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March 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Music, Sound and Personalities: The 2003 CES and T.H.E. Show
Report By Dave Glackin
Click here to e-mail reviewer


Thirty Worthy Systems

The other systems or components in the show that really floated my boat for one reason or another are described below.  The mediocre systems, or ones that simply didn’t grab my attention, were left on the cutting room floor.


But first, the Best Live Sound in Show was provided courtesy of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab.  In the MoFi hospitality suite on Thursday night, a small number of lucky people were treated to some beautiful singing and acoustic guitar playing by Lori Lieberman (see our exclusive interview with Lori by clicking here).  She played selections from her new CD Monterey (Drive On Records), which I look forward to hearing.  My thanks to Colie Brice and John Wood for the invitation.  Pictured is Lori Lieberman.  www.mofi.com and www.lorilieberman.com.


The Best Mono Cartridge and Best New Stereo Cartridge were to be found in the Lyra/Audio Physic/Burmester room, honchoed with aplomb and grace by Sedrick Harris of Immedia.  I have recently been completely bowled over by the Lyra Helikon Mono cartridge, after hearing a comparison between it and a Benz stereo cartridge on several old mono records.  Yes, there is a very good rationale for having two arms and two cartridges.  The Helikon Mono is astounding.  In fact, Stig Bjorge of Scan Tech (manufacturer of Lyra cartridges) told me that this is the first cartridge that surprised him, and that’s really saying something.  Jonathan Carr, the designer of all Scan Tech cartridges, told me that a new mono cartridge will be coming out for $800.  I can hardly wait to hear it.  Meanwhile, Sedrick Harris described the new Lyra Titan cartridge that was playing in the Immedia room, along with the new Audio Physic Brilon loudspeakers.  According to Sedrick, the new titanium-bodied Titan beats the pants off of the highly regarded stereo Helikon.  That comparison I’ve gotta hear.  Meanwhile, the Audio Physic Yara, my favorite small speaker from last year, is available in a wider array of options that Sedrick was proudly showing off.  Pictured are Stan and Jonathan Carr.  www.lyraaudio.com or www.scantechsweden.com.


Hart Huschens of Audio Advancements was displaying the Most Fascinating Array of European Imports.  In particular, Hart’s Ear Max triode headphone amp has long been a favorite of mine.  I tried very hard not to slobber too much all over Hart’s DPS (Der Platten Spieler) turntable, sporting a beautiful “Jazz Age” LP picture disc.  It was also a pleasure to talk with H. H. Morch, manufacturer of the Morch tonearms that are imported by Hart.  He proved to be one of the most gracious gentlemen in the show.  Pictured are Hart with his product listing, the DPS minus most of slobber, and Mr. Morch.  www.audioadvancements.com



Bruce Thigpen of Eminent Technology manufactures My Personal Reference Loudspeaker, namely the model LFT-8, which has given me many years of happiness in my reference system.  True, it’s not the most expensive, or the most glamorous, but nothing has displaced it yet for me.  My longstanding colleague and close friend, Raymond Chowkwanyun of EnjoyTheMusic.com, has tested many, many speakers, and has settled on two pairs of LFT-8s for a long-term relationship.  Mated with VTL 300s (my system) or huge Manley amps (Ray’s system), these speakers really do it for us.  Bruce was exhibiting his newer smaller planar speaker (pictured), which he promises one day to build up into a big planar speaker.  I look forward to that event.  www.eminent-tech.com

The Best Grit and Determination (for the nth year running) was exhibited by Barry Kohan of Bright Star Audio.  Barry’s well known line of vibration control products are used in many applications throughout the industry, and they were scattered through more than 50 rooms in the show, all personally set up by Barry.  This must be the toughest workout he gets all year.  I look forward to trying out Barry’s Isonode anti-vibration feet.  www.brightstaraudio.com


EveAnna Manley of Manley Laboratories, with Israel Blume of Coincident Speaker Technology set up a room that sounded great as always.  The Manley Steelhead phono preamp, Wave preamp/DAC, and Snapper monoblocks were powering a pair of Coincident Total Victory loudspeakers.  The sound in this room, from a company that exhibits the Best Ability to Combine Pro and High-End Hardware was live, coherent, dynamic, integrated top-to-bottom, enjoyable, and fun.  In lieu of a photo of EveAnna, we have a picture of the venerable Stingray.  www.manleylabs.com and www.coincidentspeaker.com.


A very old and treasured friend of mine, Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen, was exhibiting his cables with Rogue Audio.  Robert is a true music lover and a dedicated practitioner of the audio arts.  The sound in his two rooms, with Rogue electronics and Meadlowlark loudspeakers, was among the nicer in the show: dynamic and smooth with good detail, without a hint of strain or congestion.  A smiling Robert is pictured with an absolutely radiant pair of his cables.  We had an enjoyable dinner with Robert, during which we were able to talk over old times, including his long lost company of nearly two decades ago, True Image.  www.AcousticZen.com and www.rogueaudio.com.


