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CES 2005 - It's Just So BIG!
Part 1 - (Mostly Audio)


  On my first trip to CES, I marveled at the enormity of it all – acres and acres of exhibits, consumer electronics gear of all sizes from all corners of the world...  But this year, it's even bigger!  Over 140,000 attendees from 110+ countries, more than 1.5 million net square feet of floor space, 2400+ exhibitors displaying literally millions of items.  Walking between exhibit halls amid dense throngs, I was reminded of lyrics by the Police – "packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes" – but the fact is that the shiny metal boxes are what we lemmings were all there to see! 

CES Show Report

The technoweenies converge on CES.

This year I arrived early to catch a couple of press previews, and to make my annual donation to the Las Vegas economy via Harrah's Casino.  How much did I lose?  Well, let's just say, they aren't charging me for the room... or the food... or the show tickets... or for the nice young lady that showed up in my room.  Oh wait, you say you were just here to turn down the bed?  Well, that's embarrassing.  Pardon me while I put my pants back on.  And now back to our regularly scheduled show report.

CES 2005
This was not the lady from housekeeping.

Two days before the show officially began, CES announced the winners of their "Innovation" awards, and put on a fun little soiree with free food and open bar where the winners displayed their wares at little booths.  A couple of the pieces that caught my eye were Motorola's stylish Ojo videophone (works over any broadband connection) and Sony's DHG-HDD500 ($999) – a 500 GB High Def hard drive recorder (PVR) with a built-in TV Guide Online.  The Sony unit (pictured later in this report) can record up to 60 hours of High Definition content from cable or broadcast with Tivo-like functionality, without any monthly guide fees. 

CES 2005 - Motorola Ojo Video phone
Motorola's Ojo Video Phone

The director of market research from CEA also briefed us on the state of the electronics industry.  Apparently things are looking pretty rosy with nearly 11 percent growth from 2003 to 2004 in total value of consumer electronics shipped to or manufactured in the US - that's $113.5 Billion in CE products.  CEA expects a repeat performance in 2005 with a projected total CE market in the U.S. of $125 Billion. And I'm happy to report that this number exceeds my lifetime gambling losses in Vegas (but only slightly).


On With The Show!

On Thursday morning, as the show proper began, I moseyed over to the Alexis Park to check out what's new in High End Audio. Morel Acoustics was on hand with a unique floorstanding speaker that takes up about a cubic foot and stands no higher than 12 inches. Featuring an unusual "UniDriver" (one driver for all frequencies), the Renaissance Chorus ($795/pair) was putting out surprisingly full range sound.   The rated frequency response is 44Hz to 20kHz (+/-3dB) and it's available in black woodgrain, black laquer, cherry and oak finishes.  Morel claims they still sound great when tucked away behind a couch or a chair, so audiophiles with a limited budget and limited placement choices should definitely check these out.

Morel Floorstanding Loudspeaker
Morel's Chorus looks like a subwoofer, but it's a full-range speaker.

Over in conrad-johnson's suite, Mr. Johnson himself was showing off their new multi-channel high-end preamp, the MET1 ($8000, available  this spring), which features two 6-channel analog inputs and three analog stereo inputs.  This may be the answer for purist audiophiles who want to introduce multi-channel DVD-Audio and/or SACD players to their existing analog systems without unnecessary digital processing and video switching.  The only processing option available on the MET1 is a simple (defeatable) ambience retrieval mode which can add presence to two channel sources. 

Lew Johnson of Conrad-Johnson
Lew Johnson shows off his MET1 multi-channel line stage preamplifier.

As a mate to the MET1, conrad-j announced a 5 channel enhanced-triode power amplifier, the MET150 ($8500, expected summer, 2005). And since good sound begins with a good source, Conrad-Johnson will also soon be shipping their AVP1 universal disc player ($8500, expected summer, 2005), which will support CD, DVD, DVD-Audio and SACD discs.  If it's a shiny silver disc, chances are the AVP1 can play it.     

Conrad Johnson Universal Disc player
Conrad-Johnson's AVP1 Multi-disc player.

