CES 2005 - It's Just So BIG!
Part 1 - (Mostly Audio)
On my first trip to CES, I marveled at the enormity of it all
acres and acres of exhibits,
consumer electronics gear of all sizes from all corners of the
world... But this year, it's even bigger! Over 140,000
attendees from 110+ countries, more than 1.5 million net square feet of
floor space, 2400+ exhibitors displaying literally millions of
items. Walking between exhibit halls amid dense throngs, I was
reminded of lyrics by the Police "packed like lemmings into
shiny metal boxes" but the fact is that the shiny metal boxes are
what we lemmings were all there to see!
The technoweenies converge on CES.
This year I arrived early to
catch a couple of press previews, and to
make my annual donation to the Las Vegas economy via Harrah's
Casino. How much did I lose? Well, let's just say, they
aren't charging me for the room... or the food... or the show
tickets... or for the nice young lady that showed up in my room.
Oh wait, you say you were just here to turn down the bed? Well,
that's embarrassing. Pardon me while I put my pants back on.
And now back to our regularly scheduled show report.
This was not the
lady from housekeeping.
Two days before the show officially began, CES announced the winners of
"Innovation" awards, and put on a fun little soiree with free food and
open bar where the winners displayed their wares at little
booths. A couple of the pieces that caught my eye were Motorola's
stylish Ojo videophone (works over any broadband connection) and Sony's
DHG-HDD500 ($999) a 500 GB High Def hard drive recorder (PVR) with a
Guide Online. The Sony unit (pictured later in this report) can
record up to 60 hours of High Definition content from cable or
broadcast with Tivo-like functionality, without any
monthly guide fees.
Motorola's Ojo Video Phone
The director of market
research from CEA also briefed us on the state of the electronics
industry. Apparently things are looking pretty rosy with nearly 11 percent
growth from 2003 to 2004 in total value of consumer electronics
shipped to or manufactured in the US - that's $113.5 Billion in CE
products. CEA expects a repeat performance in 2005 with a
projected total CE market in the U.S. of $125 Billion. And I'm
happy to report that this number exceeds my lifetime gambling losses in
Vegas (but only slightly).
On With The
morning, as the show proper began, I moseyed over to the Alexis Park to
check out what's new in High End Audio. Morel
Acoustics was on hand with a unique floorstanding speaker
that takes up about a cubic foot and stands no higher than 12
inches. Featuring an unusual "UniDriver" (one driver for all
frequencies), the Renaissance Chorus ($795/pair) was putting out
surprisingly full range sound. The rated frequency response
is 44Hz to 20kHz (+/-3dB) and it's available in black woodgrain,
black laquer, cherry and oak finishes. Morel claims they still
sound great when tucked away behind a couch or a chair, so audiophiles
with a limited budget and limited placement choices should definitely
check these out.
Morel's Chorus looks like a subwoofer, but
it's a full-range speaker.
Over in conrad-johnson's suite, Mr.
Johnson himself was showing off their new multi-channel high-end
preamp, the MET1 ($8000, available this spring), which features
two 6-channel analog inputs and three analog stereo inputs. This
may be the answer for purist audiophiles who want to introduce
multi-channel DVD-Audio and/or SACD players to their existing analog
systems without unnecessary digital processing and video
switching. The only processing option available on the MET1 is a
simple (defeatable) ambience retrieval mode which can add presence to
two channel sources.
Lew Johnson shows off his MET1
multi-channel line stage preamplifier.
a mate to the MET1, conrad-j announced a 5 channel enhanced-triode
power amplifier, the MET150 ($8500, expected summer, 2005). And since good sound
begins with a good source, Conrad-Johnson will also soon be shipping
their AVP1 universal disc player ($8500, expected summer, 2005), which
will support CD, DVD, DVD-Audio and SACD discs. If it's a shiny
silver disc, chances are the AVP1 can play
Conrad-Johnson's AVP1 Multi-disc player.
