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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 6 By Rick Becker

  Across the hall from Western Electric I listened to the new Dynavector XV-1t cartridge mounted on the latest version (practically a re-incarnation) of the Well Tempered Turntable. The cartridge is in the $8500 to $9000 range, while the turntable is considerably less. The Well Tempered had a particularly clean, minimalist design that appealed to me.

 

Adam Audio was another new name to me, a German company that started out ten years ago on the pro audio side and expanded to the consumer side — first in Europe and then Asia, and now making an entry into the United States. Their loudspeakers come in passive, semi-active (with powered woofers only) and fully active variations. The configuration is usually a hybrid design employing their ART tweeter (for Advanced Ribbon Technology). The ribbon driver covers both the midrange and treble with some models using two different size ART drivers. Small active studio monitors start at about $900/pr. High gloss silver and black passive home monitors start at $1700. But the CES demo showcased the fully active Beta model in the highest end Tensor series at about $33,000/pr, seen here on the left. Leather bags filled with sand isolate the mid/HF module from the bass unit, and sand is also used as a filler between the dual wood walls of each cabinet in the Tensor series. Not seen in the photo is a second, rear-firing subwoofer driver. And when they sad "active" they mean ACTIVE with a 250 watt switching amplifier for each driver — five in each loudspeaker! Off the deep end is their Olympus Sound System at $300,000. And yes, they do home theater sound. Excellent sound from the Beta, in my opinion.

 

 

Hand made in California, the Win Analog LS845 line stage ($15,000) and WA833a monoblock ($28,000/pr) were a fresh look in tube amplifiers at CES this year. The preamp uses a pair of 845 tubes normally seen in power amplifiers and the 833a tube in the monoblocks is not commonly seen at all.

 

Magico is one of the hot names in loudspeakers today — and for good reason. I had a brief chance to listen from the back of the crowded room to their M5 model ($89,000) driven by Soulution solid state gear from Switzerland , imported by Axiss Audio. The rig included the model 740 CD player ($60,000), 720 preamp ($40,000) and 700 monoblocks ($115,000/pr). The monoblocks actually have two amplifiers in each one for bi-amping. They double in power from 110 watts as you go down from 8 ohms to 4 and then double again down to two. As a bridged amplifier it starts at 430 watts and does pretty much the same thing as you go down to 4 and 2 Ohms. The transparency here was very impressive which not only drew a crowd, but kept them nailed to their seats. Typically Swiss, the Solution gear had no pretense of visual design — it was all about engineering and the sound. The room was quite dark and I didn't want to risk taking a flash photo for fear the other listeners might throw their shoes at me. I had to work a little magic on the Magico to get this image... and so did my editor.

 

   

Volent was another new name to me. Their loudspeakers feature their proprietary 1-inch twin ribbon super tweeter that extends upwards of 50 to 100 kHz, depending on which side of the brochure you read. A ceramic tweeter handles the treble while a 5-inch titanium sandwich mid/woofer and 7-inch titanium sandwich woofer complete the audible range. The texture of the titanium sandwich drivers looked kind of like flaky, rusted material that had been painted silver. The random texture probably contributes to the rigidity of the cone and dispersion of the sound. The music featuring vocals in a foreign language was very smooth and transparent. The speaker was amazingly seamless considering the three types of drivers being used. If I understand correctly, the cabinet is filled with wool to improve the bass and minimize internal reflections. This was apparently a prototype of the upcoming VL-3.5 model expected to sell for $16,000. To make it even more amazing, it comes from Hong Kong. The Bladelius amplification came from Sweden in the form of the new massive honeycomb looking Ymer stereo power amplifier (foreground) and Saga preamp (top of photo) from Bladelius. The Ymer puts out 300 wpc and has a very wide bandwidth to accommodate the twin ribbon super tweeter of the Volent loudspeaker. As unlikely as the combination might have been, it was impressive.

 

 

April Music of South Korea is justifiably known for its Stello DA100 DAC, now in Signature form with various upgrades and greater connectivity, including the now ubiquitous USB input. With their Aura line they had three new introductions, labeled "New Aura", which include a top loading CD player ($1495), integrated amplifier ($1795), and an all-in-one Aura Note Ver. 2 (approximately $2700) which includes a CD player, AM/FM tuner, USB and iPod inputs, two Aux inputs, pre-out for subwoofer, headphone jack, remote and On/Off timer, with a 50 wpc amplifier.

All three units were styled by British industrial designer Kenneth Grange and with the chrome and glass, semi-retro look, take a definite tilt toward bling. Note the alpha numeric LED greeting on the CD player. Upsampling on the player includes 96 kHz, 192 kHz and bypass modes. The similarly styled integrated amplifier puts out 75 wpc, has a digital volume control, headphone jack, LED display (Goodbye?) and full function remote control. Overall, this was a good sounding room for relatively easy money — a perfect formula for the times, one might think.

