CES 2011

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  0 comments
Kerem Kücükaslan, whose surname means “Little Lion,” was born in Istanbul, where he resides for at least part of the year. Fluent in English, he received his BS in industrial engineering at WPI and a minor degree at MIT.

Kücükaslan founded Echole four years ago in New Hampshire. On display at T.H.E. Show was the complete line of Obsession Signature: speaker cable ($11,000/6ft pair), interconnects ($7500/3ft pair), and power cords ($6850/6ft).

Parts for Echole’s two cable lines, Echole Obsession and Echole Obsession Signature, are manufactured in both the US and Turkey. The wire, which is manufactured in Japan, consists of a proprietary ratio of silver, gold, and palladium. (The Obsession line has less gold and palladium that the Obsession Signature).

Tyll Hertsens  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  0 comments
Suweet! Beyerdynamic head headphone designer Gunter Weidemann is responsible for the T1 headphone (open back; $1295) and its extraordinary driver that exceeds 1 Tesla of magnetic field strength. Previous high-end Beyerdynamic designs delivered 0.6 Tesla; the new driver delivers 1.2 Tesla in the gap. Field strength is nothing without low moving mass, so significant effort has been exerted to design a novel and performance-based diaphragm and voice-coil to provide speed and absence of diaphragm break-up. My significant experience with these cans puts them in the world-class category in my mind; especially remarkable for their natural and powerful vocal range reproduction.

Also, I think anything named after Nicola Tesla (and not a rapper, dammit) is really cool.

Stephen Mejias  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  2 comments
When I walk into the room, Amphion’s Anssi Hyvönen is demonstrating a small, attractive system made of Audio Analogue electronics and Amphion loudspeakers. He talks about the calming nature of music, and then he does something unexpected: He turns the volume down...
John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
Avantgarde's Armin Kraus stands next to the new version of the three-way Duo speaker, the Grosso ($36,000/pair). Finished in "Lamborghini Orange," the Grosso substitutes two 12" woofers for the Duo's 10-inchers, and drives them with twice the amplifier power. The midrange and treble horn units are the same, but the speaker is now supported by a sturdier space-frame with spikes that are adjustable from above. And again, this is a horn speaker that offers the advantages of horns—high dynamic range, sensitivity, and "jump factor"—without the disadvantages, such as midrange coloration.
John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments

A highlight of my reviewing year in 2010 was living with and writing about the Acapella High Violoncello II speaker from Germany ($80,000/pair). With its horn-loaded, ionic tweeter and horn-loaded midrange unit, this speaker offered both high sensitivity and some of the most satisfyingly musical sound I have experienced in my room.

Current production has been modified a little compared with the much-traveled samples I auditioned for my review. (They were the same pair I had auditioned at the 2010 CES, Axpona and RMAF Shows.) The drive-unit complement, cabinet, and crossover are all the same, but there is now a greater range of level adjustment for the ionic tweeter and isobaric-loaded woofers. But the sound of the latest version at CES. driven by Einstein electronics, sounded just as I remembered: dynamic, transparent, neutrally balanced, and not a trace of horn colorations.

John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  1 comments
It was released in 2009, but Krell's Modulari Duo Reference loudspeaker ($65,100/pair) was new to me when I visited THE Show and ventured up to the 28th floor of the Flamingo. The two-box speaker features all-aluminum enclosures, and features twin port-loaded woofers and a ring-radiator tweeter. The Modularis were hooked up with Zen Satori cable to Krell's new Evolution 2250e amplifiers, which offer 250Wpc into 8 ohms and 500Wpc into 4 ohms ($20,000/pair). Also new to the Connecticut company's line at CES was the Phantom preamplifier ($17,500, or $20,000 with optional crossover module, completely adjustable for high-pass and low-pass slopes and frequencies) and the 525 CD player ($12,000 in basic form).
John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
I was initially confused when I walked into this room, as there appeared to be two different systems set-up, with loudspeakers from two different manufacturers. However, playing while I was there were the new Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers in Black Pearl finish (left, $8995/pair), with the Lumenwhite Artisan speakers (not quite so left) silent. Common to both system was an Ayon Audio CD55 CD player and Synergistic Research cables, and Ayon Triton tubed monoblocks drove the Legacies.

