Another Great Show!
I arrived in one piece.
Considering what life is like these days post
9/11 air travel, the flight was relatively
easy. Getting a taxi was not. I knew this was
an omen. It took well over and hour. And it
was only Wednesday! While the LVCC looked like
a mad house, it seemed to me that overall, the
attendance dropped a hair at both Alexis Park
and the San Tropez. It just didn't look as
crowded as it did the past year. Passions,
however, ran mighty high with the look and
sound of a majority of the rooms. Minus some
surprisingly crude setups and disappointing
sound, this was another great year to be in
attendance at CES. Albert Von Schweikert
accomplished a miracle in his room at the San
Remo pitting virtual against live. ESP
loudspeaker lovers would have fainted to
hear the return of Sean McCaughan's flagship
Concert Grands at the San Tropez. And new
European imports like the Ascendo room sounded
improved over last year's with first time
German electronics Phonosophie.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Wadia's new
and exciting products taking up space in some
of the rooms (notably their own and Nova's).
There was plenty to see
walking the show with Dave Thomas, Mike Wright
and Key Kim. One of the more enlightening
elements of having four reviewers listen
together (one at a time), is to find if their
tastes match your own. And knowing Key's,
since he's a neighbor, personal friend and
uses the same electronics as his reference, it
was with a sigh of relief that I found the
tastes of both Dave and Mike to mirror ours.
They thought the sound of the Ascendo room as
superior compared to many others. I found this
illuminating since they serve as reference
loudspeakers for both Key and myself. Never
did I want to give any impression of what
makes this loudspeaker special. And as good as
the room did sound, I thought there was still
a lot to accomplish with respect to the
room--after all, it is my reference. The
Ascendo loudspeaker can sound A LOT better
than what we heard there in CES in a larger
room. Give that loudspeaker room to breath and
it can be pretty impressive sounding. There
was no question that the Phonosophie line of
electronics are no slouch despite their rather
bland European style and appearance. They
sounded better matched with the Ascendos than
the world class Zanden products used last
year. Go figure.
Interesting turn of
events: Not surprising. While most of
you turned away from room correction products
they couldn't have been more popular this
year. With the increasing presence of
parametric equalizers like Rives
Audio PARC and Australian newby Deqx.
Rooms using these products
sounded very well balanced particularly in the
bass regions. None of the rooms using the PARC
or Deqx, and I counted nearly a dozen,
produced boomy bass which is usually typical
under show conditions when attempting to play
loud. The only logical
reason I can come up with why Tact Audio, my
longtime reference pre/room correction device,
isn't being used in setups such as these
is; Tact is simply too hard and intimidating
and/or its sonic benefits seem to be overkill
where a touch of correction may be only
necessary. Of course I don't agree that Tact
is overkill but then again I've never
auditioned either of these two competing
products. Yes, I do agree that the Tact 2.2X
can be intimidating upon first blush. One thing's certain: The room is
still the least understood and most overlooked. The more companies that
offer room correction capabilities the better
because it only allows us to see how
overlooked this situation actually has become.
Okay, on to other pet peeves.
Who was it that said a
picture is worth a thousand words? Audio Note
should be ashamed of themselves for this
setup (above). Can you imagine how this room
must have sounded looking at this photo? Just
the thought they used hotel
furniture makes me dizzy. Notice from the
photo the Audio Note transport resting
directly on the $35k DAC! Well, I
heard it with my own two ears and it wasn't
nearly as good as I would have thought
considering the price of these components and
the reviews Constantine Soo did right here.
Truth be told, it sounded better than it
looked. Actually, there was a sense of string
tone authenticity that was impressive but that
isn't the only thing that makes music sound
right -- and just as importantly -- inviting.
There's body, there's dynamics, there's
midrange three-dimensionality and there's
realism. Lastly, there's size and scale. All
of these audiophile MUSTS seemed lacking.
These MUSTS are the very reason dedicated
equipment like isolation platforms and racks
are a must; the very things overlooked by this
room. Considering show conditions, which are
usually never ideal in the first place, there's
no getting away with using a standard el'
cheapo power strip, and hotel furniture. Tsk, tsk.
