Audio Note UK, shown at RMAF by its US distributor AudioFederation.com, chose the Denver Show for the world premiere of its first USB-input DAC. The DAC 0.1X, an entry-level product that features neither anti-alias filtering nor oversampling, and uses a teeny little 6111WA dual-triode output tube that is said to behave like a 12AU7 but last a staggering 100,000 hours, was making fine sound paired with a complete line of Audio Note components and cables.
Although they looked the same, the Audio Note UK E/SPe HE 98dB-sensitive loudspeakers ($9300/pair plus $650 for the stands) were a larger version of what I heard at AXPONA Chicago. In a system that also included Audio Note UK’s CDT Three top-loading CD transport ($12,000), DAC3.1x / II Balanced ($10,000), and OTO SE Signature integrated amplifier ($5500, or $6300 with phono), a very warm and mellow midrange triumphed on Jane Monheit’s “More than You Will Ever Know” from the album, Neverland. A further listen to a cut from Hazmat Modine’s Bahamut convinced that this is a system for midrange lovers über alles.
Although Misty Ellis' atmospherically lit room was a challenge to photograph, the sound this company from Columbus, OH put together from a big-bucks system headed by the Audio Power Labs 833TNT 200W transformer-coupled monoblocks ($175,000/pair), Tidal Audio Contriva Diacera SE floorstanding speakers ($58,190/pair in piano black, $64,190/pair in African Pyramid Mahogany as shown), and Laufer Teknik The Memory Player 64 ($24,600) was as tantalizing and satisfying as its visuals. Initially marred by an exaggerated midrange and treble resonances, everything improved immensely when Tidal dealer Doug White, the extremely conscious proprietor of The Voice That Is in Newtown Square (Philadelphia), PA, removed the preamp responsible for the imbalance.
The Audio Alternative had a number of rooms on the 9th floor of the Denver Marriott Tech Center Tower, the largest of which boasted an impressive set-up. Audio Research Corporation's Anniversary Edition Reference Preamplifier ($24,995), Reference 210 amplifiers ($19,900/pair), Reference Phono 2 ($11,995), Reference CD8 ($9995) and DAC 8 ($4995) were dancing with Vandersteen 7 speakers ($45,000/pair); Linn LP12 turntable, Ekos SE tone arm and Lyra Titan cartridge ($24,000 total); AudioQuest Wild Blue Yonder XLR interconnects ($16,800 for 26'). Wildwood speaker cables ($11,600 for 8'), NRG WBY AC power cords ($4400 for 12'), and WBY XLR interconnects ($4200 for 3'); and Harmonic Resonance Systems SXR 1921 isolation stand ($4995), M3X 2123 isolation base ($2895), and R1-1921 ($1095). (Whew!) The room was full of people making too much noise; the sound loud (there was no choice), impressively big and solid. Short of blowing a whistle, there was nothing I could do except collect literature and promise myself that at the next show, I'll finally get a chance to hear the Vandersteen 7s that received raves at the 2010 CES.
It was great to again encounter Silverline’s flagship Grand Bolero loudspeaker ($35,000/pair), displayed by Scot Markwell of Southern California’s Audio Summa. Together with Kuzma’s Stagi S NSE 12" w/TVA tower and Crystal Cable Silver ($2950) and Stabi SD in brass w/external power supply ($3700); BEL’s 1001 Mk.IV amplifier (NFS); and Furutech’s Lineflux RCA interconnects ($2704/1.2m pair), Speakerflux speaker cables ($3645/2m pair), and Powerflux power cords ($3007/1.8m each), the system produced admirable full-range sound.
There were two systems in Audio Summa’s room on the 10th floor of the Hilton, but I concentrated on the one with the brand new Kuzma 4-point NSE tonearm with Crystal Cable Silver/Gold ($6375) and Stabl M turntable ($18,500). Paired with Silverline Audio’s Sonatina Mk.IV loudspeaker ($5995/pair); Conrad-Johnson Classic 60SE stereo tube amp ($5000), ET-5 Triode tube preamp ($9500), and TEA2MAX triode tube phonostage ($6500); no longer manufactured BEL 101 Mk.IV stereo amps; Furutech Flux cables (Lineflux, Speakerflux, and Powerflux power cords); and HRT Music Streamer HD, MicroStreamer, and iStreamer, I was treated to a Classic Records reissue of the divine Sarah Vaughan’s 1964 Roulette platter, The Lonely Hours. The sound was lovely, but the bass seemed disconnected from the higher octaves.
After Thursday’s full day at the Venetian’s high-performance audio exhibits, it was time to throw all caution to the winds and head to some of the major headphone exhibits at CES’ official three-ring circus, aka the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South, Central, and North Halls.
I’m glad that John Atkinson suggested I spend no more than a half-day at the LVCC. That’s how long it took to navigate through tens of thousands of people (or so it seemed) in the South and Central Halls to reach the displays of Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Monster.
First stop was Audio-Technica, where I encountered former audiophile critic turned publicist Frank Doris. Together we examined three new over-ear “Audiophile headphones” and one set of in-ear noise-canceling headphones.
I sampled the most expensive of the audiophile bunch, the Audio-Technica ATH-W1000x Grandioso ($699.95) that Tyll Hertsens writes about elsewhere in this report. I also briefly checked out their new in-ear QuietPoint active noise-canceling (ANC) ATH-ANC23 headphones ($99.95). Complete with an in-line volume control, the phones will first reach the market in February 2011. I found them a pleasure to use. Unfortunately, Unfortunately, all that was available to audition were MP3s of highly compressed, noisy pop and rock.
As I learned when he did a demo for members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society in my home some years back, Duke LeJeune is one of the sweetest people in an industry that has its share of sweet people. When I walked into his room, his 95dB-sensitivity, 16-ohm AudioKinesis Strato Prism loudspeakers ($4400/pair) were playing some New Age music of dubious worth. The sound through an Oppo BDP-83 used as a transport, Neko D100 Mk2 DAC ($1395), and Atma-sphere's MP-1 linestage ($4850) and S-30 amplifier ($3950) was enveloping, with particularly warmth in the midrange.
"We initially meant our self-powered speakers for the computer market, and never thought you guys from Stereophile would take us seriously," Audioengine's Brett Bargenquast told me in a particularly candid moment. "Then Bob Reina's review of the A2s helped launch us."
It sure did. Bob's glowing review even convinced me to get a pair of Audioengine 5s for my iMac. Years later, they remain in use, making the husband's cheapo TV in the cottage sound far better than it should.
Audioengine, which made a deservedly major mark a few years back with its perfect-for-desktop-computers, self-powered loudspeakers, has just issued the W3 as a replacement for the W1 ($149, I believe). A plug-and-play "premium wireless audio adapter" designed to move computer audio around your home or office, it can transmit 16-bit signals to up to three receivers ($89 for a receiver kit) via a closed 802.11 network. (Those desiring to send 24-bit signals can opt for the D2.) Also fairly new are the Audioengine 5+ powered loudspeakers ($399 and up).