The Agony, Odyssey, Ecstacy...
Meandering And Wandering At The CES And T.H.E. Show 2003
Article By Karl Lozier
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This year I vowed to do better in my reporting of the annual CES and T.H.E. Show. Mike Maloney, CEO of the 2003 T.H.E. (The Home Entertainment) Show was everywhere and doing his best to ensure smooth running. He said that with a five year contract the problems created by annual moves to different sites is a thing of the past.
The first room I visited and really room 1 in San Remo's Conference Center was featuring Edge electronics and Wisdom loudspeakers. Both Tom Maker's amplifiers and Wisdom's loudspeakers were particularly impressive visually as well as sonically. The amplifiers were stunningly impressive if a bit on the "gaudy or glitzy side". Their largest dimension is height and their shape is like an old Egyptian pyramid except that the top does not get quite to a point. They were probably worried that eventually someone might try to sit down on one of the amplifiers and "not physically miss the point of the design" which is partly heat dissipation.
With just Tom, Steven Norber sales manager and myself in the very large room it was easy to describe the sound as big, really big and truly impressive (that implies really good). The sound was definitely better for the Wisdoms than at some previous shows. Why, I do not know. Perhaps at a previous show something was not quite right or whatever. Here they had the sound quality nailed.
Halcro amplification with Eggleston Works loudspeakers was performing in Conference Room
5, another large room. The impressive appearance of their model 58 amplifiers, their next to top models mimicked their sound quality. They were driving Eggleston's Savoy model loudspeakers, their next to top offering. Again I was hearing clean, really clean and clearly impressive sound pouring forth with four twelve inch woofers per side in the so called Isobaric configuration. Surprisingly not particularly impressive in the deep bass range (still early the first morning) but overall simply musical and very clean overall which is almost as good as can be expected under show conditions of time and unfamiliar rooms.
Halcro's setup in Conference Room 4 came close to an almost opposite description as in the aforementioned room
5. Here Dave Wilson's Maxx models were positioned about twenty feet apart and each was near a corner. The result was an almost boomy quality. Although I could not describe it as realistic it none the less was impressive with an eight-foot long solo violin floating above the orchestra. I would bet that set up got changed well before show closing time. Moving the loudspeakers closer together which would get both of them away from their respective corners might be all that was required.
Magnepan and Audio Research companies turned Conference Room 3 into a virtual oasis. That means while I was there, beautiful music was being played at a reasonable sound level with enjoyment of the music as a goal. As a result, their impressive setup was truly impressively natural sounding. They were using their model 3.6 loudspeakers "all around" at $4,200 a pair. I asked Wendell Diller why he didn't give them the model number 4.2 and simply charge a thousand per point for his systems. They don't change models often but economic forces for everyone can force price increases, as we all know too well. His reply was they did not want to have to change model numbers as prices might increase as he replied seriously to my humorously intended question. Once in awhile a bit of help from a subwoofer would have made a true audiophile or an audio nut happier. For music lovers this was essentially as good as it gets.
It sounded remarkably like listening to a symphonic orchestra playing in a concert hall with reasonably good acoustics and you having a comfortable seat just where you prefer it. Setup was in a large room, perhaps 25 by 40 feet, maybe larger. In front of you, in this room, was a center channel of a pair of the model 3.6s which were very nicely finished (walnut frames?) plus a decorative narrow wood strip down the front. The left and right were each a single 3.6 and behind you playing at an unobtrusive but natural level was a single 3.6 at rear left and rear right. This was surround sound done to near perfection. Did it surprise you that there was "more speaker in the center channel than either the left or right" or was your thinking that is very logical? Those rear speakers were not to your or listeners sides as they are often placed for "home theater - movies" but in back for concert hall replication and only really noticeable if turned off - think about it.