Unfortunately there was
another poor setup in the Alon By Acarian
room. The room was composed of great
electronics like the Antique Sound Labs
Hurricane (200 watt) tube monoblock amplifiers
($4,400 pair) as well as Conrad Johnson's
ART II preamp ($15,990). The digital was by
way of the newly imported Lector Strumenti
Audio CD Player ($3,200),while all cabling
was by Soundstring Cable Technologies
designed by local hero Jed Hacker. Alon's
designer Carl Marchisotto (above) is showing
his Alon Proteus loudspeaker ($45,000)
and setup against two adjoining walls similar
to the way Balanced Audio Technology does each
year. Except, the first thing I could tell
upon sitting that there was no sweet spot the
way the loudspeakers were set up to aim at the
listener evenly. Somehow it was grossly uneven. I
immediately asked Marchisotto "where's the
sweet spot?" He never once looked at me after
posing for our camera, and dismissively
stated, "just listen to the music. You
don't ask for the sweet spot when it's live."
Oh my God, I'm about to have a brain cramp!
How enlightening Mr. Marchisotto but this
isn't live. When it is [live], people are
there in front of you so soundstage never
becomes an issue. Needless to say, I looked to
my left at Key Kim who, sitting next to me,
looked as dumbfounded as I was. We both got up
and walked right out without uttering a
syllable. However, I do have good news Mr. Marchisotto; I saved
$325 on my car insurance switching over to Geico.
On to Excellent Setups
The Acoustic Dreams room,
using the same room as last year at the San Remo,
with practically the very same electronics,
offered a delightfully musical setup.
Employing the elegant and
long legged Vyger Indian Signature
'table ($36,000) to get the show started made
life a tad easier for the Featherling brothers
(they caught hell trying to figure out what
was wrong with a left channel connection.
Alas, it was a defective interconnect!
Loudspeakers were the Lumen White
($40,000 plus) while a pair of Ayon Signature
monoblocks supplied current. All digital gear
was dCS, while the superbly
built equipment rack ($6,000 for a four tier
unit) were made by Acoustic Dreams.
No wonder these things are so hard to choose
when making a purchase decision. The
sound of the Joseph Audio Pearl loudspeakers
($20,000) was intoxicating. Strapped to a pair
of Joule Electra Rite of Passage OTL
monoblocks resting on custom amp stands made
by Critical Mass Systems certainly lent a
helping hand. Cables as well as AC cords were
all by Elrod Power Systems, while AC
conditioning was done via Sound Applications
Line Stage ($4,000). Needless to say, this was
a sonic sensation.
Jay Bertrand, Importer extraordinaire, put on
some display with a pair of reference DALI
loudspeakers ($40,000) that nearly went to the
ceiling that were being driven by two sets of
Ming-Da vacuum tube monoblock amplifiers
($12,500) [using the 845 tube for power and
the 300B for drivers].
Jay also introduced
Zindak's new tubed SACD player SCD2 ($1,850)
performed some feat used
solely as a transport into
the Zanden Model 5000 MkIII. New on the
scene is the Messenger Reference tube
preamplifier ($12,500) designed by Bruce Wulach this new upstart designer has seemed to
hit the proverbial home run with this
two-boxed delight. Comprised of single 6829
input tubes and single 6AS7's at the output.
For the ultra choosy,
Wulack also offers optional solid-state or tube
power supplies. Cabling and AC cords were
supplied by Zindak. This
was certainly one of the best sounds at the show. Keep an
eye out on these new products.
AV123's Mark Schifter introduced new products
at this year's CES event. The Emotiva
Motorola Symphony™ based 7.1 Channel Dolby
Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro-Logic II/IIx,
DTS, DTS-ES, and DTS Neo:6, decoding
and the MPS-1
(prices to be determined) did a nice job
showing all there is to be had from
multi-channel audio as well as video. Keep an
eye out on this product.
Balanced Audio Technologies did another great
job as usual integrating the room with their
electronics. This year, using Avalon's newest
member in the Ascendant loudspeaker ($7,995).
Also, BAT introduced the
all new VK-600, featuring
only two gain stages, and
a Zero Gobal
Feedback Design to go with
its new faceplate design.
achievement for the VK-600 can be ordered
either in stereo or monoblock configuration.
Cabling, as well as AC room
conditioning was by way of Shunyata Research. The
elegant stand is by pARTicular.