MSB was on-hand to show off their new CD player, the Reference CD Station 111 ($10,000) and Platinum amplifiers which resemble huge cylindrical blue heat sinks with fins all around.  These were powering their own home grown prototype speakers and making some mighty fine sounds indeed.

MSB's Reference CD Station 111, Platinum amplifiers and prototype speakers.

Down the hall in the Manley suite, the new Prawn remote controlled two-channel line stage was on display ($6000, available early April), along with some of their production preamplifiers and amplifiers driving Coincident Technology speakers.  Not coincidentally, the sounds coming from that room were very warm and lush. Tubes Rule!

Manley Labs
Manley's patriotic display reminds us that their gear is all designed and built right
here in the good ole U.S. of A. (until California defects to be its own country that is).

Manley Lab Wave and Prawn

Manley's "The Wave" and "Prawn" line stage preamplifiers and "Skipjack" switcher.

Polk was featuring two items, their new audiophile quality XM tuner for the home the XRt12 ($329.95, available now) and their IP addressable, triamplified in-wall speaker, the LC265i-p ($4000/pr, available in June, 2005).

Polk Audio XM Tuner
Polk's Rt12 XM satellite radio tuner, for the home has been generating some buzz,
but not from me, because they haven't sent me the review sample yet!

The LC265ip in-wall speaker is quite an unusual design in that it includes an on-board DAC and DSP engine (for room correction, time delay and equalization) and can be connected directly to cat5 Ethernet cable. The speaker's processor receives a digital bitstream, converts, processes and crosses over the signal to three independent amplifiers which are each dedicated to a single driver.  Customization and DSP are adjusted by the dealer with special software, microphones and a laptop on site so each installation sounds best in its particular environment.

Polk's LC265i
Polk's LC265ip - an in-wall speaker with an Ethernet input - how cool is that?

The Audiolab brand (formerly part of Tag McLaren) is now back in business, having recently been purchased by AIG.  On display at the show were the 8000AV multi-channel preamp/power amp (based on the Tag McLaren AV30) as well as the 8000x7 multi-channel power amplifier.  Pricing is as yet TBA and it is expected to be shipping in October, 2005. 

Audiolab - back in action.

Aaudio Imports was showing off some beautiful steel and chrome gear from Zanden Audio and Avatar Acoustics.  On display were Zanden's new Model 3000 vacuum tube preamplifier (price TBA, available February 2005), Model 9500 monoblock power amplifiers ($35,000/pair), Model 5000 Signature DA converter ($15,470) and Model 2000 Premium CD transport ($27,970).  Loudspeakers were Avatar's Ascendo System Z  ($30,000/pair with stands), which feature a time aligned ribbon tweeter and a dynamic woofer.

Zanden Audio and Avatar Acoustics system
The Zanden and Avatar Acoustics system - a dazzling assortment
of steel and polished chrome - looked and sounded crisp and clean.

In another suite, Aaudio Imports was showing off a very different but equally impressive system featuring Einstein's "The Last Record Player" tube CD player ($7,490) and "The Absolute Tune" integrated amplifier ($9,590) driving the gorgeous "LaCampanella" spherical horn loudspeakers ($26,000/pair) from Acapella.  To deliver the power, they were using Isoclean's PT-3030G II transformer ($2,700), 80A3 power filter ($3,500), Auto Focus power cable ($1,300) and Super Focus power cable ($1,800) plus their ICP-002 gold plated AG Wall Socket ($180).  In case you're not paying attention, that's $42,000 worth of electronics and speakers, enhanced by nearly $8,500 worth of power conditioning products!  But whatever the price tag, the end result was impressive, with an extremely "live" sound when reproducing a complex and dynamic acoustic drum recording.

Acapella LaCampanella Loudspeakers
Einstein Audio/Acapella system delivered the
full dynamics of live drum recordings with aplomb.

