Ces 2001... No Pan Am clippers ferrying VIPs to the Space Station. No Ferris-wheel-shaped space station where Russian and American scientists play diplomatic cat-and-mouse. No paranoid lip-reading computers (at least none that I know of). No big black monoliths on the Moon beaming signals toward Jupiter. But look at the reality: astounding photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, Galileo close-up imagery of the moons of Jupiter, the recent NEAR landing on an asteroid, phenomenal high-resolution imagery of the solar atmosphere from TRACE, one-meter-resolution commercial imagery of the Earth from space, GPS, the internet, and hybrid gas/electric cars. I'd say that 2001 turned out quite well, just different.
For the first time since 1994, I did not do my one-man march through the entire show (thus the "Iron Man" moniker given to me by my colleagues many moons ago). I spent time in rooms that I really wanted to see, spent more time talking to old friends, and enjoyed myself. I still managed to cover an awful lot of ground (see below), and relied more heavily on my far-flung intelligence network to hear about the really good-sounding rooms (special thanks are due to Joe Knight).
As in recent years, the CES show was held in the Alexis Park, which affords the opportunity to get out into grass, blue sky, and a beautiful pool area between buildings. The Home Entertainment Show (T.H.E. Show) was held right next door at the St. Tropez. This venue offers better constructed rooms at lower cost to the exhibitors, and the migration in the direction of this "renegade" show continues. Each photograph in this article refers to the paragraph below it.
My CDs this year were custom burns, including the infamous track 9 from the Proprius Cantate Domino. A disc specially prepared for the 2001 CES with custom cover was kindly provided by longtime friend and audio compatriot Raymond Chowkwanyun. Two custom CDs, containing some phenomenal hand-picked test material, were provided by my close friend and CES teammate Stan Ricker. (If you want to find me at a show, just look for Stan, and I won't be far away.) And as always, I'm only reporting on the systems about which there was something I liked (with one glaring exception). Now on with the report.
The Best Sound in the Show was from Status Acoustics, a division of RBH Sound. Status Acoustics is not a name with a high recognition factor in high-end audio circles, but it should be. Two years ago, I awarded them best sound in show, and Stan Ricker strongly concurred. This year, Status showed only in the Convention Center, and you had to be persistent to find them. But the trip was worth it. The big Status Acoustics Titus loudspeakers just seem to do everything right. They have aliveness, dynamics, transient response, snap, utter cleanliness, and control, coupled with neutrality, subtlety, transparency, vanishingly low coloration, and integrity of harmonics. They have a sense of top-to-bottom coherence and rightness that I have almost never heard in any loudspeaker. These are large, heavy (280 lb) speakers with composite cabinets that are extremely dead and well-braced.
They use aluminum-cone drivers, with six 10" woofers and a d'Appolito midrange/tweeter configuration. They were being run with Jeff Rowland amps this year, although I also heard them sounding fabulous with the Komura 845-based tube amps two years ago. Designer Shane Rich and company founder Roger B. Hassing went out of their way to put on an excellent demonstration this year, and Stan and I walked away with our previous impressions reaffirmed. I will be reviewing the next-to-top-of-the-line Atlas speaker (a much more manageable 130 lbs) in these pages. Check out their web page at www.statusacoustics.com
The Best High Efficiency Audio System in the show, and one of the Top 5 Systems, was the Edgarhorn Vintage Titan loudspeaker being powered by the Cyrus Brenneman Audio Cavalier amp. Dr. Bruce Edgar has finally made it into the big leagues, IMHO. Bruce's speakers were sounding and looking better than they ever have in any previous incarnation. Despite their rather imposing size, spouses (specifically, wives) were reportedly saying that they wanted a pair in their homes. People appeared to sit mesmerized. This system had great midrange clarity, and a sense of aliveness coupled with smoothness and a lack of distortion. These speakers will soon be available for audition in a New York area showroom.
