Home  |  Audio Reviews  Audiophile Shows Partner Mags  News     


May 2003
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
CES Show Coverage – 2003
What The Other Guys Didn't Tell You...

Part III
Article Byt by Chris Boylan


Back to Home Theater Land

Sunfire (Bob Carver's company) introduced a couple of new seven channel power amps at the show. Their Cinema 7 amps will be available in the Spring for $2995 in a standard version and $3995 in a higher powered signature version. The Cinema Seven puts out 200 WPC while the Cinema Seven Signature delivers a whopping 400 WPC into 8 ohms (800 watts into 4 ohms) X 7 channels! Their demo system included the Cinema Seven Signature plus the latest version of their home theater preamp/processor, the Theater Grand III. Speakers included a Sunfire sub plus Snell speakers.  Their demo of a Roger Waters live DVD was loud as hell without any hint of strain.   

Sunfire preamp processor and amplifier
Sunfire's Theater Grand III pre/pro (top) is joined by their new
Cinema Seven Signature amplifier to round out the source control,
processing and amplification of a high end, high power home theater. 

RBH, a high-end speaker manufacturer, introduced their new affordable "Architectural Cinema" line of speakers (AC series) - expected to ship in March 2003. Total list for the basic AC system on display was only $1759, but their demo of the animated flick "Ice Age" really shook things up - literally, the room was shaking - but not at the expense of clarity and cohesiveness. Very impressive sounds for a system at this price point. They also had speakers from their higher end Signature Series on display (system price $7000) which were also putting out some impressive sounds.

rbh loudspeakers
RBH showed both a budget sytem from their AC and MC
series plus high end speakers from their Signature line.

Beyond HDTV... 3DTV?

So what comes after HDTV?  Why 3DTV of course!  At least if Sensio has their way. Sensio was showing their prototype 3D processor unit, which is expected to ship in May 2003 at a list price of around $3000. The Sensio processor goes inline between your DVD player and video projector to create a truly realistic 3D moving image from special 3D-encoded DVDs called "3DVD." While only six 3DVD titles will be available for the official launch date, Rich Laberge, Sensio's VP of Sales and Marketing says that a good selection of titles will follow, including some breathtaking 3D IMAX films.  Apparently there have been approximately 250 films and TV programs shot in 3D to date with many more in production so they'll have a decent selection of titles to choose from. Will this ever be mainstream?  It's too early to tell. Sensio is currently aiming squarely at the home theater enthusiast who wants to impress his or her friends with something truly unique. In any case, it was a very impressive demo and I wish them the best with this undertaking.


Meanwhile back at the high-end ranch...

The Alexis Park Hotel showcased high-end manufacturers in both traditional stereo and home theater.  Thiel had on display their unique surface-mounted PowerPoint speakers ($1300 each).  Talk about WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), these things were pretty much invisible. It took me a few minutes just to figure out that all this sound was coming from these tiny little wedges on the ceiling.  Of course they had help from Thiel's new SW1 subwoofers ($4800 each X 2).  With a demo segment from Fantasia 2000, this system sounded very transparent and had real dynamic impact.    

Thiel's PowerPoint (TM)
See?  I told ya they were transparent.

I do have to wonder about the name PowerPoint though.  Thiel already got in trouble with their CS2.2 speakers when Bose filed a lawsuit (how the hell does someone own the copyright to the number ".2", anyway?), now they're naming speakers after Microsoft's presentation software?  Hmmm... let's hope Mr. Gates doesn't notice...

MSB Technology had a few new pieces of gear on display. In addition to the Super DVD Audio player, mentioned in Part I, MSB also showed off their CD transport, The Platinum Reference CD Station II, which features built-in volume control via stepped attenuators so you can go straight into your stereo power amp.  The transport requires your CD be placed in a caddy, which I find a little awkward, but they say it keeps your CD better protected.  CD playback quality through Lumenwhite speakers was quite nice, with a deep soundstage that exceeded the boundaries of the hotel room.    

MSB/Lumenwhite system
MSB/Lumenwhite system at the Alexis Park.

