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

Las Vegas
January 8th, 2006

The Zanden, Peak Consult room

The Edge*, Wisdom room

The Lumenwhite, Ayon, Blue Pearl room

The Magico , CAT room

The Loricraft* room

The Peak Consult, Berning, Audio Aero* room

The Immedia room

The little Kharma / MBL room

The big Kharma, ASR room

The Swedish Statement room (final visit)

The big Audio Note U.K.* room

and more...

* Denotes a product carried by Audio Federation


Copyright Audio Federation, Inc.. All rights reserved.
All pictures in this report are freely copyable and distributable.

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On the last day, now that we came to realize it was the last day - which we did not know until late yesterday (traditionally, T.H.E. Show ran for 5 days). Our goal was to spend a goodly amount of time in the few rooms we thought had the best sound. These were, at the Alexis Park, in order of visitation:

  • The Swedish Statement (Coltrane Supremes) room,

  • the Lamm room,

  • the Kharma mini-Equisite room,

  • the Kharma midi-Exquisite room,

  • the Zanden room (this time the camera battery was charged, doh!),

and then at the St. Tropez:

  • The Venture / Wavac / Continuum room

  • The Cogent true-to-life / Welborne room

  • The Halcro / room

(We had already spent quite a bit of time in the Kondo room, so we felt we could skip that  - well, Neli did anyway, and we all just sit there obsessing about how the system would sound on this speaker, or that speaker...not to mention how we are going to have to come up with the $$$ to afford stuff like this).

We found a whole building that we had missed, and still never got to the Cabasse room, at least I do not remember getting by there. Then, back to the Alexis:

  • The Swedish Statement (Coltrane Supremes) room until 1/2 hour after closing, oops. Thanks guys!

  • We missed hearing The Audio Aero / WLS system again today (shit)

  • Audio Note U.K. which was still rocking and a rollin' hours after closing (thanks Peter!) and we got to hear music on the second set of GakuOns at the show.

These shows are hard work - if you are not careful, you can miss a lot of them.





The Zanden room was luscious and engaging, yet dynamic and detailed... very nice. They were demoing their phono-stage that allows one to adjust the RIAA curve on a label by label (supports 3 different common labels).

This was one of many well-healed rooms with the Peak Consult speakers - and all the rooms had a few common characteristics, like sounding a little forward in the midrange frequencies and laid back and closed-in and compressed and disembodied in the low mids and bass. So it was easy to attribute this sonic signature to the speakers and possible to separate the sound of the system from the sound of the speakers, but I found it very difficult to listen 'around' the speakers to hear the individual components in the systems.




The Zanden transport. This is one of a number of very beautiful and very expensive, $25K, transports at the show. The Metronome is another.





The Zanden amplifiers are very attractive. Not sure which model these were.
















The Zanden phono stage with some fingerprints indicating heavy use during the show. It seems the more finished the appearance, the more finger prints become an ever-present annoyance. Say it ain't so...we've all been there. Ugh.








Peak Consult 'Empress' speaker




Wisdom speakers and Edge Electronics* electronics

Unfortunately, Wisdom speakers with their trademark big sound also come with big compression and tonal funny business. They played some great music here, not your usual slow jazz, but the sound was for Wisdom fans only.




The new GS 8 stereo amplifier in a smaller-than-is-usual for Edge* chassis








The Edge* Electronics 12.1 300 watt stereo amplifier




The Edge* Electronics 12.1 300 watt stereo amplifier








The Edge* Electronics 12.1 300 watt stereo amplifier












The Edge folks had what you might conservatively say was the best location at the show. The fresh breeze and sunshine wafting in with the gentle splash of the courtyard fountain in the background.




A few more pictures of the new Gs 8 stereo amplifier








And here we have a few pictures of the EDGE GAV multichannel amplifier
















There was also a smaller Wisdom speaker system in the room, which was not being played during my visit.




A last, full-frontal shot, and we're off...!




Acoustic Dreams brought their Lumenwhite speakers, Ayon amplifiers, Messenger electronics and Blue Pearl turntable - yeah, the one that Roy Gregory raved about in HiFi+ a few years ago. I found it hard to evaluate the sound of the turntable as I was unable to isolate its sound from the rest of the system - which had a slightly nasal tonal flare and an unevenness across the frequency spectrum.




A side view of the system




The equipment rack in the Acoustic Dreams room.




A close-up of the Blue Pearl table




Another close-up, of the top of the turntable assembly. Sorry for the highlights that look like something is scratched... my camera flash likes to pick out the original lathing marks and turn them into grand canyons. Next year we will use more indirect flashbulb techniques.




A few more Blue Pearl pictures. I wanted this table bad, for a good while, the Rockport Serious III being unavailable and seemingly too neutral for my personal taste. Now, I just think I will make do with the Walker and Brinkmann Balance turntables for awhile. I know, I know, 'woe is us'.








