And then there were five. At the end of the show on Friday evening, the remaining members of the Stereophile crew met for dinner at the same BLT Burger restaurant at the Mirage where they had eaten the night before the Show opened. Larry Greenhill, Michael Fremer, Kal Rubinson, Jon Iverson, Tyll Hertsens, and Jason Victor Serinus had already departed, so remaining were (left to right) myself, John Atkinson, Michael Lavorgna (AudioStream.com), Stephen Mejias, and Tom Norton (Home Theater, erstwhile Technical Editor for Stereophile). We don’t even look too tired!
Las Vegas? Why bother to fly across the country or around the world when you can visit New York City, Venice’s Grand Canal, and Egypt’s Great Pyramid in one easy, smoke-filled, retail therapy-rich, constantly stimulating stop? Why search out music on the net when, in Las Vegas, it constantly bombards you in elevators, from outdoor loudspeakers, and at your free lunch at T.H.E. Show?
Ah, Las Vegas. In his wrap to CES 2012, Stephen Mejias did a beautiful job of asking the simple but profound question, “Why?” Why, of all the god-forsaken places on Planet Earth, has the Consumer Electronics Association chosen this compulsion-driven, ecologically devastating, one-stop tourist and gambling destination as the site for the largest industry trade show in the US?
I have no idea where the name came from, other than the fact that it’s a sunfish whose graphic likeness occupies the circle logo that replaces the dash between Mola1 and Mola2 in the house that designer Bruno Putzeys and company co-founder Jan-Peter van Amerongen have built. Nor can I pretend that Mola-Mola’s aesthetics are any more elegant than the name. But I can tell you that the company, headquartered in the Netherlands, manufactures amplification components whose sound, driving Vivid’s G3Giya speakers ($40,000/pair) brought me oodles of delight.
The evening before the show officially opened, I snuck into the Nola room at the Venetian. There I found the Long Island company's new Concert Grand Reference speakers ($197,000/pair), driven by an Audio Research CD8 CD player, Reference 10 preamplifier, and Reference 75 amplifier, hooked up with Nordost Odin cabling. A Quantum QX4 provided the system conditioning.
Following the sale of Thiel and the departure of the Kentucky company's cofounder Kathy Gornik at the end of November 2012, the Thiel display at the Sands Convention Center was packed. It was also reassuring to see many of the company's long-term employees on hand, confirming the new CEO Bill Thomas's commitment to preserving the brand's ethos.
Parasound still thinks we can get more out of our CDs and worked with Holm Acoustics of Denmark to implement a CD ROM drive based player that is shipping now for $4,500.
Inside the CD 1 is a Linux-based computer that analyzes the data coming off of the 4x speed drive. Parasound says that the computer keeps checking the data until it is satisfied it has a bit prefect stream. Balanced and unbalanced outputs are included as well as SPDIF for those looking to employ their own DAC.
McIntosh's exhibit area in the Venetian Towers was busier than usual when I entered, and I soon found out why. Whereas most manufacturers in high performance audio were content to introduce one or two products, McIntosh seemed determined to introduce many, many new products. I could not mention them all, but Ron Cornelius, McIntosh's Product Manager, helped me focus on four products he felt of greatest interest to audiophiles. First, he showed me McIntosh's new Digital Preamplifier ($2500, above). This featured a new ESS DAC chip that operates its 8 channels in differential balanced mode for improved resolution. It includes a headphone amplifier, and four digital inputs: two optical, one coax, and one high-speed, asynchronous USB port.
At this year's CES, Sumiko's John-Paul Lizars introduced me to REL Acoustics’ new R528 SE sub-bass system. He described it as an "ultra-high output version of the R528" but also as a more compact version of the company's flagship Gibraltar 1 subwoofer. The R528 SE is half the weight (58 lbs instead of 108 lbs), 43% of the volume, and 61% of the cost of the G1 ($2750 instead of $4499). While the larger G1 has a 600W class-AB amplifier, the R528 SE has a 500W class-D amplifier. Both subwoofers utilize REL's aluminum-chassis, 12", carbon-fibercone woofer, but the R528 SE adds a downward-firing 12" passive radiator. Low-frequency response are not that different, with the R528 SE's 6dB point at 21Hz, and the Gibraltar 1's 15Hz. Many audiophiles and home-theater fans may end up favoring the more compact new subwoofer.
Every CES witnesses something out of left field. In the case of the 2013 Show, it was the ViolinSpeaker, which uses the body of a real violin to emit frequencies above 2kHz. (A conventional 6.5" woofer is concealed in the plinth.) The ViolinSpeaker is offered at two prices: $7200/pair and $3800/pair, depending on the quality of the instrument chosen. The sound? Not as bad as I was expecting, but not very good either.
Over at T.H.E. Show, Audience were demming the ClairAudient 1+1 bipolar speaker ($1800/pair), which uses two of the small full-range A3S drive-units developed by Roger Sheker, one on the front, one on the back, loaded with two passive radiators on the speaker's sides. The sound was dynamic, with surprisingly extended low frequencies.
In a large, acoustically untreated basement room at the Flamingo, KEF's "Brand Ambassador" Johann Coorg, was getting superb sound from the same orange pair of Blade speakers ($30,000/pair) that he had demmed at last October's RMAF. Again using Parasound Halo preamp and monoblock power amps, Johann was playing files from J River Media Center running in a Windows environment on his MacBook Pro, courtesy of Parallels, to feed a Parasound ZDAC. (That way, he could use the Mac's native USB2.0 driver.) Cabling was all WireWorld and AC was conditioned with a Torus transformer.
The German Voxativ Ampeggio Signature by Schimmel loudspeaker ($32,500/pair) was Stereophile's surprise Product of 2011, wresting well-balanced sound from its single drive-unit. At the 2013 T.H.E. Show, designer Inès Adler showed her Ampeggio Duo ($100,000/pair), which still uses a single full-range drive-unit, but this time field-coilenergized and with a wooden cone, said to have the same mass as a conventional paper cone but 100x stiffer. The large, wide, piano-lacquered enclosure horn-loads the rear of the cone and the speaker is claimed to have a 3dB point of 25Hz. Driven by KR amplifications, the 100dB-sensitivity Ampeggio Duos produced the kick drum on Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" with surprising weight.
Gary Koh was showing off his new Genesis Advanced Technologies 2.2 junior speaker ($80.000/pair) with a superbly natural-sounding track from Canadian chanteuse Anne Bisson. The 2.2jr combines a 48"-high midrange ribbon with 12 of the 1" circular-ribbon tweeters used in other Genesis designs and two servo-controlled 12" aluminum-cone woofers, these driven by their own 1kW amplifier. The rest of the system included Viola amplification and a Burmester phono preamplifier.
I expect there’s a movie industry connection to the name of this cable company, whose new Kraken flagship power cable goes for $8400/1.5m. With internal wiring a silver-palladium alloy, the housing is a combination of carbon-fiber and epoxy resin. Even the ceramic plug is a composite, complete with pins that are a silver-copper alloy with palladium coating. They also look as good as you’d expect for cable that is 100% handmade in Pasadena.
Thirteen years after the Maryland-based company’s founding, Stealth Audio Cables stand out for their unique geometry. According to R&D Director Serguei I. Timachev, the cables go from thicker to thinner to assist impedance matching in analog transmission. Handmade, including the connectors, prices range, to use interconnects as an example, from the “amorphous wire in Helium, VanCross geometry of Sakra v12 ($12,000/1m pair) to the pure 99.99% solid-core Gold Signal of PGS rev08 ($1000/1m pair).