Loudspeaker manufacturer Angel Sound from Las Vegas was a new name to me, but I was drawn into their room at CES by this striking-looking speaker, which resembles a flame. Called, according to my notes, the S8, the speaker uses ScanSpeak drivers, can be supplied in custom colors, and costs $180,000/pair. The system in use featured Angel Sound DAC, amplifier, and cables, with a C.E.C transport, but the adverse room acoustics prevented me from forming any real opinion of the speakers' sound quality.
"One touch," that’s all it takes for you to enjoy your music, said B&O CEO Teo Mantoni, introducing the Danish company’s BeoSound Essence music-streaming system to the press at CES, and compared that one-touch solution to the current compendium of 10 swipes and presses that you need to playback a Spotify playlist from your smartphone. Mr. Mantoni is holding the elegant Essence Remote in his hand; a ring around the small aluminum puck controls volume and play/pause, forward and backward buttons are embedded on the top. The circular puck is available as wall-mount and desktop versions, and a remote box both connects to the playback system and is the center for AirPlay streaming, DLNA streaming, Spotify Connect, QPlay and Internet radio stations.
Jon Iverson reports elsewhere on Light Harmonic's cost-no-object Sire DAC. But the bigger buzz at the 2014 CES was the LH Labs Geek Pulse, a desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. Except that this product does not yet exist!
The CES is traditionally where we give awardees their well-deserved Products of the Year awards. Here is the complete line-up for 2013, waiting in the Stereophile room at the Venetian, just before the show started on Tuesday January 7.
Whereas the Pass Labs preamplifiers are designed by Wayne Colburn, the power amplifiers are the work of company founder and high-end audio veteran Nelson Pass, who even lays out his own circuit boards. The X-model amplifiers, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetry topology (see "Nelson Pass on the Patents of Pass"). The XA series, which debuted in 2002, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series. The XA.5 models offer detail improvements over the XAs.
In more than 37 years of working at audio magazines, I have never reviewed an Electrocompaniet product. With this review of the company's ECD 2 digital/analog processor, which costs a dollar short of $3100, that streak of inattention has come to an end.
With the help of 20:20 hindsight, it looks as if I made a decision when I joined Stereophile: to review a loudspeaker from Wilson Audio Specialties every 11 years. In June 1991, I reported on Wilson's WATT 3/Puppy 2 combination, which cost $12,740/pair in an automotive gloss-paint finish. This was followed in July 2002 by my review of the Wilson Sophia ($11,700/pair). And now, in December 2013, I am writing about the Wilson Alexia, which costs a not-inconsiderable $48,500/pair.
When I became Stereophile's editor in 1986, the median age of the magazine's readership was the same age as I was then, 38; ie, half the readers were younger than 38, half older. According to our most recent reader survey, the median reader age is now 48, meaning that in the intervening 19 years, that median reader has aged at half the rate of the rest of us. A nice trick. But older that reader certainly has become, which has led to cries of doom from some quarters of the audio industry.
Wired with Transparent cables, the extreme audio system in the large room at the Denver Tech Center HyattdCS Vivaldi digital source, VTL TL7.5 III preamp, VTL Siegfried power amps, Wilson Alexandria XLF speakers driven full-range and twin Thor's Hammer subwoofers driven by 250Wpc Parasound Halo A 21 amplifiers below 38Hzworked its magic both on the disco-meets-EDM of Daft Punk's "Lose Yourself to Dance" and the delicate harmonic traceries of Dave Wilson's Debussy violin sonata recording transferred to DSD by Puget Sound's Bruce Brown. In both cases, there was a sense of loss when the music stopped. It is difficult to imagine how music reproduction could get any better than what I heard in this room the Saturday afternoon of the show!
Ray Kimber always gets great sound at shows, but this year, although he was still using four Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers hooked up with Kimber Select cables and an EMM DAC to play his four-channel IsoMike DSD master files, there was something extra-magical happening in the room. Both pianist Fan-Ya Lin's album Emerging and the Romantic Album from violin and piano ensemble the Formosan Duo, sounded tangibly real. The key, it turned out were the gigantic, 300lb MTRX class-A/B monoblocks from EMM Labs, can be seen in my photo. This brute will output 1500W into 4 ohms and, in Ray Kimber's words, extracts "cheerful obedience" from the speakers it is tasked to drive.