International CES 2009
& THE Show Report
My first room found me face to face with a very tall S-shaped single driver Ingenium speaker from Teresonic ($14,000). At very high 101dB/W/m efficiency, it was easily driven by Teresonic's own amp featuring 2A3 tubes. This $15,000 amplifier is built to special order and uses NOS (new old stock) tubes and components (presumably, they're referring to transformers). The front end was a Clearaudio turntable with a Helius Silver Ruby tonearm ($5000) and a Benz LP cartridge ($5000). This was my first exposure to a Helius tonearm and I must have seen a half dozen of them throughout the show — very cool looking. The sound here was very inviting and dynamic as you would expect. But their Green line on the energy savings and ecological benefit of this highly efficient system gets wiped out by the cost of the components. They are better served to focus on the beauty and sound of their components, which is first class — and that coming from a member of the Sierra Club. If you really want to save energy while listening to music, turn your thermostat down, your lights off, and drape a cotton throw across your body. It works for me. The small speaker next to the Ingenium, btw, is not a subwoofer, but their compact Magus speaker with 98dB/W/m efficiency.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom was the Kiso Acoustic HB-1 monitor that is built more like a guitar using the Takamine Acoustic Voicing Technology. Takamine is a world renowned guitar manufacturer. A cutaway illustrated the interior thin-wall construction designed to resonate with the music. It was shown in a light makore veneer and cost $10,900, but man, could these babies from Japan sing! You get to chose between makore and mahogany veneers. Very musical, especially since they were powered by Gill Audio and Art Audio tube electronics, including the Standard 211 stereo amplifier ($10,000) with Lundhal transformers and the VPS dual mono line stage ($4500, with separate transformers and PCB's). I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Lundhal later on at the Venetian and David Gill, once again, in this room. AudioPath cabling from Hudson Audio Technologies/Imports tied the system together as well as provided the Bluenote Audio tonearm, CD transport and a special wood version Scheu-Analog turntable ($3000).
Studio Electric is a manufacturer who designs for a different drummer with a “Look at Me” aesthetic integrating design themes of wood, black and chrome. Heard here was their new hybrid amplifier (tube input with 275 wpc solid state output stage) going for $8000. It was shown at RMAF (Rocky Mountain AudioFest) as a prototype. The beautiful chrome face is very high design leaning full tilt toward Bling. Benchmark Media was employed at the digital front end, but what intrigued me was their ADC with USB output for downloading your LP collection into your computer. This $1800 unit crosses over from the professional studio side of their business.
Evolution Acoustics had the World Premier of their very attractive high gloss MM Mini Two loudspeaker ($40,000) with an aluminum ribbon tweeter and 7-inch ceramic mid-bass in one enclosure sitting atop a matching active subwoofer unit with downward firing oval driver with double surround. It was powered by the new darTZeel integrated amplifier ($20,300 with MC phono, North American Premier). The digital front end was a complete CD player (MPS-5, $15,000)from Playback Designs, who also had a separate DAC (MPD-5 is priced at $11,000) on silent display. The DAC is essentially the same as in the complete CD player, and can be retrofitted with the transport at a later time if you wish. The player uses an expensive esoteric transport, and has external digital inputs, including USB. DarTZeel also teased me with a poster showing their new monoblock amplifier with a very attractive two-tone chassis seen behind the loudspeaker in the photo. The monoblocks should be available later this year.
Classic Audio Reproductions out of Michigan showed their Project T-3.3, a horn-loaded floorstander powered by an Atmosphere amplifier sitting on the floor with various magazine awards on either side. While it looks like a two-way plus super-tweeter, there is a downward facing 15-inch woofer used for 20Hz bass extension. This is JBL Hartsfield speaker design taken to the limit, costing either $24,600 or $53,450 depending on your choice of drivers. Choose carefully and invite friends to help you set them up. At 350 lbs each, these are far heavier than your old Altec Voice of the Theaters.
In the adjacent room of the suite I met Tri
Mai, who is Mr. Tri-Planar,
the driving force behind one of the most highly regarded tonearms in the
civilized world. I gratefully accepted a mini-tutorial on his exquisitely
designed work of machined art, since it is one of the few tonearms that allows
you to easily adjust vertical tracking alignment on the fly while listening.
I'm not well versed in analog playback and I soaked up as much knowledge as
I could. The bottom line here is that although it is a costly arm, up front
(about $5000) it is built to last a lifetime, and is worthy of cartridges
costing even more... that last a lot less time. I was particularly interested
to learn that the arm itself is comprised of concentric layers of damping
material, not simply an extruded tube. Tri encourages owners to experiment and
learn the full capability of the tonearm during the first two years while it
is still under warranty and he will be there to support them if they should
get into trouble. Meeting Tri, who hails from Minneapolis, a city even colder than
The Consentus CTR-2
floorstanding loudspeaker is an open baffle design from
This was the first time in many years that I've had a chance to hear a Von Gaylord rig. In the early days of this company, under a different name that escapes me, they had an overly tubby sound, but from what I heard here, they have refined it considerably. It still presents a warm sound with prominent bloom but now there is a much more focused direct wave. The Uni Triode Mono pair ($7495) of amplifiers were driving their vG One monitor seen here atop the vG One Plus low extension module ($7500 for both).
I love the look of the Mark & Daniel loudspeakers (except for the tacky label on the ribbon tweeters), especially in the colors that come at a 10 percent up-charge from the stated prices. I heard the Maximus Diamond+ at $2650 (in red) and the Maximus Mini at $1260 (in yellow). The “+” models are new with upgraded parts. Since they are relatively inefficient designs, they were driven by Bel Canto electronics, including the Zamp D-2 monoblocks. I didn't care for this combination, it being highly focused and tiresome. I'd sooner pair the speaker with a reasonably powerful tube amplifier, and the amplifiers with a warmer loudspeaker. I suspect women with more sensitive high frequency hearing would have a problem with this particular combination.
In the Soundsmith room I once again had a chance to
talk with Peter Ledermann and listen to his Strain Gauge analog rig with their
beautiful wood façade on the pre and power amplifiers. The sound begins with
the cartridge, and so does Soundsmith with their revived and improved strain
gauge technology. The music was served through their Monarch and Dragonfly
bookshelf speakers. Sadly, they did not seem to sound as good as I remembered
of Harbeth was gracious enough to
indulge me in a long, private conversation. He played a prototype of a new
small monitor designed to replace the classic P3 that has been around for
ages. It will be priced in the $2000 range, up a little from the P3. I heard
it with modest LFD integrated
amplifier on a Stillpoints
Component Stand and a CD player of undetermined origin. It goes as low in the
bass at the P3, but cleans up the upper midrange and treble, I'm told. This,
like all Harbeth, is an eminently listenable loudspeaker—the kind of speaker
you want to listen to all day long, day in and day out. While Harbeth likes to
keep it simple with standard parts and construction, they have kept on target
for people who value listening to music more than the equipment on which it is
played. I didn't notice it at the time in the dark room, but my photograph
reveals the beautiful crotch mahogany (or is it walnut?) veneer. My roots with
Harbeth go back to the days when CES was in