In the middle of the King's Audio room sat the omni-directional King Tower ($4500/pair). The speaker was created specifically because, according to the distributor, there was no affordable omni on the market. Paired with same substandard cabling as was the King's Audio Prince II electrostat, a $99 Philips CD player, and the mbl Noble series 4004 preamp and 8011 monoblocks, the speakers sounded quite promising. This is a speaker that needs a better source component and better cabling to fully demonstrate what it can do.
Two of my colleagues had waxed so enthusiastic about the Vienna Acoustics The Music loudspeaker ($27,000/pair), showcased in the huge Sumiko suite on the 34th floor, that I had to take a listen for myself. Sources were the Wadia 781 CD player and Project Xtension turntable ($6000) with Sumiko Palisantos Presentation cartridge ($3500), feeding an Aesthetix Calypso linestage, Aesthetix Io phono preamp, and Aesthetix Atlas amplifier. Also heard was a pair of REL G1 subwoofers ($3995 each), all connected by a mix of Transparent Audio and OCOS cabling.
One of the many delights of CES was running into Neil Sinclair, former owner of Theta Digital, in the hallways of the Venetian. In answer to my question, "What would you recommend I check out?" Neil led me to the King's Audio suite.
On the fourth floor of THE Show, Tim Ryan of Simpli-Fi was demming the Gradient Helsinki 5.1 loudspeaker ($6500/pair, down from $8000 a year ago). This weird-looking loudspeaker produces anything but weird sound. Designed to avoid reflections from the sidewalls and floor, it has 85dB sensitivity, a nominal 6 ohm impedance, and a frequency range of 200Hz20kHz.
I have heard Acapella horn loudspeakers and Einstein electronics on other occasions, but they have never sounded as glorious as they did paired together in one of the Aaudio Imports room at CES 2010. I only wish Erick Lichte and John Atkinson had been present as I played John's 2008 recording of Cantus' While You Are Alive, which Erick produced. (Erick was also Cantus' Artistic Director at the time). The sound was bighuge, in factmaximally transparent, and thanks to the Einstein electronics' euphonic presentation, absolutely luscious.
Visiting one of Aaudio Imports' rooms gave me another opportunity to hear Tidal loudspeakers from Germany. I initially encountered an extremely imposing pair of these speakers on the first day of the show, paired with BAlabo electronics and Echole cabling. Now before me was a smaller pair of the Tidal speakers, either the Contriva Diacera SE ($73,500/pair) or Piano Cera ($28,400/pair). (The equipment sheet listed both models).
I felt as though I had entered sacred space. As I walked into the huge TAD suite, designer Andrew Jones was playing Aaron Neville's recording of "Amazing Grace." Everything about the sound, the speaker layout, and the rapt silence of the full house felt like a holy shrine.
Beckoning like the mythical paradise for which the Coloradon company is named, the Avalon Acoustics Time loudspeakers ($47,995/pair) stood in a large suite on the 34th floor. Surrounded by a large complement of room-tuning devices that only partially controlled their low end, the beauty and clarity of the Time's diamond tweeter transmitted the beauty of Renaud Capuüon's violin as few other speakers I have heard.
What a relief to revisit VTL electronics, and breathe in the mellow midrange of jazz vocalist Johnny Hartmann singing on the Original Recordings Group reissue of I Just Dropped by to Say Hello. There's a beauty and timbral truth to VTL electronics that you do not hear from many tube products that cost more than the $50,000/pair Siegfried monoblocks, and far more than the wonderful VTL MB450 Signature Series II monoblocks ($15,000/pair).
Dynaudio had something for almost everyone with an exhibit that ranged from affordable to cost-no-object. At one of the room stood the imposing Consequence SE, whose bass was so powerful that it would interact with the spongy wall behind it unless the mighty Michael Manousselis braced himself against the corner. But on the other end of the long room sat a marvelous little system composed of the Contour S 1.4 ($3500/pair, with optional stands costing an additional $450), Octave V40SE 40Wpc integrated amp ($4900), and an optional capacitance Black Box ($1200) that increased the capacitance of the integrated amp's power supply. Interconnects were from Tara Labs, and speaker cables the Ocos Pro ($900/3 meter pair).