[SOUNDSTAGE! CES 98]

[AUDIO ODYSSEY]
www.audioodyssey.com


SoundStage!
Full Report Coverage by Contributor
John Stafford

Musical Design was showing off their full line of electronics, right down to their own interconnects and speaker cables. On the front end, the T1 transport ($1,295) is a modified Pioneer Elite unit feeding the Signature DAC ($1,995), SP3 solid-state preamp ($1,295), and 150Wpc power amp ($1,695). On speaker duty was the Meadowlark Heron ($4,000), the big brother of the Kestrel reviewed last year in SoundStage!. These were all strung together with their Superconnect interconnects and RF speaker cables at only $69 per meter and $180 per 10 ft. set respectively. I haven’t seen cable prices like that at a show in quite a while.

Flat Earth Audio was displaying the new NAIM CD player, the CDX, with outboard power supply (no list price available as yet). NAIM feels that the second box for CD replay shouldn’t be for D/A conversion as that can mess up the clocking. Instead, they concentrate on the power supply, with as many as nine distinct power sources for the CD player. The NAIM 52 preamp ($11,000) was fed directly into ATC powered speakers. These speakers actually have three MOSFET amps inside: 50 watts to the tweeter, 100 watts to the midrange, and 200 watts driving the woofer. Flat Earth was also demoing their Mana Acoustics equipment racks (look for a SoundStage! review of these later this year).

More NAIM electronics were found driving the Neat Acoustics Petite MkII ($1,650) minimonitors and matching Gravitas subwoofers ($2,550). The CD3.5 HiCap CD player, the MAC 82 preamp with HiCap power supply and the NAP 250 power amplifier were matched with Nordost Red Dawn interconnects and speaker cable. I found this room to be particularly musical—no monster dynamics or holographic imaging, just a lot of toe-tapping and good sounds. In fact, the Keb’ Mo’ disc I put on was enjoyed front to back before moving on. Rumor has it Craig Schilling camped out in this room.

Evett and Shaw had three full systems going in the space-challenged suites at the Alexis Park. In the main room they were playing their flagship Milano speakers ($35,000) with a Proceed CDP transport, Timbre TT-1 DAC, conrad-johnson Premier 10 preamp, and Rowland 8T amplifier ($13,000). The Milano has four rear-firing 8" woofers, each with a tuned port. You can guess there was no shortage of bottom end on these babies! In the other room was the Bravo minimonitor ($7500) and the Elan nearfield speakers ($2,000). The Elans really caught my attention as a wonderful alternative to headphones or an office boombox. These little speakers (approx. 8"x4"x12") had a tweeter and midrange driver firing forward, with two more drivers on the bottom handling the bass. The mids and imaging were excellent—it was like having a mini Holly Cole sitting on your desk, with enough bottom-end heft to make it interesting. In fact, I kept looking under the desk for the little subwoofer which wasn’t there.

Vienna Acoustics was demoing the prototype of their new Mahler speakers ($9,000), which were wired up with BAT electronics—the VK-D5 ($5,000) CD player, VK-5i preamp ($4,000) and VK500 power amplifier ($5,000). On the CD was some unidentified chamber music, with the mids best described as lush and terrific top-end finesse. The system was wired with Tara Labs The One interconnects and OCOS speaker cable. Also on display was the rest of their line of speakers named for famous composers: the Hayden ($900), Bach ($1,500), and Mozart ($2,500).

Hegel traveled all the way from Norway for the Show. The CDP2 transport ($2,000), D3 DAC ($1,800), P3 preamp ($1,500), and H3 power amplifier ($4,400) were driving Sonus Faber Concertos. The cabling was all Nordost SPM. What Hegel lacked in demo music they made up for in sound, which was detailed and well-balanced, if a little lean in the bottom end. I was pretty amused when I was asked to leave some of my demo music for later retrieval.

The JVC Music-sponsored room was what I would call "a classic American high-end setup," with Mark Levinson electronics (No. 37 transport, No. 36s DAC, No. 38s preamp and No. 332 power amp) and Wilson Watt/Puppy V speakers/subwoofers, and MIT cabling. The room was set up to demo the difference between JVC XRCD recordings and the originals. My advantage was that I had already heard the difference and already own three of the XRCDs. Even highly regarded Audioquest recordings like Mighty Sam McLain’s Give It Up to Love go through quite a metamorphosis, which results in better dynamics, more air around vocals and instruments, and better extreme frequencies.

