Day four, and I was feeling it. Tired and irritable, I was ready for my own bed and to get out of Vegas. I had to fight the temptation to just stay in the room and sleep in late. Thankfully, I got out to take in a few more rooms before I blew the joint. I’m glad I did. I would’ve missed out on more excellent sound.
Keith Herron of Herron Audio had exceptional sound, and I was surprised to find an Audio Technica OC9 cartridge being used. The last time I heard one, I thought it sounded a bit bland and thin. Keith explained that his VTPH-2 ($3,650) used a unique “cartridge biased” moving coil input stage that allowed cartridges to do their work with a minimum of stress. This is a no-load input design that offers infinite (or as close as you can get) input impedance. He explained that loading a cartridge causes a cartridge to work harder (it’s just like turning on your car’s headlights—it makes your alternator work harder). The VTPH-2 offers the option of loading with jacks on the back of the unit. Some cartridges will need to be loaded down and custom loading resistor plugs are available from Herron Audio. He advises that you should experiment with this. I have to agree after hearing what the OC9 was capable of doing with infinite loading. The rest of the system included his SP-4 hybrid FET/Tube preamp (price TBD); M1 monoblocks ($6,850/pair); a VPI HRX with the rim drive option and JMW arm; and 2104A speakers by Herron (not yet in production). The Herron phono reproduction is ultra fast and low distortion. I didn’t get to talk to Keith very long, or listen as much as I’d like. The room was constantly full of visitors like Stan Ricker and Dr. Duane Goldman (AKA The Disc Doctor). That speaks volumes about Mr. Herron.
As I’ve already said, I’m a sucker for panels. The big speakers in the Analysis Audio room were looking good and sounding even better. The Omega model, $22,000, was playing. Superficially, they look like Apogees, but they are totally different. Its planar bass driver is unique in that it uses a rubber surround, allowing the driver to behave more like a piston instead of a drum head. The ribbon tweeter is a taught design, not pleated (which can sag) or hanging loose. Nominal impedance is 5 ohms and the 86db-per-watt rating actually sounds twice as loud at 4 meters than a normal dynamic loudspeaker with the same efficiency. I could explain the physics of this, but I don’t want to waste our time—if you want an explanation, go to: http://www.analysisaudiousa.com/faq.php. The same principle applies to other line source speakers. The sound was exceptionally fast and detailed with very little (if any) distortion. Planar-ribbon designs like this have very low IM and FM distortion. With sufficient amplification (lots of power), they don’t sound like they are ever trying that hard. In this case, amps were from Spectron, the Musician 3 mkII.
Back at The Venetian, I checked in a few rooms I didn’t get to investigate earlier. The Ayon/MaxxHorn room had the MaxxHorn Luminations sounding even better than when they were at my house for review. Johan van Zyl, designer of the MaxxHorn, has managed to squeeze even more from his basic design. A slight bass plumpness is gone and the midrange is even clearer and more transparent than I remember. The amplifier was the Ayon Crossfire. It was as good as any single-driver system I’ve heard, and better than what I had in my room while using the Ayon Spark with the Lumination. Whatever subtle tweaks Johan did (and he claimed that he could do it to any MaxxHorn speaker in only a few minutes and with very few materials), the payoff was huge.
Across the hall, Charlie Harrison of AyonAudioUSA was playing a system that featured a killer looking integrated amp, the Triton. It uses four KT88 per channel on a stereo chassis. Associated tubes are 12au7. It’s a very flexible design that’s switchable between triode and pentode, has zero feedback, an AC phase polarity control indicator, with four line inputs, one pre-out and one direct-in, remote control, star grounding and a beautifully finished chassis. Look for a review of the Spark and Triton this year. From my experience so far, these are extraordinarily refined sounding electronics with first rate build quality.
