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.