Best and Worst sound at the CES Show 2004

The Best, I would vote for the Wavac room. Amazing!!!! Well, those amps are like.. ... $350k..???
They were playing Peggy Lee "Fever" and it was amazing.
Accuphase room was good as well. Beautiful sound came out from Avanlon speakers.

The worst??? Many... I was disapointed and surprised... among the worst room:
- Burmester (no imaging, get headache if listen for 5min.)
- Lamn (terrible, so digital sound, like my computer)
- VTL (the worst of the worst). They used the Wilson Audio speakers and the sound was so bad? Why? Wrong set-up? Wrong CD????
Don't blame VTL, Wilson Audio to me is the classic "Emperor Has No Clothes" equipment. I've listened to them at CES, at high end stores with various equipment and still I remain completely unimpressed. You were right in your assessment of the speakers.
as an owner, take my comment w/ a grain of salt.

i've owned merlins, soundlabs, and wilsons.

i've heard rockports (older models), wisdoms, accapellas, maggies, vandys, sonus fabers, thiels, etc etc.

set up properly (as mine are), there's nothing i'd take over the wilsons. their only fault is that they're expensive. (and the impedance is a bit too low IMO in the mid-low bass).

so, don't blame wilson. blame the person setting up the room. (and yes, my wilsons sounded like dogfarts until i got them dialed in).

I wasn't at CES 2004, but I can comment on this years show.

I walked into the Wavac room, listened for maybe one minute and hit the bricks. It wasn't worth sitting through. I heard better sound in rooms with $5000 amps.

Best sound of the show was in the VTL room. I have never spent much time with VTL, so I had never formed an opinion one way or another, and I've certainly never seen the big Wilson's where I live, but the system stopped me in my tracks. I thought I would just take a quick peek, and ended up sitting for quite a while. The system was open dynamic without being overly detailed and unmusical. I could have spent a lot of time there, but there was simply too much to see and hear!!!

The Purist room was in 'my' top three, they showed their Venustus cables with a Nagra pre-amp, and a Swedish (?) amp and CDP that I had never heard of, but they did a good job. Another winner was the Star Sound Technologies room. They were showing a new pair of monitors with their own monoblocks, rack, and points, with some dcs electronics. My goodness that little system sounded good!!! The speakers with stands are only $5000 and roll off above 35Hz, but in their room there was not an obvious lack of bass. Virtual Dynamics was worth stopping in. Rick was a lot of fun to talk to, a man of integrity in a world of charletans (that doesn't look right, where's the spell check option???).

There was a big electronics company that had an active speaker setup there which I REALLY wanted to see, and hear. I was very disappointed. In the room they sounded poor, which is not to say they are not a great speaker.

People who go to the show and really condemn a manufacturer or product for sounding terrible are being disingenuous. The best rooms suck, and none of us would buy a house that offered nothing better than the tiny rooms in which these systems are shown. There were obvious attempts to tame the rooms, which worked to a certain degree, but the manufacturers I talked to told me that this is not as much a time to strut their stuff as a time to meet people, and shake some hands. Deals are made by building understandings/relationships between retailers and manufacturers.

Who buys a product based on how it sounded in the store??? What retailer would buy a product based on how it sounded at CES or THE Show???

I had a great time, listened to some great systems, and some of them even sounded good!
I believe there are enough great sounding products to be concentrating on the "worst".
Why not reporting on the positive stuff? Will report my thoughts when I have more time.
I really liked the Vandersteen/Joule room a lot. To me, easily best of show.

That said, I'm not a Vandersteen fan. Go figure :)

Many of my friends like the ARC/Wilson room the best.
There were 3 rooms that really impressed me.
There was a new company, April Electronics, with several product lines (Oasis, Eximus, Stello)of amps, dacs, cd players. Their products were featured in the Dali and Metal Sound Design rooms, both of which had very rich, detailed, and exciting yet non-fatiguing sound.
Audiopax' room had a sound that combined the best of solid state with the best of tube sound; detailed, musical, reasonably deep and tight bass.
Audio Aero's booth had a sound that really made you forget about the equipment, and listen to the music - rich, detailed, non-fatiguing. Bass transients were very soft,though, although sustained notes went very deep, and bowed bass notes had an appropriate level of vibrance. Synthesized bass didn't have the excitement factor of a good solid state system. If I didn't think about it, I didn't bother me, but on recordings that I knew had serious bottom-end oomph, it never materialized.
I was quite disappointed in the Rowland / Rockport room. The system really spotlighted the upper midrange, resulting in a very fatiguing sound. This was surprising, due to all the very positive press given to the ICE amps here recently, and the raves from the big mags over Rockport's speakers.
Vmps was also disappointing, as they often like to tout their best-of-show votes in their advertising. The system was very boomy. I understand VMPS has a way to adjust the boom factor, but it sounded like they didn't bother.
I didn't attend CES, but what amazes me about these reports is how two people can listen to the same system and make completely different observations about the sound. Then again, different times of day, different levels of listening fatigue, one's mood, various recordings playing during audition, etc... can all affect what we think. A perfect example of this were the comments posted by Celtic and Nrchy about VTL i.e. extreme polar opposite opinions.