Of the new companies at CES, the Jaton Corporation room, hosted by the charming George Cheng was showing his REAL A&V 803 loudspeaker. Boasting beautiful wood veneers, the speakers were very handsome. In Walnut or Dark Walnut, they are priced at $6,000; in Sandalwood or Mahogany, they sell for $6,600. For a relative newcomer to audio, these seem to be well designed and built. The speakers had a transparent sound that was also a little laid back and forgiving. Gary Lea and I thought the speakers would sound great with rock and pop, especially hard driving music that can sound awful on some speakers. The three-way features a ribbon tweeter, 5” mid-woofer, two 8” woofers, single/bi-wire connections, 91dB efficiency and a frequency response of 35Hz-40kHz. Interestingly, the input impedance is rated as 4 ohms when single-wired, or 8 ohms when bi-amped. Interesting. I’ll know more about them soon as they are on their way to DAGOGO for a formal review.
Consonance is now producing The Well Tempered turntable designs, or that’s at how I understand what I was told in the Dynavector/Well Tempered room. The Well Tempered Amadeus was on display in the room, and was sporting a gold ball for a bearing. Bill Firebaugh is involved and had improved the table design. From the looks of things, the build quality is better than my old Well Tempered Record Player from years ago. Thankfully, the Amadeus sports a much improved motor design, DC I believe. According to the spokesman in the room, Firebaugh had introduced a new main bearing design. AT $2,800, the Amadeus looks like a good deal of product for the money.
Also in the room was the Dynavector DV500, also designed by Firebaugh for Dynavector to have a platform for the DV507 arm. Price, including the tonearm, is $8,900. Dynavector also announced their new flagship cartridge, the DRT XV-1t, sporting a Urushi coated Bamboo body, line contact stylus, boron cantilever, ANiCo magnets and ultra pure iron armature. It also incorporates new coil winding techniques. Price will be around $9,000.
My final stop was in the K&Q Sound Genesis room. They were showing their Model 1 dipole loudspeaker and the Model 2 stereo power amp. The Model 1 features two 15” paper cone woofers, a 10” paper cone midrange and a 1” horn loaded mylar tweeter. The speaker is rated at 98dB per watt and the frequency response at 35Hz to 20KHz (the low frequency roll-off is dictated by the width of the baffle). Not having an enclosure, they sounded very clean and resonance free, not totally dissimilar from my Maggies. The paper cone woofers and midrange were very natural sounding with no obvious colorations. Price is $7,800.
The Model 2 stereo amp sports more iron than a classic car. Lundahl and Electra-Print transformers are used, with no coupling capacitors in the signal path. The rest of the parts are Mundorf, ASC, Cardas, Mills, etc.. It uses a 300B input to drive a 300B output. The first 300B uses DC on the filament and the second uses AC (though DC can be requested on both). The sound of this amplifier seemed to have all the good qualities associated with the 300B, but was quieter than most and seemed to be more neutral. The unit is built from non-magnetic stainless steel (my favorite chassis material). Price for the amp is $6,500.
Quoc Nguyenngoc, the designer, boasts an Electrical Engineering degree from MIT and 25 years of work at Bell Labs. He’s been building custom amplifiers and speakers for 20 years, but is now introducing standard production designs. This is a promising company if the sound was any indication.
I heard lots of great sound in Vegas, and some that was awful. The rooms that sounded bad were left quickly and no notes were taken. To name a best sounding room would be silly. I understand that there are other reviewers who want to reward guys for a job well done. If I did it, I’d have to break it down into categories and sub-categories. How can you compare a full range ESL to a four-way horn? You can’t, and at the same time be fair to anyone. One can do state-of-the-art imaging and the other can do state-of-the-art dynamics. There were some rooms with great speakers and mediocre sources, and vice-versa. There were rooms handicapped by bad acoustics and power. Some people showed up and found out that a product was damaged in shipping. There were rooms that were playing bad recordings. On top of it all, I didn’t get to every room. Nobody could make it to every room.
The CES and THE Show were full of pleasant surprises. I hope that you’ve been as entertained by this report as I was in preparing it. Didn’t get to go? Don’t worry yourself. Consider yourself lucky that you didn’t have to pay $12 for a ham and cheese sandwich with coke, dodge porn star entourages and wait 20 minutes to get on an elevator. Entertaining it was, but I was sure glad to get back home.
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