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The Home Entertainment Show 2004
Consumer Electronics Show 2004

The Home Entertainment Show 2004 (T.H.E. Show)      2004 International Consumer Electronics Show

Page 3

The Best Kick in the Pants at the show was provided by the Totem Acoustic ďDrumĒ from Vince Bruzzese.  This is a cylinder that provides a visceral impact to the underside of a chair or sofa, and it varies as a function of subwoofer output.  The Drum is more sophisticated than most such devices, in that its intensity increases as the subwoofer frequency decreases.  Just the thing for watching that section of the Kodo Drummers video where all of  their instruments fall over.  And by the way, I continue to enjoy a pair of Totem Model 1 Signature loudspeakers in my second system.  Theyíve provided many years of enjoyment.

Finally, Mike Hobson of Classic Records announced that, after searching for the master tapes for three years, they have reissued the album Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, with an authentic reproduction of the original jacket.  This is exciting news to me, and I look forward to bringing you a review.


Top "Sweet Sixteen" Systems
Now here is a rundown on the sixteen best systems I heard at the show.  Iím not ranking them or giving out awards this year.  Rather than producing my usual in-depth, analytical, long report on all of these systems, I decided to provide some brief, but hopefully insightful, comments on the systems whose sound I enjoyed the most.  Removing the pressure of trying to compare the sound of every system to every other system in a fair and balanced manner let me relax and enjoy the show more this year.  The plan worked... I think...


The Halcro/Wilson room at the San Remo had the same effect on me as last year, as reported above.  Two-channel, or incredibly realistic symphony-hall-like surround-sound, could be heard, using Halcro amplifiers, Wilson Audio loudspeakers, and master tapes from Peter McGrath.  I would like to thank both Peter and Philip OíHanlon for staying late on Sunday to give me a demonstration that really knocked my socks off.  This system has me completely sold on the benefits of surround-sound done right for listening to music.  Bridged Halcro 68s were running Wilson Maxx loudspeakers in the front, while a stereo Halcro 38 was running Wilson Sophias in the rear, with a Wilson Watch Center front and center.  What the heck, I have to hand out an award here.  This system reproduced the Most Astoundingly Realistic Choral Reproduction that I have ever heard in 25 years of high-end audio.  I have years of experience of live choral listening and recording.  This system just gets the voices spot-on, with instantaneous transients and an ability to pick out individual voices that is downright spooky.  It sounds damn close to what a choir sounds like live.  How can I say more?  But guys, the fact that you started packing up early meant that I almost missed you this year.  Consider staying for press day next year...


Herron Audio is always an oasis of real music amidst a sea of audiophile dreck.  Keith Herron has introduced me to more music that I now find indispensable than anyone in the show in recent years.  Keith is someone for whom the hardware serves the music, and his low-key approach is much appreciated.  Keithís new HL-1 solid state preamplifier and his prototype M1 power amplifiers were being fed by a VPI TNT HR-X turntable, and were feeding Alon Lotus Elite Signature Series 2 loudspeakers.  The sound was transparent, dynamic, smooth, and ultra-musical.  It kept Stan Ricker riveted to his chair while I went out, covered more rooms, came back to see if he was ready, went out and covered more rooms, etc.  The wonderful new Gene Harris Trio Plus One from Ying Tanís Groove Note label sounded better here than on any other system we tried.  Bravo, Keith.


It is always a pleasure to spend time in the Merlin Music Systems room.  Iíve awarded the gracious Bobby Palkovic best sound in show several times in recent years.  Bobby has continued to improve his very highly regarded Merlin VSM loudspeakers, and this year they were sounding exceedingly neutral and transparent, with a really fleshed-out soundstage, basically better than ever.  The Merlins were being fed by a VPI TNT 6 turntable, a Convergent Audio Technologies (CAT) SL1 Ultimate preamplifier, and CAT JL3 triode monoblock amps.  Thanks for your hospitality, Bobby, and for providing a calm harbor within the boiling tempest of CES for year after year.


The Hovland Company has always stood out as one that is run by people with vision who really care.  They have taken a long and careful road to get to where they are, and it is always exciting to see what they will come up with next.  Jeff Tonkin, Mike Garges and Alex Crespi were demonstrating a system showcasing the gorgeous new HP-200 preamp, basically an all-out revised version of the highly regarded HP-100 in which remote control is added.  Iíve gotta say that the HP-200 was the Most Gorgeous New Preamplifier in the show.  The technology behind the remote capability is rather exotic, in its use of metal-film resistors and reed relays.  The sound was dynamic and smooth, with fantastic soundstaging.  Bob Hovland, starting from humble beginnings, has built up quite a company.  It was a pleasure as always, guys.  Readers who do vinyl should know that Hovlandís tonearm cables have been my reference for many years.  The Music Groove 2 is their best yet.  Just when I think they canít possibly get any better, somehow they do.


