The name sounds somewhat cold and diabolical, but the sound was quite inviting. Machined from a full solid slab of aluminum (FSS aluminum), this was the first time that the CRM reference monitors ($8000/pair) and prototype fully active CRS subs ($12,000) were played at a show. You'll note from the photo that, for height's sake, the CRM sits atop the not-auditioned CRG compact reference grand. The CRM has 84dB sensitivity and an impedance of 8 ohms, a response that extends from 45Hz to 20kHz, and claims a "technologically far ahead" crossover.
The 2006 Grammy nominations are in, and audiophiles have much to rejoice about. In a year when far too many pundits are sounding the death knell for the CD in general and high-resolution formats in particular, there's a bumper crop of great sounding, high quality recordings vying for a listen.
I was delighted to discover that AudioPrism, originators of the infamous green pen (aka the AudioPrism CD Stoplight), is still in business. For newbies who do not know about the green pen, Collett and those who reviewed it shook skeptics to the core when they declared that painting the edge of CDs with the green pen lowered digital edge and improved data retrieval. The backlash was tremendous. Then Krell began bathing its CD tray in green light, some people found that green-tinted CD-Rs and then black discs sounded better, CD mats with green undersides made a demonstrable improvement in sound, and the skepticism was transferred to the next tweak on the horizon.
Audioquest's Joe Harley showed off a system using Ayre electronics and Vienna Acoustics speakers, whose lovely midrange and easy-on-the-ears presentation was made possible by Audioquest Sky interconnects, Meteor Flat Rock Series speaker cable, Energy 100 power cords, and the new top-of-the-line Diamond USB cable (the latter shown in the photo with Harley). All of these cables, including the USB, utilize Audioquest's DBS dielectric bias system to keep the cables at peak capability 24 hours a day. (A FireWire cable is in development).
Given that I’ve heard Audioquest’s price-busting DragonFly USB DAC ($249 and change) on other occasions, I only lingered long enough to hear a bit of Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin” and a 24/96 file of a song by Mark Knopfler. The sound was lovely and smooth. The system, which also included Vandersteen Quatro Carbon loudspeakers ($12,500/pair), Audio Research VSi75 ($7500), AudioQuest Castle Rock speaker cable and Angel interconnect, Harmonic Resolution Systems rack and shelf, and Furman PL-8 C power conditioning, didn’t have the ultimate bass control or color, but, my God, the DragonFly can be had for under $250.
Audioquest formally released their current top-of-the-line reference USB cable at CES, the Diamond USB ($650/1.5m). The cable’s conductor is solid-core, perfect-surface silver (100% silver).
A key feature of the Diamond USB, which is held in the photo by Audioquest’s Andrew Kissinger, is the Audioquest DBS (dielectric bias system). Invented and patented by Richard Vandersteen, with the cable version co-patented by Vandersteen and Audioquest’s Bill Low, the DBS creates an electrostatic field that saturates and polarizes the molecules of the insulation to minimize energy storage in the dielectric. The result is claimed to be much greater dynamic range, lower background noise, and reduced phase distortion.
Steve Silberman, VP of Marketing, explained that all insulators have capacitance. Energy from the conductor enters the insulation and needs to discharge. The DBS’ electrostatic field lowers the discharge, which in turn lowers the amount of phase distortion and makes for a cleaner signal.
In a very short demo, Silberman compared music through a stock USB cable that came with his printer to music through the Diamond. Using the new Arcam R asynchronous USB DAC, Arcam AVR 600 receiver, AQ Niagra interconnects ($1600/1m pair), AQ Redwood speaker cables ($2300/3ft pair), and Vandersteen 2Ce 30th anniversary edition speakers, the difference in transparency and color was striking.
Needing a shot of the real thing after a particularly disappointing dem from another manufacturer, I headed down the hall to hear Aurum Acoustics' total package. ($48,000 gets you the Integris CDP CD player, Integris Active 300B amplifier and speakers, Integris two-shelf Isolation Rack in matching veneers, 2m power cable, Aluminum Base kit, and Loudspeaker Grille Kit. As I said, the whole package.
Until I encountered the world premiere of the imposing Wharfedale Airedale Neo loudspeaker ($20,000/pair), I hadn't run into speakers from the 70-year old company in many a year. The wait was worth it. This wonderful-sounding speaker, which weighs over 125 lbs and can handle up to 400W power, boasts point-to-point wiring, frequency response of 25Hz45kHz, and 88dB senstivity.
Over in the Tech Center Hyatt, Mark Schifter's AV123 corralled a huge room in which to showcase their soon-to-be-shipped flagship LS9 Focus Line Source speaker ($5999/pair). Powered by gorgeous Dodd Audio KT-88 monoblocks (approx. $40,000/pairthere was no literature on hand), the brand new Ultra Fi Music Stream USB-connectable DAC ($3499) with a proprietary analogue output stage designed by Larry Moore, a Ridge Street Audio USB cable that he waxes ecstatic about, and a laptop equipped with every kind of classical music (except what I wanted to hear), the system was creating astoundingly large-scale, believable images and enveloping sound. While designer Danny Richie's proprietary woofer array was issuing tremendous bass, a touch of brittleness on the highs gave evidence of the fact that the planar-magnetic tweeters had hardly broken in. You can bet that I'll be back again on Sunday to hear how they sound with some more hours on them. What this speaker does for the price is astounding.
Beckoning like the mythical paradise for which the Coloradon company is named, the Avalon Acoustics Time loudspeakers ($47,995/pair) stood in a large suite on the 34th floor. Surrounded by a large complement of room-tuning devices that only partially controlled their low end, the beauty and clarity of the Time's diamond tweeter transmitted the beauty of Renaud Capuüon's violin as few other speakers I have heard.