For many years, the ‘stereo’ or ‘hi-fi’ market was the hot portion of the electronics business – and CES reflected that. Now, that segment of the industry is dwarfed by everything from computers to flat-screen TVs and MP3 players. High-end audio is still represented at CES – not at the busy Las Vegas Convention Center – but inside two motels located a mile away.
Loudspeakers are usually the largest and the most visual items in a hi-fi system and there are plenty of new models displayed to catch everyone’s attention. I was drawn to John DeVore’s room to hear his new Gibbon Super 8s.
I own, and adore the original Gibbon 8s but couldn’t believe the sound coming from the same size enclosure. Using elements from his top-of-the-line Silverback speakers, John has created something very, very special. Paired with beautiful, handmade Shindo Laboratory tube electronics, the sounds coming from that room were the best I’ve heard at the show. A pair of Super 8s will retail for $4,000-$5,000 depending on the finish.
Great sounds also came from the Rethm room. The word Rethm is Sanskrit for harmony – which designer Jacob George strives for in his striking single-driver designs. George was proudly showing his newly redesigned 2nd Rethm speakers – with new woodwork around the interior/exterior ports and an integral metal stand. If it's possible, they've made this terrific-looking speaker even more striking. The single driver is still a highly modified Lowther in Jacob's special enclosure. Prices should remain in the $6,500-$7,000 range per pair.
George was also beaming about his smallest model, a brand new bookshelf speaker, the 5th Rethm ($1,500/pair). Quite large to fit on most bookshelves, I would highly recommend using them with their beautiful matching stands ($400). I must admit that I was very impressed with the sound coming out of these small enclosures also endowed with modified Lowther drivers.
Terry Cain of Cain and Cain speaker designs had his single-driver IM-Ben speakers ($6,500/pair) and two Bailey subwoofers ($1,500 each) making beautiful music using some amazing looking electronics from Wavelength Audio. I’m currently testing Terry’s very affordable Abby speakers ($1,500/pair) and I plan to tell you just how good they are in the near future.
Avantgarde Acoustic was showing off their newest horn speaker the Meta duo – a hybrid crossing of their Duo speaker and Trio Basshorns. It’s Avantgarde’s first attempt at a fully horn-loaded, single box speaker. These are very large – so large that their WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) would be very low in my home.
The people at QS&D were proudly auditioning their imported line of Spendor loudspeakers, including the highly-regarded S3e bookshelf model. This one really fits on a shelf, but will sound better on a pair of good speaker stands. Nice sounds here too.
As for electronics, one of my favorite amplifiers of all time, Sugden’s legendary A21a Class-A integrated amp now has a bigger, better brother. The A21a Super has a much more polished and refined look, more output (30 watts per channel compared to 20) and a larger price tag $3,500. Expect a review in upcoming months.
High-end home theater
Lew Johnson of conrad-johnson design was eagerly showing off his new line of multi-channel tube equipment for 2005. Stunningly beautiful to look at, there’s a 6-channel analog preamplifier (MET1, $8,000), a matching, universal audio/video player (AVP1, $8,500) and a high-powered, triode power amplifier ($8,500).
I just had to show you this CD player simply because of the way it looks. This is Shandling’s SCD-T300C Super Audio, tube CD player. I can’t comment on how it sounds because it looks so great I was mesmerized by its appearance in the room. For the record, the internal headphone amplifier has tube outputs as well.
In the same room, Roy Hall was showing off his impressive line of Music Hall turntables. Yes, vinyl is alive and doing very well at CES. Many people here will argue that done correctly LPs sound a lot better than CDs and the like.
Ranging in price from $349 for the MMF-2.1 (that includes the tone arm and the cartridge) to the MMF-9 ($1,499-$1,699 with cartridge) these are some great ways to get into – or for us old guys, get back into playing analog disks.
In that vein, I’m headed back there today to see what I can pick up at the sale booths. There’s an array of LPs, high-end CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, as well as electronics retailers and even tube sellers where show goers can spend their money. I can’t wait.