Another CES! Yes, this is probably my favorite time of the year. I had a feeling this year was going to be a good one, and it was. To start off, the weather was perfect for flying to and from NYC. No snow this time around. 'Vegas is usually sunny and warm throughout the day but does get chilly when the sun sets - nevertheless, this always serves as a wonderful getaway from the freezing temperatures here in the Big Apple.
Attendance seemed to be slightly down compared to last year, probably because of the economy and the fact that the show was held during the week instead of the usual Thursday thru Sunday. As it turned out, this made it better for me to navigate the show and helped me get around to the rooms more easily. Also, at least to my ears, there were better sounding rooms than last year. Here is a recap of some of the most memorable ones.
Wow! What a sound! I was really taken by the sound of this room. The Acapella Violin MK VI ($36k) sounded absolutely wonderful driven by all Einstein electronics. The Violin MK VI is a 3-way system with a 10” bass driver and horn midrange. It uses their ionic tweeter for frequencies up to about 40 KHz. The rest of the system was comprised of Einstein’s Final Cut ($40k) OTL monoblock amplifiers, a new tube preamp called “The Preamp” ($18k), and the beautifully built “The Source” MK II ($14k) CD player. All cabling was Acapella Silvercable LaMusika. The sound was outstanding; open and very transparent, with a big three-dimensional soundstage that was captivating (see video here). It sounded powerful and delicate when it needed it to be. Certainly one of the best sounds I heard this year!
Concert Fidelity always manages to put on a stellar sounding room, and this year was no different. The Concert Fidelity electronics were demoed with the Estelon XA-D loudspeakers ($66k) from Estonia. They’re a three-way, full-range design, with ceramic and diamond drivers. Their ZL-120V2SE solid-state monoblock amps ($34K) use the power supply section of its bigger brother, the ZL-200. The ZL-120V2SE was able to control the Estelon XA-D with authority and power. The magnificent sounding CF-080SX2 tube-hybrid linestage ($20k) (review to follow) was used along with the DAC-040 tube-hybrid D/A Converter ($10k) and the SPA-4C solid-state MC-only phonostage ($14k).
Von Gaylord Audio
Ray Leung from Von Gaylord Audio, formally Legend Audio, put on an outstanding sounding demo. The Legend MK IV loudspeakers ($12,500) with the VG-1 Plus ($6,495), a low extension module were powered by the UNI mono amps ($12k). It uses KT-120 output tubes, 4 per side, producing a powerhouse 180 watts in triode mode, per channel into 8 Ohms and using 6SN7 x 2 driver tubes. It featured the UNI preamp ($12k) with a separate power supply and operates in pure Class-A. The UNI DAC ($9,995) with a separate power supply was used. The cables were the new Legend 7000S Series throughout the system and a Live Performance Line conditioner was used. As I listened I heard sound that was open, transparent and imaged beautifully.
The Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeakers ($16k) sounded incredible driven by the TRX-M845SE ($20k) from Triode Corp. The TRX-M845SE monoblocks incorporated the 845 in a parallel single-ended Class-A design. It has an auto bias and uses one 6SN7 and one 12AU7 as an input stage. It produces a glorious 50 watts of pure Class-A. A TRX-1 tube pre-amplifier ($3,200) with remote control was used and the new TRV-CD5SE tube CD player ($3,000), up-samples to 24/192 with a choice of tube (6922x2) or solid-state output. All cables were by Acoustic Zen and the room tuning was with the Acoustic Grove System (AGS) from Japan. The TRX-M845SE took control of the Crescendos and made them sing like never before. It was effortless, detailed and very transparent with that tube magic. I put on one of my favorites, Sarah Vaughn’s Easy Living, and it sounded so good that I felt like she was in the room singing to me alone. As much as I was impressed with the TRX-M845SE, I was equally impressed with the Crescendo loudspeakers. I heard the Crescendos last year at the CES and they sounded wonderful, driven by the TRV-845SE. This year, with better electronics, the TRX-845SE took the music to another level. The Crescendos were better able to reveal what’s in front of them; the better the signal, the better their performance (see my video here).
