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This is a
highly opinionated review - this is what *we* heard. So
*please* do not be offended if *your* favorite speaker
did not sound right to *our* ears. For better or worse,
we are stuck with (to) these ears, just as you are yours.
This show report emphasises the rooms that exhibited very
high-end, the tip-top state-of-the-art. If we had time,
we would have loved to visit each and every room and
spend the time to play our test CDs and chat with the
exhbitors. But because time is so limited compared to the
large number of exhibits, we decided to sample the icing
(yum!) and leave the cake for another time. This approach
is fraught with the peril of missing something
significant -- not being exhibitors, we wish that CES
lasted long enough for us to hear every room.
(Neli) and I attended C.E.S. 2003 at the Alexis and
T.H.E. Show at the San Remo, both in Las Vegas. We,
unfortunately, did not make it to the high-end component
of C.E.S. at the main Las Vegas convention center. From
what we understand that is where the mainstream companies
like Madrigal/Mark Levinson/Revel, B&W, Sumiko (Sonus
Faber, SME), Krell etc. show their stuff.
-2, Tuesday, January 7th
CES and T.H.E. Show open - Thursday, January 9th
Edge Electronics/Wisdom Audio Room - San Remo Conference
three systems in this room: a big Wisdom Audio M-75
system, a little Wisdom Audio (Rush) system, and a system
using custom-built speakers, all of which were driven by
Edge amplifiers. The Big Wisdom Audio system was driven
by the new Edge Reference 800-watt per channel
awesome-looking pyramid shaped monoblocks, Edge Signature
1 preamp, and an Audio Aero Capitole mk II CD player.
Nice, big sound, very smooth, but somewhat uninvolving.
The smaller Wisdom system was not able to be demoed
because of a CD player that did not survive transit to
the show. The system with the custom built (by Steven
Norber) speakers (using 4 ceramic midranges and a
top-of-the-line JM Labs tweeter), was driven by
alternately the Edge Signature 1 400-watt/channel
monoblocks and the new 800-watt/channel Reference
monoblocks, Edge Signature 1 line stage preamp, Gamut
CD-1, Dynavector XX2 cartridge, Aesthetix Io phono stage
and the new VPI HRX turntable. This system was really
quite nice to listen to, especially when playing a
particular Louis Armstrong LP (no I do not know which
one). The speakers seemed to generate quite a bit of
positive mention from people we talked with. In contrast
with the Wisdoms; they have quite a different style - you
like either one or the other, but probably not both.
included Acapella Violins, Accustic Arts Drive-1,
Accustic Arts Amp-1, Accustic Arts pre, and Cardas Golden
Reference. Typically awesome Acapella midrange and highs;
bass a little loosey goosey. Plenty of power from the
amp. We loved the look of the blue horn with white
enclosure, especially for rooms with white walls. Imaging
a little off. Came back a few days later, bass had
tightened up considerably, imaging quite nice. There is a
reason we like these speakers so much.
room - Alexis Park
monoblock amps, L2 preamp, CEC TL1X transport, dCS Elgar
Plus, Kharma 3.2 reference monitor speakers, ($50K?! of)
Kharma cables, Absolute Power Cords, Arcici Suspense Rack
and Airheads. This was the system that was shown at the
Stereophile HE 2002 in New York City that many thought
was best-of-show and which we liked very much but
bemoaned the lack of bass. Perhaps the speakers in NYC
were not broken-in or whatever, because this system had
much more in the bass department. Though the system still
did not possess the deep bass one might expect of a
similarly priced solid-state amp driving a similarly
priced speaker like, say, the B&W Signature 800N,
Revel Salon, or even the quite musical Avalon Eidolon -
it was very, very ... musical... in a way that the
afore-mentioned speakers will probably never be. Not that
they may not be capable, but because they are so hard to
drive - and it is so hard to find big, powerful amps that
are also musical. In any case, this system would be great
for an audiophile in a relatvely small to average sized
room where they wanted music but had close neighbors (or
family members) who did not.
Talon, Audio Aero Capitole mk II. The bass was not as
detailed and light on its feet compared to the same
system using Kharma speakers. There was also not the
midrange magic - that sweet ease with which the rhythms
intertwine. Not a bad sound - the Talons are presumably
just a little harder to drive than the Kharmas.
