So why is Amanda Sweet from Telarc smiling? Well, in addition to being a wonderful person, she's happy that the Concord Music Group chose to sell its wares in The Venetian. Rather than the nightmare everyone predicted, customers only had to walk 20 steps to the official CES cashiers to purchase their SACDs and CDs from Telarc, Heads Up, Concord, Prestige and the like. With only one other CD vendor—5.1—in the area, Telarc did a booming business.
Although Allen Perkins' Spiral Groove has until now focused exclusively on analog products, the company has taken a big step into the digital domain by announcing the forthcoming Spiral Groove DP1 line stage preamp and 24/96 DAC. Projected to become available in four months, the DPI is so new that it has yet to be priced.
In a room dominated by imposing Antique Sound Labs tube electronics and Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers, the Chang folks were demonstrating their new Hyper Drive "hyper noise shunting mechanism." Designed to bring AC noise down further than conventional Chang Lightspeed power conditioners, the Hyper Drive will be incorporated into 2008 Reference models such as the Chang Mk III ($3500).
Now I know why Robert Deutsch wrote such an enthusiastic review of the Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD712z loudspeaker in the January 2007 issue of Stereophile. This eye-arresting single-driver loudspeaker ($7000/pair with dedicated stands) delivered an absolutely beautiful rendering of Monica Salmazo's voice. Both top and midrange were exemplary, as was transparency. Though early instrument strings on the delightful Channel Classics SACD, Bolivian Baroque v.2, were either a mite too edgy or conveyed with unforgiving accuracy, the system did a wonderful job with the church venue's naturally reverberant acoustic. Soprano Kate Royal's voice on her marvelous EMI debut recital was drop dead gorgeous. Within their frequency limitations, these speakers are superb. And given that the source was a Denon 955 DVD player rather than a state-of-the-art unit, their triumph is even more noteworthy.
April Music's tremendous achievement deserves two blog entries. In one room at the Alexis Park, the Korean-based company demmed an absolutely amazing for the price Stello stack of low-cost, truly high-end mini components: the Stello CDT-100 transport ($695), DA100 Signature ($895), HP100 headphone amp/preamp ($595), and S100 50W/channel power amplifier ($745). Auditioning Harmonia Mundi's beautiful recording of Schubert's Arppeggione Sonata, this diminutive set-up (complete with B&W 805 loudspeakers and Red Rose cabling) created an amazingly deep, involving soundstage that would make many a manufacturer of components costing 10 times the Stello price envious. The system also did a fine job of capturing the complex harmonics of the piano. An I2S bus connection between components—shades of Audio Alchemy and Perpetual Technologies—sure helps matters. I wouldn't go as far as saying that this set-up fully captured the soul of every piece of music I auditioned, or that its solid-state pedigree wasn't apparent, but it blew the socks off most mass-market doo-doo and a helluva lot of supposedly audiophile-grade components.
After hearing the Stello stack, I thought I had heard it all. But in the next room, April Music President Simon K. Lee blew my mind even more with the one-piece Aura note Music Center ($1850). This little baby, available through a dealer network, even includes a USB port on back, a second USB memory stick port on the side, a built-in tuner, and two RCA inputs. Paired with the Aura speaker ($650/pr), the parallel single-ended MOSFET design (thank you, Nelson Pass) sounded a bit more mellow and soulful than the Stello stack. (It would have probably extended as low as that stack if it had been paired with the B&Ws).
Albert Von Schweikert is on the move. After any number of Von Schweikert lovers have asked for smaller, space-saving speakers that function optimally tucked into corners or up against walls, Von Schweikert Audio is about to launch the Studio Signature Series. With three models, the Unifields 1, 2, and 3 ($6000, $10,000, and $15,000/pair respectively) and optional polished marble stands, the Signature speakers are designed to "compete with guys who build $20,000 monitors." The Unifield 1's frequency response is said to be 40Hz—22kHz; the 2 offers 32Hz—22kHz; and the 3 boasts a whopping 32Hz–50kHz. Not bad for a small speaker, eh?
New Zealand-based Plinius is now using words drawn from the Maori language to name all of its new products. Making truly beautiful sounds in an all-Plinius line-up, the new Tautoro linestage preamplifier ($7300), set to ship in May, fulfilled its promise to "bridge the gap" from Plinius' top-of-the-line SA-Reference power amplifier to its CD-101 CD player and Koru phono stage (available as an option for $8600 total). When I asked Scott Markwell of Elite Audio Video Distribution how the preamp differs from its M8 predecessor, he pointed out that the M8 could only function as a linestage. "The more versatile Tautoro has an even bigger, more three dimensional soundstage. It also has much greater bass, more punch, and increased dynamics."
The highlight of the VRS Audio Solutions room was witnessing VRS' Vincent R. Sanders and Neil Sinclair (high-end pioneer and former owner of Theta Digital) engage in a heated discussion over optimal methods for achieving hard disk-stored music playback. These two went at it as if dealing with life and death itself. Which, in the case of high-end audio, isn't far from the truth.
Attendance was light at the Alexis Park on Wednesday, with the rooms closest to the front getting the most attention. That was certainly the case for Evolution Acoustics, whose imposing MM3 modular speaker commands respect. After seven years of development, this huge baby, designed by Kevin Malmgren (left, formerly of Von Schweikert) made its initial debut at RMAF 2006. Then, the company went low-key while Malmgren and his wife were busy raising their first child (who, after almost one year of development, has just made a most auspicious debut in his stroller at T.H.E. Show 2008). Well, not really. The speaker was back-ordered even before it was launched, and has kept Malmgren and its distributor so busy that they haven’t had the time or need to yet establish a dealer network.