Zu Audio's room was like no other. While the "normal" set-up has components facing attendees and carefully stacked on equipment racks, Zu more or less duplicated the DJ experience. Spinning vinyl as if in a cage, and very happy to be there, I might add, sat Zu owner Sean Casey's delightfully high-spirited son, Ian.
Cole Porter: An All-Star Tribute (DVD, VAI) includes outtakes of the great Ethel Merman filming for TV, in 1960, a performance of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." In take after take, something goes wrong. Each time the director shouts "Cut!," Merman stops in her tracks, almost as if deflating; when the director yells "Action!" she starts from the top, fresh as new, the model showbiz professional.
Theta Digital is at last showing the Compli-Blu universal player ($2995), which begins shipping the week after the Show. The successor to the old Compli universal player and Carmen II digital transport, the Compli-Blu can be used either as a digital transport (which is how I intend to use it with my Theta Gen. VIII Series 2 DAC/preamp), or as a stand-alone multi-format player.
Theta Digital, the pioneer of digital separates, announces the mighty Prometheus monoblocks ($12,000/pair). Heard in pre-production mode, with bass so strong and tight that it sent me into the hallway to discuss the product, the 200Wpc into 8 ohms monoblock is due out "within 90 days" (to quote a mantra oft-repeated at CES 2013).
The Thiel CS 3.7 loudspeakers ($12,900/pair) were making bright and incisive sound with PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium monoblock amplifiers ($4395/pair), DiaLogue 3 preamplifier ($2700), and ProLogue CD player ($3000); PS Audio Perfect Wave II DAC with Bridge/NAS server ($4795) and P10 Power Regenerator ($4495); and Analysis Plus Oval speaker cable ($500/pair).
Thiel Audio had the benefit of several side-by-side rooms at the Venetian, one of which was reserved for listening with the door closed. Isolated from the noise of surrounding rooms, Thiel’s long-awaited CS3.7 speaker ($9900/pair in standard finishes when it’s finally released), and now actually boasting a grille, played an intriguing combination of two-channel and multi-channel music using Bryston electronics and Synergistic Research cabling.
Much of Keith O. Johnson's invaluable presentation consisted of a series of graphs that demonstrated everything from jitter to the noise created by certain power cables. One of his many messages was, if folks think there are no differences between cables, I have the graphs to show otherwise. He also exhibited graphs that show how the quality of manufacture of CDs makes a huge difference in the ultimate analog signal. Want to see what a bad DAC or amplifier does, and compare it with a state-of-the-art unit? Keith can show you. Pictured is a tone-cluster wave he developed as a diagnostic tool that resembles music.
One of my fondest memories of a past CES was sitting with John Atkinson at T.H.E. Show, playing a track from one of his superb recordings of Cantus on an all-out darTZeel /Evolution Acoustics system from Jonathan Tinn's Blue Light Audio. Here, on more modest speakers and electronics, I was again blown away, this time by the fabulous soundstage height, three-dimensionality, and realistic depiction of horns and cymbals on Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Mahler's Symphony 3.
Visiting one of Aaudio Imports' rooms gave me another opportunity to hear Tidal loudspeakers from Germany. I initially encountered an extremely imposing pair of these speakers on the first day of the show, paired with BAlabo electronics and Echole cabling. Now before me was a smaller pair of the Tidal speakers, either the Contriva Diacera SE ($73,500/pair) or Piano Cera ($28,400/pair). (The equipment sheet listed both models).
Some of my happiest sonic experiences at RMAF arrived in the last two rooms I visited: the Tidal Audio/Argento Audio Cables/dCS showcase put together by Doug White of The Voice That Is (Newton Square, PA), and the Simon Yorke/CAT/Synergistic/Lansche exhibit assembled by Tim Nguyen of Tone of Music (San Francisco, CA).