Lorenzo Sanavio from Mastersound introduced the Final 300B Monoblock Plus ($13,669) based on the technology from its limited production PF100 Limited mono amps. It operates in parallel, single-ended in Class-A mode with zero Negative Feedback. Two 300Bs produce a robust 30-watts per channel. The PHL5 special tube preamplifier was used with the Northstar 192 MKII CD-Transport feeding the 192 MKII DAC. The Audes Orpheus ($18k) 3-way loudspeakers sounded warm, detailed and very musical driven by the Final 300B Monoblock Plus. (Review in the works)
Tidal put on a sonic display with Constellation Audio. I really enjoyed listening to the exquisitely finished Tidal Contriva Diacera ($64k). The three-way full range loudspeakers sounded very natural and transparent, with lots of detail. They were paired with all Constellation Audio electronics: the Centaur ($24k) stereo amplifier, a Virgo ($19K) preamplifier and a Cygnus ($24k) HD Digital File Player. All cables were by Constellation Audio (see video here).
This was another great sounding room. The Peak Consult Kepheus ($110k) loudspeakers were beautifully made and sounded superb. The multi-faceted enclosures are handcrafted by Danish artisans and made with 1.5” – 3.0” HDF, specially glued sandwich material covered by 1” solid acrylic. The finish is stunningly attractive. The Chord SPM 1400 ($32,900) monoblock amps and the Chord CPA 5000 ($21,900) preamplifier were used along with the Jadis Orphee 1 CD Player ($19,900). Van den Hul cables were used throughout the system.
Dan Meinweld debuted Marten’s new loudspeaker, the Django ($15k). These are three-way, full range loudspeakers, designed with the same filter technology as the Coltrane II and Coltrane Momento. The Django sounded smooth and authoritative and very open with lots of detail. All electronics were from EAR; the EAR 890 ($8,295) power amplifier, the EAR 912 ($13k) tube preamplifier and the Acute 3 CD Player ($6,795) powered the Django loudspeakers. The Jorma Design Origo cables were used throughout the system.
Hans-Ole from Vitus introduced the Reference Series RS-100 amplifier ($13k). It is a true balanced stereo power amplifier producing 300 Watts per channel, with the RL-101 preamplifier ($11k) and the RCD-100 CD Player ($13k), a true balanced redbook CD-player based on the technology used in the Vitus SCD-010. The RCD-100 offers both USB and RCA SP-DIF digital interfaces for connecting multimedia players, to a PC or MAC or other digital sources. I really enjoyed the beautiful sound of the Vitus electronics powering the YG Acoustic Kipod II signature ($49k) loudspeakers. All cabling was Purist Audio Design and the Tripoint Orion Master Reference A/C conditioner was used.
I visited this room with a good audiophile friend of mine, Clive Williams, from New York. After we sat down for a few minutes, we looked at each other and said “wow! What a sound!” The Octave RE 290 ($10k), a tube stereo amplifier comes with an innovative technical feature to switch the output power depending on the type of tube. The settings are optimized for both use of the more powerful, KT 120 (100 Watt) as well as the KT 88 or 6550 C type tubes (70 Watt) paired with their own HP 500 SE ($10k). The tube preamplifier features a total of six single-ended RCA inputs. Outputs included one RCA record, two pairs were RCA and one pair was XLR. The balanced (XLR) output is transformer coupled to provide ground isolation and perfectly phase-inverted signal with no group delay. The Dynaudio C4 Signature ($22k) sounded wonderfully natural driven by the RE 290. The system was powerful with a nice soundstage that was big and wide with fine separation of the instruments.
