Enjoy the Music.com is proud to host the vaunted Jimmy Awards for CES 2001. These prizes are said to bestow prestige and good fortune on the recipients during a thirty-day period, after which the products honored have to sink or swim on their own merits. Note to manufacturers who need more than thirty days to make the grade: additional in-print support can be arranged on a quid pro quo basis. Note: Enjoy the Music.com does not condone such activities, so please call me at home - JS (Editor dude Steve sez: e-mail me for Jim's home telephone number... call Jim often, call late at night, but for goodness sake the guy is lonely so please call! :-) ).
The Year 2001 marks a change in the physical prize. Due to nagging health concerns we have dropped the loosely woven asbestos T-shirts emblazoned with "Here's My Jimmy! Where's Yours?" Presently, we are searching for a suitable fiberglass substitute, but until we find a material that doesn't itch, engraved pie plates will have to suffice. Award winners should send $125 to cover shipping and handling.
Under $1,000. In this sparsely populated category Hammer Dynamics' floor-standing model selling for $575 in kit form offers extraordinary value. The trick here is to buy or build the speaker cabinets for $424. I can't but maybe you can.
Under $2,200. From the world of professional audio comes the $2,190/pair SLS HT8R. Driven by Bel Canto's Evo 200.2 amplifier, this two-way studio monitor produced transparent sound that rivaled Red Rose Music's $3,500 champion ribbon speaker. White Rose Music, anyone?
Under $2,500. From Italy's SYN Factory SRL comes the watermelon-shaped U-vola, an "acoustical diffusor" suspended via steel cables. For a store, office, or Internet cafe, these bright-colored $2,500 hanging gourds offer pleasing sound without taking up floor or wall space. I hope to try them at home as soon as I figure out how to hang a subwoofer alongside them.
Under $3,000. Buggtussel ("Two jeez, two esses.") produces speaker cabinets of remarkable fit and finish. Their price sheet is snazzy, as well. For instance, the large and lovely-sounding Buggtussel Amygdala sells for $2,999. I guessed the pair to cost twice that amount. If you're into looking good as well as sounding good, Buggtussel might have the answer.
Under $5,000. Actually, ProAc's FUTURE Point Five has a US list price of $6,000, which I consider to be overly optimistic for this diminutive design (40 inches tall by 37.5 pounds). The sound was open (like the back of the speaker) but lightweight. For the money I'd much rather own the Soliloquy 6.5 which to my ears delivers more of everything. If you like the Point Five ProAcs, offer your dealer five grand for the speakers. He should take it and run.
Under $6,000. My vote for best-sounding room at the Alexis Park goes to Soliloquy, where amigo Srajan Ebaen nailed the set-up: Cary Audio electronics, Sound Applications CF-X line filter, Analysis Plus cables,
Under $10,000. When I heard the Talon Perigrine ($8,000) on the first day of the Show, I was guardedly enthusiastic. Visiting Talon's trailer on the last day, I was stunned by the way the speaker had "opened up." After four days of boom and sizzle, the Peregrines just sounded right. Electrocompaniet's beer cooler-sized Nemo monoblocks played a major role in the performance, featuring the tightest bass I've ever heard from a stand-mounted speaker.
Under $11,000. When I heard the Vandersteen Five in 1998, it sounded harsh to me. This time around, the Five was the model of sweetness and light, not to mention BASS! The 'Steen's major virtue is its ability to "fit" sonically into either a large (Audio Research), or small (Cary Audio) listening room. Why other companies don't offer bass/room interface controls is a perennial question of mine. Even at $10,500, the Five is a most desirable loudspeaker. May God bless Richard Vandersteen.
At Precisely $13,000. If you're the romantic type, Meadowsong Labs has the ambiance-inducing loudspeaker you've been yearning for lo! these many years. The Mt. Everest features a planar magnetic line array behind a transparent acrylic panel. With proper back lighting, the speaker is downright sexy.
Under $30,000 or maybe not. The US list price of the Dynaudio Evolution has yet to be determined but the target is $30K. For those former dot.com millionaires who lusted after Dynaudio's celebrated Statement loudspeaker (eighty grand), the Evolution may be your chance. Resembling a Statement on Slim Fast, the Evolution analogizes to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, a 7/8s model of the mighty S-Class. If my loudspeaker budget contained $80,000, I'd buy the Evolution for $30,000, and spend the rest on a Mercedes C320 with a McIntosh car stereo. Sorry, no photo-top secret.
Under $120,001. Okay, so you've endowed your alma mater with a new hockey rink and are now entitled to replace your college-days JBLs, permit me a recommendation. Skip all the $40-, $60- and $80, 000 pretenders shown at CES and buy the real deal, the Alon Exotica Grand Reference. At $120,000, this four-tower system costs more than the average home in Western Pennsylvania. But then, who wants to live in Western Pennsylvania?
Amplifiers and Pre-amplifiers
Under $400. To coin a phrase, what the country needs is a good integrated amplifier that sells for $398. AVM123.com agrees. The corporate umbrella under which Perpetual Technology is selling directly to the public has acquired marketing rights to an Optix brand 80-watter with remote control. Although the unit was on display only, I think it deserves a Jimmy for effort. May God bless Mark Schifter. Sorry, no photo-top secret.
