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2009 CES & T.H.E Show Coverage 5 (Part 2 of 2)

Rockport/Ypsilon, Divergent, Stillpoints/Berning, Consensus

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by: Norm Luttbeg & Fred Crowder

11. Rockport speakers and Ypsilon Electronics

[Fred] Andy Payor was debuting his newest speaker using Ypsilon electronics and a Blue Smoke server as the source. Aside from bass nodes in the room, sound was very good and in some ways better than what he had achieved in the past using Gryphon electronics. Andy was showing CAD drawings of the Sirius 5 turntable on which he is currently working. He expects to have a prototype built by the end of the year with possible production in 2010.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the sound, I would probably not have said that it represented one of the top three sounds at the show; however, the designer of the Ypsilon electronics was kind enough to invite the Dagogo staff to an after hours listening session on Saturday night. As it turned out, Andy Payor was still in the room when we arrived and was kind enough to stay for the listening session.

The listening began using the same equipment, which had been used during the day. Dmitris, the Ypsilon designer, then substituted his own CD player for the server and later his stereo tube amplifier for his hybrid monoblocks. The hybrid monoblocks did a very nice job of delivering the power of a 400-watt solid-state amp while retaining many of the benefits of a lower-powered tube amp; however things really began to sing upon the insertion of the company’s own 40-watt all tube amp into the system. It had a chance to warm up which took about an hour of play. The tube amp had more than enough power to drive the speakers and the combination was outstanding adding a bit of warmth and dimensionality.

For a system to perform at this level, all components must be exceptional. The Rockport speakers did a superb job of creating a three-dimensional walk around soundstage. Surprisingly enough, the stage varied very little depending on one’s position in the room.

[Norm] The after hours demonstration benefited from quieter surroundings as well as possibly cleaner power lines. It was noticeably superior to the room during the normal hours of the show.

12. Divergent Technologies

[Fred] The system was comprised of the Reference 3A Grand Veena speakers, Antique Sound Labs Flora EX preamp and Cadenza amps, a Chang Lightspeed AC line filter and an EMM Labs SACD player. The Flora used a single 6SN7 for each channel. The power supply was a constant current source design and used polypropylene capacitors. The main driver in the speaker was direct connected and the difference was clearly audible. While the 30-watt amps might have been a touch underpowered for the speakers, the sound was very nice. The total system price was $26K.

[Norm] The Reference 3A Grand Veena speakers have always greatly impressed me. They are clearly a “best buy” at their $8500 price.

13. Stillpoints/Berning Electronics

[Fred] The system used the Tango speakers and either a prototype Berning preamp or the Exemplar preamp, the Berning OTL amps, the Feickert turntable, Ortofon arm and the Dynavector 17D3 cartridge. The sound was very clean and dynamic with excellent bass punch. Detail was excellent. The sound was very clean, maybe a touch bright.

14. Consensus Audio Conspiracy speakers

[Fred] The speakers used ceramic drivers, Mundorf capacitors in the crossover, and a unique airflow technology that eliminates the need for internal damping of the speakers. The speakers are a three-way with two vents and are lute shaped to minimize internal reflections. Other system components were an Audio Magic Oracle Power Purifier, an Audio Synthesis Decade DAC, an Audio Note CDT 3, Acoustic Revive Sound panels, Pass Labs XA30.5 amps, Consensus speaker cables and vibration control by Alto Extreme. The system was very natural sounding and particularly good on voices.

15. Edge Electronics and PBN Speakers

[Fred] Edge was showing a prototype of their new CD player (estimated retail $12.5-15K) and flagship preamp (estimated retail $58.8K), both will be battery powered. The CD player has an integrated charger. The preamp is an all out assault on what can be achieved with current technology and incorporates six stages of regulation as well as a custom volume control utilizing a pure film potentiometer. Speakers were provided by PBN Audio. The sound was very clean with excellent bass and dynamics and very stable imaging. Although the room was a bit small for the speakers, the bass was tight and well controlled. The system also had an extended but sweet top-end with no hint of brightness or edge. Detail was also very good.

16. Evolution Acoustics

[Fred] Jonathan Tinn was again showing at the Alexis Park and definitely hit a homerun with the Playback Designs Player, the new Dartzeel integrated amp and the new, smaller version of his speakers with powered subwoofers. The integration between the drivers was absolutely seamless and the speakers were ideally sized for the room. Tinn had also used a fair amount of acoustic treatment on the walls. The sound was absolutely stunning. Space and depth were superb. Jonathan was showing prototypes of the new Dartzeel monoblocks, which are rumored to be something very special.

