CES (Consumer Electronics Show)
T.H.E. Show

Las Vegas
January 6th, 2006

Track 2

The Von Schweikert, VAC room

The Calix, Chord room

The Acapella Audio Arts*, Accustic Arts room

The big Acapella*, Einstein room

The little Acapella*, Einstein, room

The TAD room

The Peak Consult, Wavac, Continuum room

The Hovland, Avalon room

The Rethm, Tom Evans room

The Ascendo room

The Magico, Rowland room

The Merlin room

and more...

* Denotes a product carried by Audio Federation


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All pictures in this report are freely copyable and distributable.

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Von Schweikert VR-4 SR speakers, Oracle CD player, VAC preamplifier, Electrocompaniet DAC




Von Schweikert VR-4 speakers, Oracle CD player, VAC preamplifier, Electrocompaniet DAC




Von Schweikert VR-4 SR speakers




Calix's Pheonix loudspeakers, Chord electronics




Calix's Pheonix loudspeaker




Calix's Pheonix loudspeaker




Chord electronics








Acapella* La Campanella speakers, Accustic Arts electronics

This system sounded kind of cold and un-involving. We have found that Accustic Arts components like to be paired with something on the warm and liquid side, but Acapella speakers, not being warm or cold, just pass through the temperature of the music it gets. In this case they passed through music that was 'OK', but 'OK' is not what we go to shows to hear, now is it? :-)




Acapella* La Campanella speakers in light gray








Accustic Arts electronics




Acapella Audio Arts Violon loudspeakers, Einstein electronics, Isoclean power handling.

This system was actually quite good and impressive. Many other people seemed to like it too, which is interesting as I am always curious about what sonic preferences are shared by the majority and which are more or less unique perversions on an individual level. But anyway...

This was enjoyable, and if I had any nits at all it would be that both the Einstein electronics and Acapella cables tend to rob the music of some detail; like leading edges of individual notes and some microdynamics (microdynamics is one of those things I think I value more than some other people).

The Einstein 60 watt OTL seemed to drive the speakers in the bass OK, typically a difficult job on the Violons, though it was a fairly small room - so they didn't get a real workout.

Neli says: "I really liked the 60W Einsteins. Yes, I woulda loved to hear it with the Meitner 'to hear what it really sounds like'. But it was musical and soulful. And deserving of a Record Player, if not a great digital source.

Along with the other Isoclean bits .... in this room they replaced the wall outlets with Isoclean ones .... can't hurt, and I don't know if *anyone* else does this.

This might be visible in some of the pictures of the Fidelio room -- in the Violon room, the outlet was behind the system."




Acapella Audio Arts Violon High-sub loudspeakers, Einstein electronics, Isoclean power handling.








This is a audiophile-grade household circuit-breaker / service panel




Einstein 60 watt OTL amplifier




Einstein 60 watt OTL amplifier








Einstein 60 watt OTL amplifier








Acapella Violin (sic, for google) with black, Neli says charcoal gray, horn




Acapella Violon with black, Neli still says charcoal gray, horn




Acapella Violon with black, Neli says Mike, it's charcoal gray, horn




Acapella Violon with charcoal gray horn












Acapella* Fidelio 2 monitor speakers, Accustic Arts* CD player Mk 2, Einstein integrated, Isoclean power conditioning

This room sounded pretty good, though not as good as this system did at HE 2005 and RMAF 2005. The room here is larger, so that may be an issue, but I would love to try moving the speakers around some, probably closer together, to try and get a more coherent image and sold soundstage - or is it a more solid soundstage and coherent image?












Acapella* Fidelio II speaker with Acapella vibration control Speed Block on top












Isoclean stuff




TAD prototype speakers with a few little Pass Labs amplifiers








Pacific Electronics, Alesis Masterlink, ...








Yeah, jokingly the listeners speculated as to the future of this speaker as to to desktop PC applications








Dussun, XLH cables, Xhindak, oSound. The small speakers were playing, and it sounded a little, well, the opposite of effortlessness. I was interested in hearing the big boys, like most others I would imagine, so I moved on.








