CES Unveiled turned out to have little of interest to Stereophile readersexcept those who are general technical geeks. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) Most of the products on display involved mobile computing, computer peripherals, etc., and the exhibits were simple table-top setups. Major CES exhibitors like Sony and Panasonic were conspicuous by their absence. Samsung just had some of their small digicams. I guess the high performance audio community decided to pass on this event, and it makes sense: what makes these products special can’t be evaluated by just looking at them.
Does spending more money on audio equipment get you better sound? Some audiophiles assume that anything that costs more must be betterand that if it's relatively inexpensive, then it can't be any good. Others hold the opposite view: expensive components can't possibly be worth their prices, and those who manufacture themand audio journalists who report on themmust be charlatans.
A few years ago, I had a phone call from a marketing organization. I was asked, as a member of the audiophile press, to participate in a survey dealing with the "images" of various brands of loudspeakers.
The lovely (as you can see) and talented (as anyone who heard her sing and play the flute at the SSI 2010 Give Band concerts can attest) Caroline St-Louis helped out at the show ticket desk. Here she is with her favorite audio magazine.
Take a dCS Scarlatti digital front end ($68,000), combine it with a pair of Nagra VPA tube amplifiers ($20,000/pair, pictured), and a pair of the new Verity Audio Amadis loudspeakers ($29,995) and you'll have a pretty good-sounding system, right?
The Stereophile Ask the Editors session at Showsin which John Atkinson (left), Art Dudley (center), Stephen Mejias, and I fielded questions from the audience at SSIin something that I enjoy a lot, and so, I know, do JA, AD, and SM. Through the years, I've learned that it's almost impossible to anticipate what the questions will deal with. And that was certainly true this time. The questions covered a wide range of topics: why are there so few active speakers on the market; why doesn't Stereophile review more vintage equipment; what system that we've heard (at the show or elsewhere) represents to us audiophile nirvana; music recorded in what format will be reproducible a thousand years from now; why is the interest in high quality audio less popular now than it was a few decades ago; has loudspeaker quality improved through the years; and many more. All thoughtful, interesting questions.
The Computer Audio 2010 seminar on Saturday was very well-attendedI barely managed to get a seat. The presentation was by Steve Silberman of Ayre Acoustics, with technical commentary by John Atkinson. Silberman took an admirably generic and non-partisan approach, barely mentioning Ayre products, and refusing to answer the question "Should I get a Mac or a PC?" I've taken a wait-and-see approach to the whole computer audio subject, and Silberman did not convince me it's time to introduce a computer into my audio system, but I must say that he did an excellent job of describing the options, and if I were to take the plunge I would certainly use the information on the Ayre web site.
Barrie, Ontario, about an hour's drive from Toronto, with a population of about 130, 000, is not a city that I associate with the design and manufacture of high performance audio equipment. It doesn't have even a single "real" audio store, just Best Buy, etc. But, as I found out at SSI 2010, Barrie is the home of McAlister Audio, maker of the OTL-195 monoblock amplifier and a prototype preamp. The designer is Peter McAlister, who produced his first prototype output-transformerless power amp ten years ago. The OTL-195 puts out 150W, and appears to be a very sophisticated design: fully balanced, able to drive 4 ohm loads, a circuit that tracks the signal level in the driver stage and modulates the control grids of output tubes, and various other circuit refinements. The OTL-195 is hand-built by Peter McAlister himself, and utilizes high-quality parts. The price is $8500/pair. As I mentioned in the blog posting below, the King Sound Prince IIs sounded great driven the McAlister OTL-195s.
As a fan of electrostaticsI used to own KLH Nines and original Quad 57sI was intrigued by the favorable reports of the King Sound Prince II full-range electrostatics in both the 2010 CES and the Axpona show reportss, and was pleased to find out King Sound listed on the list of exhibitors at SSI 2010. It was one of the few exhibits that I actually sought out rather than just allowing myself to find it in the course of walking the show floor. And I was most impressed. The soundwith electronics from McAlister, a company that I'll be writing about in a separate blog entryhad the clarity and lack of "speaker" coloration that reminded me of the KLH Nines and Quads, but the speaker seemed to be able to play louder than than these classic 'static designs. The retail price of $6500/pair seems very reasonable. I think I've found my next speaker to review. Or maybe the King II, which is just being introducedbut it may be too big for my room.