CES / THE Show

Well, I just returned from the CES/THE Show, and for the most part, there really wasn't much in the way of "revolutionary" products, so in general, it was somewhat uninspiring.

On the audio side of things, I decided to take a different tack this year. Last year I visited as many suites as possible, but this year, I focused my efforts on loudspeakers, and based my visits on a single attribute; did the music coming from the room cause me to stop, and see what was making the music?

I heard an interesting comment from a gentleman on one of the shuttles. There was a discussion about recreating the “live event,” something that I must assume is the ultimate priority of audiophiles. He commented that “reproduced music is just that, reproduced music, so I don’t know why we all bother sometimes.” I thought it was an interesting comment, because as we all know, you can get close, but nothing reproduced can duplicate 100% the live event. I guess the objective is to get as close as possible!

Without getting into too many details, there were not a whole lot of rooms that drew me in. I did deliberately go to see a handful of speakers, one of which was the Thiel 3.7. I give Jim Thiel credit; they sounded pretty darned good. I passed right on by a large number of the usual suspects (the typical "top 10" list), as I just wasn’t impressed with the sound I heard. Many folks said the environment was poor, but regardless, some speakers excelled, even in a less than perfect setting. Is your listening environment “perfect?” A pair of PC speakers will outperform a $20K system under the right conditions.

Anyway, here’s a list of the rooms where the sound inspired me to embark on a longer listening session. They are in no particular order, and each of course had strengths and weaknesses. What I can say about all of them, is that to my ears, the trade-off’s were balanced well enough that the overall performance of the system didn’t suffer:

Edgarhorn – When you can hear the air coming through a trumpet, and the string of bass guitar vibrate, all I can say is “WOW”
Audiokinesis – This guy is on to something. Absolutely awesome midrange!
Rethm – Lowther based system that now has a powered sub. Beautifully designed and finished, and the coherency was outstanding!
Usher – If audiophiles can get passed the “made overseas” stigma, these easily perform as well, and in most cases, outperform the typical top 10 list at one-quarter the pricing in some cases.
Escalante Design – Fast and incredibly well balanced. Possibly the best conventional dynamic system I’ve ever heard.

In a nutshell, I’ve come to the realization that to my ears, a well executed horn system (or horn variation) gets as close to the “live event” as you’re going to get. While there are of course trade-off’s, a horn system provides the dynamic swings, transient attack, detail and delivery of instruments (strings, drums, woodwinds, brass) that a conventional, low efficiency, dynamic system simply can’t match. I’ll admit that a horn system might not provide a “silky” midrange presentation that some folks like for vocals, but a horn system is just so expressive that nearly every other design sounds like “Hi-Fi.” For me, horns are as close to the live event as I’m going to get, and I can now see why the value of older horn systems from Altec and JBL have skyrocketed in value. I think folks are on to something.

There really is something magical about the way these systems reproduce music, so needless to say, after 25 years of trying just about every speaker technology available, I'm going back to horns and never looking back.
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I didn't have the time nor desire to visit all the product rooms. I just went into rooms with product that was of interest to me.

Avantgarde Acoustics's room was by far the best sound that I visited. I had had enough "Show Jazz" recording's when I sat down and it was refreshing to hear some good old in your face hard rock. The guy took out the Show Jazz and put in Rammstein's "Reise Reise" track 5 "Los". It was the first time I said "OH MY GOD!" all day.

I didn't go to "The Show" I was on systems overload by that time.

PS, The Hooker's riding the elevator's was a nice touch. LOL
It gave it "A Vegas Feel".
Escalante Design was my favorite at THE. Very balanced and one of the most natural sounding speakers I've heard.
Cary has an absulutly fantastic new 2 channel amp using 4 KT88's per side. I have no idea when and if it will be out but it is really pretty !! A work of art. Its so new that it is the only one in existence right now.
I'd add a few more, MBL as always sounded good, and the amps the size of coffins were just to cool! The new Revel Salon2's sounded great, worth the walk to the Hilton, they had a much better room then when they demo'd them @ CEDIA, and I loved the look of the new gear from ML. I would also add a sleeper, the RBH 30th anniversary speaker, @$14K, a bargain,, they were amazing transducers, huge, but great. I breifly listened to the JBL Everest, and must say a very strange looking speakers, but had a great sound as well.
Overall, I thought CES went quite well. Moving CES/Audio to The Venetian Hotel was probably a very good idea for exposing high-end audio to the general public since so many non-audio CES patrons had to walk the halls. I heard numerous times that out of curiosity some to many of these patrons at least peeked into the rooms on the lower floors to see and hear the systems.

