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Las Vegas 2002

Consumer Electronic Show 2002 (CES)

THE Expo



(Living It Up at the...)

Article by Clark Johnsen
Click here to e-mail reviewer

Stan Ricker and Clark Johnsen
Stan Ricker and Clark Johnsen

  A bit of history, first reported seven years ago in
Positive Feedback Vol.5, #5:

“Settin’ down in Los Angelees, carryin’ a couple’a keys
-- keys to friends’ houses! -- I drive up from LAX early Friday
morning, very first day of the Show, the only itinerary
available to me on a last—moment frequent-flyer freebie.
Thus I arrive midday in Winter-CES-Land, later better than
never, I suppose. At my downtown motel, twenty bucks per,
I leave the door wide open to air the place out and as I
unpack, this guy appears outside, and he says, I swear, ‘Buddy,
my friend just vomited all over himself, can you spare a pair
of pants?’”

True story, and today I still stay at the Ambassador
East on Fremont for twenty per. The price hasn’t changed,
nor the bar crowd, nor even the bartenders. I love this place!
The local color, the decrepits playing pool, the floozies
downing Red Dog, all volubly (and sensibly!) discoursing at
7:30 AM as I appear for coffee and locate an empty table to
spread out the morning Las Vegas Review/Journal. (Am I being
stared at?) And on this Monday morning, the day of CES-2002
set-up, the Business feature page carries this astonishing,
almost unbelievable, and hilarious headline:

Digital Audio Still Needs Tweaking


Yes! So there I have it, my theme song for this Show.
As usual I will try to be helpful to exhibitor friends,
having even brought along some of my own stuff. This Johnny
Appleseed crusade always includes CD tweaks, harkening back
to that headline, and more recently, vibration isolation
devices. Both groups contribute mightily to the sonic success
of any exhibit, I contend. How anyone can ignore either,
beats me! But as the days wear on, I shall learn more about
exhibitor mindset than perhaps I care to know, although I
should have been steeled already to their indifference.

Many years ago this writer was first to hit print (in
Stereophile) about the much-maligned, so-called CD degaussing,
although it now develops he was not the original discoverer
of this expedient process. Later he wrote about the Vibraplane
(just weeks after Jonathan Scull), a device that was then,
and still is, the luxe means for isolating ground vibrations,
particularly those in the horizontal plane. However, a far
more portable means has made the scene in the form of Aurios
feet, and these are what now accompany him.

A quick tutorial: Three types of vibration affect audio:
Internally—generated (e.g. motors), airborne, and seismic.
Dismayingly, the last is the strongest contributor to audio
degradation, although one would be hard-put to discover this
intelligence in the press, or anywhere in the Audio Engineering
Society. But do not take that assertion as fact; listen,
and listen along with me. For we shall be hearing, in most
systems, theirs as well as ours, the signature sonic congestion
caused by improper isolation from the seismic environment,
which might be termed terra infirma. That one may not have
read this fact before (and what one believes, does most often
hinge on what one reads -- no offense!) does not mean I am
mad. Crazed, perhaps, but never mad.

Click here to see Clark’s New York Show report
for more on this topic.


And while I have your attention, and this early-AM gleam
in my eye (remember, we are sitting in the Ambassador East
lounge on Monday morning), let’s mention some other enthusiasms
of mine. One, two, three, barn!


AC Power!

Fine tuning!

Such concepts come easily when one is undeceived by
received opinion. Audio traditionally was an engineers’ hobby,
and a great hobby too -- beats stamp collecting, I always
say. But in recent decades audio has mutated into a pursuit
for what Srajan Ebaen, in the current Audio Musings, shrewdly
calls “trophy hifi”. No longer the ears-on approach, although
much lip-service is paid; rather, the face-plate and the price.
Most followers have lapsed into what can only be called
Latchkey Audio. Unwittingly or not, they, and we, have
accepted the brown box paradigm, an unintended consequence
of “component stereo”. Here’s how that works.


