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International CES 2009 & THE Show Report
Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Report & Coverage   The Home Enteetainment Show
CES & THE Show 2009 Report
Part 2 By Rick Becker



  Friday morning I woke up early, having set my alarm clock to Mountain Time instead of Pacific. Nonetheless, I was well rested and immediately caught the free shuttle from Alexis Park to the Venetian where the majority of high-end companies were located. I found my way to the Press Room for a large cup of coffee and muffin. It was sparsely populated and I didn't recognize any other journalists there. Behind the dark Plexiglas wall I pulled up to a computer and fired off a couple of e-mails. It was a short hike past the Blue Man Group Theater and through the casino to the Venetian Tower elevators.


There were just a couple of rooms with gear on the 35th floor. It is not difficult to find a pair of pair of Definitive Technology Mythos loudspeakers in any city of reasonable size, but my local dealer presents them in a room with more than a dozen other loudspeakers — all routed through a speaker & component switchbox. It was a delight to hear how really good they are in a dedicated room with a dedicated system. In this case it was comprised of an Audio Research CD Player and an Audio Research 50 wpc tube amplifier, both plugged into a PS Audio Power Plant Premier (I saw a lot of these at the show). I'm primarily a tube guy, so I was easily won over by this presentation. The hype about this loudspeaker is real. The segment of opera I heard was very holographic.



Sumiko displayed a stand mounted model from the Klimt Series by Vienna Acoustics. I heard the large floorstanding model, The Music, in Montreal last year and I was equally impressed by this $15,000 model which rolls off below 40 Hz. It was supplemented by a modest size REL subwoofer that was crossed over at 25 Hz. Both speakers were running full range. An Acoustic Research CD player, preamp and tube power amplifier comprised the rig, although there were two turntables and what seemed to be a solid state set of electronics beside the AR gear. I guess I was in the right place at the right time here. It is a beautiful speaker with a very elegant stand. (That's duct tape on the carpet spoiling the photo). Around back, two silver knobs are used to loosen the upper and lower modules to allow for panning the upper one left and right, and adjust the vertical tilt. They were not at all visible from the front and sides of the speaker.

In an alcove at the rear of the room Sumiko had the new, more affordable Sonus Faber speakers on display. The iToy entry level runs from $1500 for the monitor up to $3000 for the floorstander. The mid-priced Liuto range starts at $3000 for the monitor and runs up to $6000 for the floorstander. Shown in black, these were suitable for home theater as well as music, with dedicated center channel models. Later on, if I recall correctly, I came upon a room with one of the high line Sonus Fabers.


My notes and literature get a bit confusing here where two rooms basically overlapped with similar brand equipment. In one, a demonstration of Ray Kimber's IsoMike recording technology, the surround system used four large TAD Reference One loudspeakers powered by large Pass Labs X350.5 monoblocks sitting on dollies with large castors. EmmLabs gear included their new transport ($11,000), Dac 2 ($9500) and an analog preamp (about $9000). The DAC is interesting in that it strips away the time code at the input and upsamples to something over 5mHz and puts a new time code on the signal. I've learned never to expect anything simple from emmlabs, except the quality of the music. Kimber cable of the highest order connected everything. This room totaled over $340,000. I had goose bumps listening to a digital master of a piano piece performed by Robert Silberman — and I'm not even a piano guy. The real thrill came when I took up the offer by the young host to hear the Blue Knights college marching band recorded in their football stadium (but not marching). The noise level of the recording made it sound like it was recorded indoors and the surround effect placed me right in the stands in front of them — in 3D. This was surround sound done right! The subtlety was exquisite and totally engaging.

In a scaled down rig across the hall, I heard the TAD CR-1 Compact Reference ($30,000/pr). TAD, long a proponent of Beryllium drivers, uses a coincident source mid/tweeter that covers 350 Hz to 100 kHz in this model. This was also powered by Pass Labs, but music came from a ripper/server and was played back either from either the buffer or from solid state memory. It was controlled via Ethernet by a laptop.


Probably in the IsoMike room, since it uses Kimber cable inside, was this iPure from Leveler which is designed to provide pure, constant power with patented protection circuitry and bi-directional filtration for your gear. Two separate banks of outlets, one for video and one for audio, are provided with readouts on front for both voltage and current. Available in black, white and copper, it will retail for about $2000.


