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International CES 2009 & THE Show Report
Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Report & Coverage   The Home Enteetainment Show
CES & THE Show 2009 Report
Part 5 By Rick Becker



  In the Zanden Audio room I was treated to analog sound coming off one of many Grand Prix Audio Monaco turntables I saw at the show. But the component of interest here was Zanden's phono stage, the Mk 3 model with variable phono equalization and a polarity switch. Built to the highest order, Zanden gear looks a little too much like fine jewelry to make me comfortable, but for those who seek superb vinyl playback, this tube powered phono stage would be a reasonable place to start, assuming you have the means to afford it. Having read the hi-fi+ review of the GPA Monaco turntable, I begin to understand why this rig sounded so good. The loudspeaker in this room was the rather bizarre looking Affascinate I SE horn speaker from Cessaro of Germany (40,000) with a protruding wood horn carved from birch plywood. With an efficiency of 100dB/W/m and 8 Ohm impedance, this can be driven by very low power tube amplifiers. Rumor has it that 2A3's rock!


The Nola Baby Grand loudspeaker was the next model down from the top of the line, costing $55,000 with the separate crossover seen on the floor behind it. The clarity of the gloss finish on the woodwork was stunning. Hopefully the wood species is not endangered. The base of the loudspeaker incorporates ball bearing isolation technology. The dipole midrange drivers and ribbon tweeters (same drivers as used in their top of the line Grand Reference) are mounted in an open baffle, while the 9-inch magnesium woofers are mounted in the enclosed lower portion of the towers. It was powered by Audio Research gear and sounded very, very good. A scaled down Nola Micro Grand stand mounted version is available for those with smaller rooms.

In the VTL room I heard their amps driving an Avalon loudspeaker. Perhaps it was just the piece of music being played, but the sound was so polite that I didn't pay much attention to this rig. Elsewhere at this show I've heard other products from each company sounding much more engaging. With all the activity in high end integrated amplifiers I took note of their IT Integrated Amplifier ($4250) with remote control volume and mute. It puts out 60 watts into 8 Ohms, 80 into 4 Ohms with four EL34 tubes in tetrode mode. An ST-85 can be combined with the integrated for horizontal bi-amp'ing if you need more power down the road. And unlike many integrated amplifiers at this higher price range, it sports a headphone output.


In an era when Americans (at least) are so consumed with eating and the medical winds of change blow against obesity, it must have been a bi-polar decision for Morel to name their new loudspeaker The Fat Lady. The name alone could make for a difficult WAF. Those who know technology, however, will love her. In fact, it won an Innovations 2009 award. It has a fiberglass shell underneath the carbon fiber layer you see here. It is so rigid there is no damping material used in the midrange or bass area of this bass reflex design. The port fires at the ground at an angle of 60 degrees. The base of the speaker which is made of aluminum and covered in leather, houses the crossover, isolating it from the main cabinet. $32,000 for the pair. Unfortunately, I did not get to hear it play as there was another loudspeaker in the system at the time. Montreal, perhaps? If nothing else, it is a top contender in the "Look at Me" competition, but coming from Morel, one would expect it to be quite good.



Stepping into the mbl room and standing far off-axis to the left, it was still clear that this one-brand rig was one of the great systems at the show. But the news here was on silent display further off to the left in a second system. It was the 111F loudspeaker at $35,000 the replacement for the 111E and direct competition for the previously mentioned Morel loudspeaker, but with a more conventional appearance, or at least an aesthetic to which I've become accustomed. It looks more slender and the lines seem more refined than the 111E. Presumably it is also available in silver. February 2009 marks the 30th anniversary of mbl. Where was the birthday cake, guys?


I have to admit I was clued into this room. Surely I would have heeded the very fine Aerial 20T Mk2 loudspeaker ($32,000) and the Boulder electronics, but I would likely have missed the Peachtree Nova ($1200). Aerial is an established high achiever with a wide range of models for stereo and home theater, and one that I rarely get to hear so this was a welcome opportunity. Unfortunately, I can't compare it to the original 20T, having heard it briefly at a show, if at all. But it is certainly a major contender at this price level. With a 4 Ohm nominal and even lower minimum impedance, the solid state Boulder amps were well suited to the Aerial. The surprise in the rig was the Peachtree Nova, an integrated amplifier with a superb internal DAC. It was used only as a separate DAC in this set-up. With S/N level of 122dB in the DAC section this puppy barks way above its weight class. The Nova takes digital and analog inputs, digital signals from your computer or whatever. The Class A preamp section employs a 6922 tube seen through a small window on the front. It can be used as a preamp/DAC with either fixed or variable outputs, or as a complete 80 wpc integrated amplifier with it headphone outputs to boot. The flexibility of this unit, particularly with its outstanding DAC, positions it as a breakthrough product at a price that could suck an entire generation into high end audio. If a review sample arrives as promised, it will likely transform my main rig, or form the keystone for a computer sourced rig in my home office... or both. Stay tuned.


Einstein Audio Elektronik gear from Germany has captured my imagination and generated lust for its sophisticated design and sonic excellence since I first heard it. Their gear with an Acapella speaker, Stage III cables, Isoclean power transformers and power cords and Symposium rack was a superb rig with outstanding transparency and dynamics both macro and micro. New here was the Acapella High Violin Mk IV loudspeaker at $64,300 and the Einstein The Source balanced tube CD player ($16,900). Stage III Gryphon balanced interconnects ($7950 for 1.5-meter length), Mantikor 3m speaker cables ($19,800) and Zyklop 2-meter power cables ($8300) kind of took it over the top for me. Virtually everything, including the loudspeakers was on some sort of vibration control device something I've been preaching for a decade or more. I could have spent the rest of the day here, but time was running short.

I'm in trouble with Larry Blair of Avantgarde Acoustics North America, as his room moved me so much I forgot to take a photo of the Uno Nano Horn loudspeaker ($16,500). I think he intentionally put on Stevie Ray Vaughan when he saw me walk in. Also of interest here was yet another Grand Prix Audio Monaco turntable ($19,500 w/o arm) with a Brinkmann cartridge and an audioaero Capitole Classic CD Player ($7700) which is a straight CD player without all the inputs and output volume control available in the higher priced Capitole Reference model. The CD player was used only as a transport however, feeding the avantgarde Model Two DAC which may still be a prototype at this point in time. The Uno Nano loudspeaker has a powered subwoofer. The horn part was driven by an avantegarde Model Three cascode power stage amplifier that works in Class A for the first watt or so (all the horn really needs, given its 104dB/W/m sensitivity) and thereafter in AB up to 40 watts. The tweeter is mounted in the subwoofer cabinet allowing for the Nano to be a much smaller version of the original Uno and hence become a more practical consideration for moderately sized rooms. It sounded great in the room in the Venetian. From what I know of the vibration in the tubular horn supports of the Uno, the Nano probably benefits from its shorter stature. If it shows at Montreal , I promise you a photo, Larry.


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