Cy Brenneman makes a line of single-ended amps that are both beautiful and great sounding, using Electra-Print output transformers. The Cavalier is a 10W Class A single-ended design using EL-34 tubes. His other amps include one based on 845's, which is my favorite tube. In a major departure for him, Cy is developing high-power push-pull designs. Web site for both: www.euphonosaudio.com or contact Bruce at email@example.com or Cy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Best Chills-Up-The-Spine in the show, and one of the Top 5 Systems, was the Merlin VSM Millennium loudspeaker being powered by Joule Electra electronics. Bobby Palkovic was gracious as always, and reports that he has taken these speakers to their final stage of refinement. Having heard them in their various incarnations over the years, I'd have to agree. This system has always had a combination of aliveness and musicality that I have found absolutely captivating, and this year was no exception. I got the first, and definitely the best, chills-up-the-spine listening to the gorgeous choral reproduction provided by this system. This involuntary response is always a sign to me that something is right. Bobby has made several changes, including a very serious threaded footer, that seem to have improved things. He continues to work on a subwoofer to accompany these speakers. Thanks for your hospitality, Bobby. Zip on over to www.merlinlusic.com.
The Best Use of Vibration Control in the show, and one of the Top 5 Systems, was a joint effort between Black Diamond Racing and the Glass Amplifier Company. I have always loved the Black Diamond Racing (BDR) products from D. J. Casser, and I use them throughout my system. These carbon-fiber-and-epoxy-resin products really work. (I have found them to be particularly effective under my tubed preamp and as a replacement for the stock record clamp on my TNT turntable.) This year, D. J. teamed with Mike Maduras of the Glass Amplifier Company to create a tubed amplifier using BDR's material as integral components of the amplifier structure. The PSE300B dual-mono Class-A single-ended amp uses 300B tubes and very high quality components, with four separate layers of BDR material. It sports a unique-looking chassis that Stan likened to part of a steam-driven fire engine, and that I called a castle in need of a moat, albeit a red castle. For the first time in any show, I liked the sound of the Avantgarde horn speakers, as driven by this system. The reproduction had transparency, delicacy, and great imaging coupled with aliveness and dynamics. Zoom on over to Black Diamond Racing at www.blackdiamondusa.com or contact the Glass Amplifier Company via landline at (818) 249-7781 in Glendale, California.
The Sexiest and Spookiest New Electronics, and one of the Top 5 Systems, was from the Hovland Company. Their stunning HP100 preamp was being shown with their brand new drop-dead-gorgeous Sapphire amplifier. Of all of the pieces of electronics that I have seen in over 15 years at CES, this amp is the one that I most wanted to spend time photographing. Jeff Tonkin has done an outstanding job of designing the exterior of both of these components, and company founder Bob Hovland is justifiably proud of the results that his team has accomplished over all of the years that they have been together. Electronics designer Mike Garges and company representative Alex Crespi both looked extremely pleased. I heard inner detail in my test CDs that I heard in no other system in the show, which was the spooky part. My hat is off to the Hovland team for a fabulous effort. BTW, the amp is a hybrid 40W push-pull Class A/B design using solid state input and power supply circuitry and a tubed output stage based on EL-34's. Also BTW, for all of you vinyl junkies, Hovland makes an outstanding tonearm cable that remains firmly ensconced in my reference system. Take a gander at www.hovlandcompany.com.
Hovland also takes the award hands-down for the Best Remote in the show (see the photo with Jeff Tonkin displaying the preferred technique). This gadget is simple, has no tiny buttons that are impossible to find, and it has no batteries to run down. And in LA traffic, properly pre-configured, it can serve as a device to display your digital disdain of all of the other maniacs hurtling down the asphalt (that's why I want one, anyway…).
The Best Musical Sensibility in the show was displayed by Keith Herron of Herron Audio. This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows him. Keith plays music and lets the equipment speak for itself. It is always a tremendous pleasure to settle down in his room and see what treasures he will pull from his stack of great music. Keith was showing his VTPH-1 phono preamp, his VTSP-1A preamp, and his M150 power amp, ably converting electrical to acoustic energy via a pair of Audio Physic Avanti III loudspeakers. The sound was very inviting. Keith points out that one of the reasons his equipment sounds so good is the Single Crystal Oxygen Free Vacuum (patent pending) that he mines in his Transylvanian Vacuum Mines. But wait a minute. Last year, he claimed that his high-quality vacuum comes from deep under the Himalayas. Either you made a gross blunder, Keith, or you're trying to obfuscate the real source to throw the rest of the industry off track. Go to www.herronaudio.com and investigate this mystery for yourself.
