I must be an audiophile as the plethora of gadgets and gizmos proffered at C.E.S. didn’t stir my soul. I spent all of my four days in Las Vegas at C.E.S. and T.H.E. Shows in rooms with two-channel stereo – and I could have gone longer! It seemed a fast and furious four days, so that’s my theme – Fast and Furious Systems at the shows. Enjoy!
FAST SYSTEMS: These are systems I found agile and gripping to hear. They are chosen not for price or scale of the presentation, but for their presenting a high intensity (do not read “tonally tipped up”) experience. Typically these are smaller systems with either moderate sized floor standing speakers or larger bookshelf speakers.
FURIOUS SYSTEMS: Barn burners, nuclear hot, “It doesn’t get much better than this,” type sound. This does not necessarily mean that all the components in such systems are the best in the world. It does mean that at that moment in time the “magic” of system building blessed them, and the result was outstanding sound.
FALSE STARTS: I say “False Start,” as it would be manifestly unfair to pan a product in such a way as to eliminate it based on one hearing at a show. However, there are superb setups and there are poor or vexing setups. I will highlight some of the “head scratchers,” which caused me to assess that too much was going wrong to be positively impressed. You will find some vaunted names among those I include in the “False Start” category, which should caution the reader that simply because a product is high profile or a system extravagant does not mean it is set up optimally or that the product is incapable of all but the most outstanding performance.
FAST: EAR USA at CES
Two Marten speakers, the Django L and the Tenor, impressed me with their refined qualities including excellent precision and lack of coloration, exemplary coherency and dynamic impact. The Django acquitted itself well as it was found in the EAR (originally Esoteric Audio Research) USA room, featuring electronics designed by Tim de Paravicini. Ahead of the Django was a server feeding the EAR DACute ($6,595), while analogue was provided by the EAR Discmaster Turntable ($28K), Helius Omega Tonarm ($3,100), and Dynavector XV-1s Phono Cartridge ($5,450). The power component was an EAR 912 Preamplifier ($13K) and 890 Power Amplifier ($8,295). Jorma Cables were used throughout the system; the loom of cables (Interconnects $9,900 and Speaker Cables $7,000) was more costly than any of the electronics except for the turntable. For an introductory level speaker, the Django was terrifically expressive and played above its price point. Despite spending one evening at a buffet where a fellow reviewer and two guests gushed over the Jorma wires, I struggle to think the cables were proportionately as influential as their price tag, being the most expensive element of the system with the exception of the turntable. However, the entire system was undeniably engaging.
FURIOUS: Marten AB at CES
I was especially drawn to the Tenor being driven by a suite of Nagra electronics in the Marten room. Specifically, the system was the Redpoint Model D Turntable including Tri-planar arm and Dynavector XV1-T cartridge ($46K), NAGRA VPS Phono Preamp ($6,850), NAGRA CDP ($14,850), Jazz Preamplifier ($12,250), MSA Power Amplifiers in biamp mode ($18,900), Jorma Design Prime Cables ($30K), and the Coltrane Tenor Speakers ($77K). In the past I have noted but not been overwhelmed by Nagra’s sound in show systems, but this time was an enchanting difference. This system was one of my favorites of any size, and one of my top three or four of more moderately sized rigs. Initially, I heard one or two tracks while sitting behind a pair of individuals who kept shifting their bodies into the path of the speakers and chatting. I didn’t comment as it was their turn to be in the prime listening seat and were clearly enthusiastic about what they were hearing. I nearly left as I had a lot of ground to cover, but am very happy I didn’t; when it was my turn to occupy the prime listening chair the music was being reproduced with unflinching honesty. I had full appreciation of why they had been so animated! The new convex metal driver of the Tenor reminded me of an oversize Titleist golf ball, but the bass it produced sliced through the air like a champion. Marten makes a doggone good speaker, and the Nagra gear was driving it with aplomb. The room was set up intimately and the soundstage was among the best from moderately sized floor standing speakers at either show.
FAST: Silverline Audio at CES
When I entered the Silverline Audio room I was met with a wall of sound being produced by a speaker smaller than a toaster. Alan Yun, designer and president of Silverline, was showing the Sonatina MK IV Speaker ($5,995), a smaller, pedestrian but clean looking three-way that was prodigious in terms of purity and soundstage size. How can that be? The Silverline A-1 Amp (not in production) at 800wpc with the first 150 Watts in Class A, powered the speakers like a bulldozer pushing a shopping cart! The impact and bass presence was palpable, and thoroughly enjoyable. The system was fronted by another of Alan’s creations, the Ecstacy CD Player (not in production). The Silverline speakers seemed a good value for their performance.
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