Next I wandered around to the Chateau Ballrooms stopping first at 5. I could not resist the product name here as first ever mentioned in the original Star Trek movie. Yes, I am a card carrying
Trekkie. The product name is VYGER as in the movie's VOYGER with the "O" obliterated, here it is a state of the art turntable produced by the Acoustic Dreams Company. It is huge, it is almost unbelievably impressive, it looks as if it might sell for as much as forty thousand dollars. It does. It does not include a phono cartridge. The featured Lumen White loudspeakers featured "airflow damping", sometimes referred to as a vented or ported design - oh what a difference a word can make. So far as I have reported chronologically, I had been finding very good to outstanding sound quality. That was true here also but perhaps ideally a slightly smaller room might have been an even better match.
These fine speakers are a moderate size at best - perhaps four feet tall and very narrow with a nice contemporary appearance. Care to guess what color the cabinets were? Black was not the correct guess. Vertical or height dispersion was not as great as with previously mentioned loudspeakers - all of which were significantly taller. On jazz and classical selections horns and brass were particularly clean and very clearly apparent. The deepest bass was pretty much in hiding as would be expected from the relatively diminutive cabinet size. Good subwoofers can be had at a moderate cost but I would not be surprised if none were needed in a typical living room setting.
Wisdom loudspeaker's main location was in the extremely large Chateau 1 Ballroom. Here I found their largest
multi-cabinet system at a rather staggering but not unexpected two hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars plus their own amplification. Rooms make such a large difference and you've had to have experienced it at some time for your self to really understand and appreciate. Even computer programs can do only so much and cannot make one environment sound as good as another. This lead-in is to tell you that the sound here was definitely not as full and rich as in the previous (large, but not as large) room mentioned. My impression was that the reproduction was almost as clean and clear sounding as with the other room's setup.
Chateau Ballroom 4 was the last of the ballrooms and conference rooms I visited. Herein resided the seven-foot tall Pipedreams loudspeakers by Nearfield Acoustics. This is not the tallest model but next to it. Included were a pair of their usual circular cabinet model subwoofers. As usual the sound quality was simply excellent with a tremendous sense of depth and surround even though two channel stereo. Maybe I have been lucky or that Nearfield Acoustics is simply very good or very good at setup but so far I have never heard them sound less than very good. Perhaps it is at least partly true that their line source design (extremely narrow, tall cabinets) is relatively non critical for at least good sound reproduction. My very limited experience with one pair of them lends great credence to that possibility. When I was there the room was being hosted by Alan Eichenbaum who lives "just down the road from me" and featured the VAC company's
220 monoblock amplifiers.
Opera Audio with Granite Audio plus Bergtussel Speaker Company and assisted by Sound Quest's
Isol-Pads were putting out quite excellent sound in a fair sized hotel room - not the really large rooms previously mentioned. The loudspeakers were in the four thousand dollar range and seemed to mate extremely well with the visually and audibly impressive amplifiers. The model 211 SE amps sound their very best with the 211 tubes (13-watt output) though others can be substituted for higher, not better, output.
Isol-Pads (short for isolation-pads) were very interesting, at least unique for the great amount of weight each one is reported to hold and isolate - seventy-five pounds apiece or three hundred total if four are used! Stephen Mote designed them and the price is very, very reasonable. Obviously I could not be certain of how effective they are from a brief listen under show conditions but Stephen is sending some for me to try.
The next room that I visited and stayed was a surprise. So far all I have mentioned had turned out to be very expensive systems. There is no way to listen to all the systems being demonstrated at just the San Remo and Alexis Park hotels even in five days (the rooms in San Remo were open one day longer than in the Alexis Park which helped). So while going literally from room to adjacent room and so on I, if the initial impression was not good, I simply left even though the culprit might have been a poor recording. This is not fair of course, but a way to eliminate some and some had to be eliminated. Not mentioned is
not to imply not good. Anyway, the surprise room was full of Swans Loudspeakers. The model mainly being demonstrated most of the time was
T600HT. This, a beautiful looking contemporary cabinet speaker system. A very attractive design for just under one thousand dollars a pair or for seventeen hundred total a center channel loudspeaker and subwoofer are included - a bargain!