I know that i've encountered this myself in the very same room. A few years back, i listened to a system that sounded very lush, full bodied, delicate and smooth. The system was all SS, but had a very definite "TOOOOB" flavouring to it. My Brother heard it and thought much the same thing.

When bringing another friend into that room the next day, the rep's were away from the room and were letting people play their own discs and use the system as they would their own. A very nice touch. One couple put in some type of Opera ( pardon my ignorance ) and proceeded to sit front and center with their eyes closed. After a short period of time, i wanted to run from the room. The sound was ear-shattering i.e. hard & glassy sounding upper mids, treble that was brittle and breaking up i.e. very piercing and anything but "smooth, soft & airy" as i had experienced the day before. I don't know if it was the disc or if something had changed in the system, but i can bet you one thing. I'll bet that the guy that i took to hear that system had a COMPLETELY different take on it than what my Brother and i had the day before.

Having said all of that, i've heard those same components in other systems and always thought that they had a "toob" flavouring to them. As such, it had to be the disc that they were playing. If someone had walked in the room at that time though, i'm quite certain that they would have thought the components / speakers sounded shrill as can be.

I ran into another situation in a room that had Vandy 5's powered by ARC gear a few years back. On one day, the bass was somewhat flabby sounding and lacked definition. After Richard dialed the system in a little better the next day, the bass had tremendous slam and impact. Some people thought that the bass was TOO visceral, including my Brother. Needless to say, the differences were night and day. Do you think that someone hearing the system on the first day would have the same opinion as a different person hearing the system the second day? I don't think so. I know i didn't.

Just goes to show that one really can't form much of an opinion about sound with show conditions, especially during one visit that is very brief to each room. This is why i try to hit each room that may have something i'm interested in several times on different days. This allows one to form a more qualified opinion of what's going on there and even that may not be all that accurate.

As such, i'm with Nate on this one. Shows are strictly for checking things out. Then again, if they can get a system dialed in to the point where it grabs your attention under show conditions, chances are, it can be even better under more idealized normal-use conditions in your home. After all, how many folks can get a system REALLY dialed in overnight in a completely foreign room with unknown acoustics? Industry professionals or not, we should take that into account. After all, many of the "industry professionals" that attend and set up the gear at shows are simply sales rep's, not engineers or acousticians. Sean
I very much liked the Joseph Audio room. Excellent sound.
I will collect my thoughts and give my other impressions when I have more time.
I agree with Keithr. The Vandersteen/Joule room was very impressive. In fact, many rooms mentioned in this thread I agree with.

Purist seemed like it had some room issues in the bass, but otherwise was excellent. Wilson and VTL stuff may not always sound the best, but it's hard to argue they aren't SOTA and sound magnificent in most cases.

I also liked the StarSound room, but have to disagree about characterizing the price as "ONLY" $5k. It's definitely an appealing speaker, but a bit pricey in my book. They were also using $8k amps and a DCS stack that was probably $20k+, so I'm not sure that room qualified for "budget" status. Nevertheless, a great room which betterd many more expensive rooms, so maybe that's "budget" to some.

In fact, most rooms sounded pretty good, but almost none were "real world" systems. If you add the cables and room treatments, not too many rooms were less than $20k, with many being $40k+. That's alot of money for just 2 channels for most people.

The most intriguing and memorable thing I noted were the Murata supertweeters. I was surprised and impressed with what they did in an A/B demo. Again, they are pricey, but that seems to be the theme nowadays.
Labtec, I didn't mean to make it sound like $5000 speakers are cheap, since they are obviously not, but compared to many speaker systems they are relatively inexpensive. A person can spend a lot more, and a lot less. My thought was that for a dare I say, mid priced speaker they sounded very good! Unless I misunderstood Tom, the amps were $5000 too, but I could be wrong.

I'm not disagreeing, just trying to clarify
I've been involved with all this stuff for over 30 years. I can tell you that 'it's all good' given enough time to set the systems up properly and use the appropriate tweeks to maximize performance. In the end it generally boils down to room resonances, componet isolation and properly getting the source material tricked-out. All these guys know how to design great equipment. Unfortunately much of this gear does not get demonstrated in a manner that shows full capability.

I would put the Joule/Vandersteen 5A room as being the most long term listenable of all the rooms. It had a natural, easy and well balanced tone with the best soundstaging of all the rooms. The speakers simply vanished as the music began to play. That room redefined the word, "musical."