Broadly similar in concept to the Focus 20/20 speaker that Paul Bolin favorably reviewed in January 2004, the 25th Anniversary Focus SE is considerably more refined. It uses an AMT supertweeter and a leaf tweeter, between two unique 7" midrange units that use a cone comprising a sandwich of Rohacell and a weave of silver wire and graphite. The two 12" woofers take over below 200Hz and have a low-Q ported alignment to take advantage of the usual room gain without booming. Frequency range is specified as 16Hz–30kHz and sensitivity a very high 95.4dB (4 ohm impedance).

The cabinet is narrower and deeper than the older speaker's, with sculpted edges that progressively reduce the baffle width for the HF drivers to optimize diffraction. The crossover uses Solen metalized polypropylene capacitors and braided silver Kimber Kable is used to connect the supertweeter. The drive-units are matched to within ±0.25dB and designer Bill Dudleston hand-tunes the crossover network of each SE speaker.

John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  1 comments
Hansen's cost-no-object speakers have always sounded excellent at CESes, so one of the first rooms I visited at the Venetian was Hansen's, to hear the new The King E (for Enlightened) loudspeaker ($98,000/pair). A 63"-tall, 6-driver, 3-way design weighing 420lbs, The King E was being driven by Tenor mooblocks and preamp, with the front-end a Clearaudio turntable fitted with a Graham Phantom II tonearm. (My apologies for not noting the phono cartridge being used.)

Listening to a 45rpm remastering of Manuel de Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat, I was struck by the effortless sweep of sound and low-frequency performance that suggested that The King's specified frequency response of 18Hz–23kHz was not hyperbole. Percussion and pizzicato strings had a start-stop character that was very lifelike, with not a hint of overhang or boom.

John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments

Bluebird Music's Jay Rein wanted to hear the Bluetooth-driven Chordette Gem-based system at the front of the room, with Spendor A6 speakers, but my attention was drawn to the familiar-looking speakers at the other end of the room, Peak Consult El Diablo Vs ($89,000/pair), which Michael Fremer reviewed in May 2007. Jay explained that he is ow the North American distributor for these Danish speakers.

The speakers were being driven by Chord SPM1400 monoblocks ($$32,900/pair) and a Chord CPS5000 preamp, with van den Hul's new Mountain interconnects and Nova speaker cables. Jay put the Reference Recordings CD of Scheherazade (RR-89CD) with Jose Serebrier conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra into the Chord Red Reference Mk,II CD player ($25,900) and for an all-too-brief interlude, I was transported from the fake glitz of Las Vegas into the more real sonic world of the Arabian Nights.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  4 comments
The Stein Music Harmonizers (approx. $1100 each; distributor Walter Swanborn of Fidelis AV is putting together package deals that include Stein’s Harmonizer accessories) are one of those mysterious sound-improving devices that are hard to explain to those who have not heard them. They certainly impressed Sam Tellig, who recently discussed them in his monthly Stereophile column.

They’ve also impressed me greatly. A set of four Stein Harmonizers has been residing in my reference system in Oakland for several months, bringing me much pleasure. To these ears, when set up correctly, they have a far from subtle effect on three-dimensionality, transparency, and realism. They take me one step closer to the real thing, making what comes out of my speakers sound less like hi-fi and more like music.

I was delighted to spend some time at T.H.E. Show with the Harmonizers’ designer, Holger Stein of Germany. Stein was showing the newest version of the Harmonizers, which were five years in the making.

The latest Harmonizers have a three-position switch on the rear. Those positions are (1) on with light, (2) on without light to preserve battery life for up to two years, and (3) off, to save energy when the system is not playing. Besides that, they function identically to their predecessor (which I have).

So how does the Stein Harmonizer work? Best to quote directly from Stein. Since, for him, English is a second language, I’ve given him an assist in the editing department:

John Atkinson  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
AAudio Imports' Brian Ackerman holds what must the world's most expensive AC strip, the Weizhi PRS6. Priced at $3200, the PRS6 is machined from a block of Super Duralumin alloy and features a graphite grounding module. There are no isolating transformers or conditioning circuits, the PRS6 is purely passive. The thinking behind the product, said Brian, is "to get the noise out of the line without changing the sound."