MSB was on-hand to show off their
new CD player, the Reference CD Station 111 ($10,000) and Platinum
amplifiers which resemble huge cylindrical blue heat sinks with fins
all around. These were powering their own home grown prototype
speakers and making some mighty fine sounds indeed.
MSB's Reference CD Station 111, Platinum
amplifiers and prototype speakers.
the hall in the Manley suite,
the new Prawn remote controlled two-channel line stage was on display
($6000, available early April), along with some of their production
preamplifiers and amplifiers driving Coincident Technology
speakers. Not coincidentally, the sounds coming from that room
were very warm and lush. Tubes Rule!
Manley's patriotic display reminds us that
their gear is all designed and built right
here in the good ole U.S. of A. (until California defects to be its own
country that is).
Manley's "The Wave" and "Prawn" line stage
preamplifiers and "Skipjack" switcher.
Polk was featuring two items, their
new audiophile quality XM tuner for the home the XRt12 ($329.95, available now) and their IP addressable, triamplified in-wall speaker, the LC265i-p ($4000/pr, available in June,
Polk's Rt12 XM satellite radio tuner, for the
home has been generating some buzz,
but not from me, because they haven't sent me the review sample yet!
The LC265ip in-wall speaker is quite an unusual design in that it
includes an on-board DAC and DSP engine (for room correction, time
delay and equalization) and can be connected directly to cat5 Ethernet
cable. The speaker's processor receives a digital bitstream,
converts, processes and crosses over the signal to three independent
amplifiers which are each dedicated to a single driver.
Customization and DSP are adjusted by the dealer with special software,
microphones and a laptop on site so each installation sounds best in
its particular environment.
Polk's LC265ip - an in-wall speaker with an
Ethernet input - how cool is that?
The Audiolab brand (formerly
part of Tag McLaren) is now back in business, having recently been
purchased by AIG. On display at the show were the 8000AV
multi-channel preamp/power amp (based on the Tag McLaren AV30) as well
as the 8000x7 multi-channel power amplifier. Pricing is as yet
TBA and it is expected to be shipping in October, 2005.
Audiolab - back in action.
Imports was showing off some beautiful steel and chrome gear
from Zanden Audio and Avatar
Acoustics. On display were Zanden's new Model 3000
vacuum tube preamplifier (price TBA, available February 2005), Model
9500 monoblock power amplifiers ($35,000/pair), Model 5000 Signature DA
converter ($15,470) and Model 2000 Premium CD transport
($27,970). Loudspeakers were Avatar's Ascendo System Z
($30,000/pair with stands), which feature a time aligned ribbon tweeter
and a dynamic woofer.
The Zanden and Avatar Acoustics system - a
of steel and polished chrome - looked and sounded crisp and clean.
another suite, Aaudio Imports was showing off a very different but
equally impressive system featuring Einstein's
"The Last Record Player" tube CD player ($7,490) and "The Absolute
Tune" integrated amplifier ($9,590) driving the gorgeous "LaCampanella"
spherical horn loudspeakers ($26,000/pair) from Acapella. To deliver the
power, they were using Isoclean's
PT-3030G II transformer ($2,700), 80A3 power filter ($3,500), Auto
Focus power cable ($1,300) and Super Focus power cable ($1,800) plus
their ICP-002 gold plated AG Wall Socket ($180). In case you're
not paying attention, that's $42,000 worth of electronics and speakers,
enhanced by nearly $8,500 worth of power conditioning products!