Speaking of horns, our old friends at Avantgarde Acoustics were displaying their new Meta Duo horn loudspeakers ($70,000/pair, expected availability March, 2005) driven by their One.P preamplifier ($30,000, available spring, 2005) and One.A power amplifiers ($40,000/pair, available spring, 2005).   The speakers are said to be a metamorphosis of Avantgarde's Trio and Duo systems.  The power amplifier has a battery powered input stage amplified to 50 Watts of pure Class A power per channel.  This was clearly more than enough to drive the Meta Duo as the big band demo material they had on hand sounded... well... BIG with tons of dynamic range and plenty of impact.

Avantgarde Meta Duo and One A
Avantgarde's Meta Duo horn speakers and One.A amplifiers

Nearby in Anthony Gallo Acoustics' first suite, they were showing off a new titanium tweeter version of their popular spherical satellite speaker, the "Micro Ti" ($235 each in stainless steel, $200 each in other colors), mated with their spherical TR1 subwoofer ($400).  Gallo's signature round driver and cabinet designs help minimize baffle interference and improve dispersion characteristics.  The Micro Ti is a fine sounding speaker, but what's up with that name?  I mean, it's a spherical satellite - shouldn't it be called the Sputnik?  Duh! 

Gallo Micro Ti and TR1 subwoofer
Gallo's new Sputnik, um I mean Micro Ti and TR1 subwoofer (not to scale).

Next door in Gallo's second suite, they had a full home theater set up to highlight their new Reference Center speaker ($1200, plus $200 for optional heavy duty stand).  Built as a sonic match to the Gallo Reference 3 system, the Reference Center lived up to its big brother's example, providing clear crisp dialog with excellent articulation. At first, I wasn't hearing much low bass from the system, but Anthony correctly diagnosed a standing wave in the center of the roughly square room that was plaguing the first row of seats.  Moving back a bit, the footfalls of the enemy olyphaunts in "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" regained their proper weight and impact. 

Gallo Center
Gallo's Reference Center, seen here stripped of its grille.  Note the unique spherical
tweeter, which gives the speaker its extremely wide dispersion (120 degrees).

In Rethm's room, the company exhibited their brand new Fifth Rethm ($1500/pair, $400 for optional stands).  These single-driver crossover-free loudspeakers maintained a good deal of the transparency and sonic characteristics of their larger siblings (the Second Rethm - $6480/ pair with Lowther drivers), but the little guys have virtually no bass.  The price screams "buy me!" but do plan to mate them with a nice quick subwoofer to provide the missing low frequencies. 

Rethm's Fifth
The Fifth Rethm offer a taste of the sonic clarity
of their larger siblings for a fraction of the price.

Jeff Joseph, of Joseph Audio was on hand to display the final prototypes of his RM55LE loudspeakers ($12,500/pair).  I won't claim to have such a perfect sonic memory as to be able to compare these to the version shown in New York in May, but this current iteration seems to have a deeper more precise soundstage.  These puppies image like the best small two-way speakers but have the low-end whomp of a powered sub, without the need for two boxes and extra amps.  The integration between the drivers is seamless and it's nice to hear these with the Cardas solid state gear as opposed to the Manley tube equipment, just to see that these speakers are versatile - whether it's tube or solid state, as long as you've got good clean amplification and a good source, these speakers will sing.   

Joseph Audio RM55LE
Joseph Audio's RM55LE loudspeakers, driven by Cardas electronics.

Also worth noting is that Joseph's "Insider" in-wall ($1999/pair) is not currently shipping due to a manufacturing glitch with the grille size, but Jeff expects this to be corrected shortly and production to resume momentarily.  

Over in the Von Gaylord Audio room, engineer Ray Leung showed off his now production liquid-cooled 200 WPC triode tube amplifier, the "UNI" ($48,000/pair), which was first displayed at the San Francisco Home Entertainment Expo in October, 2003.  These are definitely among the coolest looking amps on the planet, even more so now that they actually turn on, as the tubes generate waves of shimmering heat through the crystal clear dialetric liquid.  Apparently I'm not the only one who was impressed - Ray told me his show samples were already sold the of the first day of the show!   When asked about changing the tubes, Ray said they should last 15 to 20 years and when they do need changing, the amp should be sent back to the factory for retubing.