The subwoofer may be a bit suspect and do not pay attention to the control markings on the back panel; use your ears to set them. In addition to black with/without brushed aluminum contrast panels, brown (wood appearing) with brushed gold is an apparent option. Spouse acceptance could be extremely high. All is not in appearances here. The sound was so good that later when I ran into a well-known distributor/importer I mentioned it to him and later he told me he was in complete agreement. There is possible competition here for our traditional value oriented companies such as Paradigm, PSB,
NHT, Mission and Acoustic Energy among others.
Cox (Steve) Audio systems is a very new company from Oregon. A very auspicious start and featuring very high efficiency from rather small wood cabinets. Efficiency claims up to around 100dB. I think Steve was snowed under with all that has to be done at a huge show and seemingly a one-man operation. All sounded fine with just barely acceptable electronics! Four current models and all reasonably priced. Remember this name as it has a good shot at being a "real name" company in the future and that takes organizational skills in addition to engineering.
A few rooms away I hit one of the rooms I had deliberately targeted. I had been remiss by not hearing the Harbeth loudspeakers the past few years. A rather brief listening session (including Art Audio) easily lead me to say that if you want some truly outstanding musical sound from relatively small loudspeakers (stand necessary) then listen to the eighteen inch tall Harbeth Monitor 30 at three thousand dollars a pair. For the same price you can have their new model Super HL5 which has a larger twenty-five inch tall cabinet and adds a super tweeter and better looking specifications. Remember that I as well as the other reviewers here at
Enjoy the Music.com™ keep telling you that specifications just do not tell the listening story. Serious listeners, whether music lovers or audiophiles, will quickly choose the Monitor 30. Casual listeners will probably go for the Super HL5. Ultimately listeners may want to add a subwoofer to the Monitor 30. If so, chose very carefully as it should be partnered with a really good one, not a typical home theater boomer.
The Dali loudspeakers from Denmark were just a bit of an enigma. The reason I mentioned that is because this system was really a system- being tied in with some beautiful subwoofers and the Tact room correction - none of which was even the least bit obtrusive. Peter Lyngdorf is the owner of Dali and a partner in Tact Audio, so the combination is very logical. The largest Dali loudspeaker (which is very large, particularly height) is beautifully styled in finely finished cabinets and sounds beautiful to boot. It was impressive, beautiful and musical all at the same time. Let me say it this way. With a fair number of fine, truly fine sounding loudspeaker systems heard this year, none sounded better than the largest Dali system. Price was noticeably less than for comparably sized competitors. For whatever reason I don't think many reviewers were aware of these loudspeakers as almost no one that I sent over to hear them had heard or heard of them. Their somewhat smaller system, the Euphonia without the larger system's floor to ceiling line array of ribbon tweeters would be much better suited to my living/listening room. I would look forward to ever being able to review a pair.
The renowned Dr. Roger West's Sound Lab loudspeakers were in at least three rooms. Two of those rooms were co hosted by Jim Aud of the famed Audio Purist cable company. He has some new cables on the way as well as
A.C. power cords. Because of a lowered noise floor and a new design, he claims even better sound quality than before and at a lower price. That would be a surprise as his cables have been in the top echelon for a few years now but very bulky and pricey. One of his rooms had the usual great sound I expect from the Sound Labs loudspeakers. His other room had a slightly smaller model with added humongous sized subwoofers from a different company and the sound was not as good as from West's best full range model. The sound in another room was also not quite as good. Room vagaries or the absence of the almost legendary Wolcott amplifiers? The best I've heard, with memory being a variable, was a very few years ago with a double pair of the largest Sound Labs being driven by Wolcott amplifiers and everything fed by Audio Purist Dominus series cables and cords. Fine memories indeed!
Allan Perkins' Immedia Company had their typically impressive display and demonstration with a couple of changes. Missing was any of Keith Herron's fine electronics replaced by some extremely impressive looking electronics feeding Audio Physics smaller model Tempo 111 loudspeakers.
In Keith Herron's room, he was offering a bit of an unannounced surprise to some of his long time fans. In addition it should be noted that his solid-state amplifier has evolved with a few seemingly minor upgrades creating more improvement than expected. Now they can be described as subtly on the rich or full side where as originally they were possibly a bit on the lean side. As always, great detail and a smooth high end were obvious, while excellent recordings including LPs were playing very musical selections, not the usual show off stuff found at demonstrations. This year Herron was using the fine Joseph Audio Pearl loudspeakers but in his room the deepest bass was subdued. Not typical of them Keith remarked.