Under $3,000. Cyrus Brenneman has found a way to eliminate amplifier-induced hum and buzz in a sound system. His mouse-brown 10-watt Cavalier is a paragon of silent running. Driving 100+ dB efficient loudspeakers, this single-ended stereo amplifier, using economical EL-34 tubes, was as undetectable as a nuclear submarine (US version-not Russian).
Under $4,000. At CES I managed to spend quality time with Dennis Had, the founder of Cary Audio Design. What a great guy! However, I will not let my personal regard for this gentleman stand in the way of a Jimmy Award, for which the price of an engraved plate remains $125. The CAD280 SE V12 stereo amplifier was part of "Best of Show" sound in the Soliloquy loudspeaker room. Former colleague Bill Cowan was as impressed with the SE V12 as I was. Free beer had nothing to do with it.
Under $4,500. If the people at the de Havilland Electric Amplifier Company can build and profitably sell an amplifier as impressive as their Aries-845, why do other manufacturers have to charge so much more for similar performance? Were I to change my lifestyle to horn loudspeakers and 25-watt amplifiers, I'd audition the Aries-845 in a heartbeat.
Under $6,000. The good news is Audio Research Corp. has revised its sterling 100-watt tube amplifier to utilize the Russian 6H30 super-tube for greater punch, openness, and reliability. The bad news is the price of the ARC VT100MkIII will increase by a thousand dollars due to the extensive power supply reworking the tube requires. If a great amp can be made even greater, the extra pain should be worth it.
Under $7,000. The Blue Circle Audio BC-8 gets my vote for best bass performance at CES. Driving a diminutive pair of Gershman Acoustics loudspeakers, the 225-wpc BC-8, which sports a 4,000 VA transformer (!), provided a convincing sonic foundation. At $6995, the BC-8 offers a huge bang for relatively small bucks. For showing valiant restraint compared to the pricing bravado of many other amp builders, Blue Circle's Gilbert Yeung rates a Jimmy Award with an ole! cluster.
Under $7,200. One of the most fertile minds in audio belongs to EveAnna Manley of Manley Labs. Her latest amplifier creation, the Manley Neo-Classic SEPP 300B, reminded me of adolescent nights before the Victrola pining away to the sound of the Pittsburgh Skyliners' "Since I Don't Have You." Ah, EveAnna, you really know how to hurt a guy (Editor dude Steve sez: Jim, so ya have not found the joy in pain/pleasure yet? Too bad, it is a lot fun... hot candle wax and ice cubes :-) ).
Under $11,000. The first time I heard an Edge Electronics amplifier in 1999, I was impressed by the sound, but thought the cosmetics weren't ready for prime time. Things change. The $10,800 NL10 stereo amplifier is a handsome piece of heavy metal with sonic quality to match. Driving Wisdom Audio loudspeakers, the NL10 participated in a memorable moment-the playback of a homemade compact disc by audio reviewer Robert Greene. The sound was as close to an acoustical hologram as I've ever heard. Sometimes home stereo can still be amazing.
Over $11,000. Pathos Acoustics' motto is "The Unorthodox Approach," which seems to bear photogenic fruit since Pathos products are among the most heavily photographed at Shows. Far be it from me to break with convention. Besides, I liked the "light in the window" façade of the $11,200 InPower monoblocks. Is tube glow and transistor muscle the best of both worlds?
Under $13,500. The Art Audio Opus 10 power amplifier costs a bundle and looks it. It also sports a whopping 190-watt output. Has AA found a way to impart the purity of single-ended triode sound to vacuum tube muscle amps? Couldn't tell at the Show, but if the Opus mimics a SET amplifier on steroids, I want one.
Under $14,000. Prior to this year, I had not heard the legendary Electrocompaniet Nemo amplifier. Based upon the award-winning sound in the Talon Peregrine room, I consider the Electrocompaniet a sleeper in the race for Best Amplifier. If you need or want 600 watts per channel, the Nemo monoblocks deserve a listen.
Under $15,000. The Balanced Audio Technology VK10 pre-amplifier/surround sound processor is built like a nuclear submarine (US version-not Russian). Most people who've auditioned BAT gear would agree the line offers exceptional value for money. If the VK-10 is a chip off the block, it should shake up the competition in the five-figure range where the market seems to be heading swiftly.
Under $30,000. Here's a tip to loudspeaker manufacturers. If you want to make absolutely certain that your loudspeakers perform up to par at CES, arrange to borrow a the LAMM ML2 amplifier. The worst I've ever heard a LAMM-driven speaker sound was very good. This year, in the Verity/LAMM room the results were better than that, being one of the best-sounding demonstrations at CES (Russians do build great amplifiers).
Digital Playback Equipment
Under $3,500. If you're interested in owning the Perpetual Technology P-1A, P3A digital combination but are concerned about obsolescence, there's no need to worry. PT will receive your PerpTech separates in trade versus the new Digital Audio Workstation, which includes an upgraded P-1A, P-3A, and a remote control preamplifier in a single box. Having heard the P-1A/P-3A combination with speaker correction software, I vote Perpetual Technology's digital technology the best at CES 2001.
