This year's high-end audio division of CES
(Consumer Electronic Show) and its counterpart T.H.E. Expo (The Home Entertainment Expo) were not at their usual adjacent hotels. The CES group was at its usual Alexis Park venue while
T.H.E. Expo group had long ago decided to move across town to the Rio Suites hotel offering much larger rooms and more of them. Something happened and at almost the last minute Mike Maloney and Michael Hale switched
T.H.E. Expo to the new and not quite hundred percent finished Tuscany Hotel. It is within walking distance of the Alexis Park, which was not the case with the Rio. Mike and Michael labored mightily up to and through the last minute. Though there were definitely some nits to pick, they pulled it off. Manufactures and exhibitors wound up with larger than usual rooms and much greater than usual, one hundred or more
amplifiers, power service. Those choosing suites were rewarded with a larger central room and fair sized adjoining rooms -thereby avoiding audible sound transmission from adjacent exhibitors. Both Expo representatives and Tuscany's did their best. Next year will be "a piece of cake" for all involved.
I had done a bit of planning to make my report for this year's event more organized and better than previous years. It
did not work out that way though. Background noises pretty much drowned out my attempts to put my mini digital voice recorder (Olympus) to good use. I definitely had strong overall impressions reached from observations, listening to exhibits and talking with the heads of and engineers from many companies. Everyone is sick and tired of the delays and lack of cooperation in getting things rolling with the SACD and DVD-A formats. There may be a revolt underway with some saying phooey to them all - regular CD and its new upgrades are good enough. I heard some individuals discussing the improvements wrought by good up sampling techniques with a caveat tossed into the mix that jitter may be increased by a factor of four as a result. The
Audio Aero Capitole CD player was mentioned as an outstanding example of upgrading regular CD reproduction by a technique they call resampling which reportedly eliminates the possible negative effects of increased jitter. A visit to their exhibit revealed a very interesting product that appeared to do as claimed. My interest sparked the company's response that Dick Olsher got to them before I did. Hopefully
he will send it on to me after he is finished.
A continuing trend was the improvement, in general, in overall sound quality of many smaller and moderately priced loudspeaker models. Much of their edgy exaggerated treble response has finally gone away. As a result they
will not stand out in showroom demos as they did previously. There seemed to be no increase in the number of really excellent sounding top-of-the-line loudspeakers. In fact, some exhibitors did not bring their biggest or best models this year. Answers as to why elicited responses such as, "we brought them last year (or the last two years) and decided to bring a more popular (lower priced) model this time." I ran across a few more horns or horn loaded models this year. This is a response to the increasingly popular low powered tubed (usually) amplifiers.
Once again there were a fair number of extremely attractive and seemingly superbly designed and built turntables on display. Usually they were not being used as part of the demo system when I visited, and almost no one was actively using LP's to compare different systems in different rooms. For a few exhibitors, musical source material was an after thought or had been misplaced in shipment.
The Argent Audio/Rosinate room, featuring the Dulcinetta speaker systems and Gill amplification and DAC, offered big and beautiful sound from rather small speakers plus a sub-woofer and all at a reasonable price.
Art Audio occupying three rooms offered very, very good sound. The qualities included very full and rich sound from rather small boxes. Steve Rochlin reviewed the
Galante Audio Rhapsody speakers in our January issue, now available in our archives section. Changing the interconnect between the
Lab 47 transport and the Gill DAC made for a noticeable further improvement.
The Halcro rooms featured their big bold and impressively expensive Australian amplifiers. The sound quality was truly outstanding and showed off the Wilson Max speakers. The speakers were separated too far for my taste, probably about fourteen feet apart center to center of cabinets. Listening was about ten to twelve feet away, that plus the speakers being relatively close to the rear wall behind them, resulted in lacking some depth. The
Telarc Mahler 5th symphony was being impressively reproduced. The bass was surprisingly not overwhelming as might be expected, but overall great clarity was. I did not get to return to see if speaker positioning was eventually changed a bit.
Victor Goldstein's Fanfare International room was an "audiophile's dream room" visually and close to it audibly. When I dropped in, it was a bit on the bright side of neutral and was not able to return to see if that got corrected. Even with their avowed recent emphasis on value, most of us would call the stunning equipment expensive to very expensive.
The Classic Audio/Atma-Sphere room, which combined the excellent amplifiers with impressive large horn loaded enclosures, resulted in a particularly clean excellent sound.
Talon Audio, a relatively new company, again featured their larger model speaker and my notes contained the single word, "excellent".
Above the lobby of the Tuscany hotel were a number of typically large meeting rooms. Unlike the suites, at times there was bleed through form adjacent rooms. As with most demos at large shows, there were too many variables to deal with to make really meaningful comparisons. That said and meant, here goes. The large Pipedream speakers by
Nearfield Acoustics as usual were truly impressive. Even in a very large room their sound seems to truly envelope listeners, sometimes almost overpoweringly so. The following demo by the impressive
Kharma loudspeakers suffered a bit by comparison, though no subjective faults were noted. This was closely followed by Andy Payor's very large
Rockport speakers. To say I was impressed is almost an understatement. They somehow neatly split the impressions made by the two preceding systems with a sound quality attuned to my listening tastes. They were also being fed by the
Audio Aero Capitole CD player.
