CES 2012

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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
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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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
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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Larry Greenhill Posted: Jan 19, 2012 Published: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
Thiel and Bryston always share an exhibit area in the Sands Convention Center’s Bassano Ballroom, and this year's CES was no exception. James Tanner, Bryston's upbeat product manager, had gathered a terrific playlist of musical selections on a thumb-drive, which drove the company's $2195 BDP-1 digital file transport, $2195 BDA-1 DAC. Livingston Taylor's whistling on "Isn't She Lovely" opened the playlist, just as it did at the Joseph Audio suite, and many others—it was a common selection at the Venetian exhibits. Sound from the $9500 Bryston SP-3 preamp/processor ($7900), three-channel Bryston 6BSST2 amplifier, Thiel CS1.7 speaker prototype and Thiel USS SmartSub Subwoofer produced soundstage depth and imaging that was among the best, almost as good I heard at the much more expensive system in the VTL suite. Tanner walked me through Bryston's newly announced BHA-1 headphone amplifier featured in the photo ($1295), which is highly versatile, including twin XLR outputs for balanced headphones, and both XLR and ¼ jacks for conventional headphones.
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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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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 20, 2012 0 comments
All-new from TAD at the 2012 CES was a more affordable line of components than the 600 series and electronics and Reference loudspeakers. The Evolution Series E1 speaker ($29,800/pair, right) still uses a concentric tweeter and midrange unit, like its more expensive Reference One sibling (left), but while the tweeter dome is still beryllium, the midrange diaphragm is now magnesium rather than beryllium and the unit is built on a 5" rather than a 6" chassis. Twin 7" woofers are used, but still with the highly linear corrugated surrounds and with a 2.5: voice-coil. Bass extension is specified into the low 30s, anechoic. I auditioned so much music on this system, I thought I was outstaying my welcome, but the sound of the E1 system, at $76,800 including the new M2500 500Wpc power amplification and the C2000 D/A preamp driven by asynchronous USB from a MacBook Air and all sitting on a Finite Elemente rack was open, natural, and uncolored, with superb low-frequency definition and weight. I couldn't imagine how the sound of a a 176.4kHz/24-bit transfer of Rebecca Pidgeon singing "Spanish Harlem" could be bettered—until TAD's Andrew Jones switched to the TAD Reference system (see next story).
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Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 20, 2012 39 comments
Photo: John Atkinson

It looks sort of pretty, doesn't it?

Imagine how much prettier it would be if it were real. Imagine again how much prettier it would be if those bridges and roads and towers weren't there at all.

Every time I stepped from the slow elevator and onto the casino floor at Harrah's, where Stereophile's editors spent their sleepless nights, my hatred for Las Vegas was revitalized. This was like some kind of bad joke, some kind of post-modern torture. Oh, god, I am still here. I would turn right and see the same flashing lights, the same low ceilings, the same people who had been there the night before, still sitting, still smoking, still hoping, still staring blank-faced into spinning screens of cherries, spades, and jokers, and I would wonder why.

Why? Most people who visit Las Vegas seem to be looking for money, sex, drugs, or simple escape. Why are we here?

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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
Scheduled for a summer 2012 launch with a projected priced of $9000–$10,000/pair, the Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Imperial Grand speaker uses a smaller flat, concentric tweeter/midrange drive-unit developed from that used in the Austrian company's top models, The Kiss and The Music. But like them, it uses a supertweeter to cover the range above 17kHz. The cabinet is sourced from Italy and the speakers are assembled in Vienna. And the name? Well, the Bösendorfer company is also based in Vienna and their flagship piano is also called the Imperial Grand.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 20, 2012 0 comments
Here's a closer "glamor shot" of the new G3Giya loudspeaker, though it doesn't do justice to the deep gloss maroon finish of the speaker. Note how the fact that the tweeter and upper-midrange unit have to be mounted higher up the curve of the "tail" means that the transmission lines loading these drive-units have become a styling feature rather than buried within the enclosure.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 19, 2012 0 comments
Demonstrated with Concert Fidelity amps and preamp, the Bricasti M1 D/A processor that I review in the February 2012 issue fed by a Loit CD player, and, like many rooms at CES, wired with Kubala-Sosna Elation and Emotion cables, the Estelon XA Diamond ($64,000/pair) produced sound to match the elegance of its styling. Improvements over the standard XA that I auditioned at the 2011 CES include a diamond tweeter, improved midrange unit and woofer, and changes to the constrained-layer cabinet construction.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 19, 2012 2 comments
If there is one thing audio reviewers like (other than wine, women, and song, of course), it is recommendable products that stay in production for years. And years. I reviewed the original Confidence C4 in 2003, with a follow-up by Wes Phillips in 2007, so it was with some surprise that I encountered the speaker at the 2012 CES. Except that this was the new Signature edition ($22,000/pair), which has a revised crossover, a high gloss finish (that is difficult to photograph :-), and a new coating on the Esotar2 tweeter's soft dome that is said to give a smoother, more open sound. With a standard finish, the C4 costs $20,000/pair; the C1 stand-mount has been similarly improved, with the standard version costing $7700/pair, the high-gloss Signature $8500/pair. Dynaudio is now offering its speakers with a 10 year warranty!
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 19, 2012 0 comments
UK manufacturer Astin Trew had their new DAC 1 on display. Managing Director Michael Osborn was on hand to answer questions and look for US distribution for his products. The DAC 1 features asynch 24/192 USB as well as FireWire and I2S inputs. It has a 6922 buffered tube output stage for single-ended connections and solid state for balanced output. Price should be around $4,500-$5,000 and would arrive in about 2 months once distribution is set up.

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