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Full Report Coverage by Contributor
Dave Duvall

My track shoes were on and my vitamins ingested. I maintained a fair amount of rest. Once again I was shaking myself down to "work the Show," as they say. Sit back, have a cup of coffee (caffeine required), and race around the Alexis Park with me. Warning: Do not attempt to audition audio gear at the lightning pace required to cover a show such as the CES. And a quick note to the manufacturers: Cut me some slack if you spot an error. I'll be more than happy to print a correction. All information listed came either straight from the presenter's mouth, via fax, email, or phone calls to your office. Really, we try very hard around here to get it right.

In the Silverline Audio room the most enthusiastic man in the world, Alan Yun, was demoing his Corona (93.5 dB 1w/1m) speakers ($6,995 pr.). Behind his speakers (which I hope to review later this year) were a Krell KAV-300cd player, Krell KRC-3 preamp, Krell FPB600 amp, Aural Symphonics AS1-VS balanced interconnects, Aural Symphonics ML-Cube power cords, Aural Symphonics Purple bi-wire speaker cables, and the Classic One isolation platforms. Very dynamic sound—25Hz to22kHz—especially when Yun cranked a solo drum piece.

Alon (how do I get that dang slash thing goin' over the "o") showed the Circe speakers ($12,000 pr. including external crossover). This three-way design uses only premium cobalt (Alnico) magnet systems for all the drivers, to reportedly provide the lowest possible musical distortion. Backup gear included the Metronome Technologies Transport and D/A converter, Millennium linestage preamp, Cary 805SE monblocks, Acarian Black Orpheus speaker cables, and Siltech FTM-3 interconnects. Very natural voice narration was noted during a playing of Peter and the Wolf.

The VansEvers/Thor Audio/Discovery Cable room highlighted itself with the cool, circular-shaped, tubes-in-the-middle-ring Thor Audio DC1000 D/A converter ($7,750) and TA-1000 or T-3000 preamps ($6,990 and $5,990 respectively). Demoed later in the Show were the TPA-60 ($6,990 pr.) and TPA-150 ($19,900 pr.) monoblock amps. VansEvers supplied the Unlimiter power conditioner ($675) with the Reference Model 400 No.1 power cord ($375), a prototype balanced power conditioner (approx. $600) and prototype power Signature power cord ($600), Model 83 conditioner ($575) with Reference Model 400 No.3 power cord ($375), and Model 12 Reference Jr. Digital conditioner ($349) with Reference Model 400 No.2 power cord ($375). Whew! Discovery Cable supplied the Plus 4 interconnects ($650 per 1m pair, RCA or XLR), and Signature speaker cable ($600 8' pr.). Supporting cast included a Pentagon CD-70 player, Lamm ML1 90Wpc monoblock amplifiers, Billy Bags racks, and Black Diamond Racing Pyramid Cones. Very clear sound here, with attention to detail making the difference between "show sound" and sound I would like at home.

The Clayton Audio/Tri Audio Marketing/DH Labs enclave showed the Clayton Audio M-70 monoblock amps (70 watts into 8 ohms, pure class A, $5,600 pr.), passing and pushing juice on DH Labs BL-1 Series II ($99 1m.pr.) interconnects and Silver Sonic T-14 ($193 8' bi-wired pr.) speaker cables. Speakers were the Meadowlark Audio Shearwaters, and a Krell KAV-300cd player and KRC-3 preamp were also present, as was the SoundRack Marble Signature 36 stand, Osiris Ariel pneumatic table (four air bladders and lead shot utilized). Osiris Giza multi-purpose sand-filled bases provided isolation. Acoustic guitar and vocal by Greg Brown sounded quite convincing.

