I was simply delighted by this clock’s slight cheekiness and subtle beauty. Seeing it also served as a reminder of how iconic the McIntosh faceplate has become in American audio. No price determined for this timepiece.
"Modern recordings, for all their glory . . . have conditioned audiences to expect an inhuman degree of performance accuracy, comparable to what a recording studio's editing team can produce by patching together the best moments from multiple takes."—James F. Penrose, Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2008
Also on display was Bel Canto’s new headphone amplifier (shown right), a product so new it doesn’t yet have a proper model number or name. Bel Canto’s John Stronczer let me take a listen to the amp through a pair of in-ear headphones. The sound was lovely, but I couldn’t really get the cans to stay in my ears (I must have very large ear canals).
When I checked out the back of the headphone amp I noticed that it was in the signal path of the room’s big rig. The DAC3.5VBS’s outputs went into the headphone amp and the outputs of the headphone amp went to the rig’s amplifiers. I asked John, “What gives?” He told me that he has been experimenting with using the new headphone amplifier as a unity gain buffer, taking advantage of the headphone amp’s ultra-low output impedance. John said that he hears improvements in the system using this configuration and that Bel Canto is exploring new applications for this technique. No price has yet been set for this headphone amplifier.
Walking into the Jeff Rowland Design Group room is like walking into a dreamscape of audio bling. To look at a Rowland faceplate is like gazing into the face of God...well, maybe that's overstating it a bit. Whoever set up the Rowland room knows how great their gear looks and even set up floor to ceiling poles full of lights, strategically aimed to heighten their hypnotic, 3-D look.
Every audiophile is born sometime, somewhere. My audio birth happened on a family visit to my Uncle John's house, when he played Information Society's "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" through his brand-new Klipsch Heresy IIs. Uncle John did three things at this listening session that turned 12-year-old me into the audiophile I am today: he played music I liked, he played it really loud, and afterward, he took the time to explain how his system worked and why it sounded so good. His Klipsches were powered by Nelson Passinfluenced Nakamichi gearI'd never before heard speakers play music with such ease or such startling dynamics. I was immediately hooked. In many ways, nothing I've heard since that day has impressed me as much, or been as revelatory of what home audio can do. That single experience set me on a path of caring about re-creating musical performances in my own home.
One of the great things about coming to CES is getting the opportunity to hear gear that’s rarely near. I was really happy as I strolled down the 35th floor to walk into the Lamm room. I don’t have a Lamm dealer in Minneapolis so I haven’t ever had the chance to hear this lauded and expensive tube gear.
Like the Marten room, the Engström & Engström room also played the new large Coltrane 2 speakers by Marten of Sweden. This year, the Coltrane 2 speakers met The Lars Type 2 monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), which each use two 300B tubes and deliver 36Wpc.
As I wandered the halls looking for the next audio fix, a friendly voice with a thick Swedish accent called out to me. Since I'm pretty new at the magazine, I wondered who might be calling out my name let alone who might be calling out name that's from Scandinavia. It turned out it was Timo Engstrom, the maker of The Lars two-chassis, tube integrated amplifier that Art Dudley wrote about in June 2009. Somehow Timo read my badge and knew I was covering amplification at CES for Stereophilehe must have good eyes. He invited me in to have a listen to the Lars.
Every time I see a Nagra piece I get lust in my heart, Jimmy Swaggart style. I think it all goes back to the old days when I produced CDs with JA and he used his Nagra D digital tape recorder. It was a great -sounding and awesome-looking recorder. Of course these days when we record, that old Nagra has, for better or worse, been replaced with a laptop or Mac mini or something else nowhere near as sexy.
Years ago, when I taught high school choirs, I had many types of kids in my ensembles. Though none exclusively fit the overly stereotypical lineup of kids on Fox TV's Glee, I always managed to have a nice assortment of jocks, preps, goths, motorheads, geeks, wastoids, and dweebs. One of the things that always fascinated me was how the big, tough jocks would turn out to be the most sensitive, emotional singers. It was always a touching moment when an otherwise stoic football star or wrestler would get all misty while singing the final song of the year-end concert. It showed me that the toughest exteriors often hide the creamiest creampuffs.