The Boulder room was a real treat for me as I rarely get to hear their gear at shows back East. Music was very good here over Wilson Max 3 loudspeakers, but there was no one available to help me. The disc player shown here was their new 1021 model priced at $24,000. With their proprietary DSP and upsampling technology in the onboard computers they claim to allow you to listen above the red line of standard Red Book CDs. I was unaware that Boulder makes their own balanced cables, but that is not too surprising since all their gear requires balanced lines. The build quality, while not being inordinately massive, was absolutely gorgeous.



In the Esoteric room they were playing their new stereo A-03 amplifier at 50 watts pure Class A, which bridges to 200 watts mono. I liked the architecture of the aluminum faceplate—it being smaller than the full width of the amp itself. They also had a stereo tube integrated amplifier which can also be run as a straight power amplifier. A gentleman gave me a brief clinic on the build quality of the various Esoteric disc drives which are supplied to many other manufacturers. Note the massive side and top plates on the one pictured here. This is the next to the top of their line VRDS Neo VMK-3 that plays SACD, CD and DVD and goes for about $5000 — that's for the transport mechanism, only. Also on display was a pre-production sample of their new SA-50 SACD/CD player that will have inputs to allow you to feed the internal DAC directly from your computer. Music in this room sounded very good through the Verity Audio Lohengrin II loudspeakers — better than I've heard them in more reserved sounding rigs at the Montreal show, perhaps because this was the new Mk II model? Or perhaps it was the music?


The Avalon Acoustics Aspect, about $8500, sounded very good to me as I listened with familiar music and it reminded me a bit of the Gershman Swan with its A-frame architecture, although the Aspect is significantly smaller and less imposing. The bottom of the cabinet is actually V-shape as the grille suggests and there are two downward firing ports. Bass tonality, in particular, was excellent and the soundstage was deep and expansive. Covering 28 Hz to 25 kHz it is 92dB/W/m efficient with nominal 4 Ohm impedance. The sides are thick veneered MDF available in maple, cherry and walnut. Overall, it is a very fresh design and seems to be an excellent value. Audio Research CD5 player, LS26 preamp and VS115 tube power amp were situated on Harmonic Resolution Systems stands. Cardas supplied the cabling. This was not the only room at the show that raised my impression of Audio Research gear.

Ayre electronics powered the gorgeous $45k Sonus Faber Stradivari loudspeakers to a much higher level than I ever heard an Ayre/SF combo at Montreal or NY shows. This exhibit rekindled my interest in both these brands. New from Ayre was the QB-9 dac developed in conjunction with Wavelength Audio. With new filters it reads up to 96kHz and has a USB input (only?). It will go for $2k-$2500. The Ayre Signature cables were manufactured to their specs by Cardas, and the myrtle wood risers were also by Cardas. Listening to my compilation CD, this was the best solid state stereo system I'd heard at the show to this point. Perhaps it was the myrtle wood cable risers they used?



Triode Corporation of Japan used a pair of 200 watt monoblocks using KT-88 ($14,000) to power a pair of new Acoustic Zen Crescendo loudspeakers (also $14,000) with a ribbon tweeter that sounded very good. But what caught my interest was this very pretty remote controlled integrated amplifier with a burgundy candy finish that Robert Lee showed me. A 2A3 tube was used as a driver for an 845. It can also be used as a straight power amplifier if you wish. It will go for between $5000 to $6000.


Njoo Hoo Kong is a Chinese Belgian who produces a very luxurious looking line of very high end loudspeakers. Having used a wide variety of driver types in earlier models, the new Grand Ultimate is a three way design using Venture's own 2-inch dynamic cone tweeter, crossed over at 1800 Hz. This driver is said to climb to 60kHz for a very life-like presentation. It also uses a 5-inch Venture graphite mid-woofer and four 7-inch Venture woofers to get down to 22 Hz. Layers of solid beech are combined with a 3mm layer of composite damping material to form the cabinet. The $92,000 loudspeaker was finished in a magnificent (but unfortunately probably endangered) Macasser Ebony veneer with a 1mm thick polyester high gloss lacquer. It was driven by a solid state Class A amplifier that reaches up to 400 watts in Class AB. They make their own preamp, phono stage and cables. Other loudspeakers in their extensive line include cabinets made from bamboo, a more eco-friendly and fine sounding alternative.


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