CES '98 wrap-up

It gets tougher every year to cover a show like the CES. Dropping in on most of the high-end audio rooms at the Alexis Park isn't so bad---the hard part is getting to all the various splinter exhibits scattered around Las Vegas within the allotted four days.

Apologies to all who expected but did not receive a visit from us (you know who you are). Our on-site reporting duties kept us running all day, every day, and prevented our seeing many displays. Stereophile's dauntless sleuths---Brian, Bonnie, Muse, Larry G., Shannon, Kal, Lonnie, Rick, Mikey, Sam, J10 & K10, TJN, WP, and JA---will cover the show in depth in the April issue of the paper magazine. Following are some short takes on items that caught our ears.

Thiel hosted a press conference and breakfast Friday morning to introduce their new CS2.3 and CS7.2 loudspeakers. Jim Thiel explained the construction of several new drivers, including a coaxial midrange/tweeter unit for the '7.2 and a "compound driver" for the '2.3. This compound driver uses an interesting mechanical crossover for combining the tweeter and midrange in one unit with one voice-coil.

Listening to French torch songs in the Confluence room via the unique ChimFre loudspeaker was a wonderful change of pace, as was hearing the Adagio d'Albinoni by Gary Karr on doublebass, with Harmon Lewis on pipe organ (Cisco GCD 8003). This disc sparked a debate as to whether we were hearing a wood or graphite acoustic bass. The ensuing discussion of the "plastic instrument" was a classic case of know-it-all audiophilism: 100% wrong. The booklet with the disc states: "On this recording, Gary Karr plays the famed 1611 Amati doublebass which formerly belonged to Serge Koussevitzky. Koussevitzky's widow presented it as a gift to Karr in 1962."

Low point of the Show: continued rumors that the RIAA, among other copyright grinches, were going to prevent any audio manufacturer from putting a full-bandwidth, unencrypted, 24-bit/96kHz digital out on DVD-Audio players. In hushed tones around the Alexis Park, grumbles about one-box players with RCA jacks and lo-rez digital-out jacks permeated the air. The frustrating thing about all of this is that it's being decided under cloak of secrecy behind non-disclosure closed doors.

Random thought: Perhaps one of the reasons the high end has trouble getting repect in the media is the abysmal press facilities at these shows. The Alexis Park press room was freezing cold, had no computer or electronic facilities, no snacks, no comfortable chairs, and a far-too-large-for-the-room table crammed in the middle. Compare this to the press facilities at the main convention floor, with rows and rows of telephones and internet-connected computers (not to mention real food), and one starts to think that the high end is its own worst enemy.

The CEMA Lounge (next to the press room in the Alexis Park), by comparison, was the place to crank out the audio bits. Good eats and a couple of helpful staffers, Kerry Moyer and Tom Godsman, did a service to the industry. Next year, they even plan an internet hook-up. Enough griping.

Another interesting exhibit featured the Italian AVS surround technique. In the same room as the digital Tact amplifier and room-correction system, the AVS effect adds three-dimensionality to a two-channel stereo recording with a special circuit and two rear speakers.

The result is music that moves farther out into the room, creating a deeper sense of the recording space. Show conditions are rarely ideal, but the AVS system sounded wonderful in this venue.

And finally, thanks to the fine folks in the Royal Music and Cinema Imports room for letting us play the Nine Inch Nails remix of David Bowie's "I'm Afraid of Americans" at full volume---not once, but twice. And then top that off with some screaming guitar/blues cuts. They were showing their ever-stylish Alchemist products to good effect.