I walked into BSG's room at the Newport Beach Show in June 2012 unsure of what I was going to hear. I was well aware of this new company's qøl Signal Completion Stage ($3995), but didn't know if it was a genuine step forward in audio reproduction, or just another example of the hokum found on the fringes of our hobby. I took my listening seat, and BSG's CEO Larry Kay, cofounder and erstwhile publisher of Fi magazine, performed A/B comparisons with the qøl's processing in and out of circuit.
Bill Thomas at CES with the ground-breaking coaxial HF/MF unit designed by Jim Thiel (Photo: John Atkinson)
We reported last November that Thiel Audio Products, the Kentucky-based speaker manufacturer founded by Kathy Gornik and the late Jim Thiel, had been had been acquired by a private equity firm based in Nashville, TN, and that Gornik was no longer with the company. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, held January 811 in Las Vegas, the Thiel display at the Sands Convention Center was packed. I met up with Thiel's new CEO, 55-year old Bill Thomas, and asked him what had led him and his two partners to acquire the company.
Over dinner one evening at the 2013 CES, I was being grilled by other magazine editors about my measurements of the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF speaker that Michael Fremer reviewed in the January issue. In vain did I point to the XLF's superb in-room response; in vain did I emphasize that no one measurement fully describes a speaker's sound; in vain did I point out that the best way to integrate all the measurements was to listen to the thing. What I should have done was bid my peers to visit the dCS suite on one of the Mirage's penthouse floors where Wilson's Alexia loudspeaker ($48,500/pair), which incorporates much of the XLF's technology, was being demmed with Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblocks and dCS's new Vivaldi digital system, wired up with Transparent Audio cables.
When I walked into the MBL suite in the Venetian, the recording of German pianist Martin Vatter, engineered by MBL's Juergen Reiss, was playing on the MBL 101 X-Treme speaker system ($263,000, 3600 lbs, two 6' subwoofer towers operating below 80Hz, two double-101 omnidirectional upper-frequency towers). I was familiar with this superbly clean hi-rez recording, having auditioned it on MBL systems at other shows and also at home. But I had never heard it sound as though there was an actual grand piano in the room, which is what I experienced at this CES. Driven by two pairs of the massive MBL 9011 monoblock amplifiers that Michael Fremer reviewed in March 2012, this extreme system sounded better at this Show than I had heard it at earlier CESes.
Over at T.H.E. Show, Acoustic Sounds' Chad Kassem proudly showed me the box and inserts for his new Bill Evans Waltz for Debby reissue, which will be released as a UHQR LP. Kassem's QRP pressing pant has acquired the rights to JVC's 30 year-old LP technology and each 200-gram UHQR pressing, with its flat profile, will be hand-pressed on a Finebilt press and hand-inspected. Back in the 1970s I was told by an EMI executive that that they could have pressed perfect LPs but people would never pay for it. Chad didn't seem to get the memo as he has invested a lot of money in producing LPs the way they should have been all along!
Wednesday evening after the CES closed, Luke Manley (left) and Bea Lam (second left) of VTL held a reception to honor the memory of Luke's father and VTL founder David Manley, who passed away in December. Everyone present offered their memories of David, including Stereophile's Larry Greenhill (right) and Jason Serinus (second right).
Speakers in the VTL room were Rockport's new Atria ($21,500/pair). This is a three-way dsign using a 9" carbon fiber sandwich-cone woofer, a 6" carbon fiber sandwich-cone midrange unit, and a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter, with Transparent Audio internal cabling. The 43.5"-tall speaker has a specified frequency response of 28Hz30kHz, 3dB, a 4 ohm impedance, and a sensitivity of 87dB/W/m. Driven by VTL MB450s in triode mode, Peter Gabriel singing David Bowie's "Heroes: from LP had a delicious tangibility to the voice and a powerful but clean bass line. "Sweet" I commented in my notebook.
The Arabesque speakers ($90,000/pair) in the Crystal room, with their glass enclosures, were familiar, as were the Crystal cables that Jason Serinus blogged about a few days ago. But the Siltech SAGA amplifierfor Structural Amplifier Gain Architecture were new. Designed by Siltech's Edwin Rijnveld and costing $100,000, the three-piece, 300Wpc amplifier comprises a preamplifier chassis with ultralow-noise tubes, a battery-powered voltage-amplifier chassis, and a current-amplifier chassis. No negative feedback is used, either global or local, and the current amplifier uses optical drive of the output transistors, called "Apollo Light Drive." Output device biasing is said to be class-A at all powers into all loads.
Meridian pioneered the integration of digital crossovers and D/A converters in a powered loudspeaker and the first room I visited at the 2013 CES featured the DSP7200 speaker ($38,000/pair). The has anew tweeter, said to be smoother and more open-sounding than the HF units used in earlier speakers, but perhaps more importantly, the 7200's crossover now compensates for the low-frequency group delay associated with the high-order alignment. This is difficult to do, as it conventionally demands a very long digital, computationally intense filter. However, Meridian's engineering team came up with a solution that only adds around 40 milliseconds of latency. While this might make video synchronization tricky, the added clarity at low frequencies was impressively audible. Bass started and stopped as it should, with none of the feeling of the lows being detached from the upper ranges that is typical of high-order woofer alignments.
Jeff Joseph was demming his new Pearl3 floorstanding speakers ($28,100/pair) in an all Bel Canto system (including their new USB converters), hooked up with Cardas cables. Jeff's music choice was decidedly idiosyncratic a duet for marimba and double bass, a recording of an African singer and sax player made in his backyard, Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hallbut with every kind of music, the Pearls allowed the music to speak most effectively.