[SOUNDSTAGE! CES 98]

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SoundStage!
Full Report Coverage by Contributor
Tony Fafoglia on Analog

Turntables, Turntables, Turntables!

It made my heart glad to see that more than just roulette wheels were spinning in Vegas, friends. In fact, turntables were accounted for in a large number of the rooms I got to check out. I could go on all day, but I'll try to keep it brief and to the point. Even in light of Classic's and Muse's (and other recording companies and manufacturers – ed.) promising announcement of the new 24-bit/96kHz DAD digital disc, turntables were making the best music for me at the Show.

The EAR room was using a Townshend Rock Reference, Excalibur arm and Denon DLS1 MC cartridge through the fine EAR 834p phono stage and new MC3 ($995) moving-coil step-up transformer. EAR USA was spinning some cool vinyl (old B.B. King—yeah!). This made it a place for me to stop more than once.

The Basis/Graham room had the full line of tables and arms on display, but it was static...bummer. Still I drooled over the new Graham 2.0L for the Linn LP12. Stereophile reviewer Jonathan Scull was there as well. Did I see him rolling mpingo discs around in his hand?

The Rega Planar 9 was well represented in other rooms besides the Lauerman/Rega/May Audio room. It was making good music in Toffco/Exposure/Rogers room via the new Exposure 13 phono stage. I was also taken with the Rogers LS-3/5A-with-subwoofer combo.

I ducked in the Pro Audio/Wilson Benesch/Chord room, but the new Full Circle turntable was silent. Build quality looks impressive, and the carbon-fiber arms are beautiful to behold.

Another treat of the Show was finally getting to hear the Grado Towers in the Grado room. These consist of 32 Grado headphone drivers and a dedicated sub on each side. They were using the Cary SLP74/SLM100 pre-power combo. Spinning platters was a Micro Seiki turntable with the top-of-the-line wood-body Grado Reference cartridge ($1200). Classic’s 180-gram reissue of Kind of Blue sounded (oh I hate this term) palpable.

Roy Halls' Music Hall/Creek/Epos room had the new Music Hall MMF-2 belt-drive turntable on static display. It comes as a whole package with a Goldring Elan cartridge for $299. It appears to be sourced from the Project company and looks to offer the same value and build quality. Now who said you can't afford a decent turntable? Oh, and yes, Roy's nice folks did offer me some fine single-malt, but as I hadn't eaten all day, they suggested I might want to wait. Next CES I'll make sure to eat breakfast.

In the VansEvers/Thor/Discovery cable room I finally got to hear the Clearaudio Reference table with the Souther Tri-Quartz arm and Clearaudio Accurate cartridge. The rest of the rig consisted of the Thor TA1000 preamp, JA300 phono stage and Lamm ML1 tube amps through ProAc 2.5 speakers, with VansEvers line treatment and Discovery cabling. I found the combination musical and relaxing.

I got up cracking early on Sunday to make it down to the QS&D room to hear the Roksan Xerxes X with Tabriz arm and Chorus Black moving-magnet cartridge. Add the Arta Xerxes phono stage and you have a complete turntable setup for $4,800 total. The table was playing through the new Roksan Caspian electronics and Spendor FL6 speakers ($1,900). I really enjoyed the sound of this system, and to my ear it was more musically coherent than some of the more expensive setups at the Show.

Linn Products had a complete LP12 table with Lingo power supply, Ekos arm and Archiv II cartridge. The new Linto phono stage ($1,500) was also creating quite a stir. Unfortunately Linn wasn't playing music, but demoing the new A/V system. Color me disappointed, as they say.

One of the suites I got a real kick out of was the Cisco room. Cisco imports the excellent line of 180-gram King Super Analog LPs and gold CDs reissued from the revered London/Decca classical catalog. The great thing was that they let you audition LPs via a VPI Aries/JMW/Audiocraft MC combo using Coda electronics and Legacy speakers. While the Audiocraft cartridge is not distributed here, my notes describe the sound as incredible. Its projected U.S retail is around $2,000, and I began thinking of how many meals I could skip to afford it. So you thought it was easy being an LP geek?

In the Audio Note USA room I heard the new Audio Note TT3 Reference turntable ($15,000) with AN1S arm ($2000) and IO-II MC cartridge ($2,500). The AN TT3 is descended from the classic Voyd tables that Audio Note has acquired the rights to. The TT3 was playing through the legendary Ongaku ($89,000) amp, M7 preamp ($35,000) and AN SE3 speakers ($16,000). The music was effortless, and it was great to get to hear some of the upper tier of the Audio Note line.

My final stop was the Muse room where they were demoing the Kuzma Stabi turntable with the Stogi arm from Slovenia. The cartridge was the Dynavector 17D2 moving coil. They were spinning Roxy Music's Avalon. Even with new higher digital sampling rates coming, there's plenty of music left in those LP grooves for those of us with the vinyl "yen."

I have to say that I had a great time at CES ‘98. It was great meeting and hanging out with my fellow ‘Stagers face to face. I want to thank Todd Warnke for letting me ride along in his rental car. Also kudos to our chief, Doug Schneider, for putting it all together. Yet the question remains: "Doug, do you ever get tired?" I heard lots of great hi-fi and got to meet the folks who actually design some of this stuff, which was educational. I got home to St. Louis somewhat tired, but a bit more audio savvy (hopefully). And the greatest lesson I learned: NEVER try to fly out of Vegas on the Sunday night after the CES!


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