The Company Best Combining Audiophile and Pro-Audio Sensibilities was Manley Laboratories. The irrepressible EveAnna Manley was proudly showing off her new Manley Steelhead phono preamp, which is laden with useful features. It has one moving magnet and two moving coil inputs (one each RCA and DIN jacks for moving coil). It provides cartridge loading from 0-1100 pF in 10 pF steps, six different values of cartridge loading between 25-400 ohms, and a host of other features coupled with Manley's usual very high build quality. EveAnna was displaying with Israel Blume, using his Coincident "Total Eclipse" loudspeakers (a moniker which certainly appeals to your humble scribe, a former solar astronomer). The sound had lifelike impact, and was quite enjoyable. Take a peek at www.manleylabs.com and www.coincidentspeaker.com [Editor dude Steve sez: If you look hard enough (pun not intended) you will see a virtually naked photo of me on the Manley site].
The Best Product from Down Under, and one of my favorite systems in the show, was from Osborn Loudspeakers. Greg Osborn was demonstrating their towering Monument speaker, which weighs in at 275 lbs. It was powered by Audio Aero electronics, including the Capitole 50W Class A push-pull stereo amp. This system had a great sense of effortless and aliveness, with full-range, neutral reproduction. It was a pure pleasure to listen to. By show's end, it just missed being ranked in the top five systems in the show. Log on to www.osbornloudspeakers.com.au or check out the Australian Audio website (the North American importer) at www.nuviewaudio.com.
The Most Visible New CD Player in the show was from Audio Aero of France. Their components showed up in some very good systems. The Capitole CD player uses 24 bit/192 kHz re-sampling technology and an analog subminiature tube output stage. Try www.audioaero.com or the US importer at www.regausa.com.
The Best Computer Speakers in the show were the flat-panel LFT-11 from Eminent Technology and the gracious and understated Bruce Thigpen. Bruce also makes the loudspeakers that have been in my system for many years now, the Eminent Technology LFT-8, which was the first push-pull magnetostat on the market. I have found no better speaker at its price point, I love what it does in my listening room, and I urge you to check them out. Bruce was demonstrating his new LFT-14 small panel speaker at the show, which he says will also form the building block for a new large-panel speaker. I can't wait to see what Bruce will accomplish with that. Point your Mac or (if you must) PC to www.eminent-tech.com.
The Best Un-Solid-State-Like Solid State Electronics (Tie) were from Tim deParavicini of Esoteric Audio Research. Tim was demonstrating the M100 A single-ended solid-state Class A transformer-coupled 100W monoblock power amps with his model 312 solid state transformer-coupled preamp ($35,000 and $18,000, respectively). Speakers were the Kharma Ceramic 1 Limited Edition. Solid state is quite a departure for Tim, but the beautiful sound that he was getting spoke for itself. It didn't sound like solid state or tubes, but it did sound an awful lot like music. You can contact E.A.R. USA via phone at (562) 422-4747 or via fax at (562) 422-6577 in Long Beach, California. (That's so retro.) You'll find Kharma at www.kharmausa.com.
The Best Un-Solid-State-Like Solid State Electronics (Tie) were from Masataka Tsuda of Silicon Arts Design. They were powering the new Rosinante Dulcinea loudspeaker from Ric Cummins, who has been a constant source of inspiring conversation, quick wit, and notable quotable (until this year) quips at countless CESs. The combination of the Silicon Arts CD player, preamp, and 20W power amp, with the Rosinante speakers, sounded gorgeous, with subtlety, inner detail, harmonic structure, and excellent transient response. The Dulcinea is a more cost-effective speaker from Ric. Departing from his past designs, this is a box speaker with the shaping done on the inside, instead of the outside. The baffle board is made of Ric's mysterious and proprietary DarkMatter. Find out more about Rosinante at www.roomlens.com or contact Ric directly at email@example.com. Uncover some grains of truth about Silicon Arts Design at www.siliconartsdesign.com.