Rockport Antares, Audio Aero Capitole mk II. Did not get
a chance to spin our test CDs in this room, but from our
listening it seemed to have the same pluses and minuses
as the Tenor/Talon room. The Rockports also seem to
emphasize neutrality over musicality, and this seemed to
overwhelm the inherent musicality of the Tenors.
C2 and C3 only. We were really looking forward to hearing
the C8s, the C40s, even the P10s. Preferably with the
Goldman amps that HiFi Farm pairs them with. Somebody,
please bring the top line Piegas with a system to match
to the next show... please?
VYGER turntable(s), Lumenwhite speakers, Ayon amps (renamed from VAIC), Hovland preamp. They had some room treatment problems here the first day - but it was much improved by the end of the show. Still not as involving and alive as some of the other rooms at the show this year. The VYGERs are certainly visually stunning turntables and, as we are hunting for a top-notch turntable these days, we appreciate the bend-over-backwards service that Acoustic Dreams provides with all of their products that they distribute or manufacture. We are keeping an eye on the VYGER as they slowly make their way into the U.S.
I am not sure
how many people know it - but Acoustic Dreams also make
equipment racks - very nice equipment racks (though
expensive). There is some nice technology involved in the
rack manufacture that has us quite impressed.
Parasound Halo JC-1 that just got rave reviews from Mike
Fremer in Stereophile. Too much mid-range energy for our
tastes, lacking finese and inner detail. Bob Crump then
put on Marcus Miller's "Tales" CD. Nice and
open, the Soundlabs certainly were not lacking for any
power. We're getting the CD, by the way. Heard this
system got better (less midrange energy) nearer the end
of the show.
MSB CD player
(not the new DVD/SACD/CD combo that was display-only),
MSG amps, Lumenwhite speakers. Competant sounding, but
nothing special (we really came to hear the new combo
player - hopefully we will be able to hear it at HE
2003). They did give away free DACs in exchange for a
business card though: it is of the size of a business
card and is a circuit board that runs off of 3 9V
unreleased ~$7K transport, ~$7K DAC, solid-state amp,
pre, and $9K speakers. Very nice, sweetly detailed,
musical sound, posessing a little of that same inner PRaT
that the Tenor/Kharma emotes. The overall sound had, all
I can think to call it is, an burnt orange wood tonal
quality to it. I can leap to conclusions and blame the
speakers which, though appropriately sized for the room,
are not quite up to the quality of the transport/DAC
combo - but this is just guessing on our part.
HP-100 pre, Hovland's new $9K Radia solid-state amp,
Lumenwhite speakers. This was also a very nice, sweetly
detailed sound, posessing some of that same inner PRaT
that the Tenor/Kharma emotes. It had a certain refinement
and life that was very pleasant. Because Hovland has
previously produced only very tubey equipment, my
expectations were low. Not going back for a second
listen, we do not know if these low expectations
influenced our opinions of the sound. Hovland pairs very
well with those Lumenwhites.
(sometimes) and Lamm ML1.1 (other times), L2 preamp,
Stereovox cables, CEC transport, Weiss Medea DAC, Wilson
Watt/Puppy 7s. Surprise. The Wilsons sounding... musical?
Very. The 7's are known to be a definite improvment over
the 6's, by which it is usually meant that they have all
the positive attributes of the 'Wilson sound' and won't
bite your ears off. In the Lamm room they sounded very
nice - perhaps a little tame, missing a little bit of the
Wilson slam and effusive detail, but keeping that Wilson
refinement and putting the whole package to good use:
making music. Neli says: "Lamms made the Wilsons
amps, Little Maya Horn. Very musical, very tubey, lacking
some detail. Room resonances somewhere around 1000 -
5000hz were painful.
Trios, Avantgarde Basshorn. Not sure we can fairly
evaluate the sound. The bright red horns were awesome
looking. And Mike really liked the looks of the chrome
bass horn assembly. Boy, it's big, tho.
Infinite, Gamut CD1. Very nice sound stage. Probably the
most realistically sized and feeling soundstage that we
have heard. Not the ultimate in imaging or anything, just
a nice 'true to life' feel. Nice big sound. Very smooth,
top to bottom, and no lack of power. Capability is all
there, but no PRaT, no excitement. Perhaps needs more
work on the front end (a turntable maybe?). Wisdom is
working on a new CDP that unfortunately was damaged in
transit to the show.
