The availability of the Pacific Microsonics High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD®) PMD100 decoder chip, manufactured by San Jose's VLSI Technology, has brought about a minor revolution in Compact Disc playback. It brings sonic improvements in imaging, soundstaging, and resolution of detail. In the past six months, Stereophile has published a number of reports on the HDCD decoder's operation, what HDCD recordings are available, and the improvements brought by the HDCD chip to specific digital audio processors (footnote 1). High-end manufacturers are incorporating the $40 HDCD chip in their newest decoders, including the $4695 Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 Mk.II D/A processor, the $15,950 Mark Levinson No.30.5, and the $8195 Spectral SDR-2000 Professional HDCD D/A Processor (reviewed in Vol.18 No.5).
Several seconds after I began listening to it, I knew that Theta Digital's Prometheus monoblock amplifier ($12,000/pair) was different from other amplifiers. The violins and brass were more dynamic, and had more pace. The orchestra sounded more three-dimensional, depicted in relief by a degree of hall ambience I hadn't heard when I played the same recording through my reference solid-state stereo amplifier, a Mark Levinson No.334.
Powerful, massive, and expensive, Revel's Ultima Rhythm2 subwoofer ($10,000) swept me off my feet when I first saw it in Harman International's suite at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. It outsizes, by 49 lbs and 2.6 cubic feet, Revel's previous flagship model, the Ultima Sub30, which I reviewed in the November 2004 issue. Its specs read like no other sub's: 196 lbs; 18" cast-frame woofer; dual 4" voice-coils; 4kW peak power from twin internal amplifiers that generate 1kW RMS; 115dB peak acoustic output; a fully configurable, high-resolution, 10-band parametric equalizer (PEQ); an internal crossover with high- and low-pass outputs; and PC-based setup via USB. The Rhythm2's patent-pending design is said to let just enough air move in and out of the cabinet to prevent any distortion-inducing pressure due to heating of the voice-coils. And its veneer, shape, beveled top edges, and bottom plinth exude the quality found in Revel's top-of-the-line floorstanding speaker, the Ultima Salon2, with which I was familiar.
TAD's chief engineer, Andrew Jones, always cheerful and happy, took great pleasure in introducing his newest design, the TAD CE1 Compact Evolution One, a contemporary styled bookshelf loudspeaker. This product produced my once-a-show epiphany for good sound.
Lamm Audio used two ML3 Signature amplifiers ($139,490) and two ML2.2 amplifiers ($37,290) to power a pair of Verity Audio Lohengrin IIS loudspeakers ($120,000) in one of the Venetian's largest exhibit rooms.
T+A's lively and energetic Jochen Fabricius was eager to fill me in on the new, 3-way, 183 lb, $55,000/pair T+A CWT 1000-8 SE floorstander. This speaker uses a 25" by 2" electrostatic line tweeter that covers the frequency range from 2kHz to 40kHz.
Abbey Masciarotte, Tannoy's representative at CES 2015, showed me the company's floorstanding Canterbury loudspeaker. The Canterbury has a striking retro look and uses a dual-concentric 15" drive unit that mounts a high-frequency compression driver inside the throat of a 15" woofer.
YG Acoustics introduced the second edition of their original 2-way Carmel loudspeaker, the Carmel 2. It is said to bring the sound of the more expensive $72,800/pair Sonja 1.2 at a more reasonable price, $24,500/pair.
Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath and John Giolas walked me through the design of the new $15,000/pair Sabrina. The loudspeaker has same general form factor and is slightly taller than their original WATT-Puppy, which was also a $15,000/pair speaker when it was first produced more than 20 years ago.
GoldenEar’s Sandy Gross emailed before the show about Golden Ear’s new compact, sealed, self-powered Supersub XXL subwoofer ($1999), which would be premiered at CES 2015. The subwoofer has two inertially-balanced, long-throw 12" woofers in the horizontal plane and two fully inertially-balanced 12.75" by 14.5" passive radiators in the vertical plane.