My CES/T.H.E. Show impressions

My priority on the first day of CES is to hit the music vendors, Music Direct, Elusive Disc, etc are all set up with plenty of audiophile vinyl and digital to be had. I didn’t buy anything from the May Audio rooms, they are not even close to competitive (but do have some pretty interesting import stuff if you’re willing to pay for it). I picked up a few CD’s from Music Direct:

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention "We're Only in it for the Money" gold Mobile Fidelity CD.

The Who "Who's Next" Deluxe Edition re-mastered CD

Elton John "Captain Fantastic" Deluxe Edition re-mastered CD

Mark Knoplfer "One Take Radio Sessions"

Shoeless Joe's first release on DVD-A

Lori Lieberman "Home of Whispers"

Next up the vinyl, some would say I probably have too much as it is, but I’m weak. I own most of this stuff but some of it is getting a bit worn. All the vinyl is either 180g or 200g pressings:

Aerosmith "Honkin' on Bobo"

Elvis Costello "My Aim is True"

The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" in stereo!

R.E.M. "Out of Time"

Billy Joel "52nd Street"

Alanis Morisette "Unplugged"

T-Rex "Electric Warrior"

Led Zeppelin "The Latter Days- Best of Volume Two"

Needed some tubes for my preamps, bought ten Electro-Harmonix 6DJ8/6922 Gold Pin Tubes (Russian) from New Sensor. Reasonably priced at $12 per tube.

And as always, I dropped in to see my good friend Greg at DH Labs, I needed 16 locking bananas for my garage system. If you haven’t tried DH Labs stuff, do yourself a favour and buy some Q10 speaker wire, it’s very reasonably priced and very very good wire. Greg convinced me to try out their Air Matrix Interconnect, I’ll use it between my Shanling T100 CDP and BAT VK30 preamp.

There are so many different rooms at Alexis Park, it’s difficult to see and hear everything even in three days of wandering around. Add in T.H.E. Show next door at the St. Tropez and you’ve got a helluva lot ground to cover. There’s plenty of manufacturer’s who have static displays, no systems up and running so I didn’t bother with those rooms. It’s also worth mentioning that I was on a quest to find a good monitor for my home office system, so a lot of my bias was towards speakers this week. Before I get off on a tangent it’s worth mentioning that there were three rooms that were always very busy:

Totem: Vince is a very gracious man, really nice to talk to. Totem is doing very very well, there’s not many speaker companies that can compete at the same price points and beat Totem. Pretty hard to audition the Totem products at the show, way too many people crowding in to the room. I did have an opportunity to listen to the Arros, no idea why they sounded so good at CES when they sounded lousy in my rig. Only thing I can guess is I had an older pair, evidently there have been significant changes to the Arro since it was first introduced.

Gallo continues to do very well with their $2900 (U.S.) Reference III speaker; they’ve made some minor modifications and are now shipping the model 3.1 Changes include removing the tweeter switch, upgraded capacitors in the crossover, and slightly different drivers for the midrange. Man, the Gallos sound fantastic and are pretty well impossible to beat for value, their sales manager was moaning about not being able to keep up with the demand. I talked with Anthony Gallo, he’s been busy designing HT stuff for the last little while but is now back to working on a high end speaker that will employ multiple CDT tweeters.

Usher was very busy, they were showing off their flagship $15,000 speaker designed by John D’Appolito. I spoke with John for a bit, he mentioned that their higher priced models were easy to design since he was able to pick the best drivers he could get his hands on, the challenge will be making the lower end of the Usher line almost as good without the benefit of pricey drivers and whatnot. The higher end Usher’s look almost identical to the high end Sonus Fabers. And man do they sound sweet! Imagining is scary, awesome depth, and seamless integration of the lows, mids, highs. Truly a statement speaker system, but $15k for a Taiwanese speaker is pretty steep. It seems that almost every speaker that sounded good at the show was $15k, I suppose this is the new sweet spot?

I’ve always spent more on source and amplification/control than speakers, and always will. Proof that my way of thinking isn’t too far off: the Blue Circle room. Gilbert doesn’t like the new Martin Logan line up, so he decided to use a $200 pair of PSB’s hooked up to his new reference $28,000/pair monoblock hybrid amplifiers. Sounded great, way better than you’d expect given the speakers cost about as much as a decent power cord. The Blue Circle guys are a blast to hang out with, true music lovers with a twisted sense of humour.

For the most part there weren’t any new and exciting source components, although Roy Hall had some new Shanling models on display that looked interesting. Oracle is coming out with the Temple Phono Stage, expected to list at $3000 U.S. Did I mention Blue Circle? Gilbert is designing some really cool gear of late, check ‘em out.