MSB also introduced their limited edition MicroDAC.  Featuring parts by Crystal Semiconductor and Burr Brown, the microdac supports PCM input signals up to 24 bits/48 KHz.  Its minimalist design lacks even a case - the whole thing is about the size of a credit card. The price?  FREE! OK, I did have to pay $4.50 for three 9 volt alkalines to power it, but that was it. And this thing works. In fact, it sounds pretty good! In a head-to-head comparison against the DAC built into my Sony ES pre-amp, the MicroDAC came out ahead with a smoother, more refined sound.  So, what's the catch?  It was only available at the show.  )-:  Sorry, folks.   

MSB microDAC
MSB microdac - the finest giveaway at CES.  

Hey, more Thiel speakers.  This time in the VAC/ClearAudio room.   VAC drove their Thiels with the Avatar Super integrated amp ($5500) - a souped up version of the Avatar that Steve Rochlin liked so much in the March 2000 issue.  This one is powered by 4 KT-88s and belts out 80 Watts Per Channel.  The front end was a ClearAudio Champion Level 2 turntable ($2200 with tonearm) and ClearAudio Sigma cartridge ($1200).  Very transparent and warm sounds were coming from that room, I tell you.   

VAC ClearAudio and Thiel system
Audio as art - ClearAudio and VAC team up for pretty looks and sounds.

Sophia Electric had their 300B Single Ended Tube amps on display as well as a little push-pull integrated amp called the "Baby." I heard their Baby driving the unusual Galante Audio speakers.  When I was in "the business" (on the sales side) we used to joke that Bose had only one driver size - 4 inches.  If they wanted bass, they just used a lot of 'em (which, it turns out, is not technically true). At first look I thought these Galante Audio speakers took the opposite approach, with what looks like a single 12" driver in each box. They're actually a coaxial design, with a tweeter/midrange hiding in the middle of that woofer.  The Galante Symphony speakers ($2999) are rated at 98 db, which makes them an excellent match for tube amps like the Sophia Electrics.  

Sophia Electric amplification and Galante loudspeakers
Sophia Electric S.E.T. amps and Galante loudspeakers.

But back to Sophia's "Baby" - this baby sounded really nice and it had no trouble driving the Galante Symphonies to powerful levels. The designers say its 10 watts can drive anything above 88 dB efficiency. And the best part? The price is only $799! Apparently the production version may end up looking a bit different, but the performance and specs should be the same.    

 Sophia S.E.T. Music's Baby amplifier
My baby picture.

And now to an actual single driver loudspeaker

ClearAudio turntables were popular this year.  Wavelength Audio and ReTHM were using a ClearAudio front end to good effect. Wavelength Audio showed their Triton Blue tube amps ($12,500/pr.) driving ReTHM's "3rd ReTHM" Loudspeakers ($4,250/pr.).  These put out a fine stereo soundstage and excellent sounds in general.  The funky looking ReTHM speaker is actually a horn-loaded design based on a single 8" Lowther driver, with modifications by ReTHM designer Jacob George. 

Wavelength Triton amps plus Rethm loudspeakers
Wavelength Triton Blue amps driving Third ReTHM Loudspeakers.


Does a high-end record label a good loudspeaker manufacturer make? 

New York City-based audiophile record label Chesky Records has been experimenting with a monitor speaker design of their own for a while now -- the C1 ($3995) -- and it looks (and sounds) like it's ready for prime time. Apparently they have been searching for accurate monitors for their studio sessions.  And I can tell you, they have very high standards -- one of my audio-buddies bought their old Pass Aleph amps which had been used in a previous Chesky reference system mated with Wilson Watts and Puppies.  So these guys know accuracy.  

Chesky's C1 - is 'C' for 'Citibank?'
Chesky's elegant C1 speaker is "inspired by the NY skyline."
In fact, it looks exactly like a miniature Citibank building.

The production version of the C1 speaker is a two-way tower with a "push-push" dual 6.5" midrange/woofer and a 1" cloth SEAS tweeter. My old friend Len Schneider was helping out in the demo room and indulged me with my musical selections - Rush "2112" (MFSL, of course) and Muddy Waters' "Folk Singer" (also MFSL).  The C1s definitely conveyed the rocking power of 2112. And on the Muddy Waters cuts, I observed a rock-solid center image, a total lack of harshness or sibilance, and a nice overall balance.  They were a little light in the low-end.  These hotel rooms are notoriously problematic for bass, so it's possible they'd have more bass in a more traditional room.  In any case, they sounded promising. And hey, if you want deep low-end, add a subwoofer.