In the Acarian room a pair of the new Alon Lotus Elite Signature loudspeakers were playing and making impressively beautiful music. Do not confuse them with the basic Lotus Elite model which is little more than half the Signature's almost eight thousand dollars per pair. The styling is a bit unusual but pleasant and will be subject to personal taste. See the revealing picture in our preshow report section! The enclosures are a bit less than three and a half feet tall and only ten inches wide, but they put out big sound - big and refined. They do feature open baffle technology radiating to the rear in addition to the front for a sensation of great spaciousness. In the large room they were being augmented by Alon's fine subwoofers. I asked Carl Marchisotto to please turn off the subwoofers and he did so. They still sounded excellent, no bass missing, just not as full and powerful in the bottom octave. Most listeners will not need the subwoofers and in a more appropriately sized room and placed just a bit closer to the wall behind them maybe no one would feel any need for help in any way. I was so very impressed that I requested a pair to be sent to me for review. They are the only loudspeakers in that price range that I requested from any manufacturer during the show.
Genesis loudspeakers have been resurrected! They have a new owner, new manufacturing location in the Seattle area and a new name - Genesis Advanced Technologies. With new CEO Gary Koh pitching in with updated visual designs such as with their new 6.1 system models and Dave Firestone handling sales all that remains is about four previous models. Remaining are the previous smallest
(501) the largest (1.2) and two intermediate models. Innovative and justly famous audio loudspeaker designer and founder Arnie Nudell has joined with the new company. The new 6.1 series will be a home theater series and the new floor standing right and left (or stereo pair) model is an impressive bargain at five feet tall, under ten thousand dollars and a pair of self powered
(1,000 watts) twelve-inch woofers per side. This results in the bass response Genesis has always been famous for.
At this point I am running out of time to get this report in by deadline so you have it to read. I may be able to get a few additional brief comments into the Karl's Korner column in our
Viewpoint section for February and March also, so look for more there.
The Consumer Electronics Show
At The Las Vegas Convention Center
(A.K.A. The Zoo)
Yes, the Convention Center there is a zoo. It is huge and at well over a million square feet of floor space is supposedly the second largest in the world. Many areas are crowded and often it is difficult to find a specific booth or exhibitor quickly for one reason or another. I lucked out and was able to get to many of my targeted places relatively easily.
As I walked down the steps of the south building I ran right into the Denon display. Once again they had one of the best locations in the convention center. I wanted to check with both Denon and Marantz to see each of their new "universal" players. Both companies though generally regarded as mid-fi are usually the cream of that crop as far as audio goes. Their best amplifiers or amplifier sections of their better receivers are very competitive with entry-level high-end gear. Common, is a serious audiophile or music lover with one of their top receivers in their personal home theater systems. Now these two and others are receiving scrutiny because they are able to bring out universal players more quickly (parts availability?) than tiny specialty high-end audio companies. Though Denon and Marantz are huge compared to specialty audio companies, they are dwarfed by giants such as Sony or Panasonic. Denon and Marantz are now owned by the same company but for now are entirely separate. Marantz's universal player is probably a tweaked/upgraded model from another company and is available right now at $1,599. Denon's entry was developed from scratch and should be available by late April/early May. Expected price is less than Marantz's and probably between $1,000 and $1,200. Neither player offers HDCD decoding though Denon's next model, available fall 2003, at a slightly higher price will. These universal players are the answer for people who cannot decide which way to go (DVD-A or SACD) as they will play both as well as DVD Video and regular CDs.
After those two targeted companies I easily found PS Audio's booth. There has been a fair amount of buzz about their 15-amp high current Ultimate Outlet model. For a fraction of the cost of their larger Power Plants stories abound about at least a fifty percent of the Power Plant's result with the Ultimate Outlet. It has two outlets, but no adjustments such as offered by the well- received Power Plants. We'll see. I now have one of each.