VMPS played their Super Tower III ($15,900 pr. with electronic bass crossover). Using a ribbon midrange and tweeter, and four 12" woven-carbon-fiber active drivers pushing one slot-loaded passive radiator (with user-adjustable damping), the Super Tower III reproduced a beautiful, open sound with detail and a bottom end with punch. The asking price also includes shipping, installation and calibration in your room! Other products that helped make Lyle Lovett come to life included a Wadia 270 CD transport ($7950) and 27 Digital Decoding Computer ($8450), Joule Electra preamp and Marquis tubed monoblock amps, Michael Green Room Tunes products, Sonex panels, and Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables.

Sound Anchor and Monarchy Audio co-sponsored room 2210. Featured products included the Sound Anchor four-post stands (28" tall, $560 pr.) and component racks ($995 without platforms). Monarchy made good use of the DIP jitter buster ($199), DR-1 digital cable ($199 1m.), AR-2 interconnects ($199 1m.pr.), Model 33 20-bit Burr-Brown-based D/A converter and line-stage preamp ($1,499 with coax and ST inputs), SM70 ($599) 25Wpc, pure class-A, zero-feedback stereo amp, a combination laserdisc/CD player (Monarchy discontinued model DT-40A) and TDK-PCOOC speaker cables. Hanging out in da room and working hard was a Townsend Seismic Sink and Silverline SL-17 monitors. Good sound at reasonable prices.

Inner Sound showed their Eros hybrid speaker ($4,500 with electronic crossover/200Wpc bass amplifier). The Eros use an electrostatic midrange/tweeter panel and a transmission-line woofer system. I was impressed not only by one of the most seamless transitions between woofer and electrostatic panels I've heard, but also by the fact they could play loudly and not throw sparks and shredded diaphragm all over the place. Also used was a Theta Jade transport and DS Pro Generation V D/A converter, Pass Aleph P preamp and Aleph 1.2 amplifier, and WireWorld cables. Of special note was the "floating" chrome rack by AngloFi—designed by Max Townshend. I found myself mesmerized by its beauty and grace.

The Fanfare International/Gershman Acoustics room was sounding good with the Gershman GAP520-X ($9,995 pr.) taking credit for transducing. This is a three-way, 88dB (1w/1m.) 22hz-24Khz design incorporating a 10" fiberglass woofer. Midrange frequencies are handled by a 5.25" carbon-fibre cone, with tweeter duties handled by a silk dome. Fanfare International also distributes the Metronome Technologie transport ($3,300) and D/A converter ($3,300), as well as the Plinius 16 preamp ($4,250 with remote) and SA50 bridgeable stereo amp ($3,200) used to make Natalie Merchants' Tiger Lilly sing. Other components included Chang Lightspeed power conditioning, Sound Anchor stands, a Target equipment rack, Bright Star Audio mass-loading devices, and Siltech speaker cables and interconnects. In an adjoinging room, Gershman Acoustics also showed the littlest addition to their speaker lineup -- the X-1. The X-1 is a small, two-way stand mounted speaker with a non-parrallel cabinet wall construction. Retail price is $1600 for the pair.

Demeter Amplification/Ultra Resolution Technologies/Music Advancement Company demoed their wares with help from a pair of Ariel 10T speakers. Featured products included the Demeter VTHF-300M ($2,650) 150Wpc (triode), 300Wpc (ultralinear/ pentode) monoblock amp/preamplifier. This beefy babe uses eight Svetlana 6550c power tubes, and one 12AX7A and two 12AT7A Ruby preamp tubes. Music Advancement Company Delta interconnects ($950 1m.), Beta power connects ($960 12 foot), Delta speaker cables ($1325 8'), and Delta digital cable ($450 1m.) were used for good measure. Ultra Resolution Technologies provided the equipment rack ($2,800) and Bedrock isolation bases ($600). Compact discs were spun on a Goldmund Mimesis 39 CD turntable and turned to analog via a Goldmund Mimesis 12+ D/A converter.

