Alvin Lloyd has just introduced the handsome new Grand Prix Audio Monaco V2.0 turntable (price somewhere between $35,000 and $38,000). Set to ship in February, the turntable offers multiple advancements that can be added to existing Monaco models. "The plinth is the same, but virtually everything else is new," Alvin explained. "You can even request a platter color to match your speakers." In this case, the color of your hat or gloves really can match your shoes or, to honor the speaker analogy, your lipstick, should you so indulge.
With an older Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5 turntable ($23,500) outfitted with a Tri-Planar Ultimate 12" tonearm ($9800) and PC-1S cartridge ($8500) as source, Japanese manufactured Zanden Audio Systems electronics, cables, and room treatment allied with Canadian sourced Verity Audio Sarastro IIS 3-way loudspeakers in custom finish ($55,195/pair) to produce great soundstaging on a Bach LP. Equally wining was the enticing sound on an LP from Ray Brown.
Stunning to behold, eh? Cast your eyes on the US debut of Aries Cerat's new line of equipment from Cyprus, imported by Joshua Masongsong of Texas-based Believe High Fidelity. In the middle of crazy, crazy Las Vegas, I felt as though I was immersed in a nice warm bath as I listened to Aries Cerat's Symphonia Aries Limited Edition 3-way horn loudspeakers ($125,000/pair gets you 101dB sensitivity and only one of five pairs in existence), Concero 65 SET class-A monoblocks ($35,000/pair), Impera Signature Edition Mk.II preamp ($82,500), and Kassandra Reference Mk II PCM DAC ($35,000).
The latest version of the VK-655SE monoblock amplifiers ($33,000/pair) from BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) may have been out for awhile, but CES marked their first appearance at any show. A dual-mono design available in both stereo and monoblock configurations, the amp exuded beautiful tube-like warmth (without the use of tubes) on a recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6, with TAD loudspeakers.
Pass Labs may laugh a bit at its excess, as in the XS series, but Vladimir Lamm saves his smiles for the sounds of his brand-new, four-box LL 1.1 Signature line level preamplifier ($45,390/pair). That "pair" in the price is not a typo. This baby consists of two mono preamps plus two separate power supplies!
Far more sonically successful was the larger Lamm room. There, $266,950 worth of Lamm components, including the new LL 1.1 Signature line level preamplifier ($45,390/pair) and ML3 Signature SET mono power amplifiers ($139,490/pair), joined the big Kharma Exquisite Midi Grand speakers with F-drivers ($225,000/pair), a mostly not-in-production EMT/SME/ZYX turntable set-up, inexpensive Sanus racks ($840 total), and Kubala-Sosna Elation series cabling ($130,600 total) to draw sweeter, warmer, and more accurate sound from the same LP tracks.
As with Wilson Audio, Magico presented its latest S5 Mk.II loudspeaker ($38,000/pair in M-Cast finish, $42,750/pair in M-Coat finish) in static display. The only element of the original S5 design retained in the Mk.II is the identical extruded aluminum cabinet. All drivers, distilled from the research that culminated in the S7 loudspeaker, are new. The tweeter is a 1" MB7 beryllium dome, and the midrange unit a 6" Graphene NanoTec carbon. This midrange is claimed to have a stronger molecular structure than standard carbon, but is 20% lighter and 30% stiffer than its predecessor.
Even though Robert Deutsch has blogged about Magico's new S1, Alon Wolf (right) prevailed upon me to take a (brief) listen. Paired with Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) monoblock amplifiers, the sound was lovely and warm. I did catch a bit of distortion on the right channel at one point, cause unknown, but Joni Mitchell's aging, low voice was maximally evocative, with an extra kiss of tube warmth.
For a select group of invitees, Philip O'Hanlon hosted two performances in On a Higher Note's Mirage suite with fabled singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman ("Killing Me Softly with His Song.") Lori entered the suite to rehearse while I was listening to recorded music, and began singing unamplified while Philip and I were in the next room discussing the products on display. I had to stop talking. It is rare that I find myself in the presence of a singer whose every sound expresses the depth of her soul. What an artist. To say that I was transfixed is an understatement.
I'm familiar with how opening or closing a side entrance to a music room can affect bass loading, But when Philip O'Hanlon of A Higher Note demonstrated how opening the sliding doors behind the new Vivid B1 Decade loudspeakers ($28,000/pair) increased air and spaciousness, I was duly impressed.