The Ayon Reference Monoblock amplifier




The Messenger Preamplifier




OK, can't help ourselves, more Blue Pearl...














The Lumenwhite speaker in gloss black.





Side view of the Lumenwhite speaker. Awesomely cool looking - reminds me of a jet engine - or something that can go really fast, anyway.




Some Ayon speakers on display.




Magico speakers and Cat JL-2 amplifiers. Lots of people liked this sound but I found a heavy concentration of energy in the midrange, in a compressed, and uneven presentation, rapidly trailing off at the frequency extremes. Beautiful speakers and amps - but the sound just did not work at all for me here. There was another Magico system that had one of large Rowland amps driving it that we did not get to hear.




Another one of Magico's very impressive looking speakers. Check out their website sometime for more wild pictures:




The electronics for this Magico system.




A close-up of the Magico 'Mini' speaker.




A live person playing a live piano. I thought the sound was over-damped and uninvolving...




The new Loricraft with a more powerful vacuum albeit at a higher noise level.









More Loricraft record cleaning machines




Tyler Acoustics room




Peak Consult / Berning / Audio Aero* room




Audio Aero* Capitole MK II, Berning ZH 270 amplifier, and Berning Siegfried amplifier and a red box o' stuff which was also at RMAF 2005 which I don't know what it is (secret sauce?).




Yet another Peak Consult 'Empress' speaker photo




Yet another Peak Consult speaker photo








Berning's Siegfried amplifier








The Audio Aero* Capitole MK II CD player




Static display of Belles gear.




PMC loudspeaker display




This rack has two mystery (to me) boxes, then a Sony CD player, Furman power conditioning




The Tyler Acoustics / Almarro room




The Almarro amplifier used in this room








The equipment rack in the Tyler Acoustics / Almarro room








The Escalante / Butler audio room.




The Escalante / Butler audio room.




The Escalante / Butler audio room.




The Butler audio amplifier.




Back to the Venture speakers, big Wavac amps and Continuum turntable. To be blunt - I did not enjoy the sound here in this room very much. Not that there was anything wrong - but the dynamics seem to be over emphasized and the sound a little cool and uninvolving for my taste.

A more detailed description is found on our first visit on day 3.




The Immedia room








New Immedia turntable with Lyra Connoisseur phonostage, all on the popular-at-this-CES Pagode equipment rack




The $20K turntable has removable arm pods, with support for the major tonearms out there. This is like the Brinkmann* Balance turntable and is a great solution for people who have tables who do not have multiple arms but want to have the option of doing a quick swap to a different arm and/or cartridge.




The Lyra Connoisseur phonostage / phono preamplifier




The Lyra Connoisseur phonostage / phono preamplifier power supply




Nice looking speakers from Ridley Audio





The Kharma mini-Exquisites - like the Kharma 3.2 but with a diamond tweeter and made to look a lot like its bigger brother, the midi-Exquisites. Driven by the small Kharma amps and MBL electronics with Kubala-Sosna cables, pictured in day 1's report here.

Very engaging, very musical in that classic, 'what we want music to sound like this' fashion. Not so much a 'you are there' presentation like the Marten Coltrane Supremes - more like a 'you are alive and feel good about it' kind of thing. I really loved the sound in this room - for a small scale system it really does 'it' for me.

We described the sound of the Midi Exquisites driven by Lamm amplification at the Home Entertainment New York show in May, HE2005, as being almost drug-like, like a magnetic force it tried to suck you into the music, and, if you let it do this, if you gave in to it, there was a rush of feeling and emotion that swept one away, flying with the music.

The ASR amps on the Midi Exquisites, at this show, did not have the same effect, on me anyway, for whatever reason, but the Mini they had an interesting effect, though somewhat different, from my perspective. Instead of having to consciously 'let it' do its magic, the magic just 'was'. And whereas the 'magic' was thick and dense, like a hot summer night with the Midi Exquisites / Lamm system, the Mini Exquisites were light and airy, like a sunny Spring day.

The Mini's magic was less intense, but more accessible. Perhaps this was in some part attributable to the better support the Mini had for an audiophile-quality presentation compared to the Midi system - I was able to relax more because the Mini presentation was more balanced and more realistic - albeit at a smaller scale.

Lots of detail, stable imaging, good separation, a rather narrow soundstage which we blamed on the room, good dynamics, and bass was scaled nicely to the room. Based on our two, admittedly short auditions, we think these are a slam-dunk, you are going to be so happy, upgrade for people who have the similarly sized Kharma 3.2's and have had the money for the bigger Kharmas, but not the room.