Next up was Musical Fidelity and showing all their latest gear. They are probably one of the largest specialty audio companies in the world. That could be a real advantage with purchasing power. As you know, I recently reviewed a system of Music Fidelity components. I basically raved on the preamplifier and the matching CD player. Each offered truly fine sound belying their moderate prices. The only little "nit picking" I was able to do concerned the pair of low cost, over performing model #M250 power amplifiers. They had a very slight amount of high frequency edge or harshness when compared to amplifiers such as Herron or Pass Aleph series. The M250 was the only Musical Fidelity product without their highly promoted choke filtered power supply. I assumed that costly absence was probably the reason for the slightly disappointing performance though truly excellent for the price and power output. Since then I have been trying to get a comparable MF power amplifier with their highly promoted power supply (which would be more expensive) to see if my thinking is correct. In other words I would like a complete Musical Fidelity system to be able to receive a rave review from me with no apparent audible faults whatsoever. A couple of MF dealers agreed with me even though no other reviewers picked up on the very minor flaw in that bargain priced product. Hopefully I will get a chance to try one of their choke filtered power supply models before long from some source. I must admit to incorrectly reporting on MF's new trivistor models. While it is true that their famous nuvistor devices are miniature metal cased tubes the even rarer trivistors while also being miniature tubes are as typical, glass encased tubes and not metal cased.
I was wandering around just a bit on an esthetic pursuit. I was trying to find a good subwoofer in a very light wood or wood colored cabinet. Most manufacturers insist on forcing black monsters into spouse's home theater décor areas. Let's face it; two foot black cubes with black grille cloth stick out like a very enlarged sore thumb in a light or blonde wood furnished room. Well, I found a couple of them but dummy me has forgotten one of the brands and perhaps one or our readers can enlighten me and other readers. The other brand, that I did remember and picked up available literature for, is Energy Speaker Systems of Toronto, Canada. They even offer some speaker stands in a light wood color. They refer to that light color as Canadian Maple Finish. They even offer a gloss white finish for some models. The promising subwoofer is the model S10.2 powered with 600 watts and a ten-inch cone and front mounted controls and dual vents. Everything, including grille cloth is a nice light (Canadian Maple) finish or color. How nice to have esthetic options for a change.
Before I left the zoo at the convention center I ran into Hank Eisengrein. Hank is product manager for Universal Remote Control, almost famous for their devices for home theater and the entertainment world. He had taken a brief break and was visiting some of his old friends and contacts in the audio world. I had discovered why he had such a great interest in the use of his company's products in audio and home theater! You remember my very favorable comments in the Karl's Korner column some months ago about their model MX-500. Well, now Hank has introduced me to some newer and even more technologically advanced models. Though he was particularly smitten by a new large touch screen model, somehow I was intrigued by their recent MX-700 model. It appears very similar to the MX-500 outwardly. It actually is a "pair of remotes". A smaller sidekick remote can easily and quickly learn the main unit's macro commands and be used by anyone in the family. The main 700 system probably is "twice as much remote control" as most users need but is easy to use and program and actually has fewer buttons than the 500. Hank's sales manager, Lars
Granoe, quickly sailed through an almost overwhelming number of options offered with this unit. I doubt if it would ever become obsolete. A couple of highlights include unbelievably extensive macro programming; windows based PC software for perfect tailoring to anyone's needs (actually designed for custom installers) and memory back-up with ten-year retention even with dead batteries. This is a remote force to be reckoned with. I will report a bit more thoroughly when I start to use it.
My rather brief sojourn to the wilds of the zoo ended at David Salz's Wireworld exhibit. He lives just down the road from me in Florida. David brought up the subject of comparing cables and wires to "no cables or wires". No refers to extremely short (1 to 2 inch) premium copper jumpers instead of cables and then compare. He also developed a demo CD comparing various brands of cables, his included of course, to the sound of the above referred to, "no cables". Will we, or others, prefer the sound of our favorite cables or the reference, which of course must be "no cables"? Interesting stuff and I do plan to report on this at a later date.