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Positive Feedback ISSUE 41
january/february 2009


CES and T.H.E. SHOW - 2009
by Roger Gordon


The economy took its toll on CES this year. In talking with people at CES the consensus opinion seemed to be that attendance was down 20-30% from previous years. This reduction in CES attendance added to the 10% decline in tourism that Las Vegas was already suffering made CES 2009 a very different experience. Gone were the packed crowds that mobbed the sidewalks. The streets were fairly empty so that driving between the venues was a very quick and non-nerve frazzling experience. On Friday night at 6:30 PM I walked into the coffee shop at the Venetian and the restaurant was half empty. In previous years I could never get into the coffee shop without an over an hour wait. The drop in attendance also impacted my visits to the exhibit rooms. While the number of exhibits rooms was less than in previous years, the drop in attendance was even greater. On each day I walked into some rooms and I was the only person there other than the exhibitors. This allowed me to play more of my own music so I could get a better feel for the components I was listening to. It also allowed me to spend much more time talking with the exhibitors about their product(s). Because I was able to spend more time talking and listening I got to visit even fewer exhibit rooms this year than last. Though by comparing notes with fellow members of the San Diego audio society each morning at breakfast, I think I was able to visit almost all of the best sounding rooms. Of course, as in previous years, there were some rooms that I could not visit because the rooms were always crowded or I did not want to enter because the music was being played too LOUD.

Listed in no particular order are the rooms that I found most interesting:

Artemis Labs/Schroeder Tonearms – The main room of the two room exhibit room had an Artemis Labs SA-1S turntable with a prototype of a new Schroeder arm with a Miyajima Shilabe cartridge. Electronics were all Artemis Labs and the speakers were Verity Lab Finn ($6000). The sound was very good, but the highlight was the prototype of the new Schroeder tonearm. It is a gimbaled tonearm which is quite a departure from previous Schroeder arms. This arm will be produced under license in the USA. The exact pricing of the arm has not yet been determined. The arm is designed to be produced in quantity unlike the previous Schroeder arms that were all hand-built by Frank Schroeder. Thus, with the new tonearm you will no longer have to wait one or two years to buy a new Schroeder designed tonearm. According to Frank Schroeder, the new arm in sound quality is between his Model Two and his Reference arms.

VMPS Audio – Every few years a loudspeaker manufacturer does a live versus recorded demonstration. Von Schweikert Loudspeakers in 2004 is the last such demo I can recall. This year VMPS took the challenge by setting up a recording studio in one of the ballrooms at the Alexis Park. The loudspeakers were VMPS' flagship speakers the V60 ($8900 without options) with four of the VMPS VSS subwoofers. Electronics were by Spread Spectrum Technologies (Ampzilla). At the demonstrations vocalists, instrumentalists, and/or a three man jazz ensemble were recorded and then the recording was played back with as little delay as possible. I attended two of the demonstrations and heard the live versus recorded for a double bass, a flute, a male gospel singer and a professional whistler. The whistler, Jason Serinus, whistled the Puccini aria "O mio babbino caro" which he had whistled, as the voice of Woodstock, in the televised Peanuts cartoon "She's a Good Skate, Charlie Brown”. It was an incredible virtuoso performance. The played back sound did sound recorded. Part of this is due to the fact that unless you record in an anechoic chamber when you record and play music back in the same room you double the sound of the room when you play back. Thus, the live and recorded playback can never sound the same. What was more important to me, however, was did the played back sound have the same emotional content as the live; i.e. was I just has satisfied hearing the recorded sound as the live sound. In three of the four cases I was just as content to hear the played back music as the live. On the gospel singer I actually preferred the recorded sound over the live as more inner detail was audible on the recorded voice than I heard live. All in all, it was a very interesting experiment. Talking with members of the audience after the two demos showed that there was a consensus of sorts. No, recorded sound is not the same as live sound, and it probably never will be. However, the experiment did show that recorded sound, for a lot of people, can be as emotionally satisfying as live.

Avantgarde Acoustics – As I was walking down a hallway at the Venetian, I heard the sounds of Rammstein's Los coming from a room. Being a Rammstein fan I immediately went into the room and listened to the Avantgarde Uno Nano horn loudspeakers ($16,500), driven by the Avantgrande Model Three power amplifier ($8750) with an Audio Aero SACD player. After Los I was able to play two of the Rammstein tracks I had on my compilation CD as well as some other tracks. The system handled hard rock at loud volumes very well. This room was one of three in which I heard the exhibitors playing Rammstein. After hearing Jazz at the Pawn Shop and Patricia Barber umpteen times, it is nice to hear something that is also well recorded but in a totally different genre.

Lafleuraudio – Lafleuraudio was demoing their X2 ($17,000) 2.5 way vented loudspeaker using Simaudio's Moon electronics. For a stand mounted speaker I thought the bass was very good. Most enjoyable to listen to.