The Tetra room sported some real-world electronics, with a Marantz CD67SE CD player, Accuphase C200 preamp, and QSC 1500a power amplifier. They were showing off the imaging capabilities of their Vector Equilibrium speakers ($3000) with—get this—rotating stands. While doing nothing else particularly well, these speakers image like there is no tomorrow. The demo included listening to the speakers in a traditional toe-in configuration while you close your eyes and fix in on the image. While your eyes are closed, they rotate the speakers to some wacky setup while the image remains where it started. Cool party trick, but the speakers seem to be more for the pro market than the serious audiophile.

Magnum Dynalab is a leader in FM-tuner products, and they were at the CES with their state-of-the-art MD108, at $5,500. Their system also included a Micromega Stage 5 CD player ($1,200), OCM 88 preamp ($2,800), OCM 800 power amp ($4,000) , and PE Leon "Enzo" speakers ($2,500). The cabling was all Purist Audio.

Herbert Reichert's Audio Note room was sounding excellent. With a quick calculation of $150,000 worth of equipment, it had better! The famed Ongaku single-ended amp formed the heart of this system, and at $89,200 my only question was, "Why the $200?" This was one of the few rooms in my section spinning vinyl, with a Voyd Table ($2,500), Audio Note ANSIIVX tonearm ($2,500) and an Audio Note IO-II cartridge ($2,500). Other equipment was the M7 Silver preamp ($26,000), model 3 speakers ($3,600) and what appears to be a killer 24-bit $2,000 CD player, the CD2. Cabling was all Audio Note, with VX interconnects ($900 per meter pair) and SP2 speaker cables ($1450 per mono foot). An interesting side note is that the entire system uses silver cable from source to speaker driver. I would characterize this as classic British hi-fi in that it looks extremely unassuming. It was built for a small room and sounded great.

The Avant Garde line of speakers (not to be confused with Gershman Acoustics' Avante Garde loudspeaker model) are always a favorite of the photographer, with their large brightly colored horns. Avant Garde had their Duo with powered subwoofers ($14,700) playing when I dropped by. Associated equipment was the Audio Note CD2 CD player ($2,000), Theta DSP Gen.V D/A converter, Audiolab Purist and Diamant pre-power combination ($15,000), and Clearaudio turntable.

The Electrocompaniet room was another sonic standout for me. Their prototype CD player with magnetic clamping system was run through the EC-4.6 preamp ($2,995), a pair of AW180 MB monoblock amplifiers ($6,995/pr), and into a pair of Hales Transcendence Five speakers. Wiring was all Nordost SPM. Electrocompaniet is distributed in the U.S. by Jason Scott Distributing, Inc.

After a series of mega-buck audio rooms, it was a nice departure to hear some speakers priced somewhere inside the stratosphere. JPW makes a good-sounding line of well-made speakers that shocked me when I got the price list. The JPW 710 floorstander lists for only $650. JPW was playing an Audio Research CD2 CD player ($3,495), Audio Research CA50 integrated amp ($3,495) with JPW bi-wire speaker cable at—get this—$1.30/ft. I think I pay more for dental floss!

Bill Conrad was kind enough to show me some of conrad-johnson’s new products. The Anniversary Reference Triode (ART) preamplifier is a spin-off of an internally used reference preamp that was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of conrad-johnson. This is a two-box dual-mono tube preamp that manages to avoid the "two-fisted" dilemma when dealing with the volume. A single volume control on the remote deals with this rather nicely. Other new CJ products include the Sonographe SA250 and SA400 power amplifiers, both solid-state bipolar-FET designs.

...and a quick trip over to the St. Topez Hotel

John Dunlavy was proud to debut his new Sigma-1 loudspeakers at the St. Tropez to the five SoundStagers who descended on him on Friday morning. Actually, the St. Tropez is right next door to the Alexis Park, so we’ll call this "slightly off-site." The Sigma-1s were introduced to replace the SC-IV, and offer smoother mids and better bass extension. Dunlavy's room was well set up to A/B two sets of speakers, with a solid-looking selector switch. On tap for our visit were the SC-II ($2,495) and the Sigma-1 ($7,995). This kind of demo really helped to distinguish quickly the characteristics of two sets of speakers and understand some of the improvements Dunlavy had made in developing the Sigma-1s. Other equipment included the Audio Research CD2 ($3,495), Audio Research LS9 preamp ($1,995), and Audio Research 100.2 power amp ($3,495). All cabling was by Dunlavy Audio Labs, including the DAL balanced interconnects and DAL 18CA speaker cables.


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