The Most Improved Italian System in the show was being shown by Vincenzo Fratello of Strumenti Acustici di Precisione (I just love saying the name of this company). Their new flagship J2001 hybrid horn/cone loudspeaker looks very retro-tech. It was being demonstrated with S.A.P.'s new preamp and power amp. The S.A.P. systems have piqued my curiosity for several years now, and in my opinion they have just taken a quantum jump in sound quality. These new S.A.P. components produced a sound that was very enjoyable, with outstanding vocal realism. S.A.P. also produces the Relaxa 1 isolation platform that uses magnetic levitation. Contact the North American distributor, Blue Cow Audio, at www.bluecowaudio.com for some utterly fascinating product information.
The Best European System was being shown by Dennis Pawlik of Acoustique et Lutherie. The loudspeakers were the Ocellia Kedros, using very high quality drivers from PHY-HP. The turntable was the eye-popping La Platine from J. C. Verdier, and the electronics were also from J. C. Verdier. This was the only loudspeaker I saw in the show I which the cabinet is considered to essentially be a musical instrument. Traditional violin-making techniques are used for the cabinets, which are nominally made of 1/4-inch spruce. The cabinet panels are allowed to vibrate, with the vibration controlled by stiffeners. This philosophy runs counter to the grain of standard loudspeaker thought, but it proves that there's more than one way to skin a cat, at least in France. The sound was beautiful, smooth and elegant, with vocals that really floated in space. Check out the U.S. importer APEX at www.2000Apex.com. Acoustique et Lutherie may be contacted in France via phone at 33.(0).5.62.69.00.10.
The Most Cost Effective Speaker in the show was the Super 12 kit from John Wyckoff of Hammer Dynamics. This high efficiency design sells for $575 in kit form, which includes the drivers and associated components, and the cabinet design. John noted that the target market is people with good ears but few dollars. The speakers are being used with amps as puny as 1W, and they are in three recording studios. They were being demonstrated with electronics from Jack Elliano and Ben Vicente of Electra-Print Audio. Stan spent a while happily listening and admiring some new drivers of John's. Sadly, John Wyckoff passed away soon after the CES was held, and I do not know about the present status of the company. Their web site is www.hammerdynamics.com. Electra-Print can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Most Cost Effective Tube Amplifiers in the show were from Antique Sound Laboratory Ltd. in China, being shown by Tosh Goka of Divergent Technologies in Canada. I never met an 845 amp that I didn't like…and this company makes inexpensive 845-based amps. There was quite a lot of buzz around the show about a stereo 845-based amp for $2500. They were being shown in a static display, but what I did get to hear was a pair of 10W push-pull monoblocks selling for $99 each (!), driving a pair of Reference 3A deCapo loudspeakers to great effect. This is definitely worth checking out at http://www.tubehifi.com.
The Best Integrated Amplifier in the show is a hard call. Last year, I was quite bowled over by the VTL IT-85 of Luke Manley, driving a pair of Joseph Audio loudspeakers. I was also quite taken by the Manley Laboratories Stingray of EveAnna Manley, which features beautiful styling and sound to match. This year, the VTL was on static display, and I didn't hear the Manley, either. If you're looking for a killer tubed integrated amp, I recommend that you check out both: www.vtl.com/~lmanley for VTL and www.manleylabs.com for Manley Laboratories. Confused? (Editor dude Steve sez: Did i mention the virtually nude photo of me on their website?).
