CES Report &
T.H.E. Show Coverage 2011
Show Coverage By Phil Gold
Esoteric K01 and K03 SACD Players, RZ-1 Integrated Amp/SACD Player
Japan's Esoteric continue to show the rest of the world just how to construct the audio equivalent of a fine Rolex. The K-01 ($22,000) features no less than 16 paralleled AKM DACs and a superb new drive unit, the 5.2 kg VRDS-Neo (VMK-3.5-20S) mounted in exquisite casework and displaying exemplary internal layout. Baby brother K-03 ($13,000) has to make do with a mere 8 AKM 32 bit DACs and a VMK-3.5-10 drive unit which only weighs 4.4kg! While Esoteric do license their drive units to other competing manufacturers like Wadia, EMM Labs and dCS, they keep these top of the line units to themselves. Who else could afford them anyway? But all is not lost for those with smaller pockets. Esoteric surprises with a combination Integrated Amp. SACD Player, 32-bit USB DAC and Phono Preamp they call the RZ-1 ($6,000). The amplifier puts out 100wpc and the DAC accepts a full 192/24 signal via S/PDIF coaxial and optical (Toslink). Esoteric also continues to restore fabulous classical recordings from the DECCA catalog in the SACD format, to give Esoteric owners a taste of just how good a recording can be.
Thiel SCS4T Speakers
On demo in a large room and fed by Bryston components, the new Thiel SCS4T tower speakers were making very nice noises, aided by Thiel subwoofers. Thiel claim these tower speakers are both time and phase coherent, which accounts for their high level of musicality. At the heart of this speaker sits the coaxially mounted Power Driver, featuring a short coil and long gap. The tweeter is based on the one found in their high end CS3.7 ($12,900) but this speaker sells for a modest $3690 a pair. The baffle is die cast aluminum and the frame uses 1" MDF for extra rigidity. You can order yours in Natural Cherry, Dark Cherry or Black Ash. A bookshelf version is also available, the SCS4.
Sonus Faber - "The Sonus Faber"
A statement speaker from Sonus Faber, "The Sonus Faber" is not going to win prizes for its looks, unlike almost every other product coming out of that company. But there's some really advanced technology involved here so let's take a look. It's a massive 3.5 way design involving sound field shaper variable geometry radiation for 3 dimensional imaging, with floor suspension and internal decoupling combined with a mass damping system to eliminate vibration. The shape is an evolution of the Lute shape we have seen from earlier designs, and this time the inspiration is the Lyre. A 1" ring radiator tweeter is decoupled from the main baffle and incorporates a wooden acoustic labyrinth rear chamber. The midrange is covered by a 6.5" driver, again decoupled from the baffle and the basket is made from solid billets of Avional and Gun Metal. Two 10" woofers with sandwich cones cover the bass spectrum, but beneath them operates a 15" driver incorporating a sandwich of nano carbon fiber on a synthetic foam core. A rear-firing sound shaper incorporates a tweeter and 4.5" driver and can be adjusted for SPL and azimuth to suit the room. A pair of these speakers will weigh 1345 lbs and if you have to ask the price, you can't afford them. Only 30 pairs will be made. And the sound?Really something special.
Sonus Faber Amati Futura
This slightly less extravagant speaker (around $33,000) arrived from Italy at the very last minute, and it is simply gorgeous to behold - slender, highly polished and immaculately presented. It's a 3 way floorstanding speaker, around 40" high, with the familiar rubber strings vertically stretched down the front baffle. It is available in a superlative Red Violin or Graphite finish (pictured). Unfortunately it was on static display only in a private suite at the Mirage, but if it sounds as good as it looks, it will be a winner. Make mine red!
Krell Phantom Preamp, 2250e and 3250e Power
Krell was showing at the Flamingo this year, in a spacious suite away from the crowds. Bill McKiegan, Krell's president, spent a long time going over recent changes in the organization, and where the company is heading. The higher end Evolution Series products are all made in the USA, while a couple of hot selling inexpensive components are produced in China to Krell's very strict requirements. Joining the Evolution Series is a new two-chassis preamp, the Phantom ($17,500), with optional electronic Crossover module ($2,500) for driving subwoofers and speakers together with the highest possible fidelity. It includes much of the technology of the 4-chassis Evolution 2 Reference preamp. The crossover is highly configurable to suit different rooms and speakers. This is a dual mono design with separate full size circuit boards and power supply regulation for each channel. All signal gain is realized in surface mount topology using proprietary multiple-output current mirrors with nearly 500 times the open loop linearity of other designs, providing a 1.5 MHz open loop bandwidth in zero feedback balanced Krell Current Mode. One chassis contains the power supply and the second the preamp circuitry, including a balanced resistor ladder volume control. You can specify either diamond cut silver or black finish. Also new in the Evolution Series are two power amps. The 2-channel 2250e ($8000) puts out 250 wpc into 8 Ohms (double that into 4 Ohms) and the 3250e ($10,000) performs the same trick into 3 channels. The two pair together for 5-channel home theatre systems. These new amps both feature the Krell Current Mode technology trickling down from their more costly stable mates for high efficiency and high output.
