The darkness of economic downturn has begun to dispel as evidenced in a more upbeat mood at CES/T.H.E. show. The mindset of many manufacturers and distributors was that their business had escaped a death sentence, and if things improved soon might get out of jail. The industry seems to have turned a bit more toward “budget” components still aimed at serious audiophiles.
To my eye there was less proliferation of “gimmicky” devices at this show. Two years ago it seemed every nook and cranny held a debatable device to enhance performance. This year the focus seemed to be on the well dressed system achieving excellent sound apart from HiFi accoutrements.
Speaking of devices, one man’s “gimmick” is another man’s innovation. As I was in the Convergent Audio Technology/Stealth Audio Cables room (outfitted with the Vivid Giya 2 speakers) a demo was given whereby what looked to me like Shunyata Dark Field Cable Elevators were repurposed as a static elimination device for Redbook discs! The disc was simply placed between them and gently rubbed for about one minute prior to being played. I must admit that while attempting to remain highly objective I thought I heard a difference. However, only repeated testing in my own room would assure that such a trick might pass my Law of Efficacy, which dictates that the change must be immediate, repeatable and result in an easily discernible difference to the ear. Regarding the Elevators, the impression was given that it has been discovered they work much better as static elimination devices! Before you scoff, I found that this was one of the finer sounding rooms at either show, with or without the “static treatment” of discs.
There were several notably superb sounding systems; however several of the highest echelon systems fell a bit short of my expectations. There were notable exceptions at the top-end, and several superb rigs in the more affordable end of the spectrum. Here are some which caught my attention…
Emerging from the Darkness
PBN Audio was doing its part to chase away the gloom by brightening up its speakers with internal lighting! This illuminated cabinet of the new “Sammy” (MSRP $29,500) nicely revealed interior details of the new “Compact Reference Platform” being pursued, which incorporates an “Interior Sonic Reflection Suppression” system comprised of shapes reminiscent of sound treatment panels.
I appreciated the sound of this speaker while having lunch at T.H.E. show. Other components in the system included the PBN Olympia AX with a patriotic faceplate (MSRP $20,000). Overall the system handled filling the large room well and was engaging with a variety of music.
PBN Sammy speaker and Olympia AX Amp with patriotic paint job PBN Sammy speaker cabinet showing internal Sonic Reflection Suppression system
Sound Lab speakers emerged from the shadows of past show absences with their huge Millenium-1 PX full range ESL. This was a welcome return, as there were not too many panel speakers at CES this year. As expected, the nearly 3.5-foot wide panels enveloped me in the listening chair. Even at low listening levels the music was expansive and sweeping in grandeur, the antithesis of the classic localized monitor sound.
SoundLAB Millenium -1 PX ESL speaker
Atma-sphere M-60 Mk 3.1 amplifier
You will note the gargantuan appearance of the speakers in the tiny hotel room. This demonstrated once again the rule of small speakers for small rooms is not written in stone. I have used several prodigious speakers in my 13’x23’ room, and the ’Labs sounded great in this modest space. There are more offerings of big panel speakers lately, so the space is more crowded than a few years ago, but with such an overwhelmingly spacious sound it’s a hard speaker to ignore.
Note the Atma-sphere M-60 Mk 3.1 amps driving them. There are only a handful of amp companies I can think of which I have not heard a bad demo, no matter which speakers they are paired with. Atma-sphere and VAC are two of them, and both made it into the show report. Tubes and ESLs – yummy!
Don’t look now, but Roger Sanders is getting artsy with his usually bland room setup! I hasten to point out that bland decor or not, his speakers sound terrific at shows, even in less than ideal conditions. How I wish to wax poetic, “Two speakers converged in a wood…” Convergence is what this speaker system is all about, the convergence of good sound and good value. The principle of system-wide design is embodied in the coupling of the Sanders Sound Systems Preamplifier and the Sanders ESL Amplifier along with the 10B speakers (total MSRP $16,000). Put a good source on this speaker package and you have the makings of a lovely system. Kudos on the natural appearance of the backdrop, and the preternaturally good sound of the speakers.
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