17. Classic Audio Reproductions / Atmosphere

[Fred] The system included a Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable with a Triplanar tonearm and an Airtight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, an Atmosphere MP-1 preamp and 30-watt amplifiers. The speakers were the Classic Audio Reproductions T-3.3 which used field-coil drivers. Although I have heard a number of Classic Audio Reproductions’ speakers, these were the first that really caught my attention. Field-coil drivers use an externally powered electro-magnet rather than the fixed magnets normally used. While these drivers are quite expensive they yield real gains in transparency, dynamics and tonal accuracy. The Atmasphere amps which are OTL’s are very well suited to these speakers. The sound from vinyl was excellent with a very natural top-end and lovely string tone. For those familiar with the Air Tight cartridges, the Supreme is a rather significant improvement over the PC-1.

18. Gershmann Speakers, VAC and Magnan Audio

[Fred] Gershmann was once again showing with its Black Swan speakers which physically separated the bass enclosure from the enclosure holding the other drivers. The preamp used was the VAC Renaissance Signature Mk II ($18,000) which includes both moving-magnet and moving-coil phonostages. The units were handwired using a silver coated copper wire. The phonostage used six tubes with the additional of a step up transformer to provide extra gain for MC cartridges. The combination yielded high gain and very low noise. The power amps were VAC PHI 200 mono’s ($9800 each), Gershmann was using two of the stereo amps to vertically bi-amp their speakers. The amps used carefully selected Chinese 300B’s. Cabling throughout the system was provided by Magnan Audio. The system had good low bass and clean transients. There was some smear on bells which may have been room related. The “wood sound” of certain wind instruments came through nicely. Dynamics were also good.

19. Tenor, Continuum, Magico

[Fred] The system included the smaller Continuum Labs turntable and tonearm, the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, the Magico V-3 speakers, a prototype of the new Tenor preamp, and two of the stereo Tenor amps bridged for mono to output 150 watts. I first heard the larger Tenor monoblocks about two years ago at CES, having been somewhat familiar with the earlier 75-watt tube Tenor mono’s. The sound of the system was very good, probably one of the better set-ups that I have heard with the V3’s. Driver integration was excellent, as was transparency and tonal balance.

20. EAR
[Fred] Dan Meinwald, the importer for the EAR equipment, seems to succeed year after year in producing musically involving systems for CES. This year he utilized the EAR 690 amps, the EAR Acute CD player, the new Marten Soprano speakers (think baby Coltranes), and the new Jorma Origo cabling which he explained was the same wire as used in the Jorma Prime without the Bybee module. Dan alternated among the Acute CD player, a reel-to-reel playing master tapes and the EAR turntable. A vinyl copy of the new Frank Sinatra from Mobile Fidelity was quite nice, but the reel-to-reel took top honors.

Although I promised to limit myself to ten choices, I would like to mention one other system: the Lanasche Audio/ Vitus/ EMM Labs system. Last year, Lanasche showed with their largest speaker which they tri-amped to outstanding effect. This year they chose to use a much smaller speaker in a smaller room. Lanasche is one of a select fraternity of manufacturers who utilize a plasma tweeter, the other is Acapella. While Lanasche refers to their tweeter as a Corona discharge tweeter, it was a later development of the Acapella design sharing many of the same advantages and disadvantages. The remainder of the system included the Vitus Audio preamp and stereo amp, the latest EMM Labs TSB1 and MDAT DAC2, and a Grim Audio Rubidium clock. Using Winston Ma’s FIM K2 HD sampler, particularly track 16, bells and other struck metal instruments were delicate but clear and very detailed and transparent. Detail and transients were excellent. There was some lack of explosiveness on the “Flamenco” track. The real point is that the Lanasche speakers improved each year. They still lack the coherency of the larger Acapella’s but are closing in.

BEST SMALL SYSTEM

Crowder:

Luttbeg:

EAR and Lindemann (Tie)

Sanders

BEST LARGE SYSTEM

Crowder:

Luttbeg:

Rockport/Ypsilon Electronics

Lindemann, David Wiener Art Opera,
and Vandersteen Model Seven

HONORABLE MENTION

Crowder:

Luttbeg:

Evolution Acoustics

Reference 3A Grand Veena

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