Ray from Von Gaylord Audio poses with his gear
Ray Leung, from Von Gaylord Audio poses with his babies.

Also on hand was Von Gaylord's two-piece D/A Converter (also called the "UNI" oddly enough, which is my least favorite kind of sushi, by the way, but I won't hold it against Ray).  The speakers were Von Gaylord's own "The Legend, Mk II" ($3995/pair in piano black).  Although there is only so much bass you can get from a small cabinet, the Legends do a phenomenal job of presenting the music uncolored, and untainted.  The system seemed to be very synergistic, with the whole greater than the sum of the (already impressive) parts.  This was definitely one fine sounding system.    

Silverline Audio Technology teamed up with Audio Valve - makers of fine German tube amps to show their speakers in the best light.  On display were Silverline's Sonata III ($7,200/pair) and Sonatina III ($5,000).  The latest round of improvements have made these speakers even better integrated, with pinpoint imaging and tight solid low bass.  Stay tuned as there may be a full review of Silverline's loudspeakers in the pages of Enjoy The Music in the near future.   Both speakers are available in your choice of piano black lacquer, rosewood, maple, or briarwood and both feature a very exceptional fit and finish.  

Silverline Audio Technology's Sonata and Sonatina III
Silverline's 3-way Sonatina III (here in black) retain much of the sonic
virtues of their 4-way big brothers the Sonata III (here in rosewood).

Last stop at the Alexis Park was McIntosh's full home theater display which features McIntosh speakers, DVD player, music server, preamp processor and amplification.  About the only non-McIntosh gear in the room was the projector and screen and when I mentioned this, the McIntosh rep got a silly little grin... does this mean McIntosh will soon be selling projectors too?  In any case, what they did have on display sounded and looked great. 

Chuck Hinton - McIntosh
Chuck Hinton from McIntosh poses with the MS300 music server. 

The main product introduction for McIntosh was their MS300 Music Server ($5100, due Q1, 2005).  With a beefy 300 GB hard disk drive, and using the highly efficient FLAC (free lossless audio codec), the server has space for up to 1000 CDs with absolutely no loss in audio quality.   Unlike MP3 and even WMA codecs, FLAC loses no quality, because it maintains all of the data from the original music files.  Think of FLAC as ZIP for music information.  FLAC analyzes the data as a whole and determines where it can reduce data waste and data redundancy, and it stores the CD in less space on the hard drive than it originally took up on the CD.  At playback, it reconstructs that information bit perfect in real time, with the playback data stream identical to the original data stream from the source CD.  The MS300 also supports the automatic download of cover art, song titles and other information from the CDDB database so you can use this information to search and navigate through your songs just as you would on a PC based media player.

The speakers featured were the XRT28 ($9100 each), of which there were six, driven by 6 McIntosh monoblock power amps, fed by their MX135 home theater preamp/processor ($7600) with both DVD and Music Server source material.  At a total system price somewhere north of $160,000 (including the projector), this was one of the  most expensive home theater rigs at the show, but the quality showed.  Using the Olyphaunt march torture test (from "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" Special Edition), the system put out some prodigious bass. And listening to tracks on the Music Server was just like listening to them on a high-end CD player, as it should be since there was no lossy compression going on.  I've never been sold on music servers replacing physical discs, but after seeing and hearing this one, I might be warming up to the idea.

To get back to my hotel, I had to take the shuttle to the main convention center (aka, "The Zoo") and this took me by the Snowboarding mountain that Motorola had set up called "Moto Mountain." This man made snow hill and jump was set up by Motorola so professional snow boarders could put on an exhibition promoting Motorola's durable, wearable mobile accessories.   I guess it seemed like a novel concept, "snow in Vegas?" but ironically Vegas got REAL snow the next day, as we were suffering from a very cold (and very wet) stint of weather.  Still, it was entertaining to watch and a fitting end to day 1.

Motorola's Moto Mountain
Motorola's MotoMountain, a man made snowboarder's paradise.

Click here to see Part II Of Chris Boylan's show coverage.












































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