Yes, the Weizhi is a gorgeous piece of audio jewelry but do people really pay $3200 for peace of mind? Brian told me that he is currently shipping 10 units a week, so I guess they do.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
Wireworld’s David Salz released two new USB cables, the Platinum Starlight ($600/1m) and the Silver Starlight ($300/1m). The Platinum Starlight USB uses molded carbon-fiber connectors, while the Silver Starlight uses aluminum connectors.

Both cables use a new technology, called DNA Helix, that Salz originally developed for use in Wireworld’s premiere PS and SS HDMI cables. DNA Helix utilizes twice as many signal conductors as conventional USB cable designs.

When Salz was first developing the DNA Helix design, he began to measure the transmission speed of cables. By designing a more efficient cable, he found he was able to increase transmission speed by 20%.

“I always start with the direct connection as my reference,” he explains. “What I heard from cables at the start of my work was really disappointing. This new design allows me to get substantially closer to the purity of the direct connection.”

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  11 comments
Audioquest formally released their current top-of-the-line reference USB cable at CES, the Diamond USB ($650/1.5m). The cable’s conductor is solid-core, perfect-surface silver (100% silver).

A key feature of the Diamond USB, which is held in the photo by Audioquest’s Andrew Kissinger, is the Audioquest DBS (dielectric bias system). Invented and patented by Richard Vandersteen, with the cable version co-patented by Vandersteen and Audioquest’s Bill Low, the DBS creates an electrostatic field that saturates and polarizes the molecules of the insulation to minimize energy storage in the dielectric. The result is claimed to be much greater dynamic range, lower background noise, and reduced phase distortion.

Steve Silberman, VP of Marketing, explained that all insulators have capacitance. Energy from the conductor enters the insulation and needs to discharge. The DBS’ electrostatic field lowers the discharge, which in turn lowers the amount of phase distortion and makes for a cleaner signal.

In a very short demo, Silberman compared music through a stock USB cable that came with his printer to music through the Diamond. Using the new Arcam R asynchronous USB DAC, Arcam AVR 600 receiver, AQ Niagra interconnects ($1600/1m pair), AQ Redwood speaker cables ($2300/3ft pair), and Vandersteen 2Ce 30th anniversary edition speakers, the difference in transparency and color was striking.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
Joe Lavrencik, owner of Critical Mass Systems, designs all Critical Mass Systems Precision Component Support Systems. All of the company’s products are built in the Chicago area.

The newest Critical Mass product is Maxxum ($5650 per shelf), a precision component-support system. The shelf and rack architecture operate together to mitigate vibration in the floor, the rack, the shelf, and the component at the same time.

“We do more than isolate,” the sleep-deprived designer offered by way of explanation. “We give energy in the air a pathway out of the component so that components are not saturated with vibration from the loudspeakers.”

Lest you think Critical Mass Systems only manufactures high-priced products, prices start at $195 for a set of four MXK spikes, and $195 for a basic shelf. “Even though we’re very expensive, we start very low,” says Lavrencik.

At CES 2011, Critical Mass Systems products were used in the Lamm, Hansen/Tenor, and BAT rooms. In the photo, Lavrencik kneels near his Maxxum amplifier/component stands ($5650/each) and the Lamm ML3 Signature monoblocks ($139,290/pair) being used to drive Wilson Alexandria II speakers.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
After Thursday’s full day at the Venetian’s high-performance audio exhibits, it was time to throw all caution to the winds and head to some of the major headphone exhibits at CES’ official three-ring circus, aka the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South, Central, and North Halls.

I’m glad that John Atkinson suggested I spend no more than a half-day at the LVCC. That’s how long it took to navigate through tens of thousands of people (or so it seemed) in the South and Central Halls to reach the displays of Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Monster.

First stop was Audio-Technica, where I encountered former audiophile critic turned publicist Frank Doris. Together we examined three new over-ear “Audiophile headphones” and one set of in-ear noise-canceling headphones.

I sampled the most expensive of the audiophile bunch, the Audio-Technica ATH-W1000x Grandioso ($699.95) that Tyll Hertsens writes about elsewhere in this report. I also briefly checked out their new in-ear QuietPoint active noise-canceling (ANC) ATH-ANC23 headphones ($99.95). Complete with an in-line volume control, the phones will first reach the market in February 2011. I found them a pleasure to use. Unfortunately, Unfortunately, all that was available to audition were MP3s of highly compressed, noisy pop and rock.