Roy Hall of Music Hall was exhibiting the Most Gorgeous CD & SACD Players at the show.  The Shanling CD-T100 CD player has grabbed a lot of press attention over the last few months, with its high build quality, stunning appearance, tubed line level and headphone outputs, 24/96 upsampling, HDCD capability, and great sound.  The Shanling is my new reference CD player.  But I may have to trade up, for pictured is the gorgeous new Shanling SACD/CD player.  www.musichallaudio.com


The Best Character at the Show, and someone I am truly glad to see back in the audio world after about a couple of decades of absence, is the unique, outspoken Jim Bongiorno.  Quoth he: “Nobody knows what they’re doing.”  Typical, unexpurgated Bongiorno, and as feisty as ever.  It was especially good to see him back in action considering his protracted battle with liver cancer during his absence.  Miracles happen.  Bongiorno was a protege of Sidney Smith of Marantz, and went on to design the Dynaco Stereo 400 and the Ampzilla and early Sumo amplifiers.  (I lived happily with a Sumo Half-Power for a number of years before going all-tubed.)  Jim, through his company Spread Spectrum Technologies, has introduced a new amp called the Ampzilla 2000, being demonstrated in the VMPS room.  It features five-ounce plated-up four-layer circuit boards, and according to his literature, which is so typically Bongiorno, it has “complete stability into any load known by man”.  Jim, a believer in three-channel sound, has a three-channel processor that he says has been 25 years in the making.  It’s truly great to see you back, Jim.  Jim is pictured here in all his sartorial splendor.  www.ampzilla2000.com


Luke Manley of VTL, maker of My Personal Reference Amplifier, was exhibiting his new Siegfried 800 W tube monoblock “smart amplifier.”  Siegfried’s software provides real-time feedback of tube performance, and adjusts same in real time.  Unfortunately, partway through Cantate Domino a software bug apparently reared its ugly head, and I was not able to perform an evaluation of the sound of this unprecedented technology.  I wonder if Luke can retrofit the software to my beloved VTL Deluxe 300 monoblocks?  These amps have been my reference for some time now, having bested all contenders that I tried in my reference system.  Luke was also showing off the new TL 7.5 preamp, which has been creating quite a buzz.  Pictured is the control half of the new preamp.  www.vtl.com


Vince Bruzzese of Totem put together the Most Captivating Home Theater system that I saw in the show.  Using a pair of Totem Wind speakers for the front left and right channels, the new Lynks bipole/dipole surround for the rear channels, and the Thunder powered sub, Vince played a DVD of Diana Krall in concert on a Pioneer Elite 50-inch plasma display.  The combination of picture and sound were immediately mesmerizing, and it was virtually impossible to get up and leave.  Totem also manufactures what is, in my opinion, one of the most consistently excellent line of loudspeakers anywhere.  I have enjoyed a pair of Totem Model One Signatures in my second system for many years now.  Pictured is the Totem home theater system.  www.totemacoustic.com

The Best DVD in the show was one entitled “Animusic”, featuring computer-generated instruments and original music.  The amount of imagination and creativity that went into this is astounding, and the Pipe Dream segment is especially mind-blowing.  It has to be seen to be believed.  I thank the folks at the TAG McLaren room (who are manufacturing some quite sophisticated home theater electronics) for playing it!  www.animusic.com for information and Evolution Audio Video in Agoura Hills CA for copies (www.eavlaser.com).


Ron Welborne of Moondog Audio exhibited the Best Horn loudspeaker in the show.  Ron has improved his Maya system remarkably over the last year.  These speakers sported copper-plated horns with interesting new AER Mk II drivers, and the upper-range horns seemed very well integrated with the woofers.  They were being powered with the Welborne Labs “Ultrapath bp” battery powered tubed linestage and the Moondog Audio Yote 2A3 single-ended monoblock amps.  We heard a coherent, clean, effortless and involving sound, that lacked only the lower one-and-a-half octaves needed to make this system complete (at least in this room).  Pictured is Ron Welborne. www.moondogaudio.com


One of the biggest rooms at T.H.E. Show housed the Most Outrageous Loudspeakers, namely the eye-popping Siemens flat-front horn theater loudspeakers, powered by Lamm electronics sporting the tri-tipped 6C33C vacuum tube.  These were rare, original 1960 speakers with about a 6-by-8-foot frontal area.  The sound was quite enjoyable, and it was fun to watch the reaction of Clark Johnsen and many others to both the appearance and sound quality of these honking big mothers.  Pictured are Vladimir Lamm at his room in the Alexis Park, and the monstrous Siemens speakers at the San Remo.  www.lammindustries.com

Albert Von Schweikert of Von Schweikert Audio and John Ulrick of Spectron (he of digital amp fame) were playing the Best New Small Stand-Mounted Speaker in the show.  The VR-1 Studio Reference Monitor was sounding great, and it’s magnetically shielded to boot.  Spectron was featuring its Premier 5-to-6 channel 450 Watt per channel Class D digital amplifier, which should probably be on the short list of anyone contemplating a serious surround sound or home theater setup.  I also wish to acknowledge the thoroughly enjoyable and insightful conversation that I had with John Ulrick regarding the integrity of the audio press.  John, I completely agree with your views and endorse them strongly.  www.vonschweikert.com and www.spectronaudio.com.