D'Agostino Momentum Monoblock
Dan D'Agostino, although still a principal shareholder in Krell, is now no part of the day to day management of that company and has created a new company D'Agostino to develop high end audiophile electronics. In a press conference, Dan introduced the first in a range of products, the Momentum Monoblock ($21,000 each). Having revolutionized the amplifier world once with his hot running Class A Krell amps, Dan sets out now to bring a high level of audio refinement to a much more compact and energy efficient chassis, and to that end, has made a number of significant innovations. Power output is 300 watts into 8 ohms and 1200 watts into 2 Ohms, an indication of the superb power supply circuitry. Unlike earlier designs, the power draw at idle is less than 1 watt. Innovations include copper heat sinks, 69 MHz power transistors and through-hole construction of the power meter. Each amp will be hand made in Connecticut. Dan explained that the voicing of this new component which he had expected to take from four to six weeks stretched into almost a year, but he is satisfied now that the results were worth the wait. He describes the Momentum as the best sounding amp he has ever designed - or heard. In the small demo room, fed by a dCS Puccini source and driving Wilson Sasha speakers through Transparent cables, the sound was certainly promising but I would need extensive listening to test Dan's modest claims. Up next from D'Agostino is a matching
Audiopax Arpeggione Speakers
I spent a long time listening to music in the Audiopax room, where Eduardo de Lima explained the various and extensive changes made to his range of high end electronics, now in its third generation, and the philosophy behind his new speakers. The sound was amongst the very best at the show, and it is clear music comes first in this Brazilian company. Audiopax make two floorstanding speakers, the Mandolin ($16,000) and the Arpeggione ($30,000). My extensive listening was through the bigger Arpeggione, which easily captured the scale and beauty of the Brahms First Symphony I fished out of my bag. The secret behind these speakers lies in the team of professional luthiers experienced in the hand crafting of fine musical instruments. The Arpeggione is quite efficient at 92dB and a minimum impedance of 6 ohms, a good match for the gorgeous Audiopax 88A3 monobloc power amps ($19,000), and it offers a frequency bandwidth of 28 Hz to 40 kHz ( ±3dB).
KR Audio Kronzilla DX Mk II, P-130 Preamplifier
For fans of the singled ended triode, the drawback has always been the limited power output available, which restricts the range of partnering speakers to very efficient and often horn loaded designs. The answer, if you have the $32,000 price of admission, is to build an amp around two enormous T1610 tubes per monoblock. With a bandwidth of
20 Hz to 22 kHz (-3dB) and an output power of 100 wpc into 8 Ohms you can drive just about anything with these babies. The DX Mk II, which premiered at T.H.E. Show in Vegas this year, uses pure class A and zero negative feedback and improves on its predecessor with a star earth topology and ultra fast power supply. Distortion is reduced and high frequencies extended this time out, and the sound in the KR room was truly remarkable. Let's take a look at the tube itself. A matched pair of T1610s will run you $2500. Not the biggest transmitting tube available, it is still the largest pure triode design, made exclusively by KR Audio. For more limited budgets, KR Audio also introduced the P-130 hybrid preamp, with KR-05 tubes in the input stage for $4500.
Best Sound of the Show
With apologies to all those who battled the difficult conditions and power restrictions imposed by the Venetian Hotel, the best sound at Vegas this year, as many will agree, was at Cirque du Soleil's Love show at the Mirage. Wikipedia reads "Created by French designer Jean Rabasse, the Lovetheater at The Mirage houses 6341 speakers and 2013 seats set around a central stage. Each seat is fitted with three speakers, including a pair in the headrest. The sound system was designed by Jonathan Deans." Superb music, effortless, three-dimensional powerful sound, vanishingly low distortion and amazing acrobatic and artistic visuals to boot. Go for it!
What else is happening in Vegas?
Another year, another massive new Hotel/Casino. This time it's the Cosmopolitan, home to by far the best buffet in town, unusual dog sculptures and some surprisingly large shoes! No prizes for recognizing the "Back to the Future" car hanging out by the valet parking. See you next year.
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