As for my agenda at CES, I had several but I too was focused primarily on speakers. There were some nice surprises and also some not so nice surprises.

My friend (also in search of the right speaker) shared with me that the tweeter is probably the safest element of a speaker system to test at a show since nearly everything else can be more easily influenced by the room. We/he primarily used his Natalie Merchant Live CD since there is a section on track 10, Ophelia, that will fairly easily expose certain basic weaknesses within a tweeter/speaker system, especially if the speaker is a 2-way. If the dynamics flatten out or the tweeter breaks up, we'd move on to the next room and speaker.

I/we discovered that perhaps 85 - 90 percent of all the speakers we auditioned had one or more shortcomings at reproducing this track. In fact, there was only one speaker that absolutely soared to new heights and without apparent issue and that was the AMR monitor speakers with a ribbon tweeter and all-aluminum cabinet. The speaker (roughly the size of the Maggico Minis) weighed 80 lbs. each and was supposedly full-range. We didn't really test the lowest bass regions but it was amazing up top with incredible dynamics. This speaker deserves a serious audition.

Overall I thought that the Integris System from Aurum Acoustics was the best sound at CES.

I'd have to say that the most fascinating tweak I heard had to be the little 2-inch x 2-inch x 1/2-inch thick resonator blocks with a little cup and ball and what they did for soundstaging and room acoustics when strategically placed in the room or on top of the components.

As for the not so nice suprises, there were a few rooms that sounded absolutely horrible and based on the name brands of one room in particular, I'd guess that there could only be one excuse for such poor sound quality.

Overall, we had a lot of fun, learned some new things, and made some new contacts.

Oh, yeah, I think I found the speaker I'm looking for.

Did you get the chance to listen to the new Reference 3a Grand Veena's? If so I'm interested in how you thought they stacked up against the others.
I heard a 'glimpse' of the Reference 3a room (I don't know if the speakers were the Grand Veenas).

We were pressed for a scheduled meeting and from what little I heard (almost standing out in the hallway) they were very impressive and I wanted to return later but never did.
DH Labs/Prima Luna/Njoe Tjoeb room was excellent. Von Schweikert VR5 SE, i was not impress, its unlistenable (it hurts my ears) i think its not properly set up. THE Show on the other hand has only few exhibitors, but i think the best room in THE Show is the Aures/Landes, feels like listening live music.
I spent 2 days at the Venetian searching for speakers: Here are my top 3 selections:

1) MBL show room ( the best I have ever heard, I think the entire system cost about $275000.00)

2) Gershman Acoustics show room: Black Swan

3)Usher show room: The Be-20s were simply awsome. Very big speakers. The entire system was running the Usher electronics that retail for less than $6K. Can't help but wonder what they would sound like with more expensive equipment. I guess I will know soon enough.

I can only dream about the MBL but fortunate enough to buy a pair of Black Swan and Be-20. I can't wait to get them late this week.
As usual, I seem to be the odd man out. I heard most of the speakers mentioned above and they are not among my top five. My top five are the Magico Version 3s, the YG Kipods, the Lamsche coronas, the LSA Model 10s, and TAD Model 2s. The LSA Model 10s when they played them right at the RMAF were the best of the lot, but seem unlikely to be built given the high price they would have to cost. At the RMAF I heard bass decay that I thought was impossible on speakers. The realism was awesome. At CES they could not achieve this, probably because of the room and the compromised electronics.

The TAD Model 2s after my thinking that the Model 1s were too wooden, were not my first choice on going to the room. In a backroom they had intended to play the Pioneer XEs which were quite the hit at the RMAF. They sound much less wooden and at $9500 are a real value. TAS already has a rave review of the stand version.

Everyone was agog with the Magico big speakers and many missed what was the best sounding speaker in the room, the Version 3s, at $22k estimated. They were quick and transparent. I hate the Micros and cannot understand why they receive such favorable reviews.

