The Home Entertainment Show 2004
Consumer Electronics Show 2004
Sunday, November 10, 2004
The intense desert sunlight penetrates my eyelids and jolts me awake. Where am I? What day is it? Oh I remember. It's Sunday in Las Vegas and the last day of CES 2004. I prepare myself for the final day of
high-end equipment and serious listening.
I take the shuttle back to the Alexis Park Hotel for a final look and listen. The first room that catches my attention is Piega of Switzerland. Last year at CES I was very impressed by a surround sound demonstration of this equipment. Kurt Scheuch and Leo Greiner started Piega in 1986. In 2001 they designed the first coaxial ribbon and midrange tweeter. Each tweeter is custom built by Aldo Ballabio and the cabinets are hand-made by Markus Romer. The system on display consists of
five C8-LTD speakers ($16,295); two fronts, one center and two in the rear plus the Psub1 ($3,600). The
C8-LTDs have an integrated ribbon tweeter and midrange and 7-inch woofer. I love the modern silver finish of these speakers. The amplifiers are the Northstar 100watt per channel solid-state monoblocks
($2,500 each) from Italy. The heart of these amps is a solid state Fet-Bipolar circuit that produces a powerful and smooth sound. The high current output section drives the loudspeakers with low impedance. The power supply is a 500 VA toroidal transformer with 80,000uF of filter capacitance. The Meridian 800 Reference DVD Player with the 861 Reference Digital Surround Controller completes the picture. There is also a power conditioner from Germany by Fisch ($600).
We listen to Cheryl Bentyn of the Manhattan Transfer. The DVD-Audio disc is called
Among Friends and is recorded live in 24-bit/96kHz in 5.1 surround by aixrecords.com. Piega always has one of the best surround sound demos of the show and this year is no exception. The keyboards are on the left, the guitar is all the way off to the right and the drums are in front. The sound is so clean and transparent, the voice and instruments are focused and the music surrounds me. I fell like I'm on stage with the band. This system brings a smile to my face. I take out my trusty HDCD Reference Recording of
Pines of Rome and hand it to Mark Waldrep. The sound is clean, detailed and revealing. I hear every bit of info on the CD. Even at low levels all the instruments are distinct and focused. There is amazing detail and excellent dynamics. Although not quite as sweet as the Rockports, the midrange captures the sweetness of the instruments and the emotion of the musicians. This is a very forward sounding in-your-face system.
Mark Waldrep is the owner and recording engineer for AIX Records. He specializes in DVD-Audio recordings with the home theater version on the flip side. Mark informs me that the HDCD we are listening to is recorded in 16 bits but the HDCD process captures a slightly higher resolution and looses only 4-5 bits. Whereas,
Waldrep says that the DVD Audio is recording with a true 24 bit sampling rate. I find this bit of information very interesting. During a conversation with Rick Fryer, I seem to remember him telling me that his partner, Keith Johnson records his CD's in a 24-bit format. I file this info in my memory banks for further talks with Keith Johnson.
Waldrep takes out his DVD Audio Recording of the Pines of Rome by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with Zdenek Macal, Musical Director. The first thing I notice is the difference in the hall and orchestra. The next thing I hear is the different arrangement of instruments on the stage. I also recognize a difference in the styles of the musicians and the conductor. Yes, these speakers are very revealing.
Waldrep tells me that he recorded the concert with stereo pairs of microphones for more extension in the high and low end of the recording. Well the sound is certainly impressive. It brings tears to my eyes and the chill factor is definitely evident.
I stop back at the Rockport/Parasound room for a quick listen to the Merak/Sheritan II Speakers ($29,500). We listen to the Reference Recording
Pines of Rome. (Yes, I like this CD). I get the feel of the hall and can hear the acoustics. The single voice of the French horn sings out sweetly and I hear each note of the violin as the birds sing in the distance. But am loosing the bass strings at low levels. Andy Payor tells me about his $150,000 Xenia speakers. They are 7 feet tall, 600 pounds with two horn cabinets and a design that neutralizes the normal horn deficiencies. Hmm, sounds interesting.
My last exhibit of the show is the Thiel room. This is a huge room with several systems, a big display and lots of activity. The system I listen to is
a pair of the New SW-1 subwoofer and a pair of CS 2.4 speakers hooked up with Kimber Cable and connected to the BAT BK600SA 300 watt per channel amplifier, the BAT BK51 SE
pre-amplifier and BAT VK 5-SE CD player. The speakers are Jim Thiel's 3-way design with time and phase coherency
while the tweeters and midrange share the same voice coil. These loudspeakers won a CES Innovations and Design award for engineering. Once again we listen to the Reference Recording of Respighi
Pines of Rome by the Eii Oue Minnesota Orchestra. The sound is clean and detailed at low levels with nice deep soundstage and good imaging. The highs are airy and transparent and the violins are sweet. But the room is very noisy and too large for this system. It's 3pm on Sunday afternoon and the people at Thiel are winding things up and getting ready to go home. I take the hint and depart the room. A quick visit to the press room and I hop a shuttle back to my hotel. Another great CES show has come to an end.
See you next year; I'm out of here!
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