Most people look forward to January and the New Year as a quiet respite from the frenzy of the holiday season. Not me. I look forward to my annual visit to Las Vegas, Nevada and the Consumer Electronics Show. This year is no exception. My nose is glued to the window of the 747 as my plane soars through a clear sky. Traveling from Phoenix to Vegas the view of the Colorado River and the mountainous terrain is awe-inspiring.
Thursday, January 9, 2003 - Day One
At 7AM I get up and walk over to the closet. "Hmm, what should I wear today? A woman needs to look her best in Vegas." I choose brown suede pants and jacket, grab my camera and go to the coffee shop for coffee. Carl Lozier and Wayne Donnelly have a seat for me at their table. After breakfast, we pile into a cab. "Take us to the Alexis Park Hotel, please." And we are off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of sound. The lobby of the Alexis is bustling with people, but the press pass line is short. Too bad I forgot my paperwork and had to go back to the San Remo. (It's not easy being a blond). Finally badge safely hanging from my neck, camera on my shoulder and notebook in hand; I make my way to the first room.
I march through the door and sit down in the sweet spot. In front of me are Spendor S9 loudspeakers (Retail $3,999/pr.) with the new Talk Electronics Tornado 3.1 monoblock amplifiers (100 watts per channel) and the Thunder 3.1 24-bit/192kHz up-sample CD Player. The Spendor speakers have a traditional shape and nice wood finish. They are designed with "Linear flow" bass reflex loading for smooth airflow and mid-band radiation elimination. We listen to Patricia Barber's Modern Cool on CD. I notice that the piano has a nice transparent and full-bodied sound. Patricia's sensual voice is clean and smooth. The soundstage is difficult to determine in show conditions. Each instrument is clearly defined with good separation.
I say my goodbyes and move on to the next room. This one belongs to Sanibel Sound. They are displaying the Piega of Switzerland C3 Ltd. 3-way column co-axial speaker system
($8,999/pr.) with the new German AVM Integrated "Class D" amplifier (100
watts per channel, $5,000) and the AVM CD Player ($6,000). The Piega speakers have an elegant design and a small footprint. They are a handsome addition to the décor of a modern room. The Press Release says that the C Series speakers have an aluminum cabinet shell, concentric ribbon midrange and tweeters and a
nine-layer structure with interleaved layers of cork formed under pressure to eliminate the driver's backwave and reflection. The C-3 is the least expensive floor-standing C-Limited speaker. I heard these speakers at the Home and Theater show in NYC and really like their clean detailed sound and modern design. Yes. Jennifer Warrens' voice sounds light and airy and you can almost feel her energy. But the room has a bass problem that makes serious listening difficult. So it's on to the next one.
Intrigued by the name on their sign, the Meadow Song Labs room catches my attention and I walk in. On display is the Mont Blanc
Musicspeaker. These very innovative dipole
loudspeakers (range of 250Hz to 20kHz) feature a plexi-glass cabinet with a newly patented acrylic baffle. The 40-inch planar magnetic ribbon driver is responsible for the highs and midrange and a 10-inch driver mounted in a ported cabinet (range of 250Hz to 28kHz) provides the bass. The
crossover is 24dB/octave, passive bi-amplification with adjustable settings to accommodate different amplifier sensitivities and is being powered by a pair of Conrad Johnson MV 60 amplifiers. The Orpheus Labs 100 watt per channel amplifier is hooked up to the subwoofers with an Orpheus Preamp. A Roksan Digital CD completes the system. We listened to the music of Patricia Barber. The ribbon technology produced sweet, soft highs. The
loudspeakers are very quiet with no background noise and good bass. The midrange sounded a little muddy; a problem with mid to bass integration? Maybe a change to all CJ or all Orpheus electronics would produce a more seamless sound. Or maybe it's time for lunch.
