You don't need me to tell you that listening habits are changing. Although those who predict that the end of our beloved home stereo systems is near (footnote 1) have more than a little in common with those who predict the imminent destruction of humankind, there's no question that listening via computers, iPods, and headphones has become the order of the day among a large segment of younger Americans.
Named for the God of Wind, PranaFidelity's new 94 lb, Vayu/fs, two-way, quasi-linearray loudspeaker ($6950/pair), which has a claimed frequency response of 29Hz22kHz, an 8 ohm impedance, and 89.5dB sensitivity, was reproducing the exceedingly warm sound of Atma-Sphere's M-60 Mk.III.2, fully differentially balanced class-A, triode OTL monoblocks ($7200/pair) and MP-3 Mk.III.2 preamp ($5600$9000, depending upon options).
Formerly imported from Italy by May Audio, when Art Dudley reviewed their Mastersound 300 B S.E. integrated amplifier, MasterSound may be poised to re-enter the US market. Through Diapason loudspeakers, I was intrigued with the sound of the Mastersound Final Amplifier 845 monoblock, a parallel single-ended eye-catcher. Mastersound's Dueundici preamplifier was also in the system. I regret that the lateness of the hour on T.H.E Show's final day did not allow me to gather more information.
Given the lateness of the hour, I could only snap a photo of the Italian Pearl Evolution Victor Ballerina 401/8 DPG loudspeaker ($14,000/pair) and grab a brochure. Slated for U.S. distribution, the three-way D'Appolito design with 89dB "sensibility"why do so many overseas companies dispense with professionals when they translate their literature into English?boasts a bass box that is equipped with a "Dynamic Pressure Gide (D.P.G) . . . a substantial and radical innovation in loudspeakers [sic] design. The D.P.G. differs from the usual internal bracingsthat only aim at reducing box vibrationsbecause it is intended to orientate a great part of air flow toward the CremonesiVenturi port, purportedly reducing air pressure on the box walls."
DartZeel's prototype LHC-208 integrated line amplifier with double DSD DAC and full digital streaming capabilities ($TBD, due early summer) was hardly broken in, but its potential was beginning to emerge at T.H.E. Show. Thanks as well to Evolution Acoustics' MMMicroOne loudspeakers and the company's top-of-the-line cabling, I could hear into the heart of the Nash Ensemble's Red Book recording of Brahms Piano Quartet No.3 in c. No hi-res content was available, alas, given that a previous visit by an esteemed member of the press had inadvertently obliterated it. But the appetite was whet, especially by the potential of LHC-208's two clocks to eliminate jitter.
Before you lies what I expect is the most comprehensive coverage of CES 2014 "high-performance audio" exhibits available on the Web. Combined with the online coverage at our sister web publications, AudioStream, InnerFidelity, and AnalogPlanet, it gives you far more than a snapshot of the vast array of new audio equipment on active and passive display at CES 2014 and T.H.E. Show. The implied optimism that motivates so much new equipment, and so many innovations, gives signs of strength and renewal in a world where listening habits and means of music distribution are ever-changing and, in the minds of many, evolving.
Eventually, with the help of a security guard, I found the escalator to the registration table and exhibits on the Flamingo Hotel's lower level. If the lighting and drab décor were depressing, what seemed to be very low attendance was dismaying. A quick stop at the two-open "ballroom" Marketplaces, which in previous years were filled with vendors and illuminated by big, celebratory signage, gave hint of what was to come. The program book says 10 vendors, but it sure looked and felt like less.
I was hardly the only press person who waited until the last day of CES to make the trek to the Flamingo Hotel to cover T.H.E. Show, the alternative, lower-priced-than-CES location for high-performance audio exhibitors. It was easy to spot my colleagues, because, at least on Friday, the last day of the show, there were so few industry professionals and audiophile attendees vying for exhibitors' attention. The hotel's 4th floor claimed 23 exhibit rooms, not all of which I had time to visit, and at least one or two of which were locked. But attendance was so light that the place felt dead.
Tom Compagna brought his new Quintessence Acoustics flagship QLS loudspeakers ($50,000/pair, $60,000 with active subs) to T.H.E. Show. "These are true ribbons, not quasi-ribbons," he said of his SOTA line source design, which uses nine 6.5" true ribbons and nine moving-coil mid-woofers. Frequency response is stated as 39Hz41kHz, ±3dB, extending down to 19Hz with the subs. With a claimed 95dB sensitivity, the QLS can handle up to 400W continuous, 1000W peak. Connected to Tom Maker's reference monoblocks and MG Audio Design flat ribbon cables, the speaker's bass was very impressive, but midrange predominance de-emphasized the top end.
Manufactured in Sparks, NV by two families who "all have an insanity for music" and sold direct, two-year old Perla Audio's complete system was set up for extreme nearfield listening. Having entered to the assurance, "You're gonna love this," I made my way to the front, favored-by-Perla seat to hear the Perla Signature 50 integrated amplifier ($9000), PRS-2B ($8800/presumably for the pair) and PRS-2 ($7800/pair?) loudspeakers on $2250/pair stands, and Perla SB-400 subs.