The last time I attended CES was three years ago. Although many things have stayed the same, there were also interesting changessome of them profound. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, it seemed that almost every exhibit had to do with 3D, iPods, or tablet computers. At the Venetian, in addition to the traditional areas of speakers and amplification, it was music servers and related productsably summarized by Jon Iverson in his wrap-up. Cables were big. (More on this anon.)
It was a very crowded show. At the convention center, the scene was at times like being on a subway platform during rush hour. At the Venetian, home of high performance audio, there were long lineups for the elevatorssee photo. Although officially CES is not open to the general public, there were a lot of attendees with “Industry Affiliate” badges, and being an industry affiliate was apparently very broadly defined. This had the effect of increasing attendance, which I guess is not a bad thing, but it also meant that some of these attendees were really consumers, not industry people. One veteran speaker designer told me that some of the questions he was asked at this year’s CES were quite naïve, like “What if you played all these speakers at the same time?” He attributed this to these attendees being consumers (and not very knowledgeable ones at that).
My show report assignment was low-to-moderately-priced speakers, and I was very pleased to get this assignment, leaving John Atkinson to report on expensive speakers. As I said in one of my reviews, I’m more of a Volkswagen/Honda/Toyota than a Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin kind of guy. But CES had lots for the Ferrari/Lamborghini/Aston Martin crowd, and sometimes I was taken aback by the prices. In one case, I saw a three-way not-too-huge floorstanding speaker that I thought might be under the $10k that for me defined the top of the moderately-price range. I asked how much it cost. The answer: ninety thousand. I wasn’t sure I heard correctly. Nine thousand? No, ninety thousand. OK, this one is for JA.
More than once in my years of CES-going, it has come down to the last day of the show for me to discover an important product. That was the case this time. The product was the Triton Two, the flagship loudspeaker from GoldenEar, the new company founded by Sandy Gross and Don Givogue, who had been partners at Definitive Technology, Gross having also co-founded Polk Audio. The company is new, but it draws on a wealth of experience in the speaker business, and it shows.
There were quite a few speakers that impressed me at this show, but, taking price and sound quality into account, I have say that the Triton Two, shown here with Sandy, was my favorite. It’s a floor-standing three-way, narrow in the front (5¼”), widening in the rear (7½”), and just 48” high, making it visually unassuming. It uses an unusual driver complement, starting with what they call a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeter (a variant of the Heil AMT tweeter), two 4½” mid/bass drivers, and two 5”x9” subwoofers, each coupled with a 7”x10” passive radiator facing the side. Each subwoofers is driven by a 1200W DSP-controlled class-D amp. With all this technologyand truly full-range soundthe Triton Two costs just $2500/pair.
Have you ever had the nagging feeling that there was something that you were going to do- but you don’t remember what it was? I got that feeling when I was finishing my blog entries. There was one more such entry that I remember thinking that I must do, but what was it? There was nothing to jog my memory in the little notebook where I scribble information, and I couldn’t find any product literature that would remind me of it.
It was when I was going through the CES photo files on my computer that I ran across the photo that served as a reminder. Of courseAnthony Gallo! I visited his room in the Venetian briefly on the Press Day, when the exhibitors were still in the process of setting up. What drew me into the room was that, unlike other exhibitors that still had all their equipment in boxes, there was some music playing in Gallo’s roomand it sounded pretty nice. Anthony was hard at work, preparing loudspeaker cables for his speakers. I took his picture and promised to return later.
And I did, too, on the last day of the Show. The speakers that made their debut at the 2011 CES represent a significant change for Anthony Gallo’s approach to speaker design: instead of the spherical enclosures, the new Classico line uses traditional wooden boxes enclosures. The speakers (there are five in the line, plus a subwoofer) combine a cone midrange/bass driver with Gallo’s own Cylindrical Diaphragm Transducer (CDT). (That is, except the lowest-priced Series I, which has a dome tweeter.) The speakers also feature something called BLAST, which “reveals the true potential of the box.” (Yes, I found the product literature, which was hiding in one of the compartments in my luggage. It mentions BLAST, but doesn’t have any information on it.) The speaker that I heard initially, and that I had a chance to listen to again, was the Classico Series II ($1195/pair), the smallest speaker to use the CDT tweeter. And it still sounded pretty nice.