I could own that room and never want for more. Considering the price of the 5A's, they once again make a mockery of costlier speakers, a feat Richard Vandersteen has done since he started in the business. No wonder customers love him and competetors hate him.
Actually, I never do any serious listening on the first two days of the CES/The SHOW, allowing for proper setup, tweaking, and "burn-in" of the gear. The improved fidelity after the first two days can be quite noticeable!!
I'm sorry, the post should be 2005, NOT 2004 :)
I liked the Wilson/VTL system. There was great music being made when I was there. Some of the rooms that sounded bad were either cold gear, new gear, or poor set-up. Many rooms I went to that sounded bad were much better when I returned later for another musical choice and warmer gear. The Wilsons were stunning with their ability to produce music on such a grand scale. The Lamm/Wilson system was sweet, rich and very musical. The Avantgarde Meta Duo with the ONE.A amp was cranking on one-half a watt. Their sensitivity was 107db. They were the best I have heard the Avantgarde sound. The Manley room made great music in a very small room. This was one of the best rooms with the small space accomodation. The ESP Concert Grand at 40K was playing Lyle Lovett with Accuphase digital gear and had great slam, huge sense of space and very clean top end. So many rooms, so little time. The Gilmore Audio room with Gilmore audio electronics were much better this year than last. Their gear matches better with their speakers than what they used last year. The guitar was a bit thick in the midbass, image height was believable, and space was good. Overall a good musical sound. Last year they were just a bit thin IMHO. The Von Schweikert VR4-SR with an integrated amp from VAC was magical. One of the best low dollar sounds at the show were the VR4's. The speakers were 7995.00. The "Jupiter" by Duevel with VAC equipment was a bit dry sounding, but overall very musical and engaging. The sound was open and very fast. The bass in the Cabasse room was big, a bit bloated, but fun to listen to. The bass guitars sounded like they were on steroids as did the drums. The round monitors imaged very well, but I would have liked a more delicate and airey treble. I enjoyed hearing "Funeral for Friend" by Elton on the Von Schweikert VR9SE's. They were as good as I have heard that cut. The Talon Firehawk with big Electrocompaniet electronics "Nemo", was very clean and articulate. The best sound at the show.....without a doubt the MBL speakers with MBL gear was so effortless and clean that I had a hard time leaving as did the crew from TAS. Expect them to be writing about the speakers. Wayne Garcia, Jonathan Valin, and Neil Gader were there for a half hour and still there when I left for the safety of my ears. They were rocking out to 9" nails and the spl's must have been at 105-110db and going. The music was so elegant, dimensional, and pure that I could live with either of the 3 pairs we listened for the duration of my hearing and not want another speaker. They were really that good. Hear a pair if you can. All ears, Jallen
Nrchy I have a pair of the original 3 sided Starsound amps like those at the show. The price depends on the resistors used in the signal path. The pair I have were built with the finest Vishay's available and with out their normal jackets..3 years ago these amps as built were less than 8k for the pair. I am a dealer...Tom
anyone hear the Rogue Audio room?
Yes, they were playing a $1400 integrated amp. Sorry, but I don't recall what speakers they had coupled to the amp. This was a very good bargain system, one of the best at CES. The other bargain systems I like were the Consonance electronics with a pair of cheap speakers (again my memory fails me) at T.H.E. Show, and the Trenner & ____ speakers (new Austrian firm) being shown by the distributor for Basis turntables (they shared a room at CES).

As to the original post, I thought the WAVAC room was okay, nothing special. I also thought the VTL room was okay. The VTL/Wilson Maxx system sounded a bit like a cheap PA system when played in pentode mode, but they improved greatly in triode mode. The Maxx sounded better in the Audio Research room at T.H.E. Show.
Theaudiotweak you're right. Tom said there were several levels of the same amplifier that would be available. I'm not sure if the one they were using was the entry level, or a tricked out model like the one you describe. It was still the three sided model, which made me feel very patriotic. If George Washington had an pair of monoblocks... never mind.
Jallen, I totally agree on the Avantgarde, that was pretty nice. The sound was pretty good with all the zanden electronics.
However, for the VTL room, that was the most terrible at the show (maybe when i was there).
Nrchy the one you heard has the same Vishay resistor package as mine..The show piece had a new improved 1st stage and larger transformer with 3 more amps of current. Great amp and hope to have mine in for all the new bump ups..Tom
Thanks for the kind words regarding the Joule/Elrod/Critical Mass Systems room. On behalf of Jud, David and myself, it was a pleasure to make you smile. Special thanks go out to Richard Vandersteen for his company and insight.

We're truly pleased you liked the results. See you next year!

Critical Mass Systems
Avantgarde had dumped the Zanden for an Audio Aero Capitole when I visited the room.

If the speakers in the Consonance room were stand mounts, hen they were the Consonance Eric-1s... and yes, they did indeed sound absolutely brilliant. They get my budget vote as well... tough to beat for 1K a pair.