Publisher Profile

2016 CES: Day One

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Musical Surroundings is best know as a distributor for high-end products such as Fosgate, Clearaudio, Benz Micro, Aesthetix and AMG, but they also have been involved in the development of some very cool products. One of the best things I heard at CES this year is a new product from them called SugarCube. The SugarCube incorporates the acclaimed Supernova phono stage designed by Musical Surroundings’ Mike Yee, in concert with the proprietary SweetVinyl digital recording system, which includes internal AD/DA converters, and features automatic metadata identification and noise reduction. I will simply cut to the chase on this one: It allows you to connect your turntable directly to it and both plays back and archives the recording while removing any annoying surface pots and ticks. I listened to it with and without the circuit engaged and can say it works flawlessly. The net result was a cleaned up recording with barely perceptible loss of air or soundstage. This is truly a remarkable product. They will be offering it both with and without phono stage, at prices of $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. If given the opportunity to write a full review I will be happy to go into full detail about it. Hint hint Musical Surroundings!

I stopped in at Audeze Headphones, but since I don’t feel comfortable reviewing headphones because I am not an avid user, I will leave such reviews to my old friend Mike Mercer ( My only comment is nice sounding headphones, beautifully finished.

My visit to April Music was interesting. They showed me their Aura Line of equipment.

The Aura Spirit receiver is a 150W/ch pure complementary MOSFET design with a toroidal transformer and includes both a MM phono stage, Bluetooth and a PC USB DAC with Crystal CS4595 DAC, and of course the obligatory AM/FM tuner and Headphone output. The price is an acceptable but slightly pricey $1,700. Somewhat high compared to Yamaha or Marantz who both offer competitive products, but it does have that certain something that will appeal to the audiophile hobbyist. They also offer a more affordable 50W integrated amp called the Vita. Also on display was their Vivid CP player with upgraded Crystal CS4597 DAC at $1300. I didn’t get a lot of time listening, so all I can say from the very brief experience is the gear shows lots of promise.

My visit to Golden Ear and my old friend Sandy Gross was very enjoyable. As many of you know Dagogo has recently reviewed their Triton One Speakers. What Sandy was showing to me was their new updated Triton Two + (priced at $3,500) and Triton Three + (priced at $2,500). Both are second generation designs voiced the same as the Triton One. Both are new speakers with upgraded drivers over their earlier versions. He was using the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum tube integrated to power them.

Listening to Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” on the Model Two+, I found the bass nicely extended with very fast transients and impressive extension. The mids were smooth and focused and the highs were open and airy -all the things I look for in any high end speaker, but especially appreciated in one at this price point. Over all I thought the layering of the horns and percussion was also very good.

Golden-Ear-(1) Golden-Ear-(2)

For many of us old timers, it is good to know ESS is still around and active. I used to sell them back in the 1970s, including models like the Transtatics and Transars, and of course the historic AMT-1. They have relocated from the Sacramento area to Southern California some years ago and still actively promote their dipole ribbon designs in various sizes. I was taken by their new ML-2.6. , which is a dual 6″ bookshelf speaker with 6″ Heil AMT tweeter. Like all the current ESS speakers they are all hand-built in the USA. The ML-2.6 retail for $1900/pair. Regrettably, they were not set up for demo so I have no idea what they sound like. I was informed they are working on a smaller bookshelf version with a target retail under $1,000 per pair.


I have to admit personal bias for the next room for two reasons. 1. I have personally owned Acoustat electrostatic speakers for over 40 years and, 2. I sold Martin Logan speakers for many years. OK, we know I am biased. Now to the room. Martin Logan is going through a series of updates to their line. Not long ago Martin Logan introduced their new flagship loudspeaker the Neolith and it has been garnering accolades from numerous review publications. Their latest new product is called the Renaissance ESL-15A. It has a 15″ wide electrostat 46″ high, coupled with dual 12″ subwoofers powered by a 500W amp. Not quite a Balanced Force 212, but also not far off. It does include built-in Anthem Room Correction (ARC) technology as well. ML also has improved cabinet rigidity with their “Ultra-Rigid AirFrame Technology”. As for electronics, they were using all Constellation gear including the Constellation $22,000 400W Stereo Power amp. I listened to Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio” and it reminded me why I was in High End Audio. Open, airy, great depth of stage, terrific layering of instruments and a fantastic bottom end. I truly cannot say anything remotely negative about this speaker. Well maybe one thing, I really wish I could hear them on some nice tube electronics. (OK another personal bias!)

My visit to Audioengine‘s room at the Venetian was brief, but still informative. The new Audioengine HD6 premium Powered Speakers is the newest product to their line, and the newest in their line of amplified speakers. The pair will retail for $749. The HD6 is a 5.5″ two way amplified pair of speakers with a built in Class A/B amplifier having three dedicated inputs that include analog RCA ins, an optical in, and advanced Bluetooth APTX input. One speaker is active with output for its companion speaker. You can run as long a speaker wire as you need to separate the pair.

The finish is real wood veneer and includes a well-finished aluminum remote control.

Listening to them was surprising. They sounded far bigger than one would think of for their rather small size. It was a good place to end for the day..

Audio-Engine-(1) Audio-Engine-(2)

Overall, I should comment that there were a number of rooms that I peeked in and decided to skip for a myriad of reasons. Some because there was nothing new, or nothing interesting or perhaps they were just so grossly overpriced and over rated that I simply didn’t feel like wasting my time there. On the other side of the coin I found most rooms sounding quite good, and for me to say that is surprising, as over the years I feel most rooms at CES tended to simply sound bad. Look for my next update coming soon.


Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden

One Response to 2016 CES: Day One

  1. Neil says:

    The Bluesound player is the Vault2. All Bluesound products will be MQA capable through software upgrades. It is not a special “MQA” player. If you have any Bluesound device you have an MQA player in waiting.

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