But whatever the price tag, the end result was impressive, with an
extremely "live" sound when reproducing a complex and dynamic acoustic
Einstein Audio/Acapella system delivered
full dynamics of live drum recordings with aplomb.
of horns, our old friends at Avantgarde
Acoustics were displaying their new Meta Duo horn loudspeakers
($70,000/pair, expected availability March, 2005) driven by their One.P
preamplifier ($30,000, available spring, 2005) and One.A power
amplifiers ($40,000/pair, available spring, 2005). The
speakers are said to be a metamorphosis of Avantgarde's Trio and Duo
systems. The power amplifier has a battery powered input stage
amplified to 50 Watts of pure Class A power per channel. This was
clearly more than enough to drive the Meta Duo as the big band demo
material they had on hand sounded... well... BIG with tons of dynamic range and
plenty of impact.
Avantgarde's Meta Duo horn speakers and
Gallo Acoustics' first suite, they were showing off a new
titanium tweeter version of their popular spherical satellite speaker,
the "Micro Ti" ($235 each in stainless steel, $200 each in other
colors), mated with their spherical TR1 subwoofer ($400). Gallo's
signature round driver and cabinet designs help minimize baffle
interference and improve dispersion characteristics. The Micro Ti
is a fine sounding speaker, but what's up with that name? I mean,
it's a spherical satellite - shouldn't it be called the Sputnik?
Gallo's new Sputnik, um I mean Micro Ti
and TR1 subwoofer (not to scale).
door in Gallo's second suite, they had a full home theater set up to
highlight their new Reference Center speaker ($1200, plus $200 for
optional heavy duty stand). Built as a sonic match to the Gallo
Reference 3 system, the Reference Center lived up to its big brother's
example, providing clear crisp dialog with excellent articulation. At
first, I wasn't hearing much low bass from the system, but Anthony
correctly diagnosed a standing wave in the center of the roughly square
room that was plaguing the first row of seats. Moving back a bit,
the footfalls of the enemy olyphaunts in "Lord of the Rings: Return of
the King" regained their proper weight and impact.
Gallo's Reference Center, seen here
stripped of its grille. Note the unique spherical
tweeter, which gives the speaker its extremely wide dispersion (120
room, the company exhibited their brand new Fifth Rethm ($1500/pair,
$400 for optional stands). These single-driver crossover-free
loudspeakers maintained a good deal of the transparency and sonic
characteristics of their larger siblings (the Second Rethm - $6480/
pair with Lowther drivers), but the little guys have virtually no
bass. The price screams "buy me!" but do plan to mate them with a
nice quick subwoofer to provide the missing low frequencies.
The Fifth Rethm offer a taste of the sonic
of their larger siblings for a fraction of
Joseph, of Joseph Audio was on
hand to display the final prototypes of his RM55LE loudspeakers
($12,500/pair). I won't claim to have such a perfect sonic memory
as to be able to compare these to the version shown in New York in May,
but this current iteration seems to have a deeper more precise
soundstage. These puppies image like the best small two-way
speakers but have the low-end whomp of a powered sub, without the need
for two boxes and extra amps. The integration between the drivers
is seamless and it's nice to hear these with the Cardas solid state
gear as opposed to the Manley tube equipment, just to see that these
speakers are versatile - whether it's tube or solid state, as long as
you've got good clean amplification and a good source, these speakers
Joseph Audio's RM55LE loudspeakers, driven
by Cardas electronics.
worth noting is that Joseph's "Insider" in-wall ($1999/pair) is not
currently shipping due to a manufacturing glitch with the grille size,
but Jeff expects this to be corrected shortly and production to resume
Over in the Von Gaylord Audio room, engineer
Ray Leung showed off his now production liquid-cooled 200 WPC triode
tube amplifier, the "UNI" ($48,000/pair), which was first displayed at
the San Francisco Home Entertainment Expo in October, 2003. These
are definitely among the coolest looking amps on the planet, even more
so now that they actually turn on, as the tubes generate waves of
shimmering heat through the crystal clear dialetric liquid.
Apparently I'm not the only one who was impressed - Ray told me his
show samples were already sold the of the first day of the
show! When asked about changing the tubes, Ray said they
should last 15 to 20 years and when they do need changing, the amp
should be sent back to the factory for retubing.