Under $4,000. MSB Technology's Platinum Link DAC demonstration was a stunner. With recordings I thought I knew, the Platinum unveiled details unnoticed during hundreds of playbacks at home. As the hardware improves, the lowly CD storage medium keeps sounding better. Do we really need DSD or DVD-A with companies like MSB able to push the performance of playback gear?
Under $5,000. The Cary Audio CD-306 compact disc player was used in several rooms that had particularly musical sound. Therefore, in light of designer Dennis Had's long record of accomplishment, I bestow upon the CAD black box a gleaming Jimmy Award, no questions asked.
Under $7,500. According to company literature, the V.Y.G.E.R. Indian "realize[s] a turntable which is very simple to use, so that it satisfies a very large choice of audio amateurs without abdicating his constructive." This Italian jewel of a turntable may indeed be about build quality and convenience but I'd be shocked if it didn't sound exceedingly good. Still, it wins a Jimmy for its testosterone-producing appearance.
Costs less than a small fortune. Burmester has taken notice of the chrome crowd in hi-fi. Their new Rondo line features an integrated amp ($4,400), CD player ($3,800), FM Tuner ($3,400) and loudspeakers ($7,400). For owners of Bang and Olufsen gear who are tired of repair bills, here's your chance to upgrade sonically without downgrading esthetically.
Costs more than a small fortune. Proving once again that elegance is refusal, Krell Industries displayed the ultimate in simple systems, the KPC25C digital player/preamp ($22,500) and a pair of FPB350Mc monoblock amplifiers ($17,500). To this mix one may add Krell's new loudspeakers which will almost double the total cash outlay. Designed to be the elusive "final purchase," an all-Krell system costs enough to justify finality, but we hi-fi vendors know better. A true audiophile never stops upgrading, nor would those of us who need his money ever allow it.
Cables and Accessories
Under $100. At CES I purchase a wall outlet that had been treated cryogenically at the behest of Jena Labs and Sound Applications. After installing it in my system, I consider it the Accessory of the Decade-maybe of all time. Before buying a line filter, install a "cryoed" outlet to plug it into. You'll be glad you did.
Under $200. Kimber Kable's WATTgate brand of power cord terminators have always intrigued me. I dragged a pair home from CES and installed them on a length of Belden cable. .Although $176 may seem like a lot to pay for a pair of connectors, the WATTgate-terminated Belden cord improves the sound of a component in vast disproportion to the investment.
Under $800. The original 4-outlet version of Richard Gray's Power Company (connected via Straightwire's Blue Thunder power cord) was noted in several impressive exhibits, while the newer model with 12 outlets was seen in more component-intensive rooms (e.g. Audio Research).
Under a grand. Foam speaker surrounds from Westlake Audio caught my eye. At last, here's a product I can build at home with a sharp knife and super glue.
Under $1,400. The Acoustic Zen Gargantua power cord is as thick as a boa constrictor and as memorable to see up close.
Under how much? From Italy's Strumenti Acoustici di Precisione comes the Relaxa 1, a magnetic levitation isolation platform, which reeks of exotic coolness. To touch it is to want it.
Under $4200. At least 28 exhibitors were using the Sound Applications CF-X line conditioner. I consider it the secret weapon for attaining good sound at CES.
Under Consideration. The sound of JM Lab's Mini-Utopia in the Wavelength room was sweeter than normal. When I asked Steve Creamer of Nirvana about it, he confessed that he had replaced the Mini-Utopia's internal wiring with Nirvana cable. Coupled with Wavelength's Triton Signature NCE amplifier, the Mini-Ute has never sounded better.
Unlike in past years, overall sound quality at the hi-fi venues was higher than expected. There were almost no bad rooms. In fact, the one demo I dismissed, which featured a loudspeaker designed around a Lowther driver, received a Best of Show designation from another writer. Thus, it's probably fair to say there were no bad rooms, just misunderstood ones.
One might note that I omitted giving Jimmy Awards to audio/video displays where performance of the whole seemed greater than the sum of the parts. I include here the compelling demonstrations given by Theta Digital, ATC, Sony/Philips, and Avantgarde/BAT, all of which presented state of the art technology at lofty prices. Somehow, audio/video equipment sticker shock mitigates my professional objectivity.
For me the unsung heroes of CES were the engineers who designed the latest generation of "home theater in a box" loudspeaker systems and low-cost audio/video receivers. I used to believe an inexpensive small-room multi-channel system was hopelessly inadequate. It could never reproduce the clarity and dynamic range required of a movie on DVD. After this year's CES, I am no longer so sure. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, every television manufacturer was able to squeeze big sound out closet-sized venues using mini-speakers and a/v receivers costing a few hundred dollars. I was so inspired by the entertainment value of surround-sound in a bandbox that I've decided to set up a similar system at my new residence. Monica the maid doesn't know it yet, but her maid's quarters soon will become the site of Jim's Budget Home Theater. I plan to keep the peace by familiarizing myself with Monica's daily soap opera schedule.