Bel Canto's Chad Baures played "Gnomus" from Pictures at an Exhibition via the SET80 single-ended 70Wpc (into 4 or 8 ohms), class-A, 845 triode, monoblock amps ($6,500 pr., add $360 per set for cool-looking gold rings). The large dynamic swing I expect to hear from this cut was performed superbly. Rounding out the system was Dunlavy SC-III speakers (making good music wherever I found them), Muse Model Five transport (review forthcoming), Wadia 27 Digital Decoding Computer, Synergistic power cords, Transparent Ultra balanced interconnects, Transparent Music Wave speaker cables, Transparent Digital Link, Sanus rack, and a Bright Star Audio Little Rock. Long-wall setups, such as with this system, seemed to create better soundstaging in most rooms.

The Focus Audio room played the Signature Series FS78 speakers ($3,360). This is two-way design with a 7" Eton woofer and a 1" ScanSpeak tweeter is bi-wirable. Finished in a gorgeous piano-black laquer, these were speakers to dream over both sonically and aesthetically. Kam Leung, Focus Audio's V.P. of research and development, was kind enough to spend time with me discussing the high points of Focus products. I hope to review FS78 or FS88 speakers later this year. Partnering equipment in this system included a Mark Levinson 31.5 CD transport, Threshold DAC2 converter and T2 preamp, Reference Line Silver Signature (pure class A, 100Wpc) stereo amplifier. An Illuminati Orchid digital cable; Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords; and a rack supplied by SolidSteel rounded out this system.

The French company Kora Electronic Concept as well as Renaissance Audio were new names to me. They brought a lot of wares to show and may be about to light some fires with their products. On hand were the Kora Hermes Delta-Sigma D/A converter (approx. $4,000), Eclipse tubed preamplifier (approx. $5,500), Titan 120Wpc Sovtek-tubed monoblocks (approx. $7,000 pr.), and the Odyssey speakers (approx. $20,000 pr.). The speakers utilize a JBL Pro 2415H horn tweeter, JBL LE8TH midrange, and an 18" Audax PR380MO woofer for the bottom end. All Kora Electronic Concept final prices are yet to be set. Renaissance Audio provided the Silver Renaissance Blue Standard interconnects ($700 1m.pr.), Silver Renaissance Blue Standard speaker cables, and Silver Renaissance Clear digital cable. The Blue Signature and Blue Standard lines feature Teflon-insulated solid-core silver conductors surrounded by viscous oil. Joining in the party was a CAL Audio Labs Delta CD transport, Billy Bags rack, and Bright Star Audio isolation components.

Ledoux, a Canadian manufacturer, had their model 3006 speakers ($4900 pr., standard finish) in full force when I happened upon their doorstep. This is a three-way band-pass-enclosure system rated at 42.5Hz-22kHz with a nominal 4-ohm impedance. Exotic cubism design with a black granite finish, these speakers were pleasing to look at. I found the near-field on a female vocal track to be the best listening position. Other buddies in this room were a Classe (still don't have that slash thing figured out) CDT-1 transport, DAC-1 D/A converter, CP-50 preamp, and CA-200 amplifier.

I didn't know what to think when I spied the Loth-X Audio Azimuth speakers ($12,000 pr. with standard veneer finishes). They're curious looking, what with their single full-range paper-cone drive unit (made of a special paper and foam) staring at you in a point-source fashion. And then there's the wooden dust cap. This is a modification of the Lowther-Voight drive unit designed to be used with single-ended triode amps (it's 104 dB 1w/1m efficient!). The speakers impressed me sonically using a couple of home-brew tubed amps, a Marantz CD63 MkII player, Manley "The Purist" preamplifier, Monitor and Kimber interconnects, and DH Labs Silver Sonic speaker cables. It appeared Steve Rochlin had fallen in love when he heard the Azimuth speaker.

