Scottish manufacturer Tannoy was showing the Carbon Black version of the Kingdom Royal speaker ($85,000/pair), which adds carbon-fiber trim panels, individually machined metal components, and a “specially formulated” paint on the cabinet surfaces. The speaker combines a 12” Dual-Concentric driver with a supertweeter and a 15”, vented woofer with a corrugated surround for maximum linearity. The Kingdom Royal looked elegant indeed, and driven by Cary single-ended power amplifiers with Cary’s new streamer as source, the full-range, wide-dynamic-range sound was equally elegant.
The Polar Vortex weather and its associated flight cancellations prevented Convergent Audio Technology’s Ken Stevens from reaching Las Vegas until the third day of the show. However, once he arrived, he set up a system featuring Vandersteen 5A Carbon speakers, connected by Stealth cables to his new JL5 Triode "Baby CAT" stereo power amplifier. This 100Wpc (8 ohms) amplifier costs $12,000 with amorphous core transformers and Black Gate capacitors, $10,000 with silicon-steel transformers. The circuit features what Ken calls "OptiBias"Ken describes this as "somewhere between constant current and constant power"which keeps the bias current of the output-stage KT120 tubes independent of fluctuations in the AC supply voltage. Those who feel tube amplifiers can’t rock hard in the bass should have experienced the Led Zeppelin track I auditioned in Ken’s room.
Back in the bad old pioneer days of high fidelity, the 1960s and early 1970s, amplifier manufacturers embarked on a specifications war, claiming ever lower percentages of total harmonic distortion. But, as J. Gordon Holt presciently pointed out in the 1960s, without reference to the spectrum of the distortion harmonics, the actual percentage was not in itself a reliable indicator of an amplifier's sound quality. And as those early low-THD models had distortion spectra that were heavily biased toward the sonically objectionable fifth, seventh, and ninth harmonics, and suffered from other related ills, they tended to sound quite nasty.
The analog front end in the E.A.R. USA room was the Townshend Rock 7 turntable ($3200), with its unique system for applying damping where it is most needed, at the cartridge end of the arm rather than the pivot, fitted with the Helios Omega arm ($2800) and a Dynavector XV1S cartridge. Phono preamp was the E.A.R. 324 that both Art Dudley and Mikey Fremer have enthused over in the pages of Stereophile.
As well as providing the sound for the seminar room, which was where a recorded music concert, titled "Euphoria at the Waldorf," was presented Friday and Saturday evenings, The Tweak Studio's exhibit room also featured components from the premium German manufacturer Burmester: a pair of 380 Mk.2 speakers driven by a 911 power amplifier and an 088 preamp. Source was a Walker turntable and arm fitted with a Soundsmith Sussuro Hyperion cartridge. There was much to admire in this system's reproduction of Louis Armstrong singing "St. James Infirmary," but as was the case with so many of the rooms at the Waldorf, the presentation was marred by over-ripe room acoustics.
Chicago retailer Tweak Studio has been a fixture at the 2013 shows, and proprietor Arnold Martinez was demming a system featuring Elac 249 Black Edition speakers ($8000/pair) driven by a Burmester 911 amplifier ($31,000), Esoteric C-03X preamplifier, Burmester A/D phono preamplifier ($26,500), and Music Hall MMF-11 turntable fitted with a Goldring Legacy cartridge ($600). Wiring was all WireWorld Platinum series and the racks was a Stillpoints. The L-shaped lobby-level room had problematic acoustics, which Martinez had addressed by firing the Elac speakers, with their AMT tweeter and distinctive faceted lower-frequency drivers, across a diagonal, A dub version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain,” played from LP, was musically convincing.
Revel main man Kevin Voecks demmed the new four-way Ultima Salon2, previewed yesterday by Wes Phillips, for the Stereophile scribes. It was worth the wait. With all-Mark Levinson electronics, the dem program ranged over many music types, culminating in Little Feat’s “Long Distance Love,” whose awesomely deep low frequencies didn’t faze the speaker’s triple 8” titanium-cone woofers with their edge-wound rubbon voice-coils. Price will be $22k/pair, with availability in early spring ’07.
Because of the restrictions placed on merchandise sales at CES, the usual Acoustic Sounds booth, stocking much-in-demand LPs, SACDs, and CDs, was nowhere to be found. But the Kansas company still had a display room showing the hardware lines it distributes, including Thorens, Sutherland, and Stirling. But founder Chad Kassem was most proud of the new Analogue Productions LP: the Ultimate Analogue Test LP. Produced by Clark Williams and Barry Wolfson, with input from George Marino and others, cut at Sterling Sound, and pressed on 180gm vinyl by RTI, the Test LP has a selection of tracks to enable the LP lover to optimally set up his system.
Mikey had brought along to the JBL Everest demo CD-Rs burned with dubs of his favorite LPs played on his Continuum Caliburn turntable. We listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell, and John Lennon, but it was when Mikey asked Greg to play track one on the second CD-R that the listeners visibly relaxed and the room filled up with good vibes.
On passive display in the room adjoining their demonstration room was a single Magico Ultimate v.3 horn speaker, shown here with Magico's Alon Wolf for scale. A five-way design costing a mind-boggling $600,000/system, the speaker’s higher-frequency horns feature a Tractrix flare, the lower-midrange horn a trapezoidal flare, all of which blend smoothly into the baffle. A 15" sealed-box woofer handles frequencies below 125Hz.