Surround Sound Seminar With Herbie Hancock
The panelists consist of: the narrator, Herbie Hancock, his sound engineer Dave Hampton; Chaccarelli - the sound engineer for Frank Zappa; and Emmy award winner, Elliot
Scheiner-recording engineer for Faith Hill. Hancocks gets things started. He talks about "Future to Future", his surround sound DVD, the first one on the planet to be recorded live. There are 6-8 channels and two engineers: regular and surround. The music is divided into acoustic and electric sections. The songs are spontaneous and improvised so you need to trust the engineers to get the sound right.
The people at McIntosh Laboratories have a suite of rooms with active and inactive displays. The first room is a surround sound demo with video. It showcases their XRT 30 loudspeakers ($25,000/pr), the XR 27 Center channel, their new MVP 841 DVD player that also plays DVD-Audio, DVD-Video, SACD and Redbook Stereo. The MVP 841 DTS and Dolby digital formats are available via an optical or coaxial digital output. The MVP 841 also has a Bur-Brown DAC that plays 24-bit/96kHz music CD's. A pair of new 1,200-watt McIntosh amplifiers provides plenty of juice. The demo consisted of a comparison of Stereo vs. SACD vs. DVD-Audio. In this system the SACD format was the clear winner as it passed through an incredible amount of information. In the Stereo vs. Prologic 2 comparison, the Prologic setting added room/hall ambiance.
The second room displays a two-channel system with their XRT 28 and XR 27 loudspeakers, MVP 851 Player, C 46 pre-amplifier, MC 501 mono amplifier (not available yet) and MC 402 stereo amplifier. The XRT 28 speakers are predictably bigger sounding then the smaller XR 27's. This system has incredible dynamics with a deep sound stage and involving sound. The components are solid state but they have the warm silky smooth sound of tubes, a little too smooth on the top for my taste.
Hope the Oracle Delphi turntable is set up now as it's time to pay another visit on the Eggleston Works Andra II speakers. These beautiful speakers have been redesigned. To improve the bass response, the lower cabinet was increased to accommodate a larger woofer chamber and the rear port was sealed. There are two Dynaudio
12-inch woofers with 4-inch voice-coils and two 6-inch Morel 166 midrange drivers with 3-inch
voice coils. A Dynaudio Esotar tweeter handles the highs. Although the drivers remain unchanged, the crossovers have been redesigned and Albert vonSchweikert was called in to add some final touches. In addition to the familiar piano black, these handsome speakers are also available in
four Egg Shell finishes (Pearl, Ruby, Titanium and Emerald). The amplifiers are the impressive looking Art Audio Adagio tube; the preamp is by Gill (a division of Art) along with a Marantz SACD player. Also on display is the Oracle Delphi turntable with Graham Arm and Dynamic Design Reference Series speaker cables, THB power cord and digital interconnects.
"Gigi, there's a cocktail party at the San Remo. Where are you?"
The lights go out and the performer is announced.
Well, the concert is great. Janis Ian has a huge voice, amazing energy and fabulous guitar skills. When you combine Janis's voice and stage personality with a talented sound engineer you get a concert that has everyone (music and equipment lovers) grinning from ear to ear. Nothing like a great acoustic concert to get you psyched for another day of audio ecstasy. I retire for the night. Tomorrow awaits me.
Friday, January 9, 2003
I wake up to another sunny day in the desert and stagger over to my closet. Think I'll wear my red snakeskin skirt and red turtleneck. Black leather boots and jacket add the final touch. Look out music-lovers here comes Gigi. There's so much too see and hear and so little time. I grab a cup of cappuccino and a pastry and jump onto the shuttle to The Alexis Park.
