KEF, the loudspeaker company that has made sure that every audiophile on Planet Earth knows about their Blade loudspeaker, held a premier of sorts: the first showing of the KEF R900 ($5000/pair). The results were mixed. I’m a little unclear about the amplificationI was told that it was a Chord CPM 3350 integratedbut whatever it was, paired with a Chord Chordette DAC, Parasound Halo CD-1, and Wireworld cabling, I was surprised to discover that the CD player produced much smoother sound than the PC running J River Media Player.
Given the firepower and reputation of a system comprised of the Kharma Midi Exquisite Mk.II speakers, MBL 1621a/1611e digital front-end, MBL 6010D preamp, MBL 9008a power amps (total cost $184,420), plus Kharma Enigma Cables ($8000/1st meter pair), I figured I had finally entered the right room in which to risk auditioning Ivan Fischer’s new recording of Mahler’s Symphony 2, the "Resurrection" (SACD, Channel Classics). Indeed, at the start of the glorious vocal section that ends the symphony, the MBLs' euphonic signature captured the violins with wonderful delicacy. Soprano, alto, and chorus too sounded wonderful, the soprano especially radiant. Given that the system’s sweetness was delivered with an enrapturing sense of air and depth, the sound swept me away. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
The Kimber Select line is sporting three new USB cables, whose prices are yet TBD: copper (approx. $500), hybrid (approx. $1000), and full silver (approx. $1500). Shipment is projected for late January. The cables, built entirely in Utah, feature a braided design, unique proprietary shielding, and a distinct ebony head shell chosen for its inert properties. Presumably, thoughts of the lovely sounds soon to be delivered by these new cables were enough to leave Kimber's photo-shy Nate Mansfeld smiling.
Nate Mansfield, Sales Manager of Kimber Kable, happily showed off the company’s newest products, the complete line of Kimber Select KS 6000 series speaker cables ($4400$18,800/8ft pair, depending upon level and wiring). Introduced in prototype form at CES 2010, the KS series has been shipping for the last six months, and is available in either all-copper, copper-silver hybrid, or full silver configurations. Designed by Ray Kimber, the cable also features a new multi-layer braid that combines stranded and solid core conductors in the same cable. The Kimber Select KS 6000 series represents a technological evolution of the old Black Pearl 88, a highly regarded all solid-core cable which Kimber manufactured in the early 1990s.
Back in the Audio Image room, one day later, Bob Kehn was showing the King Audio The King electrostats ($8500/pair). Before I arrived, these lovely panels were paired with VAC amplification. Unfortunately, those babies didn't have enough juice for the Kings. Upon the urging of Bob Walters, coordinator of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, the VACs that sounded so good on the Magico V-2 were traded for Aesthetix's Atlas Hybrid amp ($8000) and Janus Signature preamp/phono ($10,000).
In the middle of the King's Audio room sat the omni-directional King Tower ($4500/pair). The speaker was created specifically because, according to the distributor, there was no affordable omni on the market. Paired with same substandard cabling as was the King's Audio Prince II electrostat, a $99 Philips CD player, and the mbl Noble series 4004 preamp and 8011 monoblocks, the speakers sounded quite promising. This is a speaker that needs a better source component and better cabling to fully demonstrate what it can do.
One of the many delights of CES was running into Neil Sinclair, former owner of Theta Digital, in the hallways of the Venetian. In answer to my question, "What would you recommend I check out?" Neil led me to the King's Audio suite.
Through the excellent Kingsound KingIII electrostats ($14,995/pair), Hegel H30 350Wpc amplifier ($15,000), Purity Audio Design new Reference class-A balanced linestage preamplifier ($10,995), Purity Audio Design Harmonia 300B tube buffer ($5500), M2Tech's new Young DSD/DCD DAC ($1699), Trigon CD II ($4250), and Dana Cables, music sounded very smooth but somewhat damped on top. A tenor sax sounded especially warm and inviting.
Ever since encountering KingSound electrostatic loudspeakers at an audio show several years ago, I’ve looked forward to seeing how their line would develop. This time around, KingSound was showing its King III Full Range ESL ($12,000/pair). Driven by Bob Carver Cherry tube monoblock amplifiers ($7400/pair), Purity Audio Design Statement 2 preamplifier (approx. $12,500), and an AMR CD777 ($12,000), all hooked together by Kaplan Cables from John Atkinson’s adopted hometown of Brooklyn, the system was a joy to listen to on Chet Atkins’ recording of “Mr. Sandman.”