The latest version of the VK-655SE monoblock amplifiers ($33,000/pair) from BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) may have been out for awhile, but CES marked their first appearance at any show. A dual-mono design available in both stereo and monoblock configurations, the amp exuded beautiful tube-like warmth (without the use of tubes) on a recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6, with TAD loudspeakers.
As with Wilson Audio, Magico presented its latest S5 Mk.II loudspeaker ($38,000/pair in M-Cast finish, $42,750/pair in M-Coat finish) in static display. The only element of the original S5 design retained in the Mk.II is the identical extruded aluminum cabinet. All drivers, distilled from the research that culminated in the S7 loudspeaker, are new. The tweeter is a 1" MB7 beryllium dome, and the midrange unit a 6" Graphene NanoTec carbon. This midrange is claimed to have a stronger molecular structure than standard carbon, but is 20% lighter and 30% stiffer than its predecessor.
I find it hard to believe, but only in the last 5 or 10 years did the museum in Cremona, Italy, where famed violinmaker Antonio Stradivari was born in 1644, receive the first violin that Stradivari ever made. To honor the occasion, Sonus Faber loudspeakers has issued Il Cremonese ($45,000/pair), whose price is far lower than that violin. An extension of Sonus Faber's Cremona and Stradivarius series, Il Cremonese incorporates technology from the company's higher-level models. Paolo Tezzon custom-designed all drivers to achieve greater accuracy and coherency.
Stunning to behold, eh? Cast your eyes on the US debut of Aries Cerat's new line of equipment from Cyprus, imported by Joshua Masongsong of Texas-based Believe High Fidelity. In the middle of crazy, crazy Las Vegas, I felt as though I was immersed in a nice warm bath as I listened to Aries Cerat's Symphonia Aries Limited Edition 3-way horn loudspeakers ($125,000/pair gets you 101dB sensitivity and only one of five pairs in existence), Concero 65 SET class-A monoblocks ($35,000/pair), Impera Signature Edition Mk.II preamp ($82,500), and Kassandra Reference Mk II PCM DAC ($35,000).
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...
Luxman's L-590 integrated amplifier features amplifier circuitry with Darlington-connected devices and the company's proprietary distortion-reducing ODNF (Only Distortion Negative Feedback), which isolates noise and distortion at the output of the music signal, and uses only a touch of negative feedback to suppress them.
While I left coverage of the newly upgraded dCS Vivaldi stack and the recently released Rossini player (which John Atkinson will review) for Jon Iverson's time in the dCS suite with Graham Nash, I will note that its new filters and upgraded Ring DAC software algorithm (which includes the ability of the original dCS mapper to run at two different speeds), together with advanced word-clock management and signal processing, produce a readily noticeable improvement in sound.
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.