Full Report Coverage by Contributor
Mike Masztal

My first visit to the CES will remain a fond memory. After more than 20 years of interest in high-end audio and drooling over the items reviewed in the mags, I finally got to see them all, and in one place! I felt like a kid on his first trip to Disney World. Remember that my impressions are based on "Show conditions." Most systems would likely perform better in one’s home.

In the Von Schweikert Research and Melos room, Albert Von Schweikert himself was on hand demonstrating his $12,500 VR-6 speakers—which look similar to the much larger $18,000 VR-8 loudspeakers that garnered much attention at previous hi-fi shows. Equipment feeding the speakers included a Resolution Audio CD50/R20 digital source, Melos 333 preamp and Melos monoblocks. The VR-6 looked great and sounded very musical. Also on hand were the newer home theater VR and LCR speakers ranging from $395 to $2,495. Fans of the VR-4 loudspeaker will rejoice in knowing that the VR-4 Gen.2 loudspeaker was introduced at the Show. With the Gen.2, Von Schweikert was able to get the overall footprint down to an easier-to-place size and still maintain full-range bass performance. Look for an upcoming SoundStage! review.

Audiostatic had an active display of the $5,494 DL1 four-panel full-range electrostatic speaker. Source components were a PS Audio Lambda 2 transport, and Threshold T2 preamp, DAC2 DAC, and T400 amp. This system had the clean sound one would expect from good electrostatics.

Canada’s Coincident Speaker Technology and well-known OTL-amplifier manufacturer Atma-sphere shared a room. This was an analog-only room—not a CD to be found. Israel Blume, president of Coincident, brought his new $2,495 Super Conquest full-range floorstanding speakers. Doug Schneider currently has these loudspeakers in for review. Rather than mass loading the speaker, Blume chose to deal with resonances via cabinet design. Source components were a modified Empire turntable (circa late 60s), SME 5 tonearm and Grado cartridge. The preamp was Ralph Karsten’s $3,800 Atma-sphere MP3, and amplifiers were Atma-sphere M60 MkII OTL monoblocks, also priced at $3,800 (per pair).

Synergistic Research showcased their new Designer’s Reference products. They include the Designer’s Reference Master AC Coupler power cord at $2,000 per 5' length, the Designer’s Reference interconnects at $2,000 per meter pair and the Designer’s Reference speaker cables starting at $2,800 per pair. The speaker cables use a 32-strand differential-geometry construction. The interconnects and speaker cable use a hyper-pure copper/silver matrix, while the power cords use a conductor of proprietary alloy.

Immersa Headphone Technology introduced their five-channel surround simulator, which can be used over stereo headphones. I sat through a demonstration of the $200 unit and must admit that it worked very well.

Manley and Tannoy shared rooms. Source components were a CEC TL1 transport going through the $10,500 Manley Reference 20-bit DAC/preamp. In between sat a Genesis Digital Lens; the $8,600 Manley SE-PP 807 monoblocks rounded out the electronics. The speakers were the well-known refrigerator-sized Tannoy Churchills. This system reproduced orchestral music quite nicely. Tannoy also introduced their new M and D lines of home theater speakers, which range in price from $250 to $1,700 per pair.

Australia’s Krix speaker company had several of their products on hand. Well established in their home country, Krix is looking to penetrate the U.S. market with a speaker line starting at $499 per pair and ranging up to $3,995. Using a PS Audio Lambda 2 transport and DL2 DAC running through the Threshold T3I preamp and T400 amp, Krix demonstrated their $2,495 Esoterix 1 Mk II and Euphonix speakers. Cabinet construction was very nice, with drivers coming from ScanSpeak and Seas. Sounds were very good.

Boulder and Westlake Audio shared space at this year’s Show. Boulder showed their new 2000-series electronics: The $34,000 2060 amplifier, $33,000 2040 preamp and $33,000 2020 DAC. Speakers were the refrigerator-sized $17,000 Westlake BB10SWP. The source component was a Meridian 508.24 CD player. The sound was big.

Ayre had its new $5,250 K1 preamp and $7,500 V1 amplifier on hand. Source components were the Well Tempered turntable using a Benz-Micro cartridge. Speakers were the Audio Artistry Beethovens. Orchestral music had great width, depth and harmonic structure, even at low levels.

Symphonia, Speaker Art, G&D Transforms and TG Audio teamed up for an impressive demo room. Symphonia introduced its $10,000 Opus 20 amplifier utilizing the Zero Delta technology. G&D Transforms introduced the $1,449 UCD-1 CD player sporting jitter-reduction circuitry, a phase-inversion switch, and optional preamp stage (with digital volume control). Speaker Art has expanded its line beyond the standard Clef and Super Clef ($1,299 and $1,595, respectively). On active display was the Clef Signature at $2,750 (there is also another version of the Signature at $3,995). This room sounded very nice.

Revox displayed the beautifully crafted Exception line of components, including the $4,200 E450 integrated amplifier, the $3,700 E420 CD player, and the $3,400 E460 tuner. Speakers were the $13,000 Revox Scala digital speakers, each cabinet containing its own DAC and amplifier. Revox also has component systems starting at under $1,000 per piece.

FM Acoustics had a nice display of its Inspiration-series components that are sold only as a system. The Inspiration system includes preamp, crossover, monoblock amplifiers, all cabling and full-sized speakers. Depending on configuration, the system can cost between $100,000 and $180,000. But for that money, FM Acoustics will come to your home to set up the system for optimum performance. Front-end components were a Wilson Benesch turntable and arm.

Walking into the Graaf room, I was immediately enthralled.... Huh? What? Back to work! Graaf introduced its new 2020 OTL amplifier that puts out 20 watts of class-A power. The amp sells for $4,800. Front-end components were a Meridian 508.24 CD player, and also in use was a Graaf GM 13.5 preamp. Speakers were the very musical Sonus Faber Electa 2s. A very musical presentation. Do I have to leave?

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