The Most Eye-Catching Tonearm in the show was constructed by architect Randolph Hedgebeth. Dubbed the "Golden Gate", it is a definite departure from the norm (see the photo). The arm is sold by Hart and Beth Huschens of Audio Advancements. Its unique look was a definite crowd pleaser. www.audioadvancements.com
The Best Personal System in the show was the PhonoMax/EarMax combination, imported by Hart and Beth Huschens of Audio Advancements. Hart and Beth, two of the nicest and most genuine people you will ever meet at a CES, import top-drawer European components, accessories and music. Those of you who are long-time readers of Positive Feedback magazine know that I fell head-over-heels for the EarMax, a triode OTL headphone amp that can be battery powered. Now there is the PhonoMax, which is as elegantly made as the EarMax, and which is designed as a phono preamp. I listened to some beautiful music through the PhonoMax/EarMax combination, and was quite impressed. And Beth, it was especially good to see you back at the show after all this time. Check out the details on these and other unusual components sold by Audio Advancements at http://www.audioadvancements.com.
The Best CD Treatment in the show was from Toy Shigekawa of Torumat. This has been my reference standard for years, and I was able to consistently identify it in a rigorous blind test that I was subjected to a few years ago, as reported in the pages of Positive Feedback magazine. Toy's latest CDX-16-3 is clearly his best. Toy also manufactures turntable mats and pucks, which I intend to audition on my VPI TNT shortly. Phone (916) 652-6074 in California.
The Best New Direct-to-Disc LPs in the show were from Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds. Chad asked Stan Ricker of Stan Ricker Mastering to do the first direct-to-disc recording that has been done in approximately two decades, during his Blues Masters festival in Salina, Kansas, last October. I was there, and it was a blast (see my story at www.enjoythemusic.com that can be read on my Blues Masters article). Kudos to Chad for having the foresight to create Blue Heaven Studios in the first place, and then to do some D-2-D sessions. Hop on over to www.acousticsounds.com, and check out the site of the master masterer himself at www.rickermaster.com.
The Best New CD (new to me) in the show was from Winston Ma of First Impressions Music. The disc "Hush, The Angels Are Singing" will likely become my new reference standard for choral music. It's absolutely stunning, and words fail me. Try it out for yourself email@example.com.
The Heaviest Amps I Tried to Heft at the show were those from Kevin Hayes of the Valve Amplification Company (VAC). Readers of Positive Feedback magazine will know how impressed I have been with Kevin's products in the past, most recently his line of high-quality home theater tubed components which allow a single system to produce both music and movie sound. Check out his full product line at www.vac-amps.com.
The Amp I'm Most Curious to Hear is the Brown Electronic Laboratories BEL 1001 from Dick Brown. This amp has had a more positive buzz over the years than any solid state amp I have ever heard about. It was being used at the show in the California Audio Technology room. Although Dick and I were among a group of a dozen people who had dinner together on our first night in Las Vegas, we did not really get a chance to talk. I now have one of his amps in hand for audition, and look forward to hearing what all the ruckus is about. Phone (408) 259-8648 in California.
The Best Grit and Determination (In More Ways Than One) was displayed by Barry Kohan of Bright Star Audio. Barry is justifiably famous for his line of very effective vibration control products, which in earlier years made heavy use of sand. Barry's sand-filled TNT Big Rock made quite a nice difference under my VPI TNT turntable. My favorite new product of Barry's this year is the Rack Of Gibraltar 4 and 4G. The 4G model includes one of his Gemini twin isolation platforms on each of the four shelves. It looks beautiful, and it's solid. Barry is recovering from a terrible accident with a table saw, and we talked at length at the show. Barry displayed an incredibly positive attitude in the face of tremendous personal adversity, and it was quite seriously a true inspiration to me. Here's wishing you a full recovery, Barry. Check out the full line of products at http://www.brightstaraudio.com.
The R L Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8 loudspeaker from Robert Lamarre was sounding quite good, driven by Tenor Audio electronics from Francois Lemay and Robert Lamarre. The Lamhorn can use Lowther, Reps, or German AER drivers. Tenor Audio is still working on the versions with the laser-cut chassis that I effused about in an earlier CES report. Their OTL amps using the 6C33C tube are presently being produced on a more normal, but beautiful, chassis, and both the 15W and 75W versions were sounding great. Point your browser to www.rlacoustique.com and www.tenoraudio.com.
