One of the things I look forward to at these shows is a visit to the Wilson Audio room, and the chance to listen to master recordings made by Peter McGrath. The system at this year's FSI, in the room sponsored by dealer Coup de Foudre, featured the WATT Puppy 8s and Watchdog subs, VTL TL-6.5 preamp and MB-450 amps, with Nordost interconnects and Transparent speaker cables. (I guess they didn't want to be accused of favoritism when it came to cable choice.) As usual, the sound was clean and dynamic, with a deep soundstage, and voices sounding very natural. Peter played a recording he had made of Renee Fleming singing Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs heartbreakingly beautiful. Luke Manley (VTL, left) and Peter McGrath (Wilson, right) are looking appropriately pleased.
Never mind all those fancy audio components; this is all you need. Well, maybe not if you're the typical Stereophile reader or FSI attendee. This RCA console stereo (model SFA 1091) is circa-1968, and I note that it's "All Transistor." It was a part of a display of vintage audio equipment at FSI from the Emile Berliner exhibit at the Montreal Musee des Ondes.
Is $140,000 the new price point for loudspeakers? No, that's not quite right—unlike the KEF Muon, the price of the GamuT S9 El Superiores is "only" $130,000/pair. Like the KEF model, this is intended to push the boundaries of what's possible in loudspeaker design, but the two speakers bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. GamuT's speakers use the principle of distributed resonance in the design of their speaker cabinets, allowing the natural resonance of each part of the cabined to decay undamped, but distributing these resonances over such a wide are that the overall frequency response remains linear, but without what designer Lars Goller's feels is the "unmusical" sound of highly damped enclosures. Here's Lars with the S9. And, yes, the speakers did sound quite wonderful.
I first heard a CD player in my own system in 1984 or 1985, several years before I began writing for Stereophile. I was curious about the Compact Disc medium—I'd read about it, had listened to CDs in stores, and was eager to hear what they sounded like in my own system. I'd even bought a CD: the original-cast recording of 42nd Street, which I already had on LP. One evening, a friend who worked for Sony and knew that I was an audiophile brought over his latest acquisition: a CDP-501ES, the second from the top of Sony's line of CD players. He also brought along a bunch of CDs, including some solo-piano discs, and Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Symphony's then-famous recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture (Telarc CD-80041).
Herman van den Dungen and Marcel Croese, the duo responsible for the Prima Luna line of tube electronics, have introduced a new line of "Good Looking and Good Sounding" solid-state equipment under the HeDo moniker. As with the Prima Luna gear, the prices are very reasonable: $1395 for the HeDo One 80Wpc integrated amplifier, $1795 for the HeDo Two $200Wpc integrated, $1245 for the HeDo Three preamp, and $1495 for the HeDo Four power amp (the power is not listed on the preliminary literature sheet; I assume it's 200Wpc or a bit more). The four components are pictured here in distributor Kevin Deal's room at the Venetian. The frog is an optional extra.
For Stereophile writers, the focus of interest at CES are the exhibits featuring high-performance audio (mostly in the Venetian). That's certainly true for me, but I have to admit to being intrigued by the many sorts of electronic gadgets and gizmos that are shown in the main exhibit halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo, so my visit to CES always excludes a brief tour of these venues. And, sometimes, in my wanderings through these halls I even find a product that is interest to audiophiles as well as gadget freaks. I found one such product at the Sands Expo: the Zoom H2 portable audio recorder.
I think it's now official: moving the high-performance audio exhibits last year from the Alexis Park to the Venetian has been a complete success. The sound in the tower rooms has been excellent, and exhibitors seem to be finding ways to tame the more problematic acoustics of the large conference rooms on the third floor. And whenever you wanted to take a break, you were only a few steps away from the fake-but-surprisingly-convincing ambience of St. Mark's Square, where it's always early evening, and you don't need an excuse to have some gelato. Ciao!
D&M Holding is the name of the company that owns Marantz, McIntosh, Boston Acoustics, and several other audio/video brands; they had a mini-exhibit of their own at the Mandalay Bay. There were some formal home-theater demos, but I didn't have time to sit through those. However, I did get a good look at the new SM-11S1 Reference Power Amplifier (110Wpc, $3999), SC-11S preamplifier ($2999), and SA-11S1 two-channel SACD/CD player ($3499) from Marantz. Gorgeous stuff. Michael Fremer has these for review.
McIntosh had what was, for a high-end specialty audio company, a huge assortment of products on display at the Mandalay Bay, including several new models. The most interesting of these for me was the MC 2301 power amplifier. With price listed only as TBD ($24k–$30k being an educated guess), the MC 2301 is a 300Wpc monoblock, and, a first for McIntosh, fully balanced. Oh, and did I mention that this is a tube amplifier, using KT88s? Talk about returning to your roots.
Hovland introduced a new preamp; in fact it was so new that it hasn't been named yet, and the price hasn't been determined ($16k–$18k range). The only thing known for sure is that it's a solid-state design, with balanced inputs and outputs, and has the blue back-lighting that Hovland is known for. It's another contender for the “Most Beautiful $18k Preamp” title.