The show hasn't opened yet, not for another two hours, as it's 7 a.m. Saturday morning, but already I've had an eye opening experience. Last night my wife and I went to see Lord of the Dance at New York-New York Casino, a dance stage show. While the dancing was interesting, the sound was execrable (that translates as SHITTY). While they had six huge speakers on either side of the stage, for a half hour before the show, they played Irish folk songs in MONO from the right speaker bank. While the volume was fine, the fidelity was something like 1960's Japanese transistor radio. With the start of the show, the volume went up about 30 dB, and the bass kicked in, and I do mean kicked. Unhappily, it was the lumpiest bass I've ever heard. While the room shook, there was no impact. And everything, including the singer and two violinist hopping around the stage, was CANNED music. The violinists couldn't even keep their bows going in time to what they were playing. But most of the audience ate it up, even though none of us I'm sure would think this was even close to low-FI audio. Where do they get these pro sound engineers from who set up these systems? One of them must have two decent ears.
I remember the CES as a zoo, and this year is far worse. Imagine 150,000 people converging on a city of 1,000,000, with all of them converging on three huge buildings, all jockeying for position and you have the CES. Luckily, CES considers the high end to be a group of nuts, and exiles us to a small hotel on the outskirts of the show, the Alexis Park. A number of the high end gurus got fed up with this second class citizenship, and the tremendous costs of exhibiting, and formed a secondary venue, called
T.H.E. SHOW, at the next door St. Tropez Hotel. Today, I attended both, and guess what.
T.H.E. SHOW had far more and better exhibitors than the CES High End. Many of the exhibitors who in previous years protested by buying space in other hotels, joined the rebels. Believe it or not, even Philips and Sony decided to team up with Mark Levinson to demo SACD with the renegades. Anyway,
T.H.E. SHOW was the place to be.
Unhappily, like other shows I've attended, the vast majority of the rooms had horrible sound, that made it almost impossible to determine whether the products demonstrated had any audio merit. In most cases the best sounds were in the same rooms I've heard it in before. Who were the best of Day one?
1. Best Sound Day One - Diva, Rethm Room. The Diva is a tube push pull stereo integrated amp using a 2A3 as driver into a matched pair of EL 34's. The Rethm is a horn speaker of unusual shape using a highly modified Lowther DX4 driver. Using an 47 Labs CD player, recently reviewed by Steve Rochlin, the sound was wonderfully clean and open with a tremendous sense of space and extremely low distortion, which probably gave the effect. I couldn't believe the amp wasn't single ended. List price will be about $3000 for the amp and $6000 for the speaker.
2. Second Best Sound - SACD. This is probably unfair to place a whole technology category here, but I have to say, I've heard some of the best first generation analog master tapes from the 50's and 60, CD, DVD 24/96 Video, and DVD-Audio at this show, and none of them compare to what I heard at the Sony-Philips-Mark Levinson demo. Unlike 24/96, SACD (or DSD) has the finesse and
relax ability of analog, with the silence and low distortion of PCM. And to top it off, I was one of the first to hear a demo of 6 channel SACD via the new Philips 6 channel player. Cost of the Philips- $2000 list.
And it will also do progressive DVD and CD's. They now have over 150 stereo and 14 6 channel titles, and Sony claims many more in the offing. Drawback - It will not do ambience extraction of the stereo titles, and if there is a subwoofer channel, will not meld it back into the front channels for those who use full range speakers.
3. Third Best - Why of course, Bruce Edgar's Edgar horns driven by Brenneman Audio SET amps. I know, I have seven of his horn systems, and that's probably why I love their sound, but to me, nothing has come close to their overall sound in my house. And he certainly has tried to improve their looks.
4. Honorable Mention - Tritium Triphasers. Finally a tweak for us
tweakophiles. I have no idea what these things are or do, except that they go between preamp and amp and amp and speakers, and damn if they don't make even the B&W 803's sound sweet. I hope to get some for review. Stand by.
5. Second Honorable Mention - ART Audio Amps (as
seen above). These things are gorgeous, and use a new production of the ancient PF 25 tube from the thirties. They are claimed to have the mid range of a 2A3, but are flat from 18-90kHz. He's offered me a mono pair from the next production run, and I can't wait.
6. Third Honorable Mention - VMPS Ribbon Speakers. Brian Cheney has really come up with a gorgeous sounding and looking speaker this time. I hope to listen more tomorrow, but I believe this was the best non-horn speaker at the show so far, and at $7900 a bargain compared to other ribbon and cone speakers I've heard in the past.
Well I'm falling asleep, and I have to send this to Steve for immediate publication, months before the
Stereophile write-up. Will continue tomorrow.