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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 5 By Rick Becker



  I've enjoyed reading good things about the ModWright Instruments products in this journal and elsewhere, so it was with great anticipation that I entered their room and shook hands with Dan Wright himself. I've admired his growth from expert modifier of other people's products to develop not only a very solid and affordable mid-priced line, but also an enviable premium line. Make that "premium" sound but not "out of this world" pricing. The new KWA 150 is the new stereo power amplifier in the premium line ($5995), shown here as a monoblock bi-amplifying Audio Machina's Maestro reference floor stander ($49,500/pr). The balanced, dual mono amplifier puts out 150 wpc into 8 ohm, Class AB , and 450 watts in bridged mono configuration. The Redpoint turntable with Triplanar arm and Shelter 901 cartridge was gorgeous and very formal looking in gloss black with gold trim. ModWright's SWP 9.0SE tube phono stage ($3450) was playing when I was in the room and the music was certainly very good here.

Dan also modifies (with tubes) the Slim Devices Transporter that was fed FLAC files from a Music Vault server via Ethernet cable if you're into digital in a big way. It was interesting to learn that Dan, like Ken Stevens at CAT and others, roll their own capacitors to achieve this very high level of performance. I especially appreciate the Zen-like logo engraved on the top of the premium series which lends interest to the uninitiated and branding to those in the know. But for all the expensive equipment and wonderful music, the most interesting thing in the room for me was the use of large paintings on easels behind the loudspeakers. Might these have concealed 1-inch fiberglass batting behind the canvas? And couldn't a second painting be mounted on the opposite side to offer a change of décor to suit your mood or the season? And rather than the awkward easels to confound your cabling, these could easily be suspended from a ceiling in a permanent installation like your music room. Think about it.


Onix of England showed off an interesting system with the ambitious playing of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". The loudspeaker was a stand mounted two-way Monitor 1 with a Vifa XT ring radiator tweeter and a 6.5-inch Vifa mid-bass with a composite cone. Weighing in at over 27 lbs. each, these were very serious loudspeakers, but could not communicate the deep bass and room tone required by this piece of music without a subwoofer. It was finished in a gorgeous dark wood that would probably serve the planet better if left in the rainforest. I could be wrong, but I get leery of even purportedly "managed forests" with no FSC certification. Aside from that, it is a very fine loudspeaker for $1900. It was driven by the Onix XIA 160 dual mono integrated amplifier putting out 160 wpc into 8 Ohms for $3300. Using a Phillips drive, the Onix XCD 50 CD player ($3800) was the source and uses a special blue LED to reduce diffraction from the laser.


The DaVinciAudio Lab's Virtu loudspeaker was another fine sounding open baffle loudspeaker, this time from Switzerland . What appears to be the side of a cabinet in the photo is just a support for the open front baffle. I'm curious why the loudspeaker needed to be so tall, given the location of the drivers. The DaVinciAudio In Unison turntable ($26,850) sported their Nobile arm ($7750) and their Grand Reference "Grandezza" arm ($11,635) with a "Grandezza" MC cartridge ($7,300). The rest of the DaVinciAudio electronics were commensurately priced, and very conservatively styled. I recognized the Isis rack from Symposium Acoustics beneath the turntable. Very smooth jazz in this room.

Next door, there was good music coming from the Audio Research gear with their new Reference CD8 Compact Disc Player claiming sonic improvements at the front end ($10,000). The preamp was their REF3 ($10,000) and the Wilson Audio Sophia MkII loudspeakers were driven by the VS115 tube powered stereo amplifier putting out 120 wpc ($6495). Shunyata cable and line conditioner were also in use along with little wood cable lifters to keep the speaker cables away from the static filled carpet. Since AR is not a company to change the cosmetics frequently, there was nothing really new to photograph, but it was a good solid sounding room, for sure.


The importer Immedia put together an eclectic mix of components that sounded very nice. The front end was a Spiral Groove SC-2 turntable ($15,000) with the new Spiral Groove Tonearm ($6,000). The combination is a very clean, contemporary design that is not at all intimidating. The cost of the turntable includes boring the plinth for whatever tonearm you might wish to use. The platter is a combination of materials including a top layer of carbon graphite made for them by Boston Audio Designs, whose Mat 1 and 2 made from this material I have found to be very effective. A $9800 Lyra Olympus cartridge completed this $30,800 front end. And did I say it was not at all intimidating? The scale tips the other direction, fortunately, with a Lehmann Audio Decade phono amp ($2400) with separate power supply that fed into a Lehmann Audio Linear headphone amp ($1149), shown here, used as a preamp. The power amplifier was the new solid state Spiral Groove SG E60 ($13,500) putting out 60 watts per channel, pure Class A, dressed in a high fashion gloss black chassis. The music poured forth from a Sonics Anima two-way bass reflex monitor ($2600) that was deceptively simple at first impression, but more highly engineered at closer inspection. The cabinet, constructed of birch plywood, manufactured in part from Europe and the Far East, is constructed, along with all final assembly and testing, in California. The Seas drivers were also quite special to create a very transparent sound with quick dynamics and lots of inner detail without being tiring or irritating. I noticed the 6-inch mid-woofer had been rotated 30 degrees from the one pictured in their flyer. Constant development, I presume. A Running Springs power conditioner cleaned up the electricity for this fine presentation.