It looks like I'm saving some of the very best, as per above, impressions and sound for last. Continuing in that vein was the
Globe Audio Marketing/Audio Aero demonstrations. The very tall Acapella Campanile speakers might have sounded great on their own but Dick Olsher and I both were attributing much of the resultant sound quality to Capitole (France) 24/192 CD player featuring their exclusive re-sampling process, which evidently is not simply an upsampling. Dick is scheduling a review. The almost eight feet tall speakers had a horn mounted in the side about half way up.
The Immedia room, as usual, had top-notch sound quality overall if not visually and audibly as almost overwhelmingly so as the previous few rooms. The attractive and proportioned for a typical living room,
Audio Physics Avanti III speakers did everything a music lover could ask. In addition to the now well-known and moderately priced
Herron amplification, Immedia now also offers impressive looking and sounding amplification by Connoisseur Definitions. My initial impression was that the sound was a touch softer or more relaxing than with the Herron, which may still be unsurpassed for clarity and detail. A couple of minor upgrades let Herron's amplifiers sound a bit fuller/richer than previously, particularly when used with preamps having high output impedances. In a small side room, Keith Herron was demoing his amplification chain with a very small mini tower speaker, the Audio Physic's Yara
($1,495) superb sound for the size, pleasantly full and rich into the midbass without the available subwoofer.
Vince Christian's fine speaker system that I reviewed some time ago for
The Audiophile Voice magazine has been transformed into a very contemporary design, but still seems to have retained its very musical sound reproduction. The design appears to be three stacked horizontal tubes, one above each other and aimed toward the listener. Musical and very open sounding. The fine Avantgarde speakers continue with at least one upgraded model. They still seem to be a bit more sensitive than many systems to room placement and correct amplification, so some demos were not the equal of others for them.
Ray Kimber continues to put his company's research facilities to many uses. In addition to his unique Palladian design A.C. power cord (see our achieves/January issue he now has a couple of commercial audio products he unveiled this year, one for each end of the audio chain! Recording engineers were intently examining his newly designed "separation baffle" for a pair of microphones that seemingly does all that can be asked for with no negative side effects. The other is an almost cute little speaker,
DiAural design, to be used for monitoring purposes, scuff resistant finish, tough packing case that includes all necessary cords and cables (Kimber of course) for easy transporting including a total weight of less than seventy pounds. As usual, most of the Kimber line of wires and cables remains unchanged. The top-notch recording companies such as
Classic and Chesky seemed to be doing good business during the show, as well as dealer Music Direct and many small specialty companies. Noticeably absent and missed were Reference Recordings and Telarc. Music Direct may become a manufacturer and supplier, as they are resurrecting the famous
Mobile Fidelity Company and label. There's obviously a continuing proliferation of products that go between your equipment and the surface underneath. Most are in 1 of 2 categories. One category couples the equipment and surface, often by a sharp or spiked attachment - often resulting in a tighter bass response. The other category tries to decouple or isolate the equipment and the underlying surface, often by a relatively soft rather dead attachment - often resulting in a fuller or richer bass response. Also noticed at the Alexis Park's CES press room was Kerry Moyer efficiently taking care of everyone from the media and others. I heard him convincingly trying to get new CEA members by outlining everything CEA can and does do for its members.
The Sound Lab/Wolcott/Purist Audio room had its typically outstanding sound this year. Nit picking, I must say that it was not quite as memorable as last year's demo. Last year they were able to use two pairs of the large electrostatics and the results from many listening seats was unbelievably close to a mid-hall seat in a good concert hall with a symphony orchestra playing. If you've never experienced outstanding audio from electrostatic speakers, make sure to listen to these companies next year. They do require uniquely fine amplification, which the Wolcott's' provide and aided by Purist Audio's fine wires and cables. I am scheduled to receive Wolcott's new stereo version of his famous design amplifiers. They basically look like the standard mono design. Hopefully he's gotten it to sound like his famous mono model.
Directly across the hall was the finest video demonstration I've ever seen. It was so outstanding that I forgot to pay much attention to the speakers! In a superb video system, the audio can wind up being over shadowed. The exhibit was put on by
Vidikron and yes the video projection system was very expensive. If you've got the money, they've got the picture.
Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technology system was putting out its usual very musical reproduction. He makes a couple of mini models designed for use with computers - and they sound great in that role. Carl Marchisotto and his wife were on hand as usual with fine musical sounds emanating. I just wish he had brought his larger system for his rather large room.
Over at the "Zoo" as the circus at the convention center is often referred to as, it would be easy to enter and not seen for a week if you tried to check out all the exhibits! It is now the world's second largest convention center. From the sublime (a small digital voice recorder than has a one inch by one inch plug-in digital camera extension) through the norm like new models of
Toshiba DVD/DVD-Audio players and the forthcoming Denon model 9000 DVD-A player at about 40 pounds and $3,500 that so impressed me that I've requested one for review, to the ridiculous, a model (with a new to me - brand name) that does all those things plus a karaoke input, that sold for $69 retail during the holiday season at Best Buy Stores)! Who said there isn't something for every budget?
An aside, for those wondering who that cool dude was that dropped in for our famous breakfast get together, it was not that newly discovered Hollywood star dressed in a classy contemporary tuxedo. Turned out to be none other than Steve Rochlin.