I found myself not very much looking forward to CES this year. Las Vegas can be fun, but the mood at last year’s show was decidedly downbeat. In addition, I do not find the Venetian to be a particularly easy venue for me to navigate. The rooms on the lower floors are essentially separated by partitions which can be configured for different room sizes but do not always provide much isolation from other rooms. The rooms in the towers are much better; however, the elevator system was clearly not designed for the type of traffic that a show generates, so it is not uncommon to experience long waits, particularly on Saturday which is often the heaviest traffic day. The rooms themselves have marginal acoustics and a decided tendency to discriminate against larger speakers which can energize bass resonances.
Having said all this, I have to admit, in retrospect, that this was one of the best shows which I have attended over the years. Attendance was still down significantly but the mood seemed much more positive. In many rooms, people were buying things and expressing a real interest in new products. The change in the venue of T.H.E. Show from the rundown Alexis Park to the Flamingo was a fantastic improvement and may herald a significant resurgence for its organizers. In addition, there were a handful of rooms in both CES and T.H.E. Show hotels that had exceptional sound. In one instance, the sound was so good that it caused me to rethink an initial lukewarm attitude toward a particular manufacturer’s hybrid amps and another manufacturer’s speakers. I guess that an old dog (more like a mongrel) can learn new tricks. The following comments are essentially arranged in the initial order in which I visited rooms with my odyssey beginning at the Flamingo and then progressing to the Venetian.
PTE (Precision Transducer Engineering)
PTE was showing two of their speakers both of which were powered, the Statement and a smaller model which was stand mounted. In each instance a separate amp module was dedicated to each driver and specifically tailored to its needs. In conjunction with the speakers, a gorgeous La Luce SPJ turntable was being used with a Soundsmith Sussurro cartridge. Digital was provided by MSB. The sound from both speakers was highly dynamic with excellent bass response. Construction quality was excellent. The smaller stand mounted speakers struck me as something that might be ideal for a home theatre setup.
Purist Audio Design/ Peak Consulting/ KR Audio/ Stahl-Tek
It has generally been my experience that anything that Jim Aud is involved with is exciting. In this instance, his cabling consisted of Purist Provectus, Limited Edition and Canorus. Other components included a Stahl-Tek Vekian D/A, PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport, KR Audio Kronzilla DX mono amps, Nagra PL-P preamp and Symposium Isis rack. The sound was quite nice, open, tuneful, nice harmonic balance, extended sweet spot, good bass and slam.
Classic Audio Production
Classic Audio was demonstrating their Project T1.3 high efficiency horn system which uses four drivers in each cabinet, each of which uses a field coil instead of a permanent magnet. In addition, their system used small Atmosphere OTL’s, an Esoteric RDOT, and an Airtight PC-1 in a Triplanar tonearm on a Kuzma Reference turntable. The sound was anything but bright or aggressive, yet revealed a significant level of detail. In addition, as one might expect of horns of this caliber, dynamics were superb. Unlike many horns which I have heard, there was no localization of the sound on the drivers. The speakers created a very wide soundstage with well defined images; however, in this room, there was little depth.
Edge has recently gone through a significant and painful restructuring which resulted in the exit of one of the original designers and the purchase by a new, well capitalized owner and the relocation of the factory. Steve Norbert remains as a principal. They had absolutely amazing sound using PBN Montana speakers and Edge electronics, including their new “black box” preamp.
You may have heard the old saying that good things come in small packages. This is essentially a small two-way speaker that delivers the pinpoint imaging of a small monitor but the power and weight of much larger speakers. A great deal of effort has gone into this speaker with the cabinet built in Japan by a maker of fine guitars from carefully chosen tone woods. Every detail of the cabinet has been carefully thought out: tensioning, bracing, glues, lacquer. The walls are a mere 1/10th of an inch thick yet there was no evidence that the speaker resonated. This is a very musical speaker which should be considered by someone seeking a very small speaker. One caveat is that these are quite expensive and can be overdriven. Given how clean and powerful their bass is, there is a tendency to keep turning up the volume. Note that Kiso was using an older, high powered Levinson amp to drive them.
Reference 3A/Antique Sound Labs
I am always amazed at the quality of sound that these two manufacturers are able to produce when their products are used in conjunction with each other. In this instance a pair of Grand Veena speakers was used in conjunction with a Flora EX DT preamp and an AQ1001 DT MkII amp and an EMM Labs XDS1 SACD player. The EMM Labs SACD player costs more than the speakers and the associated electronics. The sound was extremely good- sweet, delicate, detailed, well controlled in the bass. Leading edge definition and transients were exceptional. The sound exhibited great speed, gorgeous harmonics and a lovely, extended top-end. This was by a wide margin, the best system at anywhere near the price. Those few systems which were better were stratospherically priced ($100K or more).
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