Platinum Audio had me play guessing games about the price of the PT806 monitors they were playing when I dropped by. To their credit, I liked what I heard and guessed $2,500 per pair. WRONG! Howz about a paltry $599? Helping create the good tunes was Polyfusion Audio's 920 transport, 805 20-bit HDCD D/A converter, 940 preamp, and 960 200Wpc stereo amp. Interconnects were by DH Labs, and speaker cables used were the expensive Nordost Super Flatline. Echo Busters room treatments aided and abetted the room, and Osiris amp stands made their presence known. In a second room, the Platinum Audio Reference One monitors ($3,995 pr.) demonstrated some monster bass capability from a 5" bass driver, via an Edge M8 ($4,150)170Wpc stereo amplifier. Edge has got something good going on, and SoundStage! is gonna keep its collective eye on them.

In the Jeff Rowland Design Group/Audio Artistry room, one immediately could tell it was time to get a major home equity loan and bask in the elegance of the music. The massive Beethoven system ($62,000) was strong and powerful, yet delicate in its handling of the choral selection being played. Get this: Eight 12" bass drivers, four 10" paper lower-midrange drivers, two 8" Kevlar midrange drivers, and one 1" soft-dome tweeter PER SIDE! Two Jeff Rowland MC6 six-channel amps ($15,800 ea.) used four channels per side, while a Cadence phono stage ($3,300) and Coherence ($14,500) preamp handled the controls. Music at one point was demoed at 20-bit/96kHz decoding on a Pioneer DVD600 player. I was told that the speaker cables were a prototype from George Cardas, but tight lips prevailed.

Krell Industries and Martin-Logan teamed up and presented at Caesar's Palace. This was a huge system that put out a huge sound. The Krell lineup started off with the KPS 25s ($20,000) which integrates a CD transport, upgradable D/A converter, and remote-controlled preamplifier in one unit. Weighing in at nearly 500 pounds. each, the Master Reference Monaural Power Amplifiers ($80,000 pr.) can deliver over one kilowatt of Class A power into 8 ohms! Powering the bass towers were two Krell 650 power amps at $25,000 each. The speaker system was the Martin-Logan Statement Reference ($70,000 pr., including the Balance Force sub towers). Instrument and vocal size and proportion were quite realistic, if not a tad larger than life; and dynamics at both extremes were excellent. Thanks to Dan D'Agostino and Gayle Sanders for putting on a hell of a show.

The Milan room at Caesar's Palace played host to Genesis Technologies. Arnie Nudell, Paul McGowan, and Mark Schifter were all on hand to show off the Genesis APM-1 speakers ($7,500 pr.). Hey, if you've got it, flaunt it. Four 1" planar ribbon tweeters, a pair of titanium midrange modules, and four midbass couplers accompany two 15" aluminum-cone servo subwoofers between the pair of speakers. The woofers are each powered by G-SAT 500-watt servo-controlled switching power amplifiers. Ooooh, baby. The APM-1s could handle power out the you-know-what. I plan on reviewing the little brother APM-2 speakers ($5,500 pr.) later this year. Aiding the great sound here was a CEC belt-drive TL-1X transport, Genesis Digital Lens, Manley Designer's Reference Series 20-bit tubed HDCD D/A converter, Audio Research VT200 amplifiers, and NBS cabling and interconnects.

Over at the Golden Nugget, several exhibitors went the large-room route to properly display their equipment. In the Wadia Digital suite, the Wadia 27 Digital Decoding Computer ($8,450) was coupled with the Wadia 270 CD transport ($7,950). As I was shown the various Wadia products and circuit topologies, it was evident that Wadia emphasizes state-of-the-art design technology, which in this suite equaled wonderful music, ala Joni Mitchell. Associated components included an Audio Research VT200 tube amp, Zoethecus amp stand, ASC Tube Traps, RPG diffusors, and the huge Magnapan MG20 three-way quasi-ribbon/planar magnetic speakers. Notice no preamp? The Wadia 27 drove the amp itself, and includes remote volume control.