This was another stellar sounding room featuring an all Krell system, except for the cabling. The Krell Evolution 302e ($13k) stereo amplifier is a powerhouse. The Evolution 302e is equipped with a massive 3000 VA transformer and produces 300-watts into 8 Ohms, 600-watts into 4 Ohms, and 1,200-watts into 2 Ohms. The Phantom preamplifier ($20k) with an optional crossover and the Evolution Cipher SACD/CD player ($12k) and the Primo Reference monitors ($20k) were paired with a Mostro Reference Subwoofer ($12,500). All cables were from Nordost. It produced a great sound. The Primo Reference monitors sounded superb driven by the Evolution 302e. I really enjoyed listening to the Krell system. I ended up spending more time than I should have in this room.
Jeff Rowland Design Group
After the Krell room my next visit was to Jeff Rowland. This room produced a very impressive sound. It featured the Model 725 monoblock amplifier ($28k). It’s impeccably machined from two single blocks of non-resonant aircraft aluminum and features a unique composite circuit architecture incorporating separate Class-AB voltage and current gain blocks with no overall negative feedback. It uses Power Factor Correction (PFC) in the power supply which reduces AC line harmonic noise pollution and increases AC line power utilization to 99%. It produces 330-watts per channel into 8 Ohms. The Aeris DAC ($9,800) with a volume control, provides a wide range of output controls to permit direct connection to the power amplifier. The USB interface is plug-n-play with all operating systems, including PC, Mac, or Linux. The Revel Salon 2 loudspeakers ($25k) sounded beautiful; they were open, detailed and very dynamic. All cables were by Cardas.
Wes Bender Studio
Wes Bender set up a standout room. Hansen Audio debuted the Prince E ($39k) a three-way floorstanding loudspeaker, driven by the Viola Audio Laboratories Forte Mono Power Amplifiers ($19k). It is a compact high-quality mono power amplifier developed from the advanced circuitry used in the Viola Symphony, Bravo, and Legacy amplifiers. Don’t be deceived by the size, like its big brothers, the Forte effortlessly controlled the Prince E with ease. Viola Audio debuted the beautifully built Crescendo Preamplifier w/integrated DAC ($19k). It includes an Apple iPod Touch for an analog front end and eye candy; the Redpoint Audio Designs Model D ($29k) turntable, Tri-Planar Ultimate Mk II ($5k) tonearm and Dynavecto XV-1t ($9.200) completed the analog set up. All cables were by Jorma Design. The Prince E sounded beautiful. It was detailed with lots of resolution, transparency and musicality.
Audio Note Kondo
The Kondo room was spectacular, even better than at last year’s CES. It was seductive and addictive. The legendary Ongaku ($116k) integrated amplifier gracefully powered the field coil speakers the Biyura ($75k) so naturally. CD’s and Vinyl sounded very real. The sound was delicate, transparent and very lifelike with beautiful timbres. I had an opportunity to listen to the Ginga ($127k) turntable system with a IO-M moving coil phono cartridge ($10k) with the GE-1 ($15k) phono amplifier featuring three user-selectable settings (20k Ohm, 50K Ohm, and 100k Ohm). Preamplifier input impedance matching was breathtaking and the KSL-DAC was magnificent. All the signals were fed through the new flagship G1000 ($95k) preamplifier and KSL pure silver cables completed the system.
Bully sound was showing its BSC-100m ($14,750). The Bully Sound Company was founded by Bret D’Agostino, the eldest son of the Dan D’Agostino, founder of both Krell Industries Inc. and creator of the Dan D’Agostino Master Audio System. The BSC-100m is a 100-watt Class A mono power amplifier, based around a 1,366 VA custom toroidal transformer and over 100,000 microfarads of filter capacitance. It has the ability to deliver continuous high power output to loudspeakers under virtually any load condition. The BSC-100m can double its 8 Ohm rated output power into 1 Ohm producing 800 Watts continuously with a maximum continuous output of almost 1,200-watts. The BSC-100m sounded wonderful driving the TAD Reference Loudspeakers ($78k) with great authority. The rest of the system included the Meridian 808.3 signature Reference CD player ($19,995) and ZenSati cables.