“Trickle-down effect” is an expression manufacturers often use to describe the application of lessons learned in developing a flagship model to the development of lower-priced products. However, according to Wendell Diller of Magnepan, in developing the new Magneplanar MG 3.7, what has taken place is a trickle-up effect. (Wendell celebrates 36 years marketing Magnepan this year!) The lessons learned in going from the MG 1.6 to the MG 1.7 were applied to the more expensive flagship MG 3.6, with what he says are results that represent at least as much of an improvement as the change from the MG 1.6 to the MG 1.7. I’ve been quite impressed with the MG 1.7 on previous occasions, and listening to the MG 3.7, driven by Bryston electronics at T.H.E. Show, made me think of the MG 1.7, except for greater bass extension and dynamics. Magnepan has kept the price at $5495$5895/pair, which must represent a bargain for a planar speaker of this performance and pedigree. Standing proudly next to the MG3.7 in JA's photo is Mark Winey, son of founder Jim, who now runs the Minnesotan company.
As a former owner of KLH Nines and original Quads, I have a fondness for electrostatics. MartinLogan has taken the hybrid approach, using electrostatic mid/tweeters and powered dynamic woofers, and this has worked well for them. The latest feature of their approach is the use of DSP equalization, used in the Ethos. This is now being applied upmarket, and the speaker incorporating this approach, now in advanced prototype form (“two or three months from being ready for production”), on demo at CES was a speaker that is expected to sell for $9000$10,000/pair. The sign said Summit X Jr., but I was told that was just an interim name. The speakers certainly sounded most promising.
“What’s new?” is the question that comes up first with established manufacturers when considering whether there’s something worthy of a blog item. In Polk Audio’s case, the answer was “Everything!” According to Polk rep, Jim Crowley, their entire home audio line has been revamped, with changes in the cabinetry, drivers, and crossovers. Perhaps the most significant change is that now, for the first time, some Polk speakers feature a midrange driver. And with all that, Polk loudspeakers continue to be reasonably priced: the pictured LSiM is a modest-by-audiophile-standards $4000/pair.
The first speaker I reviewed for Stereophile was the Alon IV by Acarian Systems, designed by Carl Marchisotto . I remember it as being a very good-sounding speaker, with outstanding bass, and the dipole midrange giving it an “open” sound. Through the years, for business reasons, the speaker brandname has changed (Nola is Alon spelled backwards), and the company is now called Accent Speaker Technology, but the speakers are still designed by Carl, and his wife, Marilyn, is the company’s wife president. Carl’s more expensive speakers still use the dipole midrange arrangement, but in the more affordable line he has turned to the more common unipolar approach, albeit with his own variations, like separate porting of bass drivers. The latest such speaker, introduced at the 2011 CES, is the Contender ($3400/pair), and it sound like. . .well. . .a real contender.
Several weeks before CES, I got an email from PS Audio, inviting me to a press conference that will be held during CES but not as part of the official CES itself. They promised to provide transportation from the Venetian to the Wynn, where PS Audio had a suite. I knew that PS Audio was very much into computer-based audio, an area that for the most part I’ve stayed away from, so I wasn’t all that interested in that part of their presentation; however, I’ve reviewed, and use in my system, PS Audio’s Power Plant Premier AC power regenerator, so I was intrigued by word that they would have information on the successor to the Power Plant Premier.
It turns out that they have two successors, both representing substantial reworking of the product while staying with the principle of “regenerating” rather than merely “conditioning” power. Alas, the “power plant” terminologywhich I’ve always thought was quite aptis gone: the two products are called PerfectWave P5 ($2999) and P10 ($4499). They differ mostly in terms of the amount of maximum current they can produce, the P5 putting out 1000VA and the P10 1200VA. The bigger unit also has more zones. Output impedance is lower than ever, and so is distortion.
Do you hate box speakers, and can’t abide planars, either? Well, a company called Everything But The Box (EBTB), based in Bulgaria, has some products that might be just what you want. Their speaker cabinets are all rounded, made of aluminum and polyester resin. (The drivers look conventional, though.) Some, like the $3000/pair Venus in the photo, are designed to hang from the ceiling via steel cables. The speakers are finished in high gloss lacquer, available in 16,000 (!) custom colors.
I was very impressed with the Monitor Audio PL200 that I reviewed last April; apparently, so were a lot of other audiophiles, but many were put off purchasing the speakers by the $8000/pair price. The new Monitor Audio Gold GX series is intended to appeal to these folks. The GX series offers most of the technology and aesthetic appeal of the Platinum, but at substantially lower prices. The GX300 is broadly similar in appearance and driver complement to the PL200, but costs an easier-on-the-wallet $5500/pair. It was making fine sounds at CES with Simaudio electronics and Simaudio digital source.