New at the show this year was ReTHM, where Jacob George was showing a very distinctive loudspeaker based on the Lowther driver. I did not have time for a serious listen, but Clark Johnsen waxed eloquent about their sound. Their showroom is in Alhambra, California, not far from me, and I plan to visit them soon. www.rethm.com
Lionel Goodfield of Simaudio was showing his line of electronics, including the new MOON AIR Analog FM tuner. Not many companies are bringing out new FM tuners these days, and as an FM listener, it warms my heart to see such an effort, especially one of high quality. Sneak a peek at www.simaudio.com.
Vince Bruzzese of Totem Acoustic was showcasing his new Wind loudspeaker. Long-time readers of my show reports know in what high regard I hold Vince and his products. A pair of his Totem Model Ones comprise the business end of my second system. I only had time for a brief listen, but what I heard sounded very pleasing. Go to www.totemacoustic.com.
The Best Audio Dealer in the show was Brooks Berdan, a recognized turntable master, audio pioneer, and source of excellent advice and support. For example, I just learned that when Jascha Heifetz' studio was moved brick-by-brick into the Coburn School, Brooks was the one who handled all of the electronics. You can contact Brooks Berdan Ltd. in Monrovia, California, at (626) 359-9131.
The Most Late Lamented Publication in the show was Sound Practices from Joe Roberts. The publication is apparently never to be seen again, but Joe can be seen in his new incarnation, running Loth-X USA. Loth-X (of Singapore) manufactures high-efficiency loudspeakers, including the Ion FS1, which features the Stamm Full Range Drive Unit (which is rather Lowther-like). They also make two turntables, including the Aida, which is a stunningly beautiful clear acrylic unit. Loth-X USA also represents the Korean company Silbatone, who manufacture very expensive battery-powered electronics featuring silver-based components. Joe was achieving excellent sound in his room. For more info see www.lothxonline.com.
The Most Photogenic Reviewer (Not) in the show was Michael Fremer. Try as I might, I just could not get a flattering photograph of him. Thanks for all that you've done to further the cause of analog, Michael. We'll try again next year, and if it's no better, we'll try a liberal dose of Photoshop (Editor dude Steve sez: Mike is cute, sexy and a hunk of burning vinyl love who can be seen on our Milan 2000 Show Report).
The Most Brash Sound in the show was a purported demonstration of the "Future of Audio" put on by Tomlinson Holman. This was a 10.1-channel system meant for film, smack dab in the middle of a high-end show. The effects that could be created were interesting, especially if you like to be right in between the instruments. But Mr. Holman didn't seem to have a clue that the brash PCM sound would drive audiophiles from the room. It was enjoyable to be able to meet the famed creator of THX, but if this is the future of audio, I'm staying in the present.
The Best Look at the Future of Audio was the Sony/Philips Super Audio CD (SACD) Demo. Now this is a future I can embrace. David Kawakami and Gus Skinas of Sony with Dr. Andrew Demery of Philips put on a demo using five B&W 801 loudspeakers. We heard a stunning multi-channel choral recording, which was enveloping and natural, imparting the feeling of being right in the church. We also heard a Kodo-like recording, with stunning room ambience and hall echo. I hope this format makes it in the marketplace. It was also announced that Sony's first multi-channel SACD player under $500 will be out next year. For more information: www.sony.com/sacd and www.philips.com.
The Best Look at Audio's Past was provided by Kevin Barrett of K-A-B Electro-Acoustics. This company makes a multi-function phono preamp specially intended for 78 rpm and earlier recordings. The KAB Souvenir EQS MK12 Disc Remastering Stereo Phono Preamp offers 12 historical EQ curves, starting chronologically with one tailored for the acoustic horn. They also make an effective-looking turntable speed-checking disc with stroboscope. You'll find more info on www.KABusa.com.
The Best Lamp in the Show was being displayed by Gayle Van Syckle of Nitty Gritty, Inc. I was on the outlook for something, since EveAnna forgot her lava lamp this year. See the photo. I have relied on a Nitty Gritty model 2.5FI for years to clean my LPs, and it does the job very effectively. For the down and dirty details, see http://www.nittygrittyinc.com.