The Lamsche coronas at THE Show use a plasma tweeter of the same design as that used by Acapella, but has double the flame size and goes down to 2500 Hz. The speaker was in too small a room but had well integrated sound.
I thought the new Acapella Violins saw a better mating of the plasma and horn speakers than I have ever heard before, but I thought the fuller extension of the Lamsches was clearly superior. Too bad these speakers cost $45k but that is, of course, where the Violins also fall.

Finally, I found the YG speakers despite the awful rooms on the mezzanine of the Venetians to hold great promise. Their many awards from Japan would suggest that these American made but mainly sold in Japan speakers will do well here, despite their $38k price. They share with the LSA Model 10 a very rigid and non-resonant aluminum cabinet and sound much like the Model 10s. No wooden sound here.

I think CES's deliberate move to undercut THE Show worked as there were few at THE Show. I thought the tower rooms at CES were okay and perhaps even better than the Alexis Park rooms. Incidentally, the Alexis Park seemed to be going strong. I had heard that it had been torn down. The mezzanine rooms, while pretty and with open walkways to them were awful. In one listening session, we had to await the noisy demonstration nextdoor to be completed before we could continue. Moving partition walls do not a good listening room make.

It's TWO odd men out, you and I.

Unless there were two MBL exhibits I thought their room was worst sound at CES and THE Show combined. I had a couple of people lead me to listen and I could not enter the room the bass was so exaggerated and high frequencies so shrill.

Fortunately I had a well respected audio person standing in the hallway that agreed with my assessment which (hopefully) got me off the hook from my strong opinion of the sound.
Albert,funny thing!!I have heard a load of MBL exhibits over the years,and could NEVER cozy up to the sound.
Stick with your own intuitive senses,as they seldom lie!
I did not catch the MBL suite this CES, but I did hear favorable comments from others. The only time I thought the MBLs sound any good over the last ten years was at the last RMAF.

This is too bad as this is one of too few innovations in speakers.
The funny thing about shows(the few I've been to) is that you can be standing right next to someone who is having the equivalent of a musical epiphany, and think to yourself "This sounds like total dogsh*t" and vice versa.

Different strokes for different folks. I guess it's a good thing in some ways.

I agree with Seadweller that Dr. Edgar's Edgarhorns have a way of energizing a room with sound that is so subtle and nuanced with explosive dynamics. If I could only find a way to sneak those SubZero refrigerators into my living room without my girlfriend noticing.
I agree with MBL impression- it's not cozy and doesn't make want to sit and listen. Sound was pretty shrill.
On the other hand I couldn't get myself out of PBN Montana Grand Reference speakers suite at THE Show- such a huge speakers and they provide a sense of absolute involvement and effortlesness.
Also liked Ventures driven by Wavac amps.
Has anybody noticed Audes speakers driven by VAC Phi integrated at CES? Very warm and involving.
I wasn't too much impressed by neither pair of Magico (smaller in BAT room and the larger pair I can't remember the amps).
Also liked Ventures driven by Wavac amps.

Amen to that if you're referring to the room with the Continuum Audio Labs turntable and Wavac pre and phono joining the SET amps.

That's pretty much the top of my list for best sound at CES and THE Show.
Oh, I should have said too, I agree with your taste on the PNB Montana if you're referring to the VERY large speakers with (4) 15" woofers.

They were not as pristine and perfect as the Wavac room but were certainly putting out stunning bass with decent speed and control, especially considering the room dimensions and (lack of) treatments.
Tvad, unfortunately, I didn't listen to the Acapalla system, but it's priced way out of my league unfortunately, as is the Avantgarde. Too bad Opera-Consonance didn't have their M-12 and M-15 there, as I was dying to give them a listen.
I don't get MBL's "Ref" sound also in all MBL systems. Although with different front ends ( say very well set up TT), the same ref pre-amp, amps and speakers perform very very well to approach Ref sound. So it must be the MBL digital front end!!
i like to know what speaker cables were use for thiel 3.7?
Yes, Ventures ($50000) were in the room with Continuum turntable and Wavac preamp, and Montana speakers were Grand Reference with 15" woofers ($88000)
Is that a coincidence that I find myself liking components I won't be ever able to afford?
Anyone hear the Peak Consult El Diablo speakers at the show.
To me,the Peak El Diablo is a very beguiling design.It looks to be superb in implementation,as it needs VERY little power.I have seen it's impedence curve,which was amazing.The SET crowd would love this "baby"!Too bad it is so pricey!I have heard,from a Peak dealer,that it is on the dark side,and you all know what happened to the "Emperor",in Star Wars!-:)
The split opinion on MBL is interesting. After the LA show(my first), I started a thread asking about excessive bass and volume levels at audio show demos. In it, I noted that the MBL demo was a) overloading even a very large room with bass and b) excruciatingly loud. OTOH, I thought that the ear splitting reproduction of electric guitar was amazingly convincing, even in light of the poor octave to octave balance in the room. I completely understand why these demos polarize opinion.

