After auditioning the last system at the Alexis Park Hotel, I stop by the press room for some silence and solitude. After chatting with Larry Archibald about his future plans, I grab my coffee and walk out the door.
Saturday, January 10
Seated from left to right sitting down are Steve Stone, Emily Koch, Steven R. Rochlin,
Gaby Levinson, Karl Lozier and Chris Boylan. Standing from left to right
standing up are Alvin Gold, Gigi Krop, Leslie Olsher, Dick Olsher and Wayne Donnelly.
I walk into the dimly lit Manley Laboratories' room. Up front are the VPI TNT turntable and the Manley Steelhead MM+MC Phono Stage with Outboard PSU ($7,300). The WAVE preamplifier and new Manley Snapper 100 Watt monoblock amplifiers ($4,250/pr) are driving the Coincident Total Victory loudspeakers that are (coincidently) wired by the Coincident Cables. A test pressing of Count Basie by Acoustic Sounds is spinning on the VPI and the sound is amazingly liquid, natural and sweet. The sound stage is deep and the midrange is very clean. The bass is tight and effortless but the highs are a little too smooth for my liking. I like detail in my highs - must be a 70's thing. "So", you ask "what is producing these sweet, liquid sounds, smooth highs and tight bass? Is it the speakers, the electronics or the turntable?" In a show environment it's difficult to pinpoint the specific origins of the sound quality. Since I am not familiar with the individual characteristics of this array of equipment, I can only say that the combination of equipment along with the recording and room acoustics produced these results.
The loudspeakers in the next room are very familiar. Back in 1993 when Sunshine Stereo, Inc. (A high-end audio store located in Miami, owned by me and my husband, Steve Zipser which closed its doors in December 2000) was in its infancy another company was also being born. Jeff Joseph of Joseph Audio had just purchased the infinite slope crossover technology from JS Engineering and reincorporated it into his own speaker design... Joseph Audio. Today, Jeff is displaying his RM7 Signature M2 Speakers with a Cinergy 5.1 Center Channel, Theta Carmen Transport, five channel Dreadnaught amplifier and Casablanca Processor. In the transport is the Diana Krall, Live in Paris DVD. The first thing I notice is the amazing amount of sound coming from these small bookshelf speakers. The second thing I notice is the soundstage. The RM7s totally disappear replaced by a deep sound stage with imaging, voice and percussion that is outside the speakers. A gentleman from Berkley California, owner of Music Lover's Audio Company comments to Jeff, "They sell so fast, I can't get them quick enough." In my opinion, they are the perfect solution to the big loudspeaker blues.
I experienced an interesting software phenomenon with the Alón Lotus Elite loudspeakers, Conrad Johnson electronics and the new Chesky hybrid SACD (An Introduction to SACD Chesky SACD204). When we played the two channel track on the Metronome T1 transport the sound was unnatural and colored, the voice inflated. Something wasn't right. It can't be the Conrad Johnson equipment, the Metronome transport or the Alon Speakers. I've heard this equipment too many times and the sound is always excellent. We switched to the SACD track on the Sony SACD player and the music opened up and sounded fine. What's a woman to do? How can I evaluate different systems when the SACD and two channel recordings are so inconsistent? Where else can one experience this software epiphany, but CES 2003? Perhaps the solution lies elsewhere... we will see.
In 2000 Shayne Tenance purchased IMF Audio. He spent three years developing a new speaker called the Musica 25 and is proud to display them here, at CES 2003 for the first time. I predict that IMF will become a respected name in stereo speakers. Let me explain. These slender aluminum speakers have a small footprint, a sleek modern design and affordable price tag
($1,500/pr). The redesigned Peerless Woofer and newly designed Vifa Tweeter produce a beautiful, transparent sound. The saxophone on Canonball Adderley's
Something Else is true to life and the voice on The Chieftans Tears of Stone is sweet and accurate. But the real reason for the future success of the new IMF is not the three years of design and development. The real reason is the philosophy of the owner. He says, "I did it because I love the music." But what good is a speaker without power or source? The Musica 25 loudspeakers are being driven by the Model 100 Muse amplifier (discontinued), the Model 10 Muse DVD Audio Player and the Model 3 Signature Muse pre-amplifier.
I pondered this thought as I walked into the Cabasse/McIntosh room. I listen to the Kara Speakers with built in subwoofer ($14,500), the McIntosh MC162 Power Amp, the C200 Tube Preamp and the MCD 205 CD Player. I played Hugh Masekela and the sound stage is far away. For a big speaker the sound is understated. I also listen to the Cabasse Io ($3,695) in 5.1 surround with Birdland Audio Pleyel-Ag Stereo amplifier with Tube output stage and Digital Bias Control and their Odeon-Ag 24/192 SACD Digital to Analog Tube Converter. In the past, I've had the opportunity to listen rather extensively to the Cabasse speakers but the Birdland equipment is new to me. This combination produced a great soundstage and transparency but the bass sounded a little boomy. Not sure what caused the bass problem. Perhaps it was the room acoustics.
The next room was displaying some equipment that I am very familiar with, Von Schweikert Speakers and Spectron digital amps. Spectron was one of the first companies to incorporate digital technology into hi-end amplifiers. The results are very impressive. Albert Von Schweikert is displaying his VR-1 (Retail $995/pr.) speakers, with a pair of VRS1 Subwoofers ($1495/pr.) and VR-4SE speakers. The Denon 3802 Preamp/Processor, the Spectron Premier Amplifier with 450 amplifiers into 6 channels and the Sony DVD SACD Player complete the system. We listened to Patricia Barber's Modern Cool. The speakers and system sound excellent with a deep soundstage, accurate midrange and voice. Personally I thought the 2-channel system sounded better without the subs. You "bassophiles" might need subs, not I. (Albert told me that the subs weren't properly set up.) Of course, the VR4SE's sound more full - bodied and move more air then the smaller speakers. But for $995 the VRE-1's are well worth it. Anyway, I spent half an hour in this room because the speakers and amplifier sounded so good.
Sometimes overlooked but never forgotten are the Bel Canto electronics and Parsifal Verdi speakers (86dB). Their eV02I is an integrated amp, and Bel Canto's CD/DVD/SACD multi-channel all format player with 5 digital inputs is so new that it doesn't have a name (expected price around $8,000). Bel Canto's high fidelity digital and analog component systems are designed for power, flexibility and musical performance. They are beautiful to look at and listen to. This room was very popular because of the sweet and musical sound that is both quiet and dynamic. While chatting with a salesman, the back door opened and an old friend emerged