The evening before the show officially opened, I snuck into the Nola room at the Venetian. There I found the Long Island company's new Concert Grand Reference speakers ($197,000/pair), driven by an Audio Research CD8 CD player, Reference 10 preamplifier, and Reference 75 amplifier, hooked up with Nordost Odin cabling. A Quantum QX4 provided the system conditioning.
Following the sale of Thiel and the departure of the Kentucky company's cofounder Kathy Gornik at the end of November 2012, the Thiel display at the Sands Convention Center was packed. It was also reassuring to see many of the company's long-term employees on hand, confirming the new CEO Bill Thomas's commitment to preserving the brand's ethos.
Every CES witnesses something out of left field. In the case of the 2013 Show, it was the ViolinSpeaker, which uses the body of a real violin to emit frequencies above 2kHz. (A conventional 6.5" woofer is concealed in the plinth.) The ViolinSpeaker is offered at two prices: $7200/pair and $3800/pair, depending on the quality of the instrument chosen. The sound? Not as bad as I was expecting, but not very good either.
Over at T.H.E. Show, Audience were demming the ClairAudient 1+1 bipolar speaker ($1800/pair), which uses two of the small full-range A3S drive-units developed by Roger Sheker, one on the front, one on the back, loaded with two passive radiators on the speaker's sides. The sound was dynamic, with surprisingly extended low frequencies.
In a large, acoustically untreated basement room at the Flamingo, KEF's "Brand Ambassador" Johann Coorg, was getting superb sound from the same orange pair of Blade speakers ($30,000/pair) that he had demmed at last October's RMAF. Again using Parasound Halo preamp and monoblock power amps, Johann was playing files from J River Media Center running in a Windows environment on his MacBook Pro, courtesy of Parallels, to feed a Parasound ZDAC. (That way, he could use the Mac's native USB2.0 driver.) Cabling was all WireWorld and AC was conditioned with a Torus transformer.
The German Voxativ Ampeggio Signature by Schimmel loudspeaker ($32,500/pair) was Stereophile's surprise Product of 2011, wresting well-balanced sound from its single drive-unit. At the 2013 T.H.E. Show, designer Inès Adler showed her Ampeggio Duo ($100,000/pair), which still uses a single full-range drive-unit, but this time field-coilenergized and with a wooden cone, said to have the same mass as a conventional paper cone but 100x stiffer. The large, wide, piano-lacquered enclosure horn-loads the rear of the cone and the speaker is claimed to have a 3dB point of 25Hz. Driven by KR amplifications, the 100dB-sensitivity Ampeggio Duos produced the kick drum on Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" with surprising weight.
Gary Koh was showing off his new Genesis Advanced Technologies 2.2 junior speaker ($80.000/pair) with a superbly natural-sounding track from Canadian chanteuse Anne Bisson. The 2.2jr combines a 48"-high midrange ribbon with 12 of the 1" circular-ribbon tweeters used in other Genesis designs and two servo-controlled 12" aluminum-cone woofers, these driven by their own 1kW amplifier. The rest of the system included Viola amplification and a Burmester phono preamplifier.
Manhattan retailer/distributor Audio Arts was showing the Zellaton Grand loudspeaker ($39,750/pair). This combines a tweeter and two 7" mid-woofers using aluminum foil-faced rigid-foam diaphragms first developed in 1935 by Emil Podszuswhich I had first seen and heard in the Pawel Ensemble minimonitors from 20 years agowith a downward-firing woofer in a cabinet that is open to the rear.
My photograph doesn't do justice to the lustrous blue finish or the immaculate interior construction, but Vandersteen's new M7-HPA power amplifier looks as gorgeous as the Vandersteen Model Seven and 5A loudspeakers with which it is intended to be used. As the HPA in its name implies, the M7-HPA provides a high-pass filtered output (>100Hz) to the upper-frequency drive-units of these two speakers, which have integral powered subwoofers. The amplifier uses a tube input stage and a two single-ended solid-state output amplifier stages operating in what Richard Vandersteen calls "push-push," all mounted with a sprung suspension and kept cool with a liquid cooling system. Price is projected to be between $30,000 and $40,000/pair.