Richard Broida demonstrated for me the Ayre system, consisting of their CX-7 CD player (which “up and oversamples” to 1.4 MHz at 24 bits), their K-5x preamp with opto-coupled volume control, their V-5x power amp, and Avalon Eidolon Diamond loudspeakers.  Music on this system sounded coherent, neutral, transparent, open, and airy, with a great bottom end.  It was one of the few systems that made the choir on Cantate Domino sound like a real choir in a real space.  Good show.  Pictured is Charlie Hansen of Ayre.  www.ayre.com


In the Wavac room I was salivating over the AG-833 single-ended 100 Wpc triode amps (attributes that are rarely seen in the same sentence), a Gorgeous High-Power Triode Amp.  These sport some hot Tango transformers and a cool $47K price tag per pair.  We heard the MD-805m single-ended triode amplifiers (55 Wpc), powering the new Peak Consult Incognito loudspeakers.  The room’s proprietors teased us mightily with a recording of Peggy Lee singing “Fever,” minus the reverb and echo that were added to her voice for the final mix.  Incredible.  Pictured is the Wavac AG-833 amplifier.  www.wavac-audio.gr.jp or www.tmhaudio.com

Martina Schoener of Loricraft Audio Europe was showing off the snazzy new “Rolls Royce” Garrard 501 turntable in the Kondo Audio Note Japan room.  I had a most enjoyable conversation with Martina and Stan, during which they discussed the arcane ins and outs of some of the most obscure recording curves known to man.  All such curves are intended to be included in a new Loricraft preamp that may give new meaning to the word “flexibility.”  www.loricraftaudio.com and www.garrard501.com


George Kielczynski of de Havilland was showing off what in my opinion was the Best 845-Based Amplifier in the show, designed by Kara Chaffee.  The Aries 845-G amp with 30 Wpc output was fed by the deHavilland UltraVerve preamp, and was feeding Alon Lotus Elite Signature loudspeakers of 90dB efficiency.  The playback was very involving, with a live quality and truth of timbre that were beguiling.  This system had great transient response and jump, coupled with subtlety and smoothness.  Kara has done a magnificent job with these amps.  Pictured for your viewing pleasure is my attempt at an artful closeup of the top of an 845 in the deHavilland amp.  www.dehavillandhifi.com


Audiopax was exhibiting the Best South American System, comprised of the Model 5 preamp, Stereo 88 single-ended 15 Wpc amp using two KT88s, and some prototype speakers.  This was one of only a handful of systems in the show to fully flesh out the solo female vocals on Cantate Domino, getting the articulation and chest tones right.  The reproduction was clean, neutral, and reasonably dynamic, marred only by a tweeter buzz on the massed choir.  Pictured is the gorgeous Audiopax Model 5.  See www.avantgarde-usa.com


JJ Electronic takes the prize for Woodworking Art of High Caliber.  Their JJ 243 preamp and JJ 322 stereo amp, powering Reference 3A speakers, and being fed by the very inexpensive MMF-1 turntable, comprised a system that I just wanted to sit and listen to.  Pictured is one of JJ’s many current tube products.  You’ll have to check out the web site for the gorgeous woodworking: www.jj-electronic.sk

The Best New Inexpensive Floor-Standing Speaker could be heard in the Gershman Acoustics room.  The Chameleon ($1,900 per pair) made a good showing of itself when driven with a $1,000 integrated amp, having good articulation, life, air, and balance top-to-bottom.  www.gershmanacoustics.com

Chris Ossanna of Audio Research was kind enough to delay their system teardown on Monday to allow me to hear some Stunning Audio Surround Sound.  Gordon Holt would love this system, which was comprised of five Magneplanar loudspeakers, a subwoofer, and some specialized 5.1 electronics.  Despite the fact that the large number of plants behind the front speakers were being removed one-by-one as I listened, I was able to hear the effortlessness and concert-hall-like quality of this system.  As mentioned above, I have recently become sold on the idea of surround sound for audio only, and this system only reinforced that conclusion.  I also got to hear firsthand how big houseplants can make for some very effective acoustical diffusers... I could hear the soundstage changing as the plants were removed.  Check out www.audioresearch.com.


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