Scottish manufacturer Tannoy was showing the Carbon Black version of the Kingdom Royal speaker ($85,000/pair), which adds carbon-fiber trim panels, individually machined metal components, and a “specially formulated” paint on the cabinet surfaces. The speaker combines a 12” Dual-Concentric driver with a supertweeter and a 15”, vented woofer with a corrugated surround for maximum linearity. The Kingdom Royal looked elegant indeed, and driven by Cary single-ended power amplifiers with Cary’s new streamer as source, the full-range, wide-dynamic-range sound was equally elegant.
The Belgian Venture company introduced its Vidi speaker at CES. Costing $30,000/pair, the floorstanding, three-way Vidi speaker combines two 4" midrange units with a 1" tweeter and two 7" woofers, these mounted on the speaker’s sidewalls. All the drive-units use AGC (Abaca Graphite Composite) diaphragms. The crossover operates with first-order slopes at 250Hz and 3kHz and the speaker is specified as having a frequency range of 30Hz to 40kHz. Used fullrange but with an AW500 subwoofer also operating below 70Hz, the beautifully gloss-finished Vidis did a creditable job with the the live Bootleg Series recording of Bob Dylan’s "Desolation Row," played back from a laptop running the XX HighEnd software feeding digital data to a Weiss Medusa DAC. The opening up of the soundstage as the initially mono recording, made with a Nagra tape recorder, was spliced to the stereo backup tape when the Nagra ran out of tape, was delicious.
Shown in Tom Norton’s photo are the Platinum versions of Dynaudio’s Confidence C2 floorstander ($15,000, left) and C1 stand-mount (middle)loudspeakers in the new Platinum trim, which I had seen and heard at 2013 shows. But I was more interested in the news that the Excite 12 loudspeaker, which has been a reference for Bob Reina since he reviewed it in March 2010, has been replaced by the Excite X14 ($1500/pair). My photo wasn’t usable, unfortunately, but I auditioned the X14s in a system comprising the Octave V40 SE 45Wpc, tube integrated amplifier ($5300), T+A DAC S8 ($3250), with Amarra running on a MacBook, Dynaudio Stand 3X stands ($350/pair), and in-akustik Reference interconnects and speaker cables, and was impressed by what I heard.
Like Stephen Mejias at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I have been impressed by the German Zellaton speakers when I have heard them, both at shows, and at a dealer event I attended in 2012 at Fidelis Audio in New Hampshire. With foil-covered drive-units, a crossover from Duelund Coherent Audio, and driven by Trinity balanced phono and line preamps and 200Wpc CH M1 amplification from Switzerland, the three-way Reference speakers sounded forceful and detailed.
"One touch," that’s all it takes for you to enjoy your music, said B&O CEO Teo Mantoni, introducing the Danish company’s BeoSound Essence music-streaming system to the press at CES, and compared that one-touch solution to the current compendium of 10 swipes and presses that you need to playback a Spotify playlist from your smartphone. Mr. Mantoni is holding the elegant Essence Remote in his hand; a ring around the small aluminum puck controls volume and play/pause, forward and backward buttons are embedded on the top. The circular puck is available as wall-mount and desktop versions, and a remote box both connects to the playback system and is the center for AirPlay streaming, DLNA streaming, Spotify Connect, QPlay and Internet radio stations.
I’ve had a couple of conversations the past couple of years with mastering engineer Dave Collins about the D/A processor he was designing for Manley Labs, the company run by his wife EveAnna Manley. The 2014 CES saw the consumer debut of the Heart Monitor Controller 24/192 DSP ΔΣ [Delta-Sigma] DAC, which was being demmed in a system featuring Manley’s 25th Anniversary monoblocks, which use KT120 tubes. There are four digital inputs and Dave has kept the fully differential signal path as short as possible. Silicon includes a SHARC DSP and AD1955 DAC chips and harmonic distortion has been kept to a superbly low 120dB, and even that is the subjectively benign second. Price has yet to be decided.
Jon Iverson already reported on the Antelope DAC, but as I have just favorably reviewed their SCM 7 v.3 minimonitor for the forthcoming April issue of Stereophile, I was more interested in the active ATC SCM100SL Towers in the room. This speaker combines ATC's proprietary soft-dome midrange driver with a 1" tweeter and 12" woofer, tri-amped by ATC's Anniversary amplification. With a laptop running JRiver Media Center feeding data to the Antelope Zodiac-Platinum DAC with its Voltikus power supply, the 24/96 transfer of Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters" was reproduced with tight, well-controlled low frequencies.
Jon Iverson reports elsewhere on Light Harmonic's cost-no-object Sire DAC. But the bigger buzz at the 2014 CES was the LH Labs Geek Pulse, a desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. Except that this product does not yet exist!
The CES is traditionally where we give awardees their well-deserved Products of the Year awards. Here is the complete line-up for 2013, waiting in the Stereophile room at the Venetian, just before the show started on Tuesday January 7.
Whereas the Pass Labs preamplifiers are designed by Wayne Colburn, the power amplifiers are the work of company founder and high-end audio veteran Nelson Pass, who even lays out his own circuit boards. The X-model amplifiers, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetry topology (see "Nelson Pass on the Patents of Pass"). The XA series, which debuted in 2002, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series. The XA.5 models offer detail improvements over the XAs.