CES / THE Show Report
By Dick Olsher
The world is going flat -- at
least that was the primary theme at the Convention Center, where a mob of new
plasma and LCD TVs competed for attention. To paraphrase LG Electronics'
motto: Flat is Good! And not just on the video side of home theater. Planar
loudspeakers have been a passion of mine for many years. They represent sound
unboxed and a more effective means of coupling sonic energy to a listening
environment. It was therefore gratifying to see the perfect marriage of video
and audio in the form of a plasma display surrounded by electrostatic panel
technology. The folks at Final Sound
provide, if not the final sonic solution, then certainly a most definitive
Sound quality is a major contributor to the realism of the home theater
experience. And as the front channels go, so does the sonic experience. I have
never been fan of Dolby surround or 5.1 surround sound, opting instead for
stereo sound. At the most I would recommend the addition of a center channel
to accommodate off-axis listeners when the audience size demands it.
Unfortunately, for the average consumer, the investment in surround sound
dilutes his budget to the point of compromising on overall quality. The proof
is easy enough to discern. All you have to do is to listen the sound system of
an average commercial movie house. Dolby Surround does nothing to alleviate
the excruciating sound endemic to such theaters. If you can find a
THX-certified movie theater locally, be sure to check it out. The sonic
difference will amaze you, and it is a function of the enhanced quality of the
front channels. I concur with Final Sound's assessment that "pairing a
beautiful flat-screen TV with tiny cubes or poor-sounding in-wall units is
like bringing cheap wine to a gourmet dinner."
Tymphany's Ken Kantor proudly displays a version of the company's
innovative "high-density" bass driver. It addresses the problem of packing
powerful bass into small spaces and is said to be capable of achieving 300%
space reduction relative to conventional woofers. Imagine subdividing a large
cone into multiple sections and arranging them in a cylindrical linear array
which is inter-connected by sets of piston rods. The elements operate in
push-pull fashion and pump air through acoustic side vents. That in a
nutshell comprises the Tymphany Linear Array Transducer (LAT).
Its form factor is such that a small version of the LAT can actually fit
into the back of a plasma display.
Or it may be used to develop a dipole woofer with extension to 20 Hz in a
fairly slender enclosure with displacement equivalent to 16 12-inch woofers.
The Zanden Audio room was one of a select few with many covetable goodies.
In particular, I liked the model 9500 monoblock power amplifier. This is a
gorgeously crafted 60-watt push-pull design based on the 845 triode. It
features an inter-stage transformer and tube rectification in true vintage
fashion. The price tag is pretty majestic as well at $40K/pr.
If you thought that the Zanden 9500 represents a fistful of dollars, then
you should consider the WAVAC HE-833 MkII. An "anniversary" single-ended
triode amplifier capable of delivering 150 wpc into a lucky load, this WAVAC
lists at $150K. Its brother, the SH-833, tops the scales at a retail price of
$350K, and must be the most expensive amplifier currently in production.
Should you despair of ultra high-end pricing, keep in mind that some of the
best sound I've ever heard was produced by ultra affordable gear. A case in
point, is Manley Labs stingray -- a neo classic -- and one of EveAnna
Manley's greatest contributions to the working-class audiophile.
A high-efficiency loudspeaker driven by low-power tube amplification. What
used to be commonplace during audio's golden age, is now a rarity at CES.
Thank you, Axiss Distribution, for providing an oasis of good sound: Air Tight
amplifiers, Tannoy loudspeakers, and a superb analog front end. What's that
on top of the Tannoy cabinet, you ask? That happens to be an exotic and
expensive Japanese super tweeter (I seem to recall a tentative retail price of
$15K/pr.), and a new addition to the Axiss stable of fine products.
Another excellent coupling was to be found in the Accuphase room. The
famous Accuphase smoothness and control proved to be the perfect counterpoint
for the YG Acoustics loudspeaker with its impressively tight and
clean-sounding active bass module. This Israeli speaker lists for 35K
The muRata spherical ceramic driver technology continues to evolve in two
distinct directions. Mr. Takayuki Kaneko, chief product engineer, introduced
me to the model ES301 loudspeaker, a full-range design deploying a large
spherical driver to reproduce the midrange and treble octaves. In addition,
two new super tweeters were introduced: the models ESTD01 and ESTD02. They
feature similar drivers to the ES103 series I recently reviewed, but are
designed for conventional front-baffle mounting and are eminently suitable for
integration into conventional box designs.
