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.
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.