CES 2005 H. Courtenay Osbourne
CES/T.H.E Show 2005
The High-End Audio Circuit
Well it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a CES. The last CES I attended was the last summer CES in Chicago. I really miss the Chicago show. This CES was my first time in Vegas thanks to my wife who surprised me with a ticket. Bless her. I was hoping to escape the Chicago cold for a few days and experience blue skies and warmer weather. The only thing I escaped was Chicago. Vegas was cold and rainy, with snow mixed in on Friday. It was a bummer from a weather standpoint, but definitely not as far as the show was concerned. There was a lot to see, hear, and experience amongst the Alexis Park and San Tropez resorts, homes to the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show and T.H.E. Show respectively. Here’s the scoop.
April Music – If I were passing out awards, this room would get my Exceptional Merit Award. This would be an award that I would give to the room that produces the best sound at the show with reasonably priced hardware. I believe it is important to recognize manufacturers and companies who are innovative in their ability to provide high quality high-end music reproduction hardware at affordable prices. This helps keep high-end audio alive. There are many music lovers who do not have the income to invest tens or hundreds of kilobucks in a system, yet enjoy high quality music reproduction just as much (if not more so) as those who can afford to spend the big bucks. The April Music system was comprised of the Stello CDT200 CD transport, DP200 DAC/Preamp ($1,995), and M200 mono amps ($2,995/pr). The loudspeakers were the Stelar-1 ($5,500/pr) loudspeakers from Bill Eggleston’s new company, WEGG3.
Atlas – This UK company manufactures interconnects, speaker cables, and connectors. The pricing is very reasonable and the technology appears to be sound. Their line includes the Equator ($70/1.0m) and the Elektra ($775/1.0m). I’m really looking forward to reviewing these products.
Audia Flight – Nice styling, wide bandwidth, and high slew rate circuitry, are the crux of this company’s electronics. Their product line consists of the Flight PRE ($6,995), Flight CD ONE CD player ($6,995 photo right), Flight ONE integrated amp ($7,995), Flight 3100 three channel power amp ($5,995), Flight 50 ($7,495) and Flight 100 ($10,995) stereo power amps. They got great sound from a system with their electronics and the Elac FS607 X-Jet ($5,795/pr) and BS602 X-Jet ($7,990/pr) loudspeakers and a Thorens TD850 turntable ($2,299).
Audia Sound Lab – This company specializes in making speaker systems that use planar magnetic and dynamic drivers. The Evolution 1 loudspeaker ($8,000.00/pr) that I heard had a 60-inch planar magnetic driver with four 10-inch drivers in an infinite baffle design. This system sounded really good. These guys make a variety of products with a wide range of finishes. They also do custom designs.
Cabasse – This French company has a long history of developing transducers and speaker systems for high quality music reproduction. They have an impressive line of speakers for home theatre and serious stereo applications. An impressive sound was coming from a system including the Baltic II loudspeaker ($4,292/pair above photo) and Saturn 55 subwoofer combination with top electronics and sources from Art Audio, Arcam and Clear Audio.
EMM Labs – This is first-class digital processing hardware designed by Ed Meitner. These units can handle PCM and DSD formats. The CDSD SACD/CD transport ($7,900) and DCC2 DAC/preamp ($11,500) were partnered with the Dartzeel amp and Von Schweikert VR9SE.
Escalante Design – This is a new speaker company started by Matthew Waldron and brilliant veteran designer Tierry Budge. Tierry has done design and development work for Wilson and Talon Audio in the past, and those experiences have paid off in spades in the development of the excellent sounding Pinyon monitors ($6,450/pr above photo) and Uinta subwoofer ($3,490 right). Keep your eyes and ears on this company.
Fried Products – For those of you who have been longing for new Fried loudspeakers, which use updated drivers, new components, and Bud Fried’s own design principles, your wait is over. Fried Products now offers the Studio 7 (photo left), Monitor 7, and the Reference.
Grommes Hi Fi – The Grommes company has been around for a decades but just within the past few years have they gotten back into hi-fi. Albert Schippits, the product development manager and Alan Kimmel, tube circuit designer extraordinaire, have come up with some great sounding products. They have two monoblock power amps, the 260/260A and 360, a phono preamp, and the Phi 26 ($995), a unit that can be used as a line stage, headphone amp, or integrated amp.
Herron Audio – This room gets my vote for “Best Sound at the Show.” Keith Herron really pulled out all the stops with this system, which included the VTSP-2 tube preamplifier ($5,000 above right), M1 mono power amplifier ($6,000/pair left), and VTPH-1MC tube phono stage ($3250 right). The synergy between the hardware and music played was awesome. I’ve only heard Herron Audio electronics with Audio Physic speakers and usually the sound is great. But this time Keith was using a prototype of his own speaker the ESP-1, a large infinite baffle design (photo left). The music reproduction capability of this system was simply outstanding in terms of natural dynamics, tonal accuracy, and resolution. I hope to spend some time with this system this year.
Hovland – This room had very good sound. For the first time, I finally heard the RADIA solid-state stereo amplifier with the HP-200 preamplifier (photo right). All of the interconnect, speaker, and power cable were Hovland. The speakers used were the Avalon Acoustics Eidolon Diamond.
McIntosh – This legendary high-end company had one of best exhibits in terms of complete product line. They had a very impressive multi-channel home theatre setup. They also had rooms to display and demonstrate their stereo electronics and speaker systems. I was really impressed with the MC 2Kw 2,000 watt monoblock power amplifier. The price of this beauty has yet to be determined. It looks like McIntosh is on a roll.
ON Semiconductor – I was really pleased to see this company exhibiting with the high-end crowd. ON is the discrete semiconductor division of Motorola that was spun off as an independent company. Motorola historically has provided transistors for audio amplifier applications. Thankfully, ON is continuing that tradition with new and innovative products. They were showing their new ThermalTrak complimentary bipolar power transistors, which are designed to be used in the output stage of power amplifiers. These transistors are unique in that they have been designed to eliminate thermal equilibrium lag time and bias trimming in audio amplifier applications. To the lay, person this translates to lower distortion and higher low-level resolution designs. Audio circuit designers check these devices out.
Overkill Audio – Their flagship loudspeaker, the Encore ($70,000/pair), is an innovative 2-way speaker system that uses the Manger driver and a high performance 12” woofer. The Manger driver is in an egg shaped enclosure, which sits atop the bass module. The enclosures are acoustically very inert and are very expensive to manufacture. A digital crossover is part of the system. The crossover also provides full parametric equalization in real time, room measurement and correction. This speaker system has the potential to provide outstanding music reproduction in almost any listening environment.
Soundlab – The Millennium-1 electrostatic loudspeakers with the toroid transformer option ($18,170), were driven by a pair of Parasound JC-1 power amplifiers. The CTC Blow Torch preamplifier was used to feed the JC-1’s and combined to create another of the “Best Sounds at the Show.”
H. Courtenay Osborne