I'm familiar with how opening or closing a side entrance to a music room can affect bass loading, But when Philip O'Hanlon of A Higher Note demonstrated how opening the sliding doors behind the new Vivid B1 Decade loudspeakers ($28,000/pair) increased air and spaciousness, I was duly impressed.
Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' newly upgraded Momentum monoblocks, now called the Momentum M400 monoblocks ($65,000/pair, and shipping now), sounded fantastic in the dCS Suite in the Mirage. The photo is slightly deceptive, because this early-issue pair is housed in the slightly different, original Momentum chassis, but who cares? The mating of D'Agostino Momentum400 monoblocks with Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers, Transparent Audio Generation V cabling, HRS SXR isolation system with new Vortex isolators, Meletzsky Stromtank power supply system, and the newly upgraded dCS Vivaldi DAC system delivered the most color-saturated, full-range, impactful, emotionally satisfying and frankly wondrous sound of any room I visited at CES.
For a select group of invitees, Philip O'Hanlon hosted two performances in On a Higher Note's Mirage suite with fabled singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman ("Killing Me Softly with His Song.") Lori entered the suite to rehearse while I was listening to recorded music, and began singing unamplified while Philip and I were in the next room discussing the products on display. I had to stop talking. It is rare that I find myself in the presence of a singer whose every sound expresses the depth of her soul. What an artist. To say that I was transfixed is an understatement.
It's unfair to judge the scale of Wilson Audio's forthcoming Alexx loudspeaker ($109,000/pair) from the height of the two gentlemen flanking it, because main designer Daryl Wilson and inspiration/father Dave Wilson are ridiculously tall. But despite the fact that Alexx is 4" shorter than the older MAXX3, his 65" height means he's a foot taller than his not-so-little sister Alexia...
The company's smiling Irv Gross was happy to show me the new, shipping within 60 days Constellation Inspiration integrated 1.0 ($13,500). "This one has it all, and it's also our most affordable product," he said. "It's an Inspiration preamp combined with one half of an Inspiration amp, and it includes a headphone jack and theater throughput for easy integration in HT set-ups. It also outputs a legitimate 100 watts."
Constellation Audio's eye-catching set-upthe first time they've shown their reference system at an audio showincluded a prototype turntable with two arms that is expected to replace the Continuum Caliburn table. (Is Michael Fremer watching? You betcha.)
15001600 parts, 14 circuit boards including six input boards . . . that's just the start of what gives Pass Labs' top-of-the-line XS Phono stage ($45,000) the right to the "excess" moniker. It's a while back that Nelson Pass told veteran preamp designer Wayne Colburn (above). . .
Constellation Audio’s impressive systemCygnus Media Server/DAC ($38,000), Altair 2 preamplifier ($78,000), and Hercules 2 monoblock amplifiers ($180,000/pair), as well as MIT cabling and Shunyata power treatmentfed the MartinLogan Neolith beauties ($80,000/pair) with enough power to make deep percussion sound real in the next room.
Now this was an interesting one. Just one room over from the expensive Constellation set-up sat extreme bargain-for-the-money Audio Alchemy, designed by the same man who oversaw Constellation's engineering, Peter Madnick. But since my beat was the high-priced spread, I turned from Audio Alchemy's great-sounding gear to the TAD CE1 loudspeakers ($24,000/pair), designed by Toru Nagatani (above).
With my assignment high-priced amps, preamps, loudspeakers, and turntables, I started off by heading to the big rooms in the Venetian Tower. First up was the EsotericCabasse room, where Esoteric was showing the latest incarnations of its “2” series, the Tokyo-made C-02X stereo line-stage preamplifier and S-02 stereo amplifier ($20,000 each). In a classic case of “trickle-down engineering” (which actually works, while trickle down economics rarely does), the preamp uses the same dual-layer supercaps as in the Grandioso ($40,000). It’s a fully balanced design, with a separate volume control for each phase of each channel. The sound is claimed to be faster, lighter, and more highly resolved, with a “big open soundstage.”