A few surprises as always. I wandered into the Analysis Audio room, and I swear I was staring at full range Apogees! Based in Greece, evidently they’ve been in business for 15 years, a well kept secret but reasonably well known outside North America. The speakers are full range ribbons, they were driving them with 60 watt Antique Sound Lab amplifiers. Sounded great, U.S. MSRP:

Omicron $8990
Epsilon $10,990
Omega $14,990
Amphitryon $19,990


Another newcomer to the planar scene is Final Sound, a company based in the Netherlands. Electrostatics that range from $4k up to $10k, sound as good as they look. I’d like to spend more time listening these, they show lots of promise. There was a dude from Sweden hanging out in the lobby of the St. Tropez, he’s developed a line of speakers made entirely of glass. He’ll be back next year with his stuff ready for prime time, I can’t even guess what it’ll cost to ship!

And finally, dropped in to listen to the Eminent Technology/Monarchy audio room. I expected to see/hear Bruce Thigpen’s venerable LFT IIIVa speakers, instead he had his new bookshelf speakers hooked up, the LFT 16. I won’t go on and on about ‘em, suffice to say I was impressed and will be buying a pair.

So much to absorb. In closing I’d like to recognize some of the really good people I spent time with this week: Vincent @ Totem, Mr. Von Schweikert, Gilbert and co. @ Blue Circle, Greg @ DH Labs, Bes & Michael @ MusicDirect, Bruce @ Eminent Technology, Anthony of Anthony Gallo Acoustic, Sean @ Zu, Elizabeth @ Manley, John D’Appolito, Danny from Son Ideal… I’m forgetting a bunch.

A few more memories came to mind, so I'll add-on. Some may ask, did you listen to Amp X or Speaker Y or...? To be honest most of the time I sought out stuff I knew I was interested in, but more often than not I gravitated to the rooms that were playing music I like.

Balanced Audio Technology was driving a pair of Wilsons, I wasn't a big of the combo but Stevie Ray Vaughn sounded pretty damned good all the same. Got talking with Victor, he's just brought his first solid state preamplifier to market and as always the design and workmanship are first class. We got into a fairly detailed discussion on circuit topology, the man sure knows his stuff! Said hello to Geoff Poor too, great guy.

The ProAc guys were playing Steely Dan's "Two Against Nature" so I sat down to have a listen to the Studio 140's; typical ProAc sound but seemed to have a wee bit of cabinet resonance to 'em. I asked to hear the Studio 110 monitors and voila, they hooked 'em up and we listened. They sounded good but could benefit from a subwoofer. Nice guys, very accomodating.

I stopped in to the Von Schweikert room, I've heard lots of good things about their stuff and was curious. In this particular room they had a home theatre set up going on, a young Mr. Von Schweikert approached me and asked if I liked what I saw/heard. I explained I'm a two channel guy, he suggested we step into an adjoining room. There were a pair of Von Schweikert 4 jr's set up, he handed me a demo CD he had burned for the show, handed me the remote, and told me to take all the time I'd like. Very welcoming and attentive, treated me like I was important to his company. Von Schweikert's were all over the show, at least six rooms all told. I'm somewhat unsure as to the nature of the sound but based on how they treated me (all things being equal) I'd sure want to own a pair!

Manley was playing some Bob Marley, had to stop in and listen! Love the retro look of the Manley stuff, and their give-away stuff was fun "tubes rule"! Vandersteen had Dire Straits playing through their Quattros, sounded real nice, then they switched over to some boring stuff so off I went in search for more tunes. So much to hear.....

To finally close the long winded "report" with a bit of humour. I'm hanging out with Gilbert in the Blue Circle room, standing around shooting the **** when an older gent stops in the doorway and sez to us "Canadian, eh".
I acknowldege our proud heritage and he responds with "don't you know who I am???" I answer him back "should I"? He waves his badge at us and sez "I'm Harry Pearson". I smile and say "huh, cool". Gilbert found the exchange very amusing.
Although the attendance is down this year (exhibitors, dealers and industry affiliates alike), there's still much to cover in 4 days, especially if one took time to pay attention to details in each room. I will post more information as I have a chance to collect my notes.
It did look lighter in display and attendance to me this year. I love the St.Tropez "THE" show, in particular, in that it seems to attract some new little known designers, some of which are outstanding (and some outstanding well known ones as well). There was a lot of great stuff at the show, too much to write about at the moment. I would say I was particularly impressed by the Evolution speakers (by "Pearl" I think) and the Von Schweikert vr-4 sr's. Jr's too, more likely in my my space, but the sr's were awesome. I wish I had taken notes, or pictures, sigh, although all I need is a list of the vendors and I'll remember what I liked.

BTW, Las Vegas is not wearing well on me personally. Gambling, prostitution, shows that strike me as fairly tacky. I just don't see the appeal of Vegas and it diminishes the experience for me, substantially. Maybe I just need to lighten up, but, I really don't get Vegas.

I'm with you, Art--I think LV is the armpit of the Rocky Mntn. states. When I was a dealer in the '80s, my wife and I 'loved' LV so much, when we went to the CES we stayed in Henderson.