by: Norm Luttbeg & Fred Crowder
Although attendance at both The Show and CES was down, manufacturers said the people who came were generally more serious and that they had more time to spend with each visitor. In general, show goers seemed to be getting more comfortable with the layout of the Venetian.
The lower floors are essentially large meeting areas that can be subdivided by floor to ceiling partitions. The rooms in the tower are generally smaller but have significantly better sonic separation from adjacent rooms. Some exhibitors sought the same room as last years thinking they knew how to make it work acoustically. Sound was for the most part good; but exceptional rooms were the exception, not the rule.
The following report is not listed in ascending or descending order but generally in the order in which we saw the rooms. The comments with respect to the first ten rooms are those of Norm Luttbeg; the remainder are those chosen by Fred Crowder. Each has ranked their top three systems that they heard in Part 2 of this article.
1. Perfect 8 Technologies The Force speakers. www.perfect8.com
[Norm] These 6’7” speakers use a long ribbon tweeter with eight midrange woofers, and four subwoofers each with dual 12” custom modified drivers. All of these are in glass cabinets that, of course, lend a striking appearance. They are 90dB efficient, weigh 350 lbs. per side and can take a lot of power. Recommended power is 600 watts.
This is not a speaker for the fainthearted. It costs $300,000 a pair with woofers and their amps. The amplifier and line stage electronic were by a former Luxman designer.
Listening impressions: large sound from large speakers, great string tone on violins. They played loud but had no deep bass in this room. Well integrated from 60 Hz to perhaps 16K Hz. Little air around the music, which may be the electronics. Again, as the picture shows, they are visually striking speakers.
2. David Wiener Ventures the Art Engine and Opera speakers.
[Norm] The Art.Engine stereo speaker is 47” tall, 16” wide, and 6” deep and is powered by four 200-watt class D amps. It is a stereo speaker with a wide dispersion, uses a 28mm soft dome tweeter with a Neodymium motor made by ScanSpeak. It has an array of eight 75mm, low-mass carbon fiber speaker cones to achieve dramatic performance improvements in “rise-time” (the time it takes to reproduce the signal impulse). All drivers are magnetically shielded.
The Art Engine is machined from 250-pound billets of T6 aluminum and trimmed in carbon fiber; the Ferrari Art Engine is hand finished with multi-coat Ferrari paints and clear coat and buffed to an extraordinary luster. Any Ferrari color – from current to historical and classic shades – can be selected. Red, in this writer’s opinion is the only color. The speaker weighs 107 pounds.
This speaker spoke to me for use in a smaller summer home. It sounded quite good even driven by an iPod™ through a wireless circuit, imaging well off-axis and only deficient in the deep low-end. I never had the opportunity to hear them directly driven by a digital, much less vinyl, source.
The Art Opera premiered at this CES. It looks like a larger version of the Engine but is passive and uses two 12” woofers. Large Vera amps with 350-watt outputs drove it, although the Operas did not need that power.
The Operas also had a wide sound stage, but with strong bass. It was very quick and uncolored. Notably, its sweet spot was quite wide, and its sound stage was quite detailed and deep. In my opinion, they were one of the best sounding systems at T.H.E. Show or CES. They were well received by everyone there during my several listening sessions.
These speakers will retail at between $40K and $50K.
3. The YG Anat Reference II Professional speakers.
[Norm] The Anats were the only YG heard during my visits, although the Kipods were present. Electronics were the Krell Evolution 202 preamp and FPB 400cx amplifiers with dCS Scarlatti three-piece digital source.These are large speakers, 69” tall, 17” wide at the woofer, and 17” deep and weighing 440 pounds per side. These cost $120K.
Although the Mezzanine level rooms at the Venetian are quite comfortable, they are partition divided and do not isolate each other. Still, the Anats sounded quite open and imaged well this year. Perhaps it was the improved woofers and tweeters, but it could have been the absence of demonstrations in surrounding rooms in this year’s CES.
[Fred] These imaged exceptionally well and had exceptional slam and bass extension. Female voice was also nice. For my tastes, the system was a bit cool and analytical.
4. TAD CR-1 Monitors with Pass Labs amps, the Berkeley Alpha DAC, and a music server with many 192k/24bit tracks.
[Norm] These $30K monitors continued to sound great, but it was the 192/24 tracks that stole the day. Bill Schnee led the presentation for an appeal to use 192/24 in doing recordings and to have a hard media copy (Blu-Ray) for consumers. I would welcome the day given what I heard.
[Fred] This is third show at which I have seen the Berkeley Alpha DAC. The same people who designed the Pacific Microsonics professional gear, which has been used by reference Recordings, designed it.
