CES 2004 Dave Thomas

2004 CES/T.H.E. Show Part 2

Dave Thomas

(Sing to the tune of Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas)
Multi-channel music gonna set my soul
Gonna set my soul on fire
Got a whole lot of money that’s ready to burn,
But equipment prices keep gettin’ higher
There’s a thousand pretty speakers, waitin’ out there
And I’ll be tryin’ to review my share
Cuz I’m a reviewer with time to spare
So Viva Las Vegas! Viva Las Vegas!”

Las Vegas is an interesting city. You can stand on the Las Vegas strip and look out over the horizon at some of nature’s most splendid mountains. Of course, you can also see some splendid man-made mountains with names like Luxor, Bellagio, MGM Grand, and Caesar’s Palace. In fact, if you take an even closer look you can see some even more splendid man-made mountains belonging to the women whose pictures adorn the pornographic literature that seems to litter every other street. But hey, who cares about mountains. The 2004 Consumer Electronics Show and T.H.E. Show were in town! Actually, the Adult Film Industry Show was in town too but that’s another report for another publication.

The trip got off to a rather rocky start as our red-eye flight was delayed an hour from Chicago and we were flying on an airline for which quality service had become a thing of mythology. But at least we did get there and in one piece. But things didn’t exactly improve at the hotel where, as my traveling buddy Mike Wright indicates in his Show report, we were two big men in a room with a bed and a cot. Seeing as how Mike is bigger than I am, guess who got the cot! We should have known better when we booked a room at a hotel called Terrible’s. I shit you not; the place was really named Terrible’s.

Fortunately, what wasn’t terrible was the music coming from many of the rooms at the Alexis Park Resort. The first room that got my attention was the Bertrand Audio room. This room featured a system comprising the Xindak SCD-2 tubed SACD player ($1,895), Dali Megalinespeakers ($40,000), Ming Da MC300B-845 amplifiers ($12,500) and the Messengersolid-state preamp ($12,500). The system was connected viaXindak Gold speaker cables ($1,850/meter pair) and interconnects ($1,450/meter pair) and SEEC active interconnects ($1,650/meter pair). The sound from this room was as enjoyable to listen to, as Jay Bertrand was to talk to. This is a man who knows good sound.

                      Back on the Scene         

Making a strong re-emergence on the high-end loudspeaker scene was former Wilson and Talon Audio design mavenTierry Budge (left) shown posing with his new loudspeaker. He is Designer and Product Developer for a new company called Escalante Design. The Provo, UT based company is owned by an energetic and passionate musician named Matthew Waldron. The company’s first offerings are the Pinyon ($4,400) and Juniper ($2,800) stand-mounted loudspeakers. The former features the same tweeter as the one used in Von Schweikert Audio’s new statement design the VR11 XTC($125,000!).

Budge was the designer of my current reference Talon Audio Peregrine X loudspeaker and his ability to design speakers which match warm, detailed imaging with great dynamics is on display in these new designs. Particularly the Pinyon, which was supported by an all Electrocompaniet rig (also my reference) including the EMC-1 MKII CD playerECI-4 integrated (using the preamp outputs) and the AW220 mono amps. The Juniper was used in a second room as part of a theater system using amplification from another new company called Soaring Audio. Waldron was also excited about a couple of new designs that will be on their way to the marketplace soon: the Uinta subwoofer, the Freemont, a stand-mounted design said to be comparable to my Peregrines and the Paria, a floor-standing design. This is a company to keep an eye on.

Speaking of Talon Audio, they were featured in a number of rooms at Alexis Park but also over at T.H.E. Show in the St. Tropez and in a ballroom at the San Remo that they used to demonstrate the Raven C loudspeakers ($8,000) and Roc AKsubwoofer ($3,000 - $4,500) driven by amplification from Chapter Audio and the dazzling new and affordable Jeff Rowland Model 201 mono amps ($4,700/pair). (Didn’t think you’d ever see the words “Rowland” and “affordable” in the same sentence did you?) The preamp was the stunning Reflection Audio OM-1. As a long-time Talon owner, the sound was unmistakable. Huge stage, delicately detailed, robust yet controlled bottom end.

           Sonic Delights           


Sonically and visually the Vitus Audio amplifiers and Argento Audio Serenity Seriescables were the “Luxury Class of the Show”. The build quality of the SM-100monoblocks ($45,000!) is a statement in audio architecture. Thoughtful touches like the easy to manage rear mounted handles, protected heatsinks, and the ability to turn off the illuminated text on the front of the massive chassis, show that every detail is well thought out. Though a bit pricey, even by U.S. high-end standards, the fit-n-finish of the Vitus Audio equipment will put many a top shelf company’s best offerings to shame and will surely be among the most sought after in the upper echelon of the high-end audio marketplace.

The same can be said of the Argento Audio speaker cables ($1,800 - $9,500/meter), which come sheathed in an elegant fabric and will actually add to the visual appeal of a system. You won't want to hide these cables. The sound from this room, which also included the Soundlab Ultimate-1 loudspeakers and Electrocompaniet CD player (my personal favorite), was very involving. While the Vitus amps eschew power, the tonality was nicely balanced and detailed. Not seen was the Vitus Audio RL-100linestage ($22,000) and RP-100 phono stage ($19,000), which I’m told were held up in customs.


                                        Best Sound at Show!                          

Speaking of customs hold ups, I was devastated to find the Usher Audio room devoid of equipment when I stopped by on day one to visit with their U.S. Distributor, Stan Tracht. I had been eagerly waiting for months to finally see and hear the new D2 Horn Seriesloudspeaker. This is a 3-way D’Appolito design on steroids. It features two 15” woofers and a gorgeous 2” wooden horn tweeter. But due to a customs fiasco, there was no D2 and no Stan. But the next day, my patience was rewarded with what was the “Best Sound At the Show”. Powered by Usher’s own 160 watt R-1.5 amplifier, the monstrous yet easy to drive (98dB sensitivity!) D2 threw a huge soundstage, which was not surprising, but I was stunned by the sharpness and ultra-tight focus of the midrange. This is a truly special speaker. I had to stop just short of asking for a review pair because these puppies are about six feet tall and weigh nearly 400lbs! I’m gonna need several months of kissing up to my girlfriend before I even think about bringing these monsters into the house.