What would FSI be without snow? The organizers probably thought that scheduling the show for the middle of April would be pretty safe, but Mother Nature had other ideas, and on the first day, open to the trade and press only, there was enough snow falling to make you think that this was the middle of February. Never mind. The temperature is supposed to rise tomorrow, but, in any case, those who have the "passion" are not about to be deterred by a bit of inclement weather.
If attendees were asked to rank order their interests in "electronics, music, home theater, and gaming," I have a feeling that music would be ranked first. (And gaming almost certainly last.) Although, unlike the Primedia Home Entertainment shows, FSI does not have daily live music as one of the attractions, it had an exhibit by a store selling musical instruments, the well-established Archambault. (They also had, in addition to instruments and sheet music, CDs and DVD, including a good selection of HD-DVDs at very attractive prices.)
KEF is one of the show's sponsors, and had several systems on demo, including a particularly impressive-sounding one featuring the $11k (unless otherwise specified, prices are US$, speaker prices are per pair) 205 Reference, with Chord Electronics digital source (Blu/Dac, $21k) and electronics (CPA 5000 preamp, $24k; SPM 6000 monoblock amps, $53k/pair).
In the same room as the large KEF system, there was a nifty mini-system for iPod users. The heart of the system is the new Fatman iTube iPod tube hybrid integrated amp ($649, including special stand for an iPod, and a second set of inputs for a CD player). Although rated at only 13Wpc, it had no trouble driving a pair of KEF IQ1s ($350). It's pictured here with Jay Rein of Bluebird Music, the North American importer.
Eli and Ofra Gershman of Gershman Acoustics have been exhibitors at just about every audio/home theater show that I've been to in the last few years. They always manage to have good sound, but it's been a while since they've had a new product. They had one this time: the Sonogram ($2500, shown in photo) has a conventional box shape that's unlike their exotic-looking Black Swan, Gap 828, and Avant Garde models. However, I'm told that while the outside appears conventional, appearances can be deceiving, in that the internal structure resembles the pyramid shape that characterizes their higher-priced models. I quite enjoyed the sound of the Sonograms, driven by Linar amplifier and Simaudio CD player.
It must be difficult for makers of audio equipment to decide how to best exhibit their products at events such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show. If you're doing a demo, you want it to impress audio journalists and potential dealers, and sometimes just playing music is not enough: you need something extra. A few years ago, Joseph Audio put on a demo, supposedly of their top-of-the-line floorstanding speaker, during which Jeff Joseph removed a cloth that had been draped over what was assumed to be hotel-room furniture. Under that cloth were the speakers that were actually playing: Joseph's new in-wall model, mounted on flat baffles. Wilson Audio Specialties demonstrated their speakers with purportedly ultra-high-end electronics and digital source, then revealed that they were actually using a modestly priced preamp and power amp, and that the source was an Apple iPod.
Ultra Systems' Robert Stein cornered me—in the nicest way possible—at the Stereophile/Home Theater party Wednesday night, telling me that he had a great new acoustical damping product that I should check out in his booth. I was going to give this one a pass until he mentioned that it's small, easy-to-install, and inexpensive.
I’m not fond of using earplugs, so I haven’t really investigated listening to music with in-the-ear-canal type earphones. However, I've read reports from the likes of Wes Phillips and John Atkinson, extolling the virtues of these type of earphones, so when I saw the sign at the Shure booth that they had some new models in this series, I thought I'd give them a listen. The ones I tried were the top-of-the-line SE530 ($449.99), which are described as "triple TruAcoustic microspeakers," with a separate tweeter and two woofers. I listened to "Nessun Dorma" sung by Pavarotti—the source was an iPod—and was quite blown away with the effortless ease and natural quality of the sound. Maybe there is something to earphone listening after all...
Press conferences can sometimes be tedious affairs, with the presenter going on-and-on about his company's past accomplishments, and how even greater things are coming in the future. But this description did not apply to the press conference for Usher Audio Technology at this year’s CES. This was more like an informal party for friends than the prototypical press conference. People stood around and chatted for a while, and then Atul Kanagat of MusikMatters, Usher’s North American distributor, talked briefly about how Usher’s line of high-value/high-performance loudspeakers is intended to bring more music lovers into the hobby. We then listened to some music through some very-nice-sounding Usher speakers. Pictured are PR consultant Jonathan Scull (whose name should be familiar to Stereophile readers, Usher chief engineer Joe D’Appolito (whose name should be familiar to students of speaker design), Tsai Lien-Shui (President of Usher), and Atul Kanagat.