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2012 CES, Part I

Viola Audio Laboratories, Parasound, Manley, Conrad Johnson, Focus Audio, Mastersound & Audes speakers, Electrocompaniet, Acoustic Signature

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The 2012 Consumers Electronics Show is the 6thshow for me, but it is the first time that I am representing Dagogo. Every year when I pick up my press batch at the registration office, I was told every year that year’s CES was the biggest ever, including the post-financial crisis 2009 CES which was ultra quiet by any standards. This year, I was told there was 140,000 registered attendees, and 50,000 last-minute registrations. For high-end audio, the 2012 CES certainly wasn’t the busiest nor the quietest ever, probably somewhere in between.

2012 is also the year where I have made up my mind to finally attend my first AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, which normally overlaps the CES at the Las Vegas Sands Expo. Unfortunately, the AVN was getting too large and they had decided to move it to a different date as well as a different venue. Oh well, I had to resort to my usual agenda: Checking out exotic turntables rather than exotic actresses.

This CES Dagogo team consists of 3 persons: Ray Seda (staff reviewer), his assistant photographer David Green and myself.

Viola Audio Laboratories

Those who know me will know that I have a fetish for high-power multiple-chassis amplifier. Being a proud owner of the six-chassis, 2000W McIntosh MC2KW, I’m always on the lookout for amplifiers which will rival them in output as well as in size.

At the Viola Audio Labs room, I thought I had found another triple-chassis amplifier. It turns out we are looking at two separate amplifiers (4 channels) stacked on top of each other. On the top, we have the Viola Legacy Power Amplifier rated at 100W.The Bravo amplifier sits at the bottom, rated at 700W into 4 ohms or 1600W into 4 ohms at full bridge mode.

Off to the side of the room, we have the Viola Crescendo Preamplifier, a 24/192kHz-capable DAC/Preamp combo which retails at USD $19,000.


Parasound has a slurry of new products on display. First on the list is the all new CD 1 CD player, developed by Holm Acoustics in Denmark. Unlike ordinary CD players which typically use Sony, Philips, or Esoteric transport units, the CD1 uses a ROM drive and an Intel computer running Linux and Holm’s software. It spins at 4x the speed of a normal CD transports, and reads every part of a CD at least 2x. The unit retails for USD $4,500, and will be available in April, 2012.

Also new for 2012, is a 3-channel, 250W home theatre power amplifier which retails at $3,000. The THX Ultra 2 certified Halo A31 amplifier is essentially identical to the A51 five-channel amplifier (on top in the photo).

Last but not least, the half-size chassis “Z” series packs high performance audio into entry level priced boxes. Here, we have the Zcd CD player for $400, the 192 kHz Zdac for $450, and the Zamp V.3 for $350.


Up at the 29th floor of the Venetian Towers, Manley was showing off its all new Chinook phono preamp. It is basically a trickled down version of the famous Steelhead phono preamp with a much more attractive price tag: only US$2250.

Like the Steelhead, the Chinook uses two triode sections of 6922 for amplifying duties with passive RIAA networks. Overall gain is user selectable at 45 dB for MM, and 60 dB for MC. There are 31 possible combinations for loading and capacitance settings between 26 and 800 ohm, plus 47k ohms and 7 capacitive loading choices between 50 pf and 350 pf. The entire unit is build in California.

Conrad Johnson

Conrad Johnson announced at the CES that they will be offering a stereo version of the esteemed ART mono-block amplifiers. The new ARTsa stereo amplifier is a 140W-per-channel all tube unit housed in the same chassis as the mono-blocks. The stereo amp retails for $18,500 and is expected to be available in February 2012.

The actual unit will have a slightly different faceplate than the display unit which used the faceplate of the monoblock unit. The actual unit will say ARTsa instead, of course.

Focus Audio

Renowned Canadian speaker manufacturer Focus Audio was showing off their all new “Master 6” bookshelf speaker, representing the smaller speaker in their Master’s series. Priced at $8,000, it features a ScanSpeak beryllium tweeter and a Eton mid-range driver.

It comes standard with an ebony veneer finish. Quality is top notch.

New for 2012, Focus Audio is also dipping into the amplifier market with their all new “Focus Amp” which is based upon a 6CA7/EL34 tube circuit. It will be priced at $15,000.

Mastersound & Audes speakers

At one of May Audio Marketing Inc’s room, Mr. Sanavio, the designer of Mastersound was giving me a full demonstration of his all new 300B Monoblock Plus on the Audes Orpheus Speakers ($18,000).

The output rating is one the of the highest I have seen of any 300B-based amplifier. It manages to pump out 30W per channel with only two 300B tubes per channel. The circuit is pure class A with zero negative feedback. When I ask Mr. Sanavio about his secrets for achieving such a high output, he said much of it is due to the output transformer which are wounded in house by hand.

The Mastersound drove the Orpheus gloriously with all the top-end glamour as can be expected from any 300B-based amplifier, the only difference is the Orpheus is rated at only 87 dB, a sensitivity rating which usually calls for higher output solid-state amplifiers. I was impressed!


Norwegian manufacturer Electrocompaniet showcased their all new ECI-6 DS integrated amplifier with an built-in internal DAC and streaming section. The amplifier section is rated a 125W per channel. The DAC section is capable of handling SPDIF, Toslink and USB inputs. The streaming section handles internet radio, Audio Network Streaming (DNLA), iPod interface and USB Playback.

It also comes with a remote control with built-in LCD display, which lets you select music the same way as the Logitech Squeezebox Duet. The ECI-6 DS retails for $5,955.

Acoustic Signature

Every year at the CES, Acoustic Signature always has multiple turntables on display, pure eye candies for the analog lover. The tables are all solid mass, non-suspended design, made entirely in Germany.

The center piece of the room is of course, the $34,000, 80 kg Ascona turntable. The optional stand will set you back another $ 10,000.

The Ascona features a 50mm thick solid aluminum platter inserted with thirty solid brass “Silencers” on the outer rim, and twenty-four within the platter body. They serve to eliminate resonant frequencies, particularly in the range of 400-6000Hz. The bearing of the Ascona is designed to be maintenance-free, at the base of the bearing they employed a proprietary material called Tidorfolon. The plinth of the platter is machined out of a 70mm thick solid block of aluminum. The external separate motor drive houses 3 motors built into one unit. They drive a subplatter on which the Flywheel is placed. The Ascona can accommodate two tonearms.

The Storm and Signature Mk2

The Acoustic Signature Thunder is a trickled down version of the Ascona, price at $ 10,000. It is more compact in size and based on technology passed down from the higher model. It still weighs a hefty 45 lbs.

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