CES Day 2

Evolutionary. That's the word that comes to mind after strolling about the Alexis Park, home of Specialty Audio exhibits at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show. The revolutionary stuff usually makes its debut at the Las Vegas Convention Center; here, in the high-end halls, we find manufacturers and designers more interested in perfecting existing technology.

Nagra, for example, has reconfigured its acclaimed PL-P phono preamp as a line stage called the PL-L, using what appears to be the same chassis as the PL-P. At $6800 retail, the PL-L features one pair of balanced inputs, three pairs of unbalanced inputs, and a pair of unbalanced XLR outputs, which can be configured for balanced operation as an option.

Ayre Acoustics has replaced its V-1 amplifier with an upgraded version designated the V-1x, which includes an optimized power supply and RFI rejection, said to yield "huge improvements in midrange liquidity, dynamic contrast, and bass impact." The V-1x will sell for $9000; owners of the old V-1 can have theirs brought up to date for $1500. The K-3 preamp ($3500 with phono stage and remote) has also been upgraded; the K-1x preamp will retail at $7000 similarly configured. The company is also bringing out a versatile, multichannel amplifier that can be used in stereo mode by two-channel fans.

MartinLogan has rolled out its new Odyssey, a 90dB-sensitive electrostatic panel with an 8" self-powered woofer at its base. The Odyssey's red trim is a welcome change from the ubiquitous black and/or silver designs that dominate audio shows. ML had one of the best-sounding multichannel rooms we have visited so far, with a "Theater" center channel beneath a Runco PL-50C plasma display, a pair of "Ascents" front left and right, a pair of "Scripts" for the side/rears, a "Cinema" in center rear, and a prototype subwoofer handling low bass duties.

Cabling in the MartinLogan room was all courtesy of Transparent Audio, whose nearby suite featured one of the most expensive cables we can recall: the Opus MM, which utilizes an elongated carbon-fiber enclosure for its proprietary impedance-balancing network. The Opus will set you back $23,500 for an 8' pair. Even though the Opus has been quietly released to dealers, and despite its considerable cost, the company has sold more than 24 pairs so far, according to Transparent's Jim Shannon.

Linn launched both conventional and unconventional products at this year's show. Its rooms at the Alexis Park featured the new Komri Monitor loudspeaker and the Sizmik "bass reinforcement loudspeaker," as well as the new AV5125 five-channel power amplifier. The Komri is a very large (especially for Linn) 5-way loudspeaker with 4-way passive crossover and an active servo bass system. Its release is planned for May or June of this year and a pair will retail for between $30,000 and $40,000.

Over at the Hilton, Linn also displayed one of the most radical new products to come from a high-end company in years: the Kivor hard-disc recording and playback system. Aimed primarily at the custom installation market, the Kivor consists of three components: the Oktal A/D converter, which can concurrently decode eight stereo signals; the Linnk, which interfaces the Kivor with a Linn Knekt system; and the Tunboks, which houses the hard drives for storing digital music, as well as the CD-ROM drive used in dumping data from a CD into the system.

Linn says that the Kivor system is available for order as of January 6, with the first products shipping at the beginning of March. A basic system with two internal hard drives capable of storing around 300 hours of uncompressed CD audio is expected to retail for about $20,000, with hard drive upgrades available to extend playing time to 1500 hours, uncompressed. An option for compressing audio using the MP3 format is also available.

The Most Beautiful Amplifier Heatsink award goes to Italian manufacturer Pathos Acoustics, which has cleverly incorporated the company logo into the extruded aluminum fins used to cool their new integrated amplifier's MOSFET devices. The amp also employs a balanced class-A vacuum tube preamplifier stage with digital volume control, and it outputs 120Wpc RMS into 8 ohms. Estimated price for the gorgeous-looking new integrated is around $6000, which includes a remote control.