The inimitable Tim de Paravicini seems quite pleased with the sound in the
E.A.R USA room: Marten Design loudspeakers driven to perfection by his own
tube gear. Tim's latest product intro is a CD player, though details are
sketchy at this time.
Kudos to Vivaldi Audio's Lew Hardy for recreating a sumptuous replica of
the Lowther Academy loudspeaker. Considering the incredible amount of
precision woodworking implicit in a complex rear-horn design and the cost of
the EX3 drivers (two per enclosure), the asking price of $8,500/pair appears
quite reasonable. And I almost forgot to mention that Nelson Pass' First
Watt F1 current drive amplifier was the driving force in this room.
This year was no exception: the sound in the deHavilland room was supremely
natural within the confines of a huge and palpably fleshed out soundstage. The
Ampex 652 tube-based open-reel tape deck was a major factor, as were the
deHavilland electronics and Nola loudspeakers. The Mercury is the latest
addition to deHavilland's superb preamplifier line and features the type 85
triode – a sweet sounding vintage radio tube ($3,495 with Goldpoint stepped
attenuator). I'm looking forward to a review sample in the near future.
Another Show, another chance to meet FAL's Mr. Furuyama and listen to one
of his FLAT driver based speaker designs. Shown here is the model C90Vi which
uses the FAL C90 full range and the FAL AMT Heil tweeter. Sensitivity is said
to be 95 dB/1m. I wish someone stateside would step up to the plate to
market FAL's superb speaker line. More information is available at the
In 2002, Grommes-Precision returned to its roots, revisiting the
high-fidelity designs that made it a household name in consumer audio during
the 50s. With chief engineer Alan Kimmel at the helm, Grommes is introducing a
range of new tube products worthy of the Grommes name. Shown here is the model
360, a 60 wpc (into 6 ohms) push-pull monoblock design featuring a pair of
KT88/6550 power beam tubes, tube rectification and custom transformers.
It was good to see ESP Loudspeakers back in business Shown here is the
Concert grand SI featuring new compound woofer and midrange configurations.
Size does matter. I never tire of feasting my eyes on the KR Audio
(distributed in the USA by AYDN) T1610
power triode. Literally a tower of power, a pair of the T1610, used in
parallel in the Kronzilla DM monoblock amplifier, can crank out 42 celestial
watts per channel. There is also a new 300B in the KR Audio tube lineup, which
I hope to evaluate shortly.
AYDN is now also distributing the Artemis Labs line of preamplifiers, which includes a line and
two phono preamplifiers. Designed by John Attwood, these preamplifiers feature
innovative touches and point-to-point wiring. A pair of 5687 dual triodes (one
per channel) is used in what has been dubbed Cool-SwapTM mode. Only
one triode is heated per tube: the right channel uses triode #1, while the
left channel uses triode #2. The beauty of this arrangement is that the unused
triode in each tube is essentially a spare. Once cathode wear kicks in after a
couple of thousand hours or so, swapping the two tubes brings the unused spare
into use. Very nice indeed.
Mr. Yoshi Segochi of Sakura
Systems, the distributor for 47 Laboratory, is
proud to introduce his new speaker system. The Hotei is advertised as two-way,
but is really a full range with a super tweeter. The ribbon tweeter is crossed
over at 20kHz using a first order network ($12,000/pr.).
Let me finish with a couple of images culled form the extensive automotive
audio exhibits at the Convention Center.
Shown here is the Monster Cable performance car, a Porsche Carrera GT owned
by Head Monster Noel Lee. He believes that stock is just a starting point, and
that all his vehicles need to be "Monsterized." Undeniably, this is a Monster
of a car, that speaks volumes for the spirit of the company.
award for the most audacious automotive display goes to Bazooka Mobile
And no, what may appear to the uninitiated to be "nuclear tipped" missiles,
may actually be a means to promote the company's tube subwoofers.