My first stop for the day is a room displaying the Chesky C1 Speakers. The Atma-Sphere M60 60 watt per channel tube monoblock amps, Atma-Sphere Preamp and Muse Model 10 CD Player are hooked up to an OTL Zero auto performer for increased impedance. The Chesky C1 loudspeakers are easy on the eyes and ears. The SEAS "Millennium" tweeter and two midrange-woofers (with an isobaric configuration for extended bass) are housed in sleek, good looking cabinets with a small footprint. The front driver projects sound towards the listener while the rear driver is built into a separate sub-enclosure to reduce distortion and increase output. The C-1's crossover uncommon design consists of steep slope filters to ensure that each driver operates within its optimum frequency range. We are listening to the Jeremy Montero Trio and Jacintha's A Song For You. Although the room is noisy and crowded, the sweet smooth midrange and mellow highs are still audible. David Chesky says that these speakers are designed to be pleasing to women. Personally, I prefer a little more detail and air in the highs. But then, I'm not the typical woman.
The next room is displaying the Opera IV ($2895) with Unico Integrated hybrid tube 80 watt per channel amps with MOSfet output stages. The Unico CD player is upfront and Jennifer Warrens's Famous Blue Raincoat, "First We Take Manhattan" is in the transport. The Opera IV's have nice Mahogany Cabinets. I never heard this equipment before but taking into consideration the room acoustics and one CD listen I found the midrange to be excellent, the highs decent and the bass a little thin... Just a quick first impression folks.
Back out into the bright sun and cold brisk air, I see a pair of speakers in one of the rooms that catch my eye. The Third Rethm with Lowther DX55 drivers ($4,180) loudspeakers. The Wavelength Audio Triton New Century Edition Line Preamp and NCE amplifier powering them. The CD transport is 47 Labs and the D to A converter is a Wavelength tube masterpiece. Nirvana cables make the connection. The software is Harry Connick, Jr.'s Blue Light Red Light. This pair of full range, single-driver loudspeakers use modified Lowther drivers. The result is a very revealing sound. I've listened to Harry Connick many times and this system presented a good voice and highs that are sweet and smooth. When we listened to the Eagles "Hotel California", the highs were transparent, the midrange a little constrained, and the percussion airy. The bass is tight and I found the instrument placement to be accurate. The bottom line: these speakers look funny but sound good.
My next stop is the McCormick room, where I receive a big smile from Lew Johnson and a "Well, you decided to come visit us." from Steve McCormick my scotch pouring buddy from last night. The speakers are Eggleston's Andra
II's, the amp running the front and center loudspeakers are the McCormick DNA 500 (I believe he said that the amp is 500 watts per channel). Driving the rear speakers is the DNA HT-3 amplifier rated at 150 watts per channel. There are no subwoofers. But McCormick's pride and joy is the new SACD UDP-1 universal disc player that plays DVD Audio SACD, MP3, CD, CD-R & RW and DVD with a built in surround sound processor. Lew Johnson tells me that the processor adjusts time delay, adjusts the bass and has separate outputs. There is a 6-channel analogue line stage NAP-1 (retail $2,395) because most processors loose 2/3 of the information. We listen to a SACD recording and the sound is sweet and natural with the rear speakers providing ambient sound only. Next up is a special treat, a two-channel recording with synthesized surround sound of the Estrada Brothers (Reuben Estrada on the Vibes) recorded in a San Diego Club by Steve McCormick. This recording is incredible. The detail, clarity and intensity are overwhelming. What system, what recording could follow this act? There is only one answer, lunch.
I make a brief stop in the Thiel/VAC room where the Thiel 3.6 ($5,500) Speakers are connected to the VAC Integrated Super Avatar Amplifier and Phono Section. The out of production Esotheric PT CD player is joined at the hip with the VAC D to A. The sound is sweet, smooth and clean. A Clear Audio Channel Turntable is on display but not playing. I also hear good tight bass and a deep soundstage. This is a good sounding system.
The people in the Gallo room are displaying a new small speaker called the Adiva with a
3-inch driver in a 5-inch sphere. The electronics consist of an inexpensive TEAC CD combo unit. They also have on display three versions of a new prototype speaker, the successor to the famous Gallo Nuclear Reference speakers. They are the single voice coiled Solo II, and the dual voice coiled Reference III both come with a grill for a more conventional appearance. I look forward to hearing these speakers at a future show.
