“A kiss back to Sony,” was how Nelson Pass described the debut of a unique pair of Pass Labs monoblocks driving Sony’s SS-AR1 speakers in the Sony room at Venetian. And it was an affectionate kiss indeedthe sound in this room, with a Pass Labs XP-20 preamplifier and Sony’s HA-P1ZES media player, I thought one of the best of the 2014 CES. Yes, it had superb clarity and dynamics, with an impossibly low noisefloor on the 24/176.4k Reference Recordings file of Stravinsky’s Firebird, but these qualities were even apparent on a Red Book file of a Rossini opera excerpt. There was something just right about the sound.
No, the Model 7 is not new. In fact, the pair Richard Vandersteen was demming at the 2014 CES were the same pair Michael Fremer reviewed for this magazine in March 2010. And the amplification wasn’t new: the M7-HPA monoblocks were shown in prototype form at the 2013 CES and the only news was that they are now in production at the same price as the speakers, $52,000/pair including proprietary DBS solid-silver cables, to give a system price of $104,000. But with an LP of Diana Krall singing Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, so powerfully physical was the presence of the singer in the room.
Laurence “Dic” Dickie (above) showed me his new G4 speaker design in the On A Higher Note suite at the Mirage, which will enter production in April. To be priced at $33,000/pair, the G4 features the same absorptive lines behind the tweeters and midrange drivers and the hybrid vented transmission line loading for the twin woofers first seen in the Giya G1. The upper and lower aluminum-dome HF units are the same as in all the Giya models, but because of the G4’s narrower width compared with the others, Dic had to design a new midrange unit. This again uses an aluminum cone and the same-sized radial magnet, but now there is an oversized dustcap to provide stiffening of the diaphragm midway between voice-coil and surround.
On passive display in the room adjoining their demonstration room was a single Magico Ultimate v.3 horn speaker, shown here with Magico's Alon Wolf for scale. A five-way design costing a mind-boggling $600,000/system, the speaker’s higher-frequency horns feature a Tractrix flare, the lower-midrange horn a trapezoidal flare, all of which blend smoothly into the baffle. A 15" sealed-box woofer handles frequencies below 125Hz.
I can’t believe it was five years ago that I first heard the Wilson Sasha W/P speaker at a CES. Funnily enough, it was in the same suite at the Mirage so when I first entered this year I didn’t notice anything new. But then I realized that the speaker on the right in my photo was the same size as the Sashaokay, it’s ½” taller than the original Sasha, shown on the leftbut now resembles the larger Alexia that I reviewed in December, though the tweeter is now mounted in the same enclosure as the midrange unit. The Mk.2 Sasha costs $29,900/pair compared with the Mk.1's $27,900/pair.
Daft Punk's "Within" was playing when I entered Magico's suite at the Venetian. The sound produced by the pair of the new S3s ($22,600/pair) was large and dynamic, with rich low frequencies. A solo version of "God Bless the Child" followed, and Gregory Porter's baritone was uncolored, with a well-defined, palpable image hanging between the loudspeakers. Finally, the bass drum on Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man pressurized the large room with low frequencies, all this from a a pair of speakers, each with two 8" woofers in a sealed enclosure powered by 100Wpc of amplification, with source an Aurender server feeding data to a dCS Vivaldi DAC and a Vitus preamp.
Though English manufacturer Naim Audio has had some very affordable products in their line, like the original Nait integrated amplifier from the mid-1980s, their reputation for sound quality was established with relatively expensive models. But nothing in the company’s history prepared me for the Naim Statement six-piece preamplifier/twin monoblock system (center in photo) that made its debut at CES. To be available in July, the Statement, which comprises the NAC S1 line preamplifier and two NAP S1 power amplifiers, will be priced at $200,000 and is specified as delivering one horsepower (740W) into 8 ohms! Its weight matches its power: the preamp weighs 135 lbs and the power amplifiers each weigh 222 lbs.
I am sure that contributing to the superbly neutral, well-balanced, uncolored, full-range sound in this room was the acoustic treatment from Swedish company SMT, which provided a combination of absorbers and diffusors. And dig the treatment applied to the ceiling by SMT, with different-radius sphere segments. Other exhibitors could take lessons from Martin and its US distributor Dan Meinwald.
Having gotten used to John DeVore showing off his high-sensitivity Orangutan O/96 and O/93 speakers at recent shows, both of which have been very favorably received by Stereophile’s reviewers, driven by low-power Shindo and Line Magnetic amplification, I was somewhat surprised to see the new and more conventional Gibbon X towers driven by a high-powered VTL S-200 Signature amplifier in Triode mode via Auditorium cabling in his suite at the Venetian. The new Gibbon is projected to sell for $12,000/pair and features all-new drive-units: a ¾” tweeter asymmetrically mounted beneath a paper-cone midrange unit based on that first used in the DeVore Silverback, which features what John calls an adaptive surround, and two long-throw 7” woofers.