In fact, I have a sneaky suspicion that the little 2-way 3.2s may have been the best speaker, for my tastes, of any in the amazing Kharma lineup of much more expensive speakers - and that now I have found a new 'best' speaker, the Mini, also a 2-way, with more of the Kharma magic and more of the audiophile attributes that make the music both more realistic and enjoyable.

The associated equipment is interesting: warm, smooth, and somewhat detailed MBL into a small (sized anyway) detailed solid state amp. The system was quite detailed sounding and engaging. It would be interesting to put these speakers on something more conventional, like Lamm amps and Meitner digital. THEN, with this cross-section of equipment, we could perhaps pinpoint the location in paradise these speakers come from - or whether, after all, they are from planet earth like most other speakers.

Oops, being a little overly effusive, I am. Time to turn Effusive menu option to OFF.

Only problem is the price: $45K. At this price it is going up against the similarly-priced Wilson Maxx II, Acapella Violon, Marten Coltrane, Avalon Eidolon, and Audio Note speakers. More in the official report.

Um, well, this pictorial odyssey has turned into the detailed report, for the most part, so let's discuss the competition some.

* The Mini Exquisites is for small to medium sized spaces for people who want engaging and startlingly emotional and detailed renditions at the expense of having less detail in the low bass.

* The Wilson Maxx 2 is for larger spaces, and for people who want an impressive sound: large scale soundstages, midrange and bass details, and dynamics at the expense of an almost complete lack of emotional capability and some unruly behaviors like drivability and an overly enthusiastic treble / upper midrange.

* The Acapella* Violon is also for larger spaces and for people who like a very natural musical realism and large engrossing soundstages at the expense of some bottom end slam.

* The Marten Design* Coltrane speakers are for people who like a very accurate and realistic presentation, at the expense of not having a big and open type of sound.

* The Avalon Eidolon Diamond is also for bigger spaces and people who like emotional yet dynamic presentations at the expensive of deep bass control and drivability

* The Audio Note* U.K. AN-E SEC Signature is for smaller spaces, like the Mini, and for people who want very dynamic and exciting and harmonically rich and detailed presentations, supplied by the necessary Audio Note electronics upstream, at the expense of looking at a box.

Looking at this run down - it seems that there is indeed a place for a $45K 2-way speaker, as much as this price for a relatively small speaker may make us uncomfortable. And that place is for people with relatively small rooms who still want one of the best, no compromise, musical experiences that money can buy. The only alternative, from the perspective of this quick survey, is the Audio Note speaker (though the Coltrane speakers are known to work very well providing a full-range experience in as small a room as 12.5 x 16 feet), and it is also an expensive 2-way speaker - and it does not quite have the visual presence and beauty of the Mini, but then few speakers do.




The Kharma amps... on what looks like lead blocks?




Pictures of the exquisite mini-Exquisites




The beautiful rear of the Kharma Mini-Exquisites, something most owners will never see, but there you have it. Fit and finish is as good as that on the business side.

And, seriously, it does tell us that it is rear ported so it should be well away from the front wall. Oh, yeah, and it is not bi-wired, and apparently not biwire-able, which may save some owners some money on cables, depending on brand.








The Kharma Midi-Exquisites driven by ASR amplification and MBL single-box CD player. Kharma cables.

This room had many of the same problems with our test CD, Radiohead Amnesiac, that the Lamm / Wilson room had. Lack of coherence, unstable imaging, variable separation between images, etc.

Now I can hazard a guess as to what is the cause of the problems, in both of these rooms (and I should mention that the CD player was 4 days young at this CES).

But the politically correct thing to do would be to point out [cables and vibration control] that this report can only really describe [cables and vibration  control] the sound in these rooms at the show, it does not [cables and vibration control] even describe the sound of the systems, because in a different room they could sound [cables and vibration control] somewhat (just somewhat, I am not a room-is-everything fanatic) different... and narrowing down a problem to a specific component is irresponsible and impossible (or irresponsible because it is impossible).

Hey, everyone has an opinion. I could be wrong. The speaker cables are supposed to be really good in these two rooms. Maybe it is both of the speakers. Stranger things have happened - just turn on the news at 6 on any day of the week.

It is important to us, personally, that sounds appear where and in the quantity the musicians set down on the recording medium - especially on somewhat expensive systems like this. Other people could care less about these details - though it will almost undoubtedly negatively impact their long term listening pleasure - and certainly their appreciation of musicianship and the finer aspects of music.

We really are not picking on these two systems. There were other expensive, and some even more expensive, systems that failed to produce anything this close to this quality. It is just that these two are so close to being really good.








Can't help it, the Midi-Exquisites photograph so well, and look like they are in motion while standing still. Hope the pictures pick up the slight abergene color of the frontispiece.












The ASR amplifier





We spent the end of the show listening to the Marten Design* Coltrane Supreme speakers, with Bladelius electronics, Jorma Design* cables and the Power Wing power conditioner.