Leung, from Von Gaylord Audio poses with his babies.
Also on hand was
Von Gaylord's two-piece D/A Converter (also called the "UNI" oddly
enough, which is my least favorite kind of sushi, by the way, but I
won't hold it against Ray). The speakers were Von Gaylord's own
"The Legend, Mk II" ($3995/pair in piano black). Although there
is only so much bass you can get from a small cabinet, the Legends do a
phenomenal job of presenting the music uncolored, and untainted.
The system seemed to be very synergistic, with the whole greater than
the sum of the (already impressive) parts. This was definitely
one fine sounding system.
Audio Technology teamed up with Audio
Valve - makers of fine German tube amps to show their speakers in the best
light. On display were Silverline's Sonata III ($7,200/pair) and
Sonatina III ($5,000). The latest round of improvements have made
these speakers even better integrated, with pinpoint imaging and tight
solid low bass. Stay tuned as there may be a full review of
Silverline's loudspeakers in the pages of Enjoy The Music in the near
future. Both speakers are available in your choice of piano
black lacquer, rosewood, maple, or briarwood and both feature a very
exceptional fit and finish.
Silverline's 3-way Sonatina III (here in
black) retain much of the sonic
virtues of their 4-way big brothers the Sonata III (here in rosewood).
stop at the Alexis Park was McIntosh's full home theater
display which features McIntosh speakers, DVD player, music server,
preamp processor and amplification. About the only non-McIntosh
gear in the room was the projector and screen and when I mentioned
this, the McIntosh rep got a silly little grin... does this mean
McIntosh will soon be selling projectors too? In any case, what
they did have on display sounded and looked great.
Chuck Hinton from McIntosh
poses with the MS300 music server.
main product introduction for McIntosh was their MS300 Music Server
($5100, due Q1, 2005). With a beefy 300 GB hard disk drive, and
using the highly efficient FLAC (free lossless audio
codec), the server has space for up to 1000 CDs with absolutely no loss
in audio quality. Unlike MP3 and even WMA codecs, FLAC
loses no quality, because it maintains all of the data from the
original music files. Think of FLAC as ZIP for music
information. FLAC analyzes the data as a whole and determines
where it can reduce data waste and data redundancy, and it stores the
CD in less space on the hard drive than it originally took up on the
CD. At playback, it reconstructs that information bit perfect in
real time, with the playback data stream identical to the original data
stream from the source CD. The MS300 also supports the automatic
download of cover art, song titles and other information from the CDDB
database so you can use this information to search and navigate through
your songs just as you would on a PC based media player.
The speakers featured were the XRT28 ($9100 each), of which there were
six, driven by 6 McIntosh monoblock power amps, fed by their MX135 home
theater preamp/processor ($7600) with both DVD and Music Server source
material. At a total system price somewhere north of $160,000
(including the projector), this was one of the most expensive
home theater rigs at the show, but the quality showed. Using the
Olyphaunt march torture test (from "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the
King" Special Edition), the system put out some prodigious bass.
And listening to tracks on the Music Server was just like listening to
them on a high-end CD player, as it should be since there was no lossy
compression going on. I've never been sold on music servers
replacing physical discs, but after seeing and hearing this one, I
might be warming up to the idea.
get back to my hotel, I had to take the shuttle to the main convention
center (aka, "The Zoo") and this took me by the Snowboarding mountain
that Motorola had set up called "Moto Mountain." This man made
snow hill and jump was set up by Motorola so professional snow boarders
could put on an exhibition promoting Motorola's durable, wearable
mobile accessories. I guess it seemed like a novel concept,
"snow in Vegas?" but ironically Vegas got REAL snow the next day, as we
were suffering from a very cold (and very wet) stint of weather.
Still, it was entertaining to watch and a fitting end to day 1.
Motorola's MotoMountain, a man
made snowboarder's paradise.
Click here to
see Part II Of
Chris Boylan's show coverage.