KEF showed their $140,000/pair Muon "concept" loudspeaker in a suite at the Hilton at the 2008 CES, but my assignment for the show report blog was electronics, so I so I passed on visiting the KEF suite. Big mistake! As the show went on, I heard several of my Stereophile colleagues raving about the KEF Muon, but by that time it would have been too inconvenient to go back the Hilton. But when I heard that KEF would be demonstrating the Muon at FSI, I was sure to check them out.
After seeing $140,000 speakers, it's always good to encounter products that really are affordable by almost any standard. I expect these $250/pair Scandyna Micropod SE speakers to say "Take Me To Your Leader," and I'd like to have a pair if only because they're just so cute. No idea of the sound, but they have an impeccable pedigree, with links to the legendary B&W Nautilus.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
Conrad-Johnson Design, well-known purveyors of vacuum-tube electronics, introduced the ET2 Enhanced Triode preamplifier, featuring a single-ended triode voltage gain stage direct-coupled to a high-current output buffer. For once, this is not another $18k preamp; the price is a relatively modest $3500.
More than once, I've teased Convergent Audio Technology's Ken Stevens about calling his preamp SL-1 Ultimate. I mean, once you've got something that's the Ultimate, where can you go if it's improved—and there is no audio product that can't be improved, even if only to a minor degree. He subsequently introduced a preamp called the SL-1 Legend, but it was about double the price of the SL-1 Ultimate, and Ken said that it was sufficiently different from the SL-1 Ultimate that it could be considered a new preamp, deserving of a new name.