Ugh, what a pain typing all this stuff in. I know YOU can read it, though you might need glasses, but Google needs to find it too... so, soldiering on...

Original's Leonardo CD player $3098 (uh oh, yet another 'true balanced design'), oSound Magnetic Isolation Platform $698, XLH SL-11XS preamplifier (love these model names people come up with, their as memorable as Acura automobile model names). Oh, and that is a Sony SCD-1 on that other shelf.








Resolution Audio / Olive Media Products, Inc.




Resolution Audio / Olive Media Products, Inc.




Resolution Audio / Olive Media Products, Inc.




















Pioneer EX series




This is kind of a one-off, odd location, but is next to one set of restrooms, so it gets enough traffic.




Beautiful setting for a show. Photo taken from previous position near the restrooms, but in towards the main courtyard.




This International Space Station escape pod (not really) moves and rocks and rolls, and presumably people are inside who hear sounds and watch video that makes the movements not make them throw up. No, we did not go inside for a ride. At least I didn't. Personally, it did not seem to move fast enough to be very realistic - if the protagonist is in a car that crashes, the pod hear should communicate a violent shock to the occupant... right?




The motors and stuff under the pod.








Roksan room




Roksan room




rbh speakers. Looks like a Boulder amplifier




More rbh speakers












Peak Consult speakers, WAVAC smplifiers, Boulder phonostage and preamp, Continuum turntable.

The first room with a Continuum turntable (this $90K turntable just got rave reviews by Mike Fremer in Stereophile... i.e. it is the nearly quarterly, 'sweeps week', Best in the UNIVERSE... VERSE... VERSE... VERSE turntable [sorry MF :-])

This system had those darn Peak Consult speakers that I find so problematic with their seemingly difficult to drive and compressed midrange and detached bass. By comparing with the other Continuum system, with everything different except the brand of amplifier (WAVAC) I learned a few things:

I am not able at this time, either because of lack of experience or mental incapacities, to judge the quality of most turntables in systems I am not familiar with. Strange, though that the Walker turntable is much easier to ascertain the quality of, for me, in strange systems... but that is a mystery for another day.

Second, this really expensive Boulder phonostage and preamplifier rock. By this I mean that there was detail, both harmonic and transient, which was present which was amazing in its clarity and realness / liveness / whatever.

Overall however, the sound in this room was an exercise in enjoying the details of the reproduction chain, but not the music, as many things which go into creating a enjoyable and realistic experience were missing here - like stable imaging, continuousness, balanced frequency response, balanced harmonic response up and down the frequency spectrum, etc.

Yeah, someone could blame this on the system being, along the long wall, about 10? feet in front of the listener. But given the SPL level, it should have sounded better than this, IMHO.

Neli says: "Both [rooms with] Continuums had their Continuum arm with a Lyra Olympus cartridge. Supposed to be even more of a detail vacuum than the Titan."




A WAVAC monoblock amplifier








The Continuum turntable




The Continuum turntable




The Continuum turntable




The Peak Consult Empress loudspeaker.








The Continuum turntable




Avalon Eidolon (Diamond?) speakers, Hovland electronics, introducing their new Stratos amplifiers (which are bigger than their Radia amplifiers, which we like a lot).

I didn't think this room sounded all that great, not as good as the Radia - but we did not play our test CD so this is just an impression from hearing just a few songs.

Neli says: "The source in the Hovland room was a PC run into their DAC. Super convenient for the Hovland folks -- they just setup a playlist beforehand and let 'er rip. Kewl. But maybe the sonics are compromised by the source?"








Rethm loudspeakers, Tom Evans electronics, and a new $5000 turntable that is using some of the same approaches as the Teres and Red Point turntables.