100% MBL system. We listened to the reference system as well as their smallest, most modest system with approximately 1 foot tall bookshelf speakers. Very nice sound - they were playing the reference system quite loud but it did not overwhelm or stab the ears like other systems do in such a small room. Is it just us or does the MBL equipment really win the award for the most gorgeous overall look award? Those speakers are just so ... cool. And the top-line transport/DAC (sigh). A 100% Burmester system is just a little too shiny and mirror-like and Hovland components are perhaps the most attractive of all but they are each so striking in themselves that they try to each steal the limelight from each other and do not work well (visually) with each other. Hmmmmm... back to the sound... The sound was first class as usual, missing just a tad of inner-dynamics and life. This room was always crowded.
Burmester, both a mid-priced (for Burmester) system and
the top-of-the-line system. Both sounded very nice, and
it is good to see that they are continuing to filter down
technology from their leading edge components throughout
the rest of their line of equipment. The sound? It was
the Burmester sound: very detailed, lots of finesse, very
competant, but not very muscial or involving (i.e. we
would like more PRaT). We have a Burmester preamp in our
personal system - it is very muscial and PRaTfull. All of
the 100% systems (in descending order from
distinctiveness of their 'company sound'): Ensemble,
Burmester, MBL, even Audio Note have a distinctive
'company sound' in their rooms that makes one think
(erroneously) that one has to either like this sound or
go somewhere else for their components. There is a 'does
not play well with others' aura to these rooms. Neli
would really like to hear all of these companies mix
their components into other systems too, so that she
could better understand the characteristics of the
system, AN E/SEC and are all silver two way corner
speakers, and a prototype pre-amplifier whose two-chassis
outboard power supplies were still in pieces with exposed
electronics. Our first visit to this room found someone
playing a 1940-era LP. The music was nice but the sound
was not very satisfying, sounding more like mid-fi than
we expected. We did make a point of returning to this
room, and this time we played our own CDs. Very nice,
detailed, musical. Similar to the Ensemble and Hovland
rooms, but more musical than the Ensemble, not as rich
sounding as the Hovland (which after all had the larger
Lumenwhites). Nice stuff.
Very high end system with small speakers. Very tubey (liquid). Lots of harmonic richness - I can see how people might get to like this sound - but it is definitely different from most other system sounds (excepting maybe Moondog Audio and their Maya Horn).
Consult speakers - Alexis Park
Wavac MD-805m amplification, Peak Consult InCognito speakers. Reminded me of easy-to-drive Sonus Faber speakers - but whithout the warmth (and charm - but we really like Sonus Faber). Very hard for us to tell what the amps sounded like in this system (but they are certainly cool looking, especially the HE-833).
- Alexis Park
Day 5, Monday, January 13th
T.H.E. Show at the San Remo continues for an extra day beyond the C.E.S. conference at the Alexis. Some rooms have already started dissassembling their equipment (notably Halcro - which was off limits all day- unfortunate because we had allocated some time to hear their Eggleston Works room and their Wilson Maxx room once more).
Bionor ballroom-sized horn speakers.
Lamm ML2, L2,
CEC transport, Weiss Medea DAC, American Sound???
turntable . These speakers are each approximately 10 feet
wide by 8 feet tall. What can we say: huge sound, able to
render big band sound in a realistic size and seperation.
Very real and powerful with an ease that I had not heard
before. But, I do not know what Neli was thinking but
what I was really thinking was that this looked like it
came out of an old movie theater and that if we had a
room big enough in our house, I could put these speakers
along the front wall, put a front projection video screen
between them, and recreate Count Basie, Glenn Miller,
Miles Davis on demand. OK, it was the last day of the
show and I was tired. I thought it really showed a love
of the hobby for these people to go to the trouble to
bring in these HUGE speakers (they had to disassemble
part of the external wall just to get them, still in many
pieces, into the room), pay for a room to set them up in,
and play tunes so that we can all share this experience.
Best of Show
Jonathan Tinn room: Tenor 75wp monoblocks,
Kharma Midi-Grand speakers, Audio Aero Capitole mk II CD
player, Shunyata cabling
Electronics/Wisdom room: VPI HRX turntable,
Dynavector XX2 cartridge, Aesthetix Io phono stage, Edge
Reference amplifiers, Edge Signature 1 linestage, Steven
Norber speakers, Shunyata cabling (playing Satchmo LPs -
best analog system of show)
room: ... new Anniversery edition turntable and
rack (second best analog system of show)
Rooms we really regret not getting a chance to hear (Argh!):
#2: The Oscar Heil speakers
See y'all next year!