The Avalon/Classe suite showcased the Avalon Eidolon speakers ($19,500 pr.). When they let me hear Margo Timmins sing "Lonely Sinking Feeling" off Lay It Down, I knew that my girlfriend had come home to Papa. If my wife Donna happens to read this, I hope she'll believe me that Margo is only my virtual girlfriend. Margo's voice was silky smooth and ever so present. The evening before, I auditioned a portion of Stereophile's Encore CD along with John Atkinson and Wes Phillips. I think we were all impressed with what we had heard. Classe provided the other half of the good-sound story, with their CDT-1 transport ($2,495), DAC-1 converter ($3,995), a prototype unnamed preamplifier, and prototype Omega 400Wpc amps (approx. $15,000 ea.) bridged to mono. Cardas Golden Cross power cords, ASC Tube Traps, and NBS speaker cables finished out this world-class system.

Spectral put on a fantastic demonstration—also with the Avalon Eidolon speakers—hosted by Keith Johnson of HDCD and Reference Recordings fame. The electronics used were the Spectral Studio Reference SDR-3000 transport ($7,495), SDR-2000 digital processor ($9,590), DMC-30 preamp (price not set), and DMA-150 power amp ($5,995). MIT speaker cables tied the amp to the speakers, and front-end components resided within a Zoethecus rack. Professor Johnson put the system through its paces, demonstrating a wide and deep soundstage, with excellent layering and resolution.

Magnepan had Rego Park Blues by Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters playing when I walked into their suite. That made me a bit biased right off the bat; anyone with taste that good must know what they're doing! So I polled SoundStage! reviewer John Stafford for his opinion of the Magnepan MG1.6 speakers ($1,475 pr.). John thought they sounded great; as a matter of fact, he wanted to find out how to get his hands on a pair. Complimenting this more economical setup was a Wadia 860 CD player, four Bryston 7B power amps (for bi-amping), an Audio Research LS10 line-stage preamp, and both WireWorld Eclipse and Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables.

The Audio Research suite had the balls-to-wall, big-bang audio system goin' on. I got a glimpse of it at their reception and buffet the night prior, as well as some great conversation with our own Jim Saxon, and Stereophile's John Atkinson and Jonathan Scull. But hearing is believing, and the next day after the food and drink had cleared, the Wilson Audio Grand Slamm Series II speakers (at a meager $75,900 pr.) performed better than I had ever heard at any previous show. Audio Research figured prominently in this with their PH3-SE phono amp ($2,495), CD2 transport/player ($3,495), DAC3 MkII D/A converter ($3,995), Reference One preamp ($8,495), VT200 200Wpc amplifier ($8,995), and their own interconnects. Also used was a Lyra Parnassus De Capo cartridge, Immedia RMP2 table, Genesis Digital Lens, Transparent Reference digital cable and Reference XL speaker cable, Aural Symphonics power strip, ASC tube traps, and a Zoethecus amp stand and rack.

Madrigal sponsored a luncheon that yours truly, Marc Mickelson, and Jim Saxon attended. We had been working the Show all day, and hadn't had the chance to change into coat and tie, but were received quite well nonetheless. New for '98 and currently available are the Proceed AMP 5 five-channel amplifier ($4,995) and Proceed AVP audio-video preamplifier ($4,995; $4,495 with composite video inputs only), which can handle both Dolby digital and DTS processing. We also received preliminary literature for the upcoming PDSD (Proceed Digital Surround Decoder, price not given), designed to be used in conjunction with the PAV audio/video control center. Dual-monaural (under $3,000) and triple-monaural (under $4,500) Proceed amps will be released later this year. The long-awaited Mark Levinson No.32 Reference Preamplifier ($15,000 expected price) was also shown, and should be available by mid-year. Static displays filled the room, with most components opened up to allow for inspection of the meticulous craftsmanship. According to a press release, the Madrigal website is now seeing more than 90,000 hits per week!

That's it, muchachos. I thought I was tired when I got home from the Show. I think I'm more tired from writing this report. Time for a couple of cold ones. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

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