Not sure how the turntable sounded, but at the volume they were playing this system, the sound sucked (by which I mean it was not listenable to as music, but as a series of disconnected sounds that I found I had to listen to individually, rather than as a whole -  and, personally, my warped brain just starts making this little table in my head, for each note assigning large numerical numbers to the distortion column).

Nice looking turntable though. Get it now, before the price escalates to infinity as these things always seem to do over time.

OK, I forget the name of the table. Mrs. Memory Banks? Oh, "Sound Engineering" as reported by Dave and Carol in their Positive Feedback report.

Neli says: "one cool engineering detail of the Sound Engineering turntable was the arm pod is not connected to the plinth -- like the Redpoint."












The table was sitting on a Symposium Ultra vibration control platform. It seems like vibration control is taken much more seriously at shows than it was a few years ago.








The Ascendo speakers, CAT amplifiers, Reimyo CD player. We hated the system with these speakers at HE2006, but this system sounded pretty good. Dynamic and enjoyable, though nothing to write home about (Oh. Wait. I am. Writing home about it.). At least this system showed us showgoers that these speakers can sound good in the right setup.








Some Acoustic System International pieces - which must be the preamp and power supply.




Magico speakers, big Rowland amplifier. Considering I wrote elsewhere that I did not make it to this room - it was hardly memorable. Mostly I remember thinking "what's the fuss about these speakers? This system is just not showing them in their best light" This is a pretty large room - so that could have something to do with it, as we got burnt out on small monitor speakers in big rooms here after living with the Sonus Faber Extremas for many years.

'Course, the other Magico room was much smaller, but it had its own issues.

Silly me, I did not take a picture of the rack with the source equipment.
























Davis Acoustics




Audio Phsyic 'Tempo' speakers, Wadia digital source, Harmonic Technology cables




Merlin speakers. The system sounded flat and dull. OK, I admit it, I used to think these speakers were OK - but now I realize there are a lot of comparably priced, and even less expensive, speakers that are much more better.

CES 2006 Follow Up:

Because this review has gotten some attention, I will be more specific about the sonic signature of the systems with these speakers both at HE 2005 and CES 2006. In some sense the shorter description is less accurate but more kind.

These two systems sounded:

1) Compressed, on a macro and midi scale, such that the music seemed to run-out-of-steam on very dynamic passages, even on moderate volumes, even when driven by powerful amplifiers

2) A lack of harmonics resulting in a kind of dry, lean sound, not differentiating very much between similar tones, and somewhat tending to cluster around a woodish / box frequency (this wood-like character to much of the upper-bass, low-midrange, is common to speakers like this, such as the similarly-sized Sonus Faber Pianos, and most of the other Sonus Fabers which also have this but to a lesser degree)

3) A lack of trailing edge to individual notes, resulting in a sense of lots of short, 'truncated' sounds to the music. This kind of ruins the continuousness of the music, the notes unable to flow into the next in a natural manner.

Not all speakers in this price category sound like this, especially when driven by large, luscioussss tube amps like this.

If you own these speakers and are happy with them, then  fine.

If you do not, you may also want to consider the following speakers, which we feel are a little closer to type of sound which it is our goal to achieve here and for our customers; a sound found in the current top-flight audio reproduction technologies of numerous brands of equipment; a sound closer to the Path:

These speakers are:

  1. Acoustic Zen

  2. Von Schweikert Vr-4

  3. Oskar Heil

  4. Intuitive Design (for smaller sized rooms)

  5. Star Sound's Caravelle speakers (for smaller sized rooms)

  6. Acapella* Fidelio 2 (for smaller sized rooms)

  7. Marten Design* Mingus II

The point is not that the Merlins speakers suck, but that over the last few years some new speakers have come out that we feel are a better value, and we can no longer recommend these speakers to people as we once did in show reports a few years ago.




VPI turntable, Audio Aero* Capitole Reference CD player.








Avalon (Diamond?) Eidolon speakers, PBN amplifier, Argento cables








Vibraplane active vibration isolation platforms, APL modded CD player.













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All pictures in this report are freely copyable and distributable.

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