This system re-created the recording venue nearly as well as the Acapella Triolons here at the Audio Federation, on a smaller scale but with more resolution. Nothing else comes close in our experience to this kind of feat. Everything else creates this simulacrum, this hoax, which requires you to forcibly suspend belief to imagine that there are real 'musicians' out there.

On the Triolons, you don't have to do this nearly as much, and this leaves our poor overtaxed brains much more free to ponder the quality of the musicianship, the score, the soundboard engineering, the art, the spirit, the love, the meaning of it all. To see much, much deeper into music's other dimensions than just the physical dimension of vibrating compression waves moving through air.

This difference has had a unexpectedly intense emotional impact on our perspective of what music is, and on our lives as a whole.

The Coltrane Supremes gave us a taste of this. We would love to have them here and put our favorite electronics on them - and see just how far we could push them. To see just how far they could take us.

The Swedish Statement room presented a sonic experience that was incredibly true, but not in that in-your-face style that so many large, high-end speakers do these days. It make take a few minutes for a listener to relax and realize that the music here is not a parody: it is not pumping the bass dynamics in your face to impress, not spotlighting midrange detail to distract from a uneven frequency response (these speakers are +/- 1.5 dB up and down the scale). All aspects of the performance, EVERYTHING is absolutely top-notch in quality, and EVERYTHING is treated fairly, nothing has more tone, more jump factor, more warmth, more presence, sharper images, more stability in the soundstage, than anything else.

To be clear: very, very few speakers in the world are able to do this. I would say that just about none of them even try. They try to make something that sounds pretty damn good, pat themselves on the back, and go home.

So here you have a sonic presentation that sounds and quiets and quickens and slows just like it is supposed to, just like what our brains have been wired to expect and treat as real for millions of years. What does this do for the listening experience? It allows us to relax many of our layers of defenses and buffers and filters and shields we have built up around our listening processes to both protect us (from physical damage, from harmful and socially unacceptable psychological reactions, from headaches, from who knows what else) and to interpret for us what we are hearing.

When was the last time you heard a piano and had to think 'that is a piano'. I challenge the listener to hear a piano on a stereo without thinking 'that is a piano' AFTER considerable, (and lengthy, taking perhaps up to 1/2 second, causing much of the music to be lost while we are trying to determine 'just what the hell was that note, anyway?') mental calculations and interpretations.

These mental gymnastics often consist of a little voice in our head that narrates a process that goes something like "that was a single note, so it has to be a guitar, piano, harp, or some kind of electronic effect". Then we rule out things: "I didn't hear a pluck (assuming the system is capable of rendering such a thing, stick in probability factor here that there was, in fact, a pluck), so it is not a guitar or harp. It wasn't an open ended kind of decay, so it might be an electronic keyboard, but was there an associated sound of the echoes in the piano body? Hmmmmm... that was awhile ago now, lets see if I can pull it from the very short term aural memory..." Oops, song is over already.

The solution for most people to this dilemma, of not being able to tell what they are listening to in real-time, is to not even care. They enjoy the tune and the bombast, and do not care that they do not, and cannot, hear or understand what the musicians are actually doing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. You can still groove to the tune, tap to the beat, and get a smile on.

But if you, personally, think there is a difference between a snapshot of a woman's face and a painting by Leonardo da Vinci (if you have ever seen a Leonardo painting in person, you know exactly what I mean), if you personally want to experience the art and the majesty, the talent and the skill and the message and the emotion and the awesome delicacies and complexities of the human condition communicated by the musicians to listeners just like you throughout the ages, then perhaps a system like this is for you.

[This room review was added after the report had been published and so is available, in updated form, on the Blog here].





The Audio Note U.K.* room. These are the AN/E silver signature speakers, Gakuon prototype amplifiers, (the Ongaku in front was playing earlier in the show), DAC 5 signature, CDT-3, M10 preamplifier and M8 as a phono-stage, turntable TT-3. The sound was great but I can't help wondering what some good HRS* vibration control platforms and high-end powercords would do - which I guess puts me in audio purgatory, not hell, because I know how to get to heaven.. it just costs money.

They were playing lots of heavy metal vinyl in this room this year - as opposed to the usual fare of dawn-of-recording-industry classical.




The Audio Note TT-3 tunrtable.








The Audio Note U.K. Ongaku (again, like with the Blue Pearl, my camera flash picks up and highlights the original machining lathe markings.





The Audio Note U.K. Ongaku





Audio Note UK.* GakuOn right channel innards




Audio Note UK.* GakuOn left channel innards








The (highly reflective) AN/E silver signature speaker




The (highly reflective) AN/E silver signature speaker, showing the outboard crossover box.



Copyright Audio Federation, Inc.. All rights reserved.
All pictures in this report are freely copyable and distributable.

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