Speaking of Subwoofers...

ASW was on-hand showing off some of their loudspeakers and subwoofers and they managed to mate their Genius AS-1 Aktiv powered subwoofer ($1750) with a pair of their Opus M satellites ($608/pr.) to excellent effect.  The sub just disappeared.  No... it wasn't turned off... it was pushing out some slamatociously deep, yet firm low-end.  I just couldn't tell where it left off and the satellites took over.  I have to say this was an impressive demo and was definitely the best integrated sub/sat system that I heard at the show. The ASW rep, Al Moccia, from US distributors Sound Impressions told me that these speakers aren't even designed to mate with each other - well, let's hear it for happy accidents!    

ASW Genius subwoofer plus Opus Satellites
ASW Genius subwoofer (left) plus 2 towers and the Opus M satellite.

ASW also demo'ed an entry-level high-end home theater speaker package, featuring 4 Opus S satellites, one Opus C center channel and an 8" (200 mm, to be precise) powered Opus sub.  The package lists for $1290 and sounded nice and clean.  I want one of those Genius Aktiv subs though. That thing rocked!

And now for something completely different...

Yuri Chernyshev from Russian speaker manufacturer Sound-e-Motion was showing off some very unusual speakers.  In fact, they looked more like art than audio gear, and that's no surprise considering there are over 700 pieces of oak that are meticulously assembled to produce each double-sphered beauty. And they're more than just a pretty face.  Playing Enya and Kraftwerk, the speakers threw a wide open soundstage and a delicate unstrained blend of sound.  The expected list price is $15,000 but, at show time, Yuri was seeking North American representation so it remains to be seen whether we shall be graced with Sound-e-Motion's presence on these shores.

A fellow CES attendee admires the workmanship of Sound-e-Motion.

Next up was the Silverline Audio Technology room, where designer and company president Alan Yun debuted two new models for CES - a pair of big mommas Alan likes to call the "Grande La Folia" ($28,000/pr.) and their little brothers - the 3-way  "Bolero" ($8,000).  Both use top-of-the-line Dynaudio drivers throughout, all matched by ear and hand.   

Silverline Audio Technology's Chief Designer Alan Yun poses with his newest addition - the Grande La Folia
Silverline Audio Technology's Chief Designer Alan Yun
poses with his newest addition - the Grande La Folia.

In fact, it's not just the driver-matching that Silverline is fanatical about. One of Silverline's happy customers, Adrian Lopez, came to the show to help out and related to me a little story of how he met Mr. Yun. Apparently Adrian works right down the road from Silverline's headquarters in Concord, CA and when he found out there was a high-end loudspeaker manufacturer in the neighborhood, he decided to pop in for a visit. The door was locked but Adrian peeked in and saw this crazy dude sitting on the floor measuring and listening to capacitors, making a small pile of "keepers" and throwing the rest into a much larger pile of "no-keepers." Adrian, the prospective customer/stalker kept watching for around 15 minutes before he finally knocked on the door and introduced himself to none other than Alan Yun himself (and subsequently bought a pair of speakers as you might expect the story goes). Adrian likes his Silverline speakers so much, now he drives around with Alan and helps out at trade shows.

So, how'd they sound at this particular show? Well, first of all, they threw a huge soundstage and had a very extended bass response.  But in this tiny hotel room, the bass was a little fat -- I think the room was just too small to support these bad boys. The dynamics were huge, and the speakers had a nice tonal balance otherwise. I expect they'd be ideal filling an enormous great room with sound. I can say they made a better impression on me than Dynaudio's own $30,000 reference speakers did at the Hifi show in 2001 so it looks like Alan's fanaticism in component matching is paying off. I've gotta hear these in a better environment to make any kind of meaningful judgment, but what I heard sounded promising.

Click here to continue to Part IV of this report, featuring Boylan's Best in Show.

Just tuning in on this show report?  Why not start at the beginning and see what you've missed.


Items covered in the above article: MSB Technology, silverline audio, silverline, chesky, C1, loudspeaker, speakers, subwoofer, subwoofers, RBH, ASW, lumenwhite, sophia electric, baby, galante, set, s.e.t., single ended, tube, amplifier, preamp, clearaudio, alan yun, wavelength, sunfire, cinema seven, thiel, sound-e-motion.