The Brown Box Paradigm

Over the years, specific functions have become assigned
to parts of the total system without regard to any principled
approach. Not morally principled -- I mean, scientifically.
For instance, isn’t it absurd that the generator mechanism
of the phonograph cartridge, with its subtle mechanical
motions, should be notionally separated from the tonearm,
to which it’s mated, with all its? Yet not one manufacturer
since Weathers and Ortofon, to my knowledge, has integrated
the two. How could anyone? The market and its press demand
nothing of the sort.

Other examples abound, are in fact pretty obvious, but
the brown box paradigm states that the beau ideal of audio
arrives at one’s home in a brown box. Unpacked, the unit is
inserted into one’s system with the cords provided and one
is then happy as a pig in mud. Anyway, the reviewers tell
us they are! With those genius high-end designers, no further
adjustments are needed. Besides, never question a Krell.

Enough! Outta here and up Maryland Parkway to Harmon
and over to the Alexis Park for second coffee at TG Audio.
Bob Crump always brings along beans from Dallas so who cares
how he sounds? TG brews! As it happens, however, Bob is
an unhappy man today.

Typically things do go wrong, no news there, but Bob
has arranged a more elaborate system than ever before.
Naturally all components are connected by and powered through
his commendable, generally underpriced cables; the preamp
is the royal CTC from John Curl et al; but the sound sucks.
What? The four Curl-designed Parasound JC-1 amps? The Wisdom
Audio speakers? 0 early—morning set-up woes. The group
outside is congenial, however, and we while away an hour.

Over to VMPS, my usual pied-à—terre, where they seem
to be getting along very well without me and the silly stuff
I bring. OK, while there’s time before the hordes descend
on Las Vegas, off to Record City! There I pick up a 4” stack
of beauts, including many in my specialty area of early stereo
on odd labels such as, today, Paris, Rondo-lette, Forum,
Hallmark and Omega. Those records can sometimes sound the
best, apart from performance, simply because the owners
couldn’t afford enough equipment (pardon my Bronx) to fuck
it up right. This view applies especially to gospel music,
recorded by the poorest of the poor. Also I score a mint
old Urania stereo and a couple good White Dogs.

The rest of the day I spend leisurely looking for spare
Aurios and other promised things. The weather is great, so
I drive my Dodge with all windows down between the two main
high—end venues and Kinkos, where work is also done, and Lee’s
Liquors, a world-class micro-brew beer store. Ultimately
I end up at the Holy Cow, a world-class (Waitaminnit! Las
Vegas?) brewpub, where drafts are only $1.50 on Monday Football
Night and the hamburgers are sumptuous and the waitress is
pretty and the bartender, Dave, actually remembers me from
years past. Every year past, in truth. And cheerily asks,
“What did we talk about last time? Women, right?” Back home
in Boston, no one at bars knows my name... or face. Cheers!

“Yep! You had just gotten married. We discussed...
fidelity issues.”

“Yeah! I’m still that way! And you come here for the
electronics show, right? I remember!”


The days dwindle down to a precious few

Official Day One begins at the Alexis Park. In sport
coat and tie, male drag that’s never a drag to wear because
I hardly ever do, I scout the entire premises to orient myself
and settle on Merlin for my first visit, where the
irrepressible Bobby Palkovic is holding forth as usual.
Unfortunately gate-keeper Rich Brkich with his argumentative
defense of the Web board he represents as well, prevents me
from accessing the Master, so Bobby’s remarks must go
unreported at this time, although the sound in the background
seems to be OK.

That happens sometimes, this non—business—focused

All the way down to the end now, there’s Digital Theatre
Systems, maybe I can see the latest video advances. DTS to
my ears, when comparisons on a DVD are available, always wins
the day for sound quality. Alas, no sooner do I enter than
the prize has just been won, I fear, for shortest time spent
in any exhibit. Execreble would be a nice word for the sound
-- maybe too nice. I wheel out before any salesman can catch
my eye.

Across the way I notice Gamut. Gamut really impressed
me last May in New York at HiFi 2001 with clean, full-bodied
sound from their Danish solid-state electronics. Plus, Ole
Christensen is no slouch as a presenter. As I enter, another
well-dressed fellow who turns out to be a major dealer in
Dallas is saying, “Only three thousand dollars for this
integrated?! How do you do it?” Replies Ole smoothly, “I
make another mistake.”


Click here for page 2


Click here to see last year's show coverage.













































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