I think it's now official: moving the high-performance audio exhibits last year from the Alexis Park to the Venetian has been a complete success. The sound in the tower rooms has been excellent, and exhibitors seem to be finding ways to tame the more problematic acoustics of the large conference rooms on the third floor. And whenever you wanted to take a break, you were only a few steps away from the fake-but-surprisingly-convincing ambience of St. Mark's Square, where it's always early evening, and you don't need an excuse to have some gelato. Ciao!
Immedia's Allen Perkins was running not one, but two Spiral Groove turntables. He was running the original SG1 ($20,000) with Continuum's new Copperhead tonearm ($12,000), but he was also debuting his new SG2 ($15,000) with a Triplanar Ultimate tonearm ($4200).
I was rocking out in the DeVore Fidelity/Tone Imports room, listening to Polly Jean Harvey. In the midst of the hurly-burly of CES, I was feeling no pain. "I love the way you guys decided to set your Silver Diamondback References up assymetrically," I told JDV.
"The Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Amerigo loudspeakers ($5500/pair) are the first speakers Joachim has ever designed specifically for the American market," said Immedia's Allen Perkins. "I designed the cabinet dimensions and suggested we use an American veneer like Zebrawood or Bird's-Eye maple, then Joachim developed drivers and a crossover network. Funny thing, he said it had the lowest distortion he'd ever measured."
Stephen Mejias and I trekked out to GamuT/Scandinavian Audio Research (ScAR) house on our travel day after the show closed. We sat down and talked to Lars Goller, formerly drive-unit designer at Vifa/ScanSpeak and chief designer at GamuT and ScAR (OEM drivers).
For Stereophile writers, the focus of interest at CES are the exhibits featuring high-performance audio (mostly in the Venetian). That's certainly true for me, but I have to admit to being intrigued by the many sorts of electronic gadgets and gizmos that are shown in the main exhibit halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo, so my visit to CES always excludes a brief tour of these venues. And, sometimes, in my wanderings through these halls I even find a product that is interest to audiophiles as well as gadget freaks. I found one such product at the Sands Expo: the Zoom H2 portable audio recorder.
The Benchmark DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier has long been our affordable digital recommendation, both in its original form ($975) or with an additional USB data input ($1275, reviewed in the January issue of Stereophile). The DAC1 looked a little different when I went into the Benchmark room at the THE Show; "That's because you're looking at the new DAC1 PRE," explained Rory Rall. The NY company has added a pair of single-ended analog inputs so that the DAC1 can act as the system preamp. It still has digital inputs, of course, though the AES/EBU XLR had to be omitted to make the rear-panel real estate available for the analog inputs. A switch scrolls between the four digital inputs, the USB computer input, and the analog input. The DAC1 PRE is expected to begin shipping in February 2008 and will retail for $1575.
In their suite at the Mirage, Nagra introduced the VPS (Valve Phono Stage), shown here under the Swiss company’s well-regarded PL-L line preamplifier. The front-panel switch selects between A and B inputs and mute, while the rear panel features two sets of inputs and outputs and an output level switch. The A inputs accommodate MC cartridges, while the optional B input can be set for either MM or MC operation. Capacitive and resistive loading can be changed with modules that plug into the pcb close to the input connectors. The MC circuit is based on high-quality transformers wound in-house by Nagra, followed by gain and RIAA stages using ECC81 and ECC83 tubes. The RIAA equalization can be set with internal jumpers either to the 1953 standard or to the 1976 standard. The circuit boards are mounted on compliant supports, to minimize microphony and the power supply is housed in a separate chassis. Unusually, the output can be taken either directly from the tube stage or via a solids-state buffer.
At a press conference on the first day of CES, TEAC Esoteric launched a new range of source components. That was expected. But what was not expected was Esoteric's manager of overseas sales, Kazutaka Tsuda (above), introducing a new monoblock tube amplifier, the AT-100. Using KT88s in its output stage, the 50Wpc Esoteric amp features a new variable bias system and an output transformer using specially treated copper foil as the secondary winding to give the best coupling from the primary. The heaters of the input and driver tubes are DC-powered, to give the lowest noise; in fact, Esoteric claims the AT-100 is extremely quiet, despite its all-tube design. While it was designed as a power amplifier, a rear-panel switch, in conjunction with a volume control knob on its front panel, turns the AT-100 into an integrated, with three RCA inputs ands one XLR. Price will be $18,500.
Jim Wang of Harmonic Technology (right) and Jimmy Ko of Inex Innovation (left) have teamed up to produce the all-in-one Photon Amplicable. Combining the attributes of Harmonic Tech's CyberLight interconnect cables, an amplification system, and speaker cable, the Photon Amplicable allows the user to connect a source or preamp directly to speakers, and to power the system through the cables.
So why is Amanda Sweet from Telarc smiling? Well, in addition to being a wonderful person, she's happy that the Concord Music Group chose to sell its wares in The Venetian. Rather than the nightmare everyone predicted, customers only had to walk 20 steps to the official CES cashiers to purchase their SACDs and CDs from Telarc, Heads Up, Concord, Prestige and the like. With only one other CD vendor—5.1—in the area, Telarc did a booming business.
I'd gone into the DCM room at the end of the day to hear the speaker manufacturer's new Time Frame TFE200 three-way tower, which can be seen at the left of the photo. Using two 6.5" woofers and a midrange mounted above the tweeter, the TFE200 offers a lot of speaker engineering for just $1000/pair. But following my audition of the speakers, driven by Jolida CD player and tube monoblocks, connected with Esoteric USA cables, we were treated to a concert by singer-songwriter Herman Hogan. Al Congdon, the VP of DCM parent company Mitek's Consumer Electronics Group, had heard Hogan playing in a Long Beach coffee house, and liked what he heard. He invited Hogan to perform in the DCM room at CES. You can't beat that live music!
Ever listen to a system costing $340,288? Ray Kimber's IsoMike venture put on such an exhibit at CES to preview their DSD recordings with "no limiting, no compression, no mixing, and no equalization." They had their SACD Hybrid Stereo/4-channel discs next door for sale.
What does $275,000 buy you these days besides a used Porsche Carrera GT with 20,000 miles on it? Yes, there is now a loudspeaker system with that asking price, which gets you 900 lbs of hardware, including two midrange—tweeter towers, two subwoofers, and two subwoofer amplifiers. Frequency response is rated from 8Hz to 50kHz, and the minimal load impedance is 3 ohms. Furthermore, the Force is made of glass.