Thiel and Bryston always share an exhibit area in the Sands Convention Center’s Bassano Ballroom, and this year's CES was no exception. James Tanner, Bryston's upbeat product manager, had gathered a terrific playlist of musical selections on a thumb-drive, which drove the company's $2195 BDP-1 digital file transport, $2195 BDA-1 DAC. Livingston Taylor's whistling on "Isn't She Lovely" opened the playlist, just as it did at the Joseph Audio suite, and many othersit was a common selection at the Venetian exhibits. Sound from the $9500 Bryston SP-3 preamp/processor ($7900), three-channel Bryston 6BSST2 amplifier, Thiel CS1.7 speaker prototype and Thiel USS SmartSub Subwoofer produced soundstage depth and imaging that was among the best, almost as good I heard at the much more expensive system in the VTL suite. Tanner walked me through Bryston's newly announced BHA-1 headphone amplifier featured in the photo ($1295), which is highly versatile, including twin XLR outputs for balanced headphones, and both XLR and ¼ jacks for conventional headphones.
Not to be outdone by the audiophile crowd, an auto sound manufacturer displayed a huge metallic woofer that dangled from a crane. (The crane could be set to lift loads between 500 lbs and 3 tons.) I thought I had seen everything, but the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center never disappoints!
Skullcandy, a manufacturer of trendy headphones, put up a huge multi-level exhibit in CES's Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall. In general, I was surprised at the large amount of exhibit area purchased at the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall by headphone manufacturers this year at the CES. It dwarfed the spaced occupied by audio manufacturers of home quality equipment, taking many times the space occupied by home audio amplifiers and loudspeakers.
Paul Stookey, now 74 years young, sounded optimistic, vibrant, and sweet, delivering a solo performance to the audiophile crowd at the Flamingo, as hosted by T.H.E. Show, Cary Audio, and PBN Audio. Somehow Paul has retained all the youthful energy and optimism that characterized his role when was a member of the Peter, Paul and Mary trio. Although I associate him more with the flower child, utopian, flower-child world of the 1960s, celebrating love, sex, freedom and occasionally drugs ("Puff the Magic Dragon"), he easily slipped into the role of audiophile troubador. Although his vocal range had narrowed with the years, his guitar accompaniment was superb.
Sumiko teamed up a pair of Sonus Faber Amati Futura floorstanding speakers watch for JA's review in the March 2012 issuewith the $4500 REL Gibraltar G1 subwoofer to produce explosive, massive, but tightly controlled bass while playing the "Chinese Drum Poem" selection from disc 3 of the Burmester Demonstration Disc series. The REL G1 is a 108 lb, closed-box, front-firing 12" driver driven by a 600W, high-current amplifier. Sumiko's John Hunter set the gain of the G1 using a small remote. The G1 subwoofer fell totally silent when the music was free of deep bass content, as it should.
I heard very detailed and rich sound in the exhibit run by Lamm Industries and by Verity Audio. The system setup included $95,995 Verity Audio Lohengrin II speakers, $37,190/pair Lamm ML2.2 single-ended, dual-chassis 18W amplifiers, a $28,000 Kronos turnable with a $5,200 Phantom II XL12 tonearm, $5500 Dynavector X1Vs cartridge, and $97,000 worth of Kubala-Sosna interconnects, speaker cables and power cords. Julien Pelchat, the Vice-President of Verity Audio, walked me through the design of the Lohengrin II speakers.
I visited Burmester's President, Dieter Burmester, in the German company's Venetian Hotel Suite. As well as high-end audio products Burmester also manufactures high-perfomance music systems for the Bugatti Veyron and Porsche sports cars. I mentioned that I saw Dieter's likeness in a sketch for an interview with him and Richard Chailly that appears in the latest Christophorus, the Porsche's owner's magazine. That led to chat about our favorite automobiles, and from there to high-end audio. Dieter hopes putting high-end audio in the Porsche Panamera and 911 automobiles will introduce high-end audio to a younger but affluent generation now focused on limited-fidelity MP3 on their iPods.
It was good to visit McIntosh Laboratory's 35th floor suite at the Venetian Hotel and spend a few minutes with Ron Cornelius, the product manager, discussing our shared experiences with the legendary McIntosh MR-78 FM tuner. Ron showed me the latest iteration of the company's MC-275 tube amplifier. Now released as version 6, 50th-Anniversary 275, priced at $6500, it reminded me that the amplifier was first shipped in 1961.
Brent Hefley, Marketing Manager of Ayre, walked me through the circuit layout of Ayre's newest amplifier, the $14,950, dual-mono, 200Wpc (8 ohms) VX-R. Based on the well-regarded and long-established MX-R monoblock and introduced at the 2011 CES, the VX-R uses Ayre's ultra-fast printed circuit board materials. Ayre is expecting great things, Brent told JA, from its recent hiring of ex-Classé and Linn engineer Alan Clark, who joins Charlie Hansen and Ariel Brown as the Colorado company's creative engine.
Luke Manley and Bea Lam of VTL were on hand as host and hostess at the VTL exhibit suite at the Venetian Hotel to present their two new stereo tube amplifiers, the $33,500, 400Wpc S400 Series II amplifier, and the $10,000, 200Wpc S200 Stereo Signature amplifier shown in the photo. Although the S400 was configured into a floorstanding tower and the S200 in the rack-mounted chassis used for their MB-450 monoblock amplifier, both new products feature VTL's latest tube technology, including fully balanced, differential input stage, VTL's SmartTube technology with automatic bias and screen supply adjustments and fault sensing, and a new user-adjustable damping factor feedback control. The feedback loop amount can be precisely set to suite the listener's taste via three-position switches located between the input tubes on the top of the chassis.