The Best Simulated Reality in the show was the Enjoy the Music.com™ editor Steve Rochlin's electronic dog, the Sony AIBO 210. This cyber-dog bears an uncanny resemblance to the real thing, in terms of mannerisms, articulation of limbs and head, and ability to play with a ball. He has voice recognition, can obey spoken commands, and knows his name (Astro). I was quite taken with this little guy. Check out this high-tech woofer at www.us.aibo.com... (Editor dude Steve sez: Look folks, in my defense it gets very lonely on these long show trips and two years ago my blow up doll of that fab Bay Watch girl started suffering from massive air leaks. Astro is my new pet alternative to brining my pet Severe Macaw parrot Billie Holiday with me to shows. Now if i could buy a robotic woman like in the Austin Powers movies... Ok, in truth i am a big-time forward technology dweeb/geek. Humorous note to self: Buy new blow up doll for the next show and consider moving out of my parent's basement and getting a real girlfriend... and real life. This is humor folks!).
The Best Single-Malt Scotch in the show was graciously provided by Roy Hall of Music Hall. The Lagavulin really hit the spot after a long day of show. Roy is well known for carrying cost-effective components such as Creek, Epos, Music Hall, Goldring, and my absolute favorite record brush, the Hunt EDA. I highly recommend that you try one, and check out Roy's product line at http://www.musichallaudio.com.
The Best Single-Malt Scotch (Runner-Up) in the show was from D. J. Casser of Black Diamond Racing. Very, very nice, but edged out by something even nicer. See below for my post-show review of his products.
The Best Breakfast in the show was had thanks to Steve Rochlin. I got to meet a lot of the other writers for Enjoy the Music.com™ for the first time. I got to enjoy some time with my buddy Clark Johnsen. And I got to see Steve in his cigar doggie slippers. What more could one ask?
As to the Best Lunch in the Show - who has time for lunch?
The Most Selfless Act I Have Witnessed in Audio was by none other than George Cardas, just prior to the show. For his help given to a good friend of mine, I'm speechless. www.cardas.com
The Best Live Music in the show was played by Raj Rathor at the CES Welcoming Show on Saturday night. Two years ago, I reviewed his LP entitled The Dance of the Black Panther, which features all-original compositions by Rathor, most of which are bluegrass-, jazz- and Indian-influenced. Rathor is a real virtuoso of the acoustic guitar, and his playing is lyrical, evocative, and nimble, with some positively phenomenal pickin'.
The Most Collegial Fellow Writers in the show were Clark Johnsen of Positive Feedback, Kalman Rubinson of Stereophile, and Bob O'Neill of Bound for Sound. I enjoyed my time with all of you.
The Best Editor-in-Chief in the show was…I dunno…is this version appearing in Positive Feedback or Enjoy the Music.com™? (Editor dude Steve sez: Dave, kissing butt gets you no where... though we gladly accept Stan's awesome direct to disc vinyl as bribes :-) ).
The Best Audio Buddy in the show was, of course, Stan Ricker. Stan and I have done the show together for several years now. I have learned a tremendous amount from him about audio, music, life, and friendship, and he has opened my ears to a lot of new experiences. May we enjoy the show together for many more years to come.
The Post-Show Hardware Report
I am usually given various accessories to try out in my system after the show. This year was no exception. Of these, the only products that made improvements in my system were those from Black Diamond Racing. Thanks to D. J. Casser, my system is sounding better than it ever has. I calls 'em as I sees 'em, and I am extremely impressed with the effectiveness of these products.
I was already using BDR cones under many components, BDR shelves under two components, and the very effective BDR record clamp on my VPI TNT. For the first time, I tried the BDR pucks, screwed to the cones. These are circular, flat sections of the same carbon/epoxy material as the shelves. I auditioned various combinations of the Mk3 and Mk4 cones and pucks, both cones up and cones down, under my CD transport, my preamp, and my amp.
