Consumer Electronics Show: January 9, 1999

January 9, 3pm
Some fascinating prototypes were on display at the Madrigal breakfast at Bally's this morning---and we can't tell you about them. But when the Cone of Silence is lifted, you can bet we'll spill the beans, particularly in view of Madrigal's confidence that there will be a future market for very-high-quality surround-sound music reproduction. In the meantime, we are able to report that the new Proceed DVD transport has enough upgradeability options to allow for just about any future digital format: DVD-Audio, SACD, CD, DVD-Video, etc. The transport will also allow for easy upgrading to future interface schemes such as IEEE 1394. And, unlike many other DVD-Video transports, the Proceed should be able to play CD-R discs. For two-channel fans, the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier is in production and will be available next month. Price of the two-chassis, dual-mono unit, without phono stage, will be in the region of $15,000. Madrigal is already back-ordered.

We immediately high-tailed it over to the newest high-end audio venue at CES, T.H.E. (The Home Entertainment) Show, at the St. Tropez, next door to the Alexis Park. There are over 150 "outboard" exhibitors here, but it's easy to navigate the halls---attendance is light. Revel has knocked us out with a stunning demonstration of its $10,000/pair Ultima Studio loudspeaker, driven by Mark Levinson electronics. The Studio is a smaller cousin of the floorstanding Salon (to be reviewed in the March Stereophile). A very pleasant presentation by designer Kevin Voecks proved once again that a well-integrated system can do music and movies equally well.

An intimate music video of Suzanne Vega and her band performing "Caramel" had us in thrall---easily some of the best sound we've heard here in Las Vegas, in part because the Dolby processing was turned off. Instead, a warm, natural, two-channel soundstage appeared. An AC-3 video clip of the escape sequence from Lost in Space shook the room with the aid of subwoofers. "Believe it or not, we're playing this at 10dB below reference level," Voecks told us.

In another room, sales manager Steve "Copper-Top" Grod let us play extensively with Revel's brand-new $3500/pair Performa, an excellent new design---very well balanced, open, and extended, without a hint of bloat. Music lovers without trust funds or sugar daddies might do well to look into these. Also on display was the new bookshelf version of the Performa, likely to come in at under $2000/pair.

Dr. Roger West's huge Sound Lab electrostatic loudspeakers get the "Most Romantic Sound" award---Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald were almost in the room with us. Green Mountain Audio's Continuum 2 was doing justice to the Fairfield Four, while nearby we were treated to "Disco Vivaldi" by a pair of big Dunlavys driven by a Spectron class-D amplifier, an item we saw last year. Its core technology is its pulse-width digital amplification.

JI was momentarily distracted from his journalistic duties by some collectible LPs at the display of Root Cellar Records (from St. Paul, MN). He quickly parted with a few clams for a still-shrinkwrapped DJ promo copy of the Dave Clark Five's Try Too Hard, a very clean copy of the Bonzo Dog Band's Tadpoles, and an original Apple pressing of Badfinger's No Dice. Audiophile LPs from the past were everywhere, many at quite reasonable prices.

In DVD-Audio news, Universal Music announced at a press conference its support of the new high-resolution music formats in the form of several software titles, while hedging on whether they will also enter the rival SACD market. After having swallowed PolyGram late last year, Universal Music is now considered the world's biggest music company. Apparently, several of Universal's albums have been mixed in surround versions; it will be these titles that make it to DVD-Audio first. The first DVD-Audio discs should appear later this year, according to a company spokesman. Warner Music has already announced their support for the DVD-Audio format. Once copyright issues are resolved, SACD discs may ship as early as spring of this year in Japan.

And what about Sony's and Philips' Super Audio CD? John Atkinson was treated to a demonstration of several two-layer discs with a high-resolution two-channel DSD mix on the high-density layer and a "Red Book" CD mix on the CD layer. The demo system was a pair of Sony's new SS-M9 speakers (with supertweeters) driven by Pass Labs monoblocks. The sound of a DMP recording made by Tom Jung---of unaccompanied choral music recorded and mixed in DSD---was breathtaking, JA felt. "Best sound at CES---so far!" he told us when he got back to the Stereophile room.