it. (The Venetian room was 31' by 22' with a 10' ceiling.) Bi-amped with four file-cabinet–sized MBL 9011 monoblocks—the total system cost was $565,000!—the X-Treme produced a big-bottomed sound that was indeed extreme when required but also delicate when appropriate. Oh my!
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
It costs $42,000 but TAD's new C600 solid-state line preamplifier features dual-mono construction, an all-discrete signal path, a separate power supply, and fastidious attention paid to detail in both its design and construction. The amber LED display for example, is DC-powered rather than from the usual multiplexed supply, to eliminate EMI interference. And the sound, in conjunction with the D600 SACD player, M600 monoblocks, Reference One floor-standing speakers, and HRS rack to give a system price of $214,500? I'll leave it to Stephen Mejias to describe in his show wrap. Personally, it was a highlight of the 2012 CES.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 1 comments
Costing $165,000/pair, Magico's new Q7—shown here with AudioStream.com editor Michael Lavorgna for scale—embodies everything the Californian company knows about speaker design: a proprietary beryllium-dome tweeter, nano-fiber–sandwich-cone midrange unit and woofers, housed in a sealed all-aluminum enclosure weighing 750 lbs! With the prototype Audeeva music server, Pacific Microsonics DAC, a Spectral preamp, MIT cables, and unidentified amplifiers hidden behind a curtain, the Q7s threw an enormous soundstage on a 176.4kHz/24-bit file of a Reference Recordings orchestral recording, with bass-drum blows that pressurized the room without obscuring a low-level bassoon that was playing at the same time—macro and micro-dynamics.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
Other than the soft ring of blue light at the top, Meridian's new M6 powered loudspeaker ($9000/pair) looks unprepossessing but hides a wealth of high technology within its black enclosure. The entire range from 200Hz to 25kHz—two decades!—is handled by a single front-firing 3" driver at the top of the cabinet. This is a development of the drive-unit Meridian designed for the F80 music system and is coupled to a downward-firing woofer, which can be seen in the exploded diagram next to the speaker. The M6 has a digital input and the use of DSP for its crossover and equalization means it can be placed near room boundaries, maximizing its Spouse-Acceptance Factor. I listened to the Sheffield Drum Record from Bob Stuart's Sooloos server, controlled with the new iPad app, followed by Dire Straits, the pizzicato movement from Ravel's String Quartet. and the 2L hi-rez recording of Britten's Simple Symphony, and the M6 demonstrated surprising dynamics and clarity, coupled with an overall ease to its presentation. Yes, the lows were a bit too rich, but this is a fit'n'forget speaker system that non-audiophile music lovers will go ga-ga over.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
The Diamond DAC shown here has now been upgraded with MSB's Pro I2S Network capability which the company claims is a faster, lower jitter version of MSB’s original network and retails between approximately $20-35k depending on included options. The entire line is also now available in this luscious, but hard to photograph, black finish and it's likely I'll be reviewing an MSB system for Stereophile in the next few months.

Below the DAC is the MSB Diamond Power Base power supply running at $4,495 and below that is the very thin WiFi System Interface which brings iPad app control to the entire MSB line for $1,950 and should be available shortly.

Perhaps the most interesting MSB announcement is the $9,950 FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock that the company is making available as a plug in module for all DAC IVs. The claim for the clock upgrade is less than .077 picoseconds of jitter (77 femtoseconds)--let's see if JA can measure that.

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
At the 2011 CES, Swedish company Perfect8 concentrated on their Force flagship speaker. For the 2012 Show, they brought their Point Mk.II ($115,000/pair with subwoofer modules), which, like its big sister, uses an enclosure fabricated from glass—or rather, from what Perfect8 calls "Super Silent Glass," joined without solvent-based adhesives. The upper-frequency module is a dipole, allowed to roll off naturally to integrate with the subwoofer module below it, which uses two 10" drive-units mounted on its sides to cancel mechanical reaction forces. The woofer's low-pass filter is set at 86Hz and realized in DSP; the module includes a class-D amplifier housed in the triangular section at the rear. Despite my reservations about glass as an enclosure material, both Diana Krall and Rimsky-Korsakov sounded uncolored and natural.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
Sonus Faber co-founder Franco Serblin has started a new, eponymous company and two of his speakers, the floorstanding Ktema ($39,995/pair) and bookshelf Accordo ($12,995/pair) were being demonstrated in one of the Axiss Audio rooms in the Venetian. Amplification was all-Air Tight—ATM-3011 monoblocks, ATC-2 preamplifier, ATE-2 phono preamplifier, ATH-2A transformer—with the source a Transrotor Fat Bob S turntable fitted with an Audiocraft AC-3300 tonearm and an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge. The laidback sound of Norah Jones matched the superb looks of the speakers and the bass was full and warm—which impressed me the more when I realized I was listening to the stand-mounted Accordos, not the larger Ktemas.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
I'm guessing this will be a hot product: asynch USB to stereo out for either headphone or audio feed. Handles up to 24/96 (sample rate indicated by LED), powered by your USB bus and is priced at $139.95. Designed and manufactured in California and available now. I'm really curious to hear how this one sounds.
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Robert Deutsch Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
My experience with the Thiel CS1.7 at CES is a story in three parts. Part I: Maybe. On the first day that I was at CES, which was the day before the Press Day, I visited the Thiel room while they were still setting up. I saw a prototype of the CS1.7, and asked if they were going to do a demo of these speakers. "We haven't decided yet. We're not sure if the crossover is finalized. But if the speaker sounds as good here as it did at the factory, we'll demonstrate it." Fair enough. I took some pictures and promised to return.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 19, 2012 0 comments
Crystal Cable's first loudspeaker, the Arabesque, used a complex-shaped enclosure fabricated from glass panels. Three years later, the Dutch company showed the new Arabesque Mini ($25,000/pair plus $1000/pair for matching stands), which uses a small aluminum cabinet with the same "comma" cross-section as the glass speaker, a shape that confers advantages when it comes to controlling the inevitable air-space resonances. A beryllium-dome tweeter is coupled to a long-throw, 1" maximum excursion (presumably peak–peak) 6" woofer. Crystal specifies distortion as being <0.5% from 120Hz to 20kHz, though no spl is given for this specification.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 19, 2012 0 comments
"These speakers get the scale of the sound right," I scribbled in my notebook as I was listening to the Hansen Emperor E speakers ($68,000 Canadian) playing a big band recording. The leather-covered, 61" tall speakers were being driven by Tenor 350M monoblocks, a Tenor Line 1/Power 1 preamplifier, and Phono 1 phono stage, hooked up with Kubala-Sosna Elation series cables. The front-end components were supported on a Critical Mass Systems Maxxum integrated rack and filter system.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 19, 2012 2 comments
I first heard the attractive-looking BMC amplifiers at last April's Axpona in Atlanta, and was impressed enough that I asked Michael Fremer to review one of them (to appear in our May 2012 issue). At CES, BMC launched its first loudspeaker, the Arcadia ($36,300/pair). A three-way design, the bipolar Arcadia is symmetrical in both horizontal planes, there being an 11" woofer on each side and the trio of drive-units on the front are echoed by an identical trio on the rear.

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