Under the CD transport, the winning combination was Mk4 cones with Mk3 pucks, with the cones down (onto the wooden shelf of a Target rack). The improvements over cones alone were: a more open soundstage; a more neutral frequency response; better transparency; a better sense of real instruments, with body, in a real space; and improved imaging. I found the three-dimensionality of reproduction, with little imaging details that hadn't been obvious previously, to be somewhat uncanny. I've been living without these for too long.
My tubed preamp had been using Mk4 cones and a BDR Shelf. I experimented with various cone/puck combinations, and wound up with Mk4 pucks screwed to Mk3 cones, cones down. That made a distinct improvement, despite the fact that the preamp was already on a BDR Shelf. My solid state amp had been using Mk3 cones on a wooden shelf. I replaced that with a BDR Shelf, and experimented with various combos of cones and pucks. I ended up with Mk3 cones screwed to Mk3 pucks, cones down onto the Shelf. I heard the same kinds of improvements as with the CD transport (just not as pronounced).
Needless to say, I've lived without these accessories for too long. I have precious few hours for audio these days, and was very glad to be able to make an overall improvement of this magnitude with only an afternoon's experimentation. My hat is off to you, D.J.
The Post-Show Music Report
Coleman Brice of Classic Records has very graciously provided many LPs which will be auditioned shortly. These include works by Jascha Heifetz; Fritz Reiner; Louis Armstrong; and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The Louis Armstrong St. James Infirmary was an especially inspired release, IMHO. Ying Tan of Groove Note has provided LPs by blues artists Jay McShann and Luqman Hamza, and he has announced an upcoming direct-to-disc project. Robert Pincus of Cisco Records has sent LPs of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique and Swan Lake. Todd Garfinkle of MoA has provided a new eclectic jazz release on CD. And Steve Hoffman of DCC will be providing his latest Sinatra releases. Look for reviews of all of these shortly.
The Reference System
And for you new readers, so you know where I'm coming from, the following is a description of the system used in the post-show reviews. LPs are played on a VPI TNT with a 10" JMW Memorial arm, a Benz Ruby cartridge, and a Black Diamond Racing (BDR) record clamp. The turntable currently rests on a BDR "The Shelf for the Source." (My Bright Star Big Foot TNT filled with 100 lbs of sand is going back in the system shortly, having to be set back up post-move). This all rests on a VPI TNT stand filled with 200 lbs of lead shot, spiked to the floor. A Hovland tonearm cable takes the signal to a Klyne SK-2A headamp, then Cardas Cross takes it to a Music Reference RM-5 tubed preamp (using Top Hat tube dampers). More Cardas Cross takes the signal to a (yes, I know) Sumo Half-Power power amp (mil-spec components, high current, "the Krell of its day"). Audio Prism Wave Guide cable enhancers are used on the Sumo's power cable.
Biwired Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables connect the amp to Eminent Technology Model 8 loudspeakers, which themselves are Cardas-wired and mounted on Sound Anchor stands. The equipment before the power amp is isolated in a walk-in closet, while the amp and speakers are in a dedicated listening room treated with RPG Diffusers, Room Tunes, ASC Tube Traps, and a big Navajo rug. Everything except the power amp is plugged into two Audio Power Industries Power Wedges. Plug polarity is done correctly with an Elfix polarity tester. A Philips CD680 CD player is used as a transport, connected to a Theta Cobalt DAC via Cardas Microtwin (with another Audio Prism Wave Guide cable enhancer), while Cardas Cross is used from there to the RM-5. The DAC uses a Hovland power cord. The electronics in the closet (except the headamp) are on a Target B5 stand. The headamp, preamp, amp, CD transport, DAC, and TNT power supply are isolated with various combinations of BDR Pyramid Cones, Pucks, and Shelves. Open reel tapes can be played via a Technics RS 1500 semi-pro 2-track 15 ips tape deck, the one with the big U-shaped transport (a really good machine which is used as a transport by Chesky in their analog mastering). Headphone listening can be done with an EarMax tubed triode headphone amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD-580s. And there's some decent FM, mainly used for listening to Car Talk and What Do You Know (or is that Whaddaya Know?) on NPR.
Until next year!