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.
You can usually count on former airline pilot Darren Censullo of Fayetteville, GA to put together an exhibit that sounds as good as it looks. Impeccably displayed, although in light that barely revealed their true Tuscan leather exteriors and aluminum front baffles, the beautiful Rosso Fiorentino Sienna loudspeakers from Italy ($24,995/pair) shared the ambience with the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable ($12,995) and Analogue DFA 12.0 tonearm ($1495 with table); AMR (Abbingdon Music Research) CD-77.1 CD player ($10,995), PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995) AM-77.1 integrated amp in mono vertical biamp mode ($9995), and DP-777 DAC ($4995); AMI-HIFI HDR Mini Server Version music player ($2995), Monk Audio phono preamp ($3495), a host of Acoustic System International Resonators ($250$2850 each) and LiveLine cabling ($995$2100), as well as the company's 3-shelf equipment rack ($3500) and Top Line feet ($750/set); and Avatar Acoustics' own Mach 4 Power Distributor w/captive ASI power cord ($1995) and Afterburner 8 wall outlet ($80).
I never thought that yet another listen to Rebecca Pidgeon's "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem" would hold my attention, but, on the set-up from Avatar Acoustics' Darren Censullo, the recording sounded irresistible. I was especially seduced by the system's compelling warmth in the midrange and correctly proportioned bass. But really, everything in this room sounded really good.
Darren Censullo of Avatar Acoustics always puts on a good show, but with his wife, Bonnie, was eager at CES to introduce Canadian company Tri-Art Audio, whose founder, Steve Ginsberg, has returned to his audio roots after a detour in the artistic acrylic paints industry. Tri-Art's "The Block" 50W monoblock amplifiers (price TBD, probably around $2500$2600), "The Bam Bam" turntable and tonearm (again probably around $2600), and "The Block" 24V DC battery power supply (price TBD) include new digital chips, are voiced with natural materials, and boast a very simple single-ended signal path.