I was given a personal explanation of how the German Physiks single driver Unicorn Mk II loudspeaker operates. Basically, it produces a 360 degree sound wave from the top mounted proprietary DDD driver as well as a sophisticated bass horn that provided very fast and detailed bass from the front firing port. The standard version with a titanium DDD driver is $21,000 and has a frequency response for 55 Hz to 21.5 kHz. An upscale version with a carbon fiber DDD driver and carbon fiber reinforced cabinet runs from 40 Hz to 24 kHz. While not putting out particularly deep bass, it is so clean in the lower frequencies that I hardly noticed. The rig was powered very nicely by…once again, Ayre electronics. Effortless music with a very real sense of three-dimensional space without being locked down in a single sweet spot.


I haven't been to the Munich High End show, but it seems a reasonable bet to call the Bergmann turntable with its air bearing tonearm and air driven platter the quintessential Danish Modern turntable. It isn't inexpensive at $21,000 for the table, arm and air supply, but you don't have to build an art museum for it if you would rather just enjoy the music. And enjoyable it was, driven by Vitus Audio electronics, also from Denmark , that were overlooked in the darkened room. I did note another model of German Physiks loudspeaker in use, however. Next time I'll take my LED headlamp.

A headlamp might have been helpful in the Convergent Audio Technology room, also. I recognized a Hansen Prince V2 loudspeaker in the silver finish, which I've come to find out, is the only alternative to black. The tweeter on this loudspeaker sounded extremely smooth in this room. The Prince was powered by the CAT JL2 triode stereo amplifier (that puts out 100 wpc. The preamp was the new CAT SL1 Legend, which looks pretty much like all CAT preamplifiers, except for a metal plate overlay around the volume and balance control. When one of the room hosts noted a Bruce Springsteen cut on my compilation CD he pulled out a copy of Live at the London Hammersmith, a double CD, and played "Thunder Road" to my absolute delight. The rig had excellent sound, as you would expect from these two brands. I had so much fun listening to music here that I forgot to take any photos…sorry. Later, in conversation with Ken Stevens he warned of excessive use of AVM which I have reviewed very favorably, noting that a customer who painted the entire circuit board with the stuff paid a very stiff price for a complete rebuild. I've used it only sparingly on contact points, being careful not to cross circuit paths with it. Small bands on low power signal tubes and on glass fuses, two places where it excels, should not be an issue. At $100 for a tiny bottle, you don't want to waste this stuff, anyhow.


I had heard the buzz on the Symposium Acoustics Reflection loudspeaker over the past year or so, and was looking forward to seeing it. It is expensive, at $19,000, but less than a lot of others. It has its own unique styling that certainly grabbed my attention and made me wonder what all was going on with it. I'll try and get more information on my next encounter. It sounded good powered by the Emotive Audio tube integrated amplifier that was shown as a prototype and expected to retail at about $6500. It puts out 50 wpc with 6550 tubes and is said to be a variation of an ultralinear circuit. The CD player was an "AMR" which was not familiar to me. It could have been their expensive AM-77 Reference Class at $9000, or a prototype of the upcoming CD-777 expected to price out under $4000. Both AMR players have tube analog output stages. Power conditioning was by Essential Sound Products.


I don't believe the conrad-johnson room had an active display, but I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Conrad himself, who showed me their new GAT flagship preamplifier ($20,000). It takes the art deco styling cues from the ACT 2 to an almost architectural level, being stylish without going over the top or falling into the bling trap. The champagne finish of the c-j line is classic. If history should repeat itself again, this tube unit will be their best preamp ever. c-j also introduced the TEA2 phono stage with triode equalization for $2500 and The Classic Preamplifier, and entry level product for $1750 with optional phono stage an additional $750.

Westlake Audio has been around since 1971 but much of their efforts are directed to the pro audio field, I believe. Many of their products are very high efficiency models with gorgeous woodwork and often ultra-high prices. The eye catcher here was the "Speaker Muffs" — foam surrounds that slide over the top and sides of floorstanding speakers to cut down the backwave. The effect was not readily apparent in the brief un-controlled demo I was given. The visual effect of the grey foam surrounds was something you are likely to get away with in a home that has any sense of décor. A basement recording studio? — No problem! The speaker being demo'ed was the BBSM-10VNF for $17,000 with 95dB/W/m efficiency. It is not difficult to get over $100,000 with several of their larger 5-way models with super tweeters, compression horn drivers and dual 18-inch woofers. This may well be the ultimate line for techies.



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