 

audioaero from France frequently appears at the Montreal show where they usually present an entire audioaero system, plus someone else's extraordinary loudspeakers. Like at Montreal, this was a primo room, but the players were a mixed bag including LaSource, a CD player/preamp from audioaero, a Convergent Audio Technologies (CAT) stereo amplifier and avantgarde Uno loudspeakers. I was treated to a rundown on LaSource and it was indeed very impressive — I envy the lucky reviewer who gets to play with this ~$30,000 front end.

Goodies included a top-of-the-line Esoteric transport mounted in a 50mm thick milled aluminum faceplate that is isolated from the circuitry. An Anagram Technologies pair of dacs uses 32-bit/384kHz processing that combine with an ultra low jitter master clock to achieve a claimed S/N ratio of 129 dB. The analog output stage utilizes two 7mm cryogenically treated tubes that are soldered directly to the circuit board. The selectable fixed output is 2, 3 or 4 volts, or you can use the variable stepped attenuator that can put out 7 volts to drive long cables or any amplifier you chose. CD and SACD, but no DVD. A USB input and five independent digital inputs allow you to build a complete system around this unit that comes in diamond black or brushed silver. If audioaero shows at Montreal this year, be sure and check out their room…even if you can't afford it.

Eficon announced they were becoming a subsidiary of Aurum Cantus, a brand I admire for their fine sound and gorgeous cabinets. Eficon claims a patent pending enclosure construction, but I couldn't figure out what it was from looking at their F300 three-way four driver loudspeaker with stacked mid/tweeter and woofer cabinets. The tweeter is an air motion transformer and the 6.5-inch midrange and 12-inch woofer are non-woven carbon fiber sandwiched cones. A rear-facing aluminum ribbon super tweeter is also employed. Priced at $14,900 it was more expensive and much larger than anything I've seen from Aurum Cantus. The sound, however, was certainly in the same league. This same loudspeaker was also used by FIM to display their reference recordings at Alexis Park, some of which feature a coating of the blue AVM (Anti-Vibration Magic). The F300 was driven by BAT electronics and the music was very good here. Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the loudspeaker because the window shades were open and my attention was captured by the gravitational pull of the rising full moon. Say... where's my Credence Clearwater LP when I need it?

 

 

   

I had seen photos of the Arabesque glass loudspeaker and it was a unique experience to sit in front of it and listen to it driven by Nagra tube amplifiers. It was like nothing I've ever heard driven by the Nagra. The music (as well as the speaker itself) had a high degree of transparency that was accompanied by a glare and decay that while not unpleasant, was reminiscent of music in highly reverberant marble walled rooms. At $45,000, be sure you audition it before deciding you want it... and consult your decorator or spouse.

 

29th Floor of the Venetian

Dropping down to the 29th floor I tried to squeeze in a few more rooms after the official 6 pm closing time. The first room I encountered there was the Loiminchay room. I had had a disappointing experience in my visit at the New York show a couple of years ago, and I was hoping for a better opportunity this time around. Unfortunately, history repeated itself, and I found the host engaged in displaying the performance attributes of this unusual horn loudspeaker with violin music, which supposedly is very difficult for horns to get right. As much as I love the cello rock band Break of Reality, solo violin music didn't move me so I moved on. Maybe next time....

 

I've encountered Chapter Audio from England on a couple of occasions back east. It is pricey and very high quality. The new series seen here seems to have evolved in the direction of bling with blue LED lights and fancy knobs. The Couplet 400S stereo amplifier seen in front is $18,000. The Precis 250S integrated amplifier ($7000) on the upper left was being used as a preamp only, and the Sonnet CD player is seen on the upper right. The loudspeakers were the floorstanding Revolver Audio Cygnis at $11,000. The activity was a little jumbled in this room when I popped in and I didn't get a good fix on the music here. Sometimes that happens. Sorry, blokes. Perhaps I'll catch them in Montreal again.

It was getting evident that the show was winding down for Saturday night. I descended the tower and caught the last shuttle back to the Alexis Park where I was staying. Next door, at the St. Tropez, I met up with my good friend Art Shapiro and his wife Joan. Art is a member of the esteemed Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society. On rare occasions he wins something interesting at the raffle during their monthly meetings. This time he won a free room and admission to T.H.E. Show, forcing him to drive across the desert to attend. We drove around Las Vegas a bit and considered stopping in at Himalayan restaurant for some yak for dinner. (Subsequent research revealed it to be just another Indian restaurant with no yak offered). We settled for the buffet at Terrible's Casino, which wasn't terrible at all.

I grabbed another can of beer to boost my fluid level. Las Vegas is quite dehydrating.

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