Harmonic Technology/INEX Innovation – Another year and another version of the INEX Photon Amplicables (mono block amplifiers with integrated speaker cables). This year was the most musical version of the Amplicables that I have heard. Price for the current version is not set yet, but believed to be in the $25,000 range. I also heard an A-B-A demonstration of a prototype power line filter from Harmonic Technology. The filter plugs into the IEC plug on your equipment and you plug your regular power cord into the filter. The filter made an audible improvement in the sound. No price or distribution date has been set yet.

Herron Audio – As usual the Herron room was one of the best sounding rooms. The room featured all Herron electronics, Herron interconnects, and utilized the prototype of the Herron floorstanding loudspeaker. Featured was the new SP-4 hybrid FET/Tube preamplifier. With FETs replacing four vacuum tubes, and a new topology, the new preamp sounded very good. The SP-4 is to be released by Summer 2009, price not yet determined.

King Sound – King Sound from Hong Kong was demoing their electrostatic speakers using VAC electronics in two separate rooms. In one room was the full range Prince II electrostatic speakers ($5,600). Electrostatic loudspeakers have the reputation of being superb at supplying detail and microdynamics, but failing in the bass and dynamics department. I was able to play quite a few of the tracks on my compilation CD. Regardless of the type of music, including Rammstein and thunderous soundtracks, the Prince II played flawlessly. If you want the octave below 40Hz you will need to add a subwoofer. But from 40Hz and up, for $5600, these speakers sounded amazing. I also got to a brief listen to the Queen II loudspeakers ($1800) in a more modest system. The Queen II's use a conventional cone driver woofer up to 600Hz at which point a small array of electrostatic panels takes over. At high volumes the sound becomes beamy. However, if you play jazz ensembles and chamber music you might be interested in these speakers. Played within their limits they offer all of the advantages of electrostatic speakers at an affordable price.

Merlin Music System/Joule Electra - The Merlin/Joule room featured the VSM-MXe speakers that had been in my listening room for review last month. The electronics included the Joule OTL VZN-100 Mark IV amps and the new Marianne Electra Memorial Preamplifier. The preamp uses the same topology as the LA-150 preamp but uses cost-no-object parts. Cabling was by Cardas. On the first day the cables were Cardas Golden Reference. However, these were replaced over the next three days by Cardas' new top of the line Clear cables. The Clear speaker cables come in two versions, Clear and the more expensive Clear Beyond. I visited the room each day to hear the difference in sound the new cables make. Fortunately, the cables did not seem to require a long burn-in time. With the Golden Reference cables in the system, the speakers sounded very similar to the sound that I had heard in my own listening room where I also used Cardas Golden Reference cables. Listening to the same tracks on my compilation CD with each change of cable showed that in this system the Clear cables were a clear improvement over the Golden Reference cables. With the Clear interconnects and the Clear Beyond speaker cables, the system sounded better than I had heard it at any previous show. The music I played had more detail than I had heard before and the sound was smoother, more natural sounding. A very impressive, realistic sound.

Modwright – The Modwright room used the Modwright modified Slim Devices transporter ($3800), the Modwright LS36.5 preamp with 36.5 power supply ($8995), and the Modwright KWA 150 solid state amplifiers ($5995) that had debuted at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in October. The speakers were Audio Machina Maestro ($49,500). The sound was very good.

Angstrom Loudspeakers – The Angstrom room was demoing their Obligato 3 way ported transmission line speaker ($5000) with the Profundo subwoofers which have two 10" drivers. The subwoofers come in a passive ($2400) version and also a powered ($2900) version. The system also used an Angstrom digital crossover ($599). Electronics were by Perreaux. I found the Obligato/Profundo combination to be very musical and capable of playing any sort of music from delicate acoustic guitar to peel-the-paint-off-the-wall rock.

DeVore Fidelity – The DeVore room was featuring their Gibbon 3XL monitor ($3700 + stand $500) driven by Nagra electronics. The 3XL is a small monitor that utilizes the Silverback Reference tweeter and a 5" treated paper woofer. Despite its small size (15" x 7" x 11") the speaker had significant bass and dynamic impact. If you need a small speaker, the 3XL should be on your listening list.

Kuzma Turntables – In the Kuzma room I did not get a chance to listen to the new Point4 gimbaled tonearm ($5950). However, I did get to have a very long and interesting talk with Franc Kuzma. The Point4 is an 11 inch arm with a VTA tower similar to the Airline. There is damping in both the vertical and horizontal planes. The head shell is detachable. The output cables are a true biwired set that terminate in both a Cardas RCA box for fitting of custom RCA interconnects and also a full length of hard-wired Crystal Cable silver-wired cables that terminate in Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA plugs. You can also order the cables terminated in XLRs. Franc is very proud of his new arm and said that while it sounds different from his more expensive air bearing arm that he thinks the quality of sound is similar.