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.
I’m happy that Simplifi Audio’s Tim G. Ryan introduced me to a new speaker manufacturer, Klangwerk of Zurich, because I really liked the sound of Klangwerk’s fully active, mastering grade Ella loudspeaker ($15,000/pair). Not only did the Ellas produce a very wide and tall soundstage, but they also descended to 35Hz (albeit 6dB). Paired with a Weiss MAN 301 network player, DNM Design speaker cables with HFT ends, and optional DSPeaker automatic room correctionclaimed to fix any stereo system in 5 minutesthe Klangwerk Ellas yielded lovely, smooth, and most enjoyable sound on an excerpt from Reference Recordings’ disc of The Tempest.
First, today's language lesson: lampa = vacuum tube (or a valve) in Polish. Hence the name LampizatOr for the young Polish company whose GM70 SET 22W tube monoblock integrated amplifiers ($8000/pair) are point-to-point wired in Poland, and whose motivating force, Lukasz Fikus, seems intent on causing quite a stir on audio forums with statements such as, "I DECLARE universal war against high-end equipment manufacturers: CD player, amplifier, cables, speakersNO MORE CRAP."
John Larsen was on hand to show off his eye-catching Swedish-made Larsen 8 loudspeakers with SD feet ($6995/pair), which are distributed by Audio Skies. Meant to be placed against the wall for full control and bass response, they can descend to 23 or 24Hz, and ascend 20kHz. "They're designed to play with the room, not against the room," Larsen explained of a design that claims to eliminate distortion-creating first reflections. The angle of the tweeter also creates a wide soundstage that was given a run for its money on Telarc's recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
It's a l o n g story, but Fritz Speakers ended up at T.H.E. Show as a replacement for a company that couldn't make it. In tow were the Fritz Speakers S/R loudspeakers ($3500/pair), which combine a Scanspeak Illuminator tweeter and a 5" paper-cone driver. Bringing up the rear, as it were, were a VPI Traveler, modified Oppo, DEQX preamp, PTE phonostage, Wells Audio Innamorata amplifier, and WyWires cabling. On an LP by Tracy Chapman, I heard fine soundstaging, lovely bass, and a little ringing around the edges. The bright edge remained when we switched to CD.
When I entered the Daniel Hertz room, close to a full house was sitting at attention as someone was giving a spiel about room correction. As I wrote in my notes, "I don't know what's going on, but the choir is overloading and the sound is too warm." Said person, whom I only later learned, after I left the room, was Mark Levinson, then announced that he wanted to show off the system's dynamic range. "Any sound known to man this system can reproduce," or something very close to that, he declared as he proceeded to play sounds created by Norah Jones.
Having heard a prototype of Zesto Audio's brand new BIA 120 class-A stereo power amp ($12,500), I was delighted to discover it looking and sounding extremely attractive in a system that included TAD Evolution One loudspeakers, a Zesto Andros PS1 phono stage, Merrill Williams audio REAL 101 turntable w. Tri-Planar U2 tonearm and Dynavector XV-1s cartridge, and a full complement of WyWires cabling. On Illinois Jacquet's album, God Bless My Solo, I noticed that the really nice, warm sound was a little bright on top, and that images seemed rather small for the speakers and room.
ATI (Amplifier Technologies, Inc.) of Montebello, CA, who also owns Theta Digital, were blowing minds with the nine channels of bass produced by the combination of their American Muscle AT6002 Morris Kessler Signature Limited Edition Stereo Signature Amplifier ($3995), which outputs 300Wpc into 8 ohms and is available in 2- through 7-channel versions; the finally released and revised Theta Prometheus monoblock amplifiers ($12,000/pair); the well-known, upgraded Theta Casablanca IV; and California Audio Technology loudspeakers.