George Kielcyznski of the deHavilland Electric Amplifier Company was exhibiting a very compelling system centered around the deHavilland GM-70 monoblock, a 50-watt amplifier that uses the GM-70 tube, a Soviet version of the 845.  (The 845 happens to be my favorite tube of all time ... magical things seem to happen when this tube is in the room.)  It turns out that amplifier designer Kara Chaffee is also a whiz with tape decks.  She brought an Ampex 351-2 back from the dead, and the results are sure worth it.  This system, which also featured Prana Wire from Joe Cohen, brought me as much musical joy as anything in the show, as George played reel-to-reel tapes of Simon and Garfunkel: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme.  I am intimately familiar with this album, and have never heard it like this.  My biggest regret of the show, quite seriously, is that I didnít spend more time in this room, and didnít get back there with Stan Ricker.  Next year, folks!  This was definitely the Room I Wanted to Spend More Time In.


Iím a sucker for dipolar loudspeakers.  The Eminent Technology Model 8 loudspeakers that I have very happily used as my reference for many years are planar magnetic loudspeakers, with cone woofers in an enclosure.  The Alon Proteus loudspeaker is also dipolar, but it uses cone drivers (with Alnico magnets), and it separates the upper dipolar section from the sealed lower section with ball bearings.  This system, using the Antique Sound Labs Hurricane 200 W tube monoblocks, absolutely blew me away.  These are the Loudspeakers Iíd Most Like to Take Home and try out in my own system.  Well, so much for not handing out awards.


Judd Barber of Joule Electra was showing this year with Joseph Audio Pearl loudspeakers.  Juddís electronics have always acquitted themselves mightily when paired with Merlin loudspeakers.  The Joseph Audio Pearls were used in the system that I most wanted to take home last year, and they worked extremely well in this system.  The sound was natural, relaxed, and musical, and a sheer joy to listen to.  Stan and I enjoyed Juddís hospitality, and this was another room in which Stan remained firmly glued to his chair for a long time, while I went out and visited other rooms, came back and checked if Stan was ready to leave, checked out more rooms, etc.  Congratulations on a magnificent sounding room, Judd.



The Edgarhorn system of Dr. Bruce Edgar was sounding better than ever this year.  And thatís really saying something, as loyal readers know.  Amplification was provided by Cy Brenneman of Cyrus Brenneman Audio, using the 845 Silver Odyssey single-ended monoblocks.  Thereís my favorite tube again!  These amps use fully silver-wound output transformers from Electra-Print, and modern oil-and-film capacitors.  I feel compelled to hand out an award for the Best Sounding Horn Loudspeakers in the show.  This was really a no-brainer this year.  In the interest of full disclosure, new readers should know that I worked with Bruce many years ago at a federally-funded R&D lab on space science, and I provided a lot of input into early versions of Bruceís speakers, including their imaging.  But I have had no involvement in that for well over a decade, and those designs bore little resemblance to what Bruce is doing today.  And while Iím swiftly back-pedaling on my plans to forego the awards, I must state that the 845 Silver Odyssey was the Most Stunningly Gorgeous Power Amplifier in the show.


Esoteric Speaker Products (ESP) returned after a six-year absence, and Iím glad they did.  Company president Mike Verretto put on a demonstration that Stan found irresistible.  I found myself drawn back to the open, transparent, relaxed, and natural sound of this system, and its great soundstaging abilities.  Designer Shawn McCaughan is to be congratulated for the extensive revisions that he has made to the design.  The speakers were driven by Concert Fidelity 60-watt tube amps, using the 6B4G tube.  Designer Masataka Tsuda manages to coerce 60 watts from a 2A3-like tube.


Tenor amplifiers were being exhibited by Francois Lemay, Robert Lamarre, and Michel Vanden Broeck (the designer).  I have long admired their 6C33C-based OTL designs.  They were showing the new hybrid 300Hp Mono, which uses a solid state output.  The sound was well worth seeking out.  CES placed Tenor alone at the very end of the last building in the Alexis Park, which was unfortunate.  Hopefully the knowledgeable and the adventurous show goers made it back there.


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