I had a chance to do some listening of the new Sonus Faber Elipsa speakers at CES. My initial impression was that they were somewhat dull and lifeless. Then, one of the demonstrators changed albums on the turntable and all of a sudden the speaker came to life. I'd be interested in knowing if anyone else gave these speakers a listen and what their impressions were.
I took a friend to CES who was attending it for the first time. About the MBL room, he came and got me and said, "you've got to see these speakers". An hour later, in the Sonus Faber room he said, "that sounds so beautiful". The end.
It's strange that MBL choose to play so loud and with rock music and such at shows. Sure, they can rock, and sure, they can play loud - but that's certainly not their biggest strength. First of all, I'm not a dealer, just a fan. :)

Go to an MBL dealer, bring some of your favorite records and listen to the more down-to-Earth gear in a "normal listening situation". I think you'll find that what their gear does is simply give you the music and nothing else. I can't describe how it sounds, there is nothing to describe except the music. I've heard musicians listen to them and they go "it's just like real music!". And yeah, it is. :)

I've found that they really like classical & opera, and definitely jazz. Most other stuff works too, even non-audiophile records. ;) It's not my first choice for heavy rock & dance music though.
i brought an acoustic guitar jazz cd as a reference.

i was very disappointed. most of the systems were unable to provide atimbrally accurate representation of the nylon strings and wood body. thus in my opinion, the sound of most rooms, with the exception of two or three, was mediocre at best, and certainly the cost of owning these stereo systems exceeded the value in listening to them.

i'll leave it to the analyzers to figure out what's gone wrong, but i think most of the current production components are not worth an audition.

with the exception of 2 systems, i would not want to own any of them, if they were given to me for nothing.
I too was at CES, and the room that drew me in from the hallway was Silverline Audio. Alan Yun, designer/owner of Silverline Audio was demonstrating his new Minuets. These small monitor speakers were incredible. They were set up next to his floor standing models, and everyone who entered the room thought the sound was coming from the floor standing speakers. If you get a chance to listen to these, treat yourself, you will not be disappointed.
Did any one have the chance to listen to the Krell system at Mirage Hotel and saw what speaker cables they were using?
In regards to the MBL room, I must give them kudo's for demonstrating ANYTHING other than music with a standing bass, which let's face it is the audio equivalent of a Pixar movie for TV/Projector Demo... makes almost anything look/sound good.

Yes, they are played loud, as they sound kind of dull at moderate levels, and I was so in the mood for something loud when I listened to them!

I know, not a great reason, but when you want to rock....
Wow, anyone hear these Rockport speakers at the show.

Also at CES again. I agree that the move to the Venetian basically toasted THE show badly. I would say that the location to the Venetian was much more convenient and the suites much better than Alexis park.

Some of my favorites as far as speakers; For HT set up, not two channel, I thought the NAIM n-satn-cent set up was phenomenal. On the two channel side, those Silverline Boleros were excellent. Also, the focus audio demo of the 2.5 speaker line was incredible, and for me, bested the Gershman demo across the hall. Green Mountain audio teamed up with a new ( to me ) electronics line called mole something or other, and I thought the Pico Medea pair were fabulous.

Many unmentioned brands showed weakness in treble reproduction to my ears, but the above choices did quite well.
Hi Folks

Just a small correction, The Montana Master Reference features 4 each 18" woofers, and the MSRP is "only" $ 65000 without amplification, as it was displayed at THE Show the MSRP would be $ 105K as we used two of the PBN Custom Shop Olympia AX Amplifeirs with a MSRP of $ 20K each.

The system needs to be driven by two stereo amplifiers as woofers are active ie the x-over is electronic and have bass equalization/extension built in.