Anyway, I see a familiar face lurking in the doorway of my next destination. What a surprise, its Nelson Pass live and in person. Nelson never leaves his mountain retreat in the Hills of Forest. But this year is different. Yes, the king of single- ended amplifiers has ventured forth into new venue… loudspeakers. The Pass Rushmore is a four-way system with a 15-inch bass driver, a 10-inch mid bass driver, 6-inch midrange and a ribbon tweeter. The bass driver is 97dB/W/m efficient and the other drivers are 98dB/watt+. The bass is powered by the Aleph X balanced single-ended "Class A" amplifier. The other drivers are powered by conventional "Class A" Pass Labs Aleph amplifiers. Each driver has its own amplifier that is adjusted for its specific voltage, current and gain. The curved sides of the enclosure are made of 9-layer wood veneer panels and the top and bottom are made of 0.75-inch granite, the rear of the speaker is a huge anodized heat sink which holds all the electronic components. The Rushmore is designed by Nelson Pass, Kent English and Desmond Harrington and weighs 300 pounds. Yes, these are very serious loudspeakers. The amplifiers are controlled by the Pass X0.2 pre-amplifier.
The front end of this system is an Accuphrase DP 77 CD player and Basis debut turntable. The system is wired with MIT Oracle V2.1 cables. These enormously impressive speakers are set up in a standard Alexis Park room (approximately 12 X 14). The room is bare. There are no acoustic panels or sound adjustments in sight. When I walk in they are playing some typically boring audiophile jazz that doesn't do the speakers justice. I choose the Reference Recording, Pictures at an Exhibition with Eiji Que and the Minnesota Orchestra. The first thing I notice is that these speakers sound great at low levels. The soundstage is deep and accurate and the bass is sweet, natural and effortless. The Rushmore speakers move a lot of air, yet remain silky smooth, dynamic and detailed. Next I choose Fink Floyd's track, "Money" and crank up the volume. The cash register at the beginning of the song sounds amazing. We listen to the track, "Us and Them" and the saxophone is so beautiful. The room is much too small for these big loudspeakers. I'd love to listen to them for several hours (make that several years) in a more natural environment, a bigger room with better acoustics. Like all Pass equipment these speakers are solidly built with innovative technology. And the music, the music is dynamic in a sweet way... gain without pain.
With tear in eye I bid goodbye to these magnificent sound machines. As I step out into the sun an arm grabs me. "Come into my room" says Karl Seglins of DEQX Calibrated. The DEQX is a digital room and speaker correction technology designed to increase the three-dimensional being there experience. Karl told me that this system uses a microphone to calibrate the room and corrects driver phase to a frequency response of plus or minus 1 dB. You just plug your computer into DEQX Digital Reference Processor ($2,500) and a series of wizards help you correct the impulse response. Seglins tells me that this system is designed for speaker and room correction and subtle improvements; there is no cure for distorted drivers. A quick listen reveals a noticeable difference between the corrected and uncorrected sound.
Well, it's starting to get cool out and the sun is low in the sky, time for one more room. I hear a lot of sound from across the outdoor corridor and walk in that direction. The Wilson Audio Speakers Watt Puppy 7's are on display with the BAT VKD-5SE CD player, the BAT VK 51 SE - Line Stage Preamp and the VK 150 SE monoblock amplifiers. Shunyata Research provides the power, the interconnects and the speaker cables. Grand Prix Audio Stands hold the equipment. The sound is transparent and airy. The speakers fill the room with sound and the music is very involving. On the CD player is the George Favor Blues Live CD and the music, the equipment and the recording blow me away. What a fabulous high-energy recording. Subtle inquiry reveals that Geoff Poor, Director of Sales for BAT, produced this CD. Music Direct sells it. I put it on my list of must have CD's. The new Bos Scaggs sounded brittle in comparison. Attributable I'm sure, to the less then loving recording made by a major label.
Drained and exhausted, I walk over to the pressroom for a cup of coffee. A large man walks in and sits down in front of a computer. It's Larry Archibald.
"Hi Larry, what are you up to these days?"