International CES 2009
& THE Show Report
Friday morning I
woke up early, having set my alarm clock to Mountain Time instead of Pacific.
Nonetheless, I was well rested and immediately caught the free shuttle from
Alexis Park to the Venetian where the majority of high-end companies were
located. I found my way to the Press Room for a large cup of coffee and
muffin. It was sparsely populated and I didn't recognize any other
journalists there. Behind the dark Plexiglas wall I pulled up to a computer
and fired off a couple of e-mails. It was a short hike past the Blue Man Group
Theater and through the casino to the Venetian
There were just a couple of rooms with gear on the 35th floor. It is not difficult to find a pair of pair of Definitive Technology Mythos loudspeakers in any city of reasonable size, but my local dealer presents them in a room with more than a dozen other loudspeakers — all routed through a speaker & component switchbox. It was a delight to hear how really good they are in a dedicated room with a dedicated system. In this case it was comprised of an Audio Research CD Player and an Audio Research 50 wpc tube amplifier, both plugged into a PS Audio Power Plant Premier (I saw a lot of these at the show). I'm primarily a tube guy, so I was easily won over by this presentation. The hype about this loudspeaker is real. The segment of opera I heard was very holographic.
displayed a stand mounted model from the Klimt Series by Vienna
Acoustics. I heard the large floorstanding model, The Music, in
In an alcove at the rear of the room Sumiko had the new, more affordable Sonus Faber speakers on display. The iToy entry level runs from $1500 for the monitor up to $3000 for the floorstander. The mid-priced Liuto range starts at $3000 for the monitor and runs up to $6000 for the floorstander. Shown in black, these were suitable for home theater as well as music, with dedicated center channel models. Later on, if I recall correctly, I came upon a room with one of the high line Sonus Fabers.
My notes and literature get a bit confusing here where two rooms basically overlapped with similar brand equipment. In one, a demonstration of Ray Kimber's IsoMike recording technology, the surround system used four large TAD Reference One loudspeakers powered by large Pass Labs X350.5 monoblocks sitting on dollies with large castors. EmmLabs gear included their new transport ($11,000), Dac 2 ($9500) and an analog preamp (about $9000). The DAC is interesting in that it strips away the time code at the input and upsamples to something over 5mHz and puts a new time code on the signal. I've learned never to expect anything simple from emmlabs, except the quality of the music. Kimber cable of the highest order connected everything. This room totaled over $340,000. I had goose bumps listening to a digital master of a piano piece performed by Robert Silberman — and I'm not even a piano guy. The real thrill came when I took up the offer by the young host to hear the Blue Knights college marching band recorded in their football stadium (but not marching). The noise level of the recording made it sound like it was recorded indoors and the surround effect placed me right in the stands in front of them — in 3D. This was surround sound done right! The subtlety was exquisite and totally engaging.
In a scaled down rig across the hall, I heard the TAD CR-1 Compact Reference ($30,000/pr). TAD, long a proponent of Beryllium drivers, uses a coincident source mid/tweeter that covers 350 Hz to 100 kHz in this model. This was also powered by Pass Labs, but music came from a ripper/server and was played back either from either the buffer or from solid state memory. It was controlled via Ethernet by a laptop.
Probably in the IsoMike room, since it uses Kimber cable inside, was this iPure from Leveler which is designed to provide pure, constant power with patented protection circuitry and bi-directional filtration for your gear. Two separate banks of outlets, one for video and one for audio, are provided with readouts on front for both voltage and current. Available in black, white and copper, it will retail for about $2000.
In the Esoteric
room they were playing their new stereo A-03 amplifier at 50 watts pure Class
A, which bridges to 200 watts mono. I liked the architecture of the aluminum
faceplate—it being smaller than the full width of the amp itself. They also
had a stereo tube integrated amplifier which can also be run as a straight
power amplifier. A gentleman gave me a brief clinic on the build quality of
the various Esoteric disc drives which are supplied to many other
manufacturers. Note the massive side and top plates on the one pictured here.
This is the next to the top of their line VRDS Neo VMK-3 that plays SACD, CD
and DVD and goes for about $5000 — that's for the transport mechanism, only.
Also on display was a pre-production sample of their new SA-50 SACD/CD player
that will have inputs to allow you to feed the internal DAC directly from your
computer. Music in this room sounded very good through the Verity
Audio Lohengrin II loudspeakers — better than I've heard them in
more reserved sounding rigs at the
The Avalon Acoustics Aspect, about $8500, sounded very good to me as I listened with familiar music and it reminded me a bit of the Gershman Swan with its A-frame architecture, although the Aspect is significantly smaller and less imposing. The bottom of the cabinet is actually V-shape as the grille suggests and there are two downward firing ports. Bass tonality, in particular, was excellent and the soundstage was deep and expansive. Covering 28 Hz to 25 kHz it is 92dB/W/m efficient with nominal 4 Ohm impedance. The sides are thick veneered MDF available in maple, cherry and walnut. Overall, it is a very fresh design and seems to be an excellent value. Audio Research CD5 player, LS26 preamp and VS115 tube power amp were situated on Harmonic Resolution Systems stands. Cardas supplied the cabling. This was not the only room at the show that raised my impression of Audio Research gear.
powered the gorgeous $45k Sonus Faber
Stradivari loudspeakers to a much higher level than I ever heard an Ayre/SF
Njoo Hoo Kong is a Chinese Belgian who produces a very
luxurious looking line of very high end loudspeakers. Having used a wide
variety of driver types in earlier models, the new Grand Ultimate is a three
way design using Venture's own
2-inch dynamic cone tweeter, crossed over at 1800 Hz. This driver is said to
climb to 60kHz for a very life-like presentation. It also uses a 5-inch Venture
graphite mid-woofer and four 7-inch Venture woofers to get down to 22 Hz. Layers
of solid beech are combined with a 3mm layer of composite damping material to
form the cabinet. The $92,000 loudspeaker was finished in a magnificent (but
unfortunately probably endangered) Macasser Ebony veneer with a 1mm thick
polyester high gloss lacquer. It was driven by a solid state Class A amplifier
that reaches up to 400 watts in