CES 2005 Ron Nagle


Every visit to Las Vegas and the Communication and Electronics Show is the very definition of information overload. I can only leave you with a thumbnail impression of what transpired there. For me relative quiet came only at the end of the day, while attending the press parties and the sponsored evening’s entertainment. It is just not possible to be in more than one place and do it all, but I did decide to drag my old bones to the Bang and Olufsen press party. They gathered in the luxurious Sky lofts atop the MGM Grand Hotel and at it’s conclusion they handed out tickets to a classy “T&A” extravaganza called La Fem. The DTS people sprang for Blue Man Group at the Luxor and Monster Cable sponsored the Rod Stuart concert in the Paris Ballroom, Rod is 57 years old and still going strong. 

I veered off the main road and did some extracurricular scouting over at the Hilton Hotel Convention Center right next door to the Zoo. The Zoo is what the old-timers have nicknamed the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center. By the same token, I have come to refer to the Hilton Convention Center as the “Land Of The Lost Toys.” The vast floor on the left side hall of the Hilton center appeared to be is covered with innumerable rows of booths populated by small Pacific Rim wannabe manufacturers that are not well represented in the U.S. While there, I did see a little wooden picture frame sitting on a table that held a picture of a dog and then a good-looking girl and then a succession of changing images. At first I didn’t realize I was looking at a tiny LCD screen, this is a pretty neat idea. It is possible that you might need only one 5 by 7 inch frame to hold all your family photos. 


I continued into the LVCC’s North Hall, which is right next door to the Hilton and I passed something that left me with a very troubled feeling. It was part of the custom Auto Sound installer’s area. There was one thing (among many) in particular that got to me. It was an approximately 7’ diameter tunnel completely lined, edge-to-edge with (I believe) forty fifteen-inch woofers. It was referred to by the manufacturer as the “Vibe Bass Tunnel.” A sign nearby proclaimed “Feel The Difference”. It was totally impossible for me to wrap my mind around this concept. How is it possible for anyone to get this brain damaged? No, don’t answer that. You will probably just tell me it’s SPL induced, needless to say I didn’t go into it.

                                                                                                                                Other than looking at the micro-miniskirt wearing pretty girls hanging all over the rides, this is absolutely a desert for the intellect. Let us move on to something far more pleasant, subject numero uno, Music and Audio. And of course for us it is the High End Audio universe of which the epicenter is about a mile away at the Alexis Park Resort. But first, there is a smaller site next door at the St Tropez Resort that is called the “T.H.E. SHOW”. Lets start over there.

It is slightly unusual for the CES, but at the SHOW you can find classic, vintage audio components, as well as vintage, and increasingly valuable, audio tubes and stack’s of old magazines and test equipment for sale in the Vacuum Tube Valley room(triode@vacuumtube.com). It was both a surprise and a delight to find a combination of magazines and store. I spent a very informative half hour talking to the Editor and proprietor Charles Kittleson. He is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to vintage audio and its development through the years. Another favorite weigh station has to be the Atmosphere Audio room (www.atma-sphere.com) and of course the main man over there is Ralph Karsten, designer of some great sounding OTL (output transformerless) tube amp’s. I always make it a point when I’m over that way to chat him up. I usually leave his place a little smarter than when I walked in.    

One floor down in the Overkill Audio room (www.overkillaudio.com) I was surprised to find a new implementation of the wonderful Manger drivers. They displayed two new speakers, the Ovation and the Encore. They were playing tunes through the two-driver Encore, the almost full range Manger driver resides in a teardrop shaped module sitting atop a box holding a 12” mid/bass driver. The only problem I could hear was the price, about $50,000 and up. It figures, gorgeous craftsmanship, great sound, and way out of my reach.

Now at last we arrive at the main venue next door, at the Hi End Mecca that is the Alexis Park Resort. Every year I go there with a priority list held in my hot little fist with the things I must do and see and things I would (given the time) like to check out. At the top of that list was the very hot on the audio grapevine PrimaLuna ProLogue One (photo right) and its sister the PrimaLuna Prologue Two. They are both wonderful sounding integrated amplifiers. The PL1 has four EL 34 output tubes and is rated at 35 wpc, and the MSRP is $1,095. While the PL2 uses four KT88 outputs and this version is rated at 40 wpc with an MSRP of $1,350. Both of these amps held court in the Musical Surroundings room AP2112. You’d better believe that I wasted no time putting in my bid for a PL2. They are both terrific bargains and distributed by Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio.

After a short stroll I was surprised and delighted to find the venerable Grommes Precision back in the Hi End of audio. Residing at Alexis Park in room AP1562, they exhibited the wonderful sounding retro, open cage monoblock model 360A KT-88 amps MSRP $4,000. The Grommes Precision Company or more exactly Grommes Audio (Phone 847-599-1799) can trace their lineage all the way back to 1946. I wish them continuing success; somehow seeing them has imparted in me a reassuring feeling that we have not yet lost what was once so important to audio.

Over in room AP1610 I found another integrated amp with very good. Word on the street says it is the reasonably priced PATHOS Classic One integrated amp. It is a tiny Italian hybrid, with a solid-state output and a tubed input. This one is rated at a comfortable 70 wpc with an MSRP of $2,395 it’s main claim to fame is a very natural and true to life mid range. This sleeper of an amplifier has gotten very good print in the Brit mags. I could go into excruciating detail about Conrad Johnson, Audio Research, Boulder, and Jeff Rowland and so many more of the big names in audio, and I suppose that would neatly tie up the electronics part of this report, but they are the high-priced spread and all the conglomerate magazines will trip over themselves to tell you all about them.

What’s happening at the show in the speaker part of our pastime? For me, this is the difficult part. First, I don’t really trust what I hear in those small hotel rooms. I can, at best, get only a very rough approximation of what to expect back in my home. To a large extent the resultant sound you hear is dependent on the setup skills of that particular dealer or manufacturer. Ergo, under show conditions it is possible for really good speakers to sound mediocre when compared to a lesser rival. But if you really must twist my arm, I did like what I heard in the Tyler Acoustics room. He pumped tunes through a pair of nicely finished Lynbrook Super Towers. Each speaker is a ported 2-way design that uses five Seas drivers and is five feet tall. They list for $7,200 but Ty Lashbrook, the owner said you could order them direct (www.tyleracoustics.com) and save $2,000. They offer a payment plan and a list of discount (demo?) speakers. Even better, if you are legitimately involved in the audio industry and can prove it, there might be a little more wiggle room. I also liked the newest version of the ProAc Tablette 8 speaker in the Modern Audio Consultants room AP2313 (Tel: 410-486-5975). I didn’t get the US price, but this just might be a perfect match up for the Prima Luna Amps.

One of the more gossipy items I overheard at the show was the Sony Corporation buying MGM Studios and dropping their production of SACD discs. Now I can’t vouch for this but insiders expect continued production from Sony licensees. And by the time you read this the final word should be out. My intention for this show report was to uncover a few little not often reported bits of the big CES picture. To my mind, the good news is there are still ways one can assemble a really good budget system, that is, if you know where to look. I hope I was able to lend a little aid to a few green presidents pictures for poor people like myself, Ciao.

Ron Nagle            

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