5. VRS Audio Solutions Amarra Music Server. http://www.vrsaudiosystems.com/amarra-brochure.pdf
[Norm] The system used the Sonic Studio Amarra Model Four with a Macintosh IMac 20” monitor, EAR 890 amp, AudioKinesis Planetarium Alpha satellites, and Emerald Physics subwoofers. Also, a Trinnov Optimizer 2.0 for digital room equalization was used. It was possible to switch in and out of this correction circuit. The price for the Sonic Studio Amarra Model Four that includes a DAC is $7,995.
There is no question that the Trinnov had a big impact on the sound in this room, but the sound was very dynamic and detailed even without it. Furthermore, while the digital treatment focused the image, it shrunk the sound stage and openness. Quality music servers seem to be evolving quickly.
This system deserves observation as it has great potential.
6. Vandersteen Model Seven speakers. http://www.vandersteen.com/
[Norm] These large (44” tall, 14” wide, and 20” deep) and heavy (215 pound) speakers were driven by Aesthetix electronics (Io phono, Callisto line, and Atlas amps) with the massive Clearaudio Statement turntable as the source. They are a five-way system with a powered subwoofer. The mid-bass, midrange, and tweeters use a carbon fiber and balsa wood sandwich that are quite rigid. They cost $45K.
I bought my first Vandersteens about 30 years ago and have listened to many different models since. I thought that Richard had a design goal for his speakers. The Model Sevens are a strong exception to this. They are quite open, uncolored, and quick. I don’t like Lucite turntables, but listening through this coloration, these are clearly contenders for the best speakers I have heard. [Peder Beckman of Musical Surroundings, the U.S. importer of Clearaudio, informed me that the “Clearaudio Statement table is not a Lucite turntable, it’s made of stainless steel and panzer holz wood. There is one part of the table that is made of acrylic but that hardly make it a Lucite table, consider it weights 770lbs”. -Editor, 1/23/09]
7. Sanders Sound Systems 10B electrostatic speakers. http://www.sanderssoundsystems.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=41&Itemid=114
[Norm] These speakers have long interested me and have reached perfection. They are 68” tall, 15” wide, and 18” deep to accommodate the dynamic woofer. They weigh 65 pounds and are 98 dB sensitive. The system includes a 600-watt Crossover Amplifier. An electronic crossover completes the system and offers finite adjustment of the bass and mid frequency balance to accommodate room variability and personal preference.
Electronics were the Sanders ESL amplifier and their preamplifier. Each costs $3,995. The speakers cost $13,995.
What strikes you immediately is that these speakers overcome almost all limitations of electrostatics. The dynamic woofer mates seamlessly with the electrostatic panels and the system can play loud with no strain. I still find panels don’t image as well as more point or line sources, but that is the only fault I heard.
A dealer said he was able to get the speakers further separated, and that when he sat further back, he thought they imaged better in that configuration.
8. Kimber IsoMike demonstration.
[Norm] Again, Ray Kimber ran his demonstration using DSD in multi-channel. This time the speakers were TAD Model Ones with Pass amplification.
This time I heard a distinct broadening and surrounding of the sound stage with the rear channels engaged.
9. Thales tone arm and Audio Stone rack and turntable.
[Norm] I had not seen this pivoting but straight-line tracking tone arm or the turntable before. The arm costs $15K and the arm and table/rack cost $80K. Nevertheless, it had dramatic isolation and great separation of channels with a precise sound stage and great dynamics.
[Fred] This is a novel design in many ways: a tangential pivoting tonearm, a turntable integrated into the rack, which has high-density stone plinth and shelves, and an optical sensor in the platter, which automatically calibrates the speed of the Pabst motor. The other equipment in the system included Argento Serenity silver cables, Tidal preamp and speakers, and the Chalice SE tube monoblocks. The Chalice amps are directly heated single-ended triodes using a 300B driver and a paralleled pair of 845’s as an output device. The driver and output tubes are transformer-coupled to eliminate capacitors from the circuit path. The amps produce a very solid 50 watts per channel.
The power supply is solid-state but is choke regulated and uses 11 transformers in each amp. The sound of this set up was one of the best at the show, maybe the best. The frequency extremes were tight, well controlled and extended. Female voice was nice. Leading edge and low-level detail were excellent.
10. Lindemann system. http://aaudioimports.com/ShowBrand.asp?hBrand=10
[Norm] The Lindemann 820S SACD player using only its DAC by way of a digital input on the SACD player and the USB-DDC US-to-DDC converter from a computer drive drove the prototype Lindemann two-way ceramic driver speakers during my several listening sessions. The Lindemann 882 integrated amp provided the amplification.
The speakers were about 42” tall, 6” wide, and about that deep. There are to be three speakers in this new line. These would be the middle units.
It was these speakers’ ability to handle loud crescendos that first impressed me. They were good at imaging with extended top-end and good bass. They were very open sounding and encompassing.
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