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SoundStage! Update

CES Wrap-Up

January 19, 2007

I've been back from Las Vegas, where the CES and THE Show were held January 8-11, for less than a week -- long enough to reflect on my time there, but short enough that everything I saw and heard is still fresh in my mind. The primary issue for the CES, at least for the high-end-audio exhibits, was the move to the Venetian Tower and Sands Expo area from the Alexis Park. As I noted in my show diary, the exhibitors to whom we spoke were delighted by the new venue. However, I should have pointed out that these were exhibitors showing in the Venetian Tower, not the Sands Expo rooms, where traffic was light on the third and fourth floors. Before the show ended, many of these exhibitors were already making plans to move to the Tower in 2008, where only the 29th floor was flush with demo rooms. There is a lot of room to expand here; the 30th, 34th and 35th floors had only a handful of exhibits, so literally hundreds could be added.

Even with their split-level setup, the smaller rooms in the Venetian Tower were sonically good, and the larger suites were very good. A few people who complained about the layout of the smaller rooms before the show were happy once they got their systems set up. This and the room for expansion forecast good things for the CES's future at its newest site.

I wrote about all of the demos and gear that caught my ear in Las Vegas -- with one exception. On the last afternoon of the show, Vladimir Lamm played his ML3 Signature amp. Because of supply problems for the ML3's transformer, which is now being made by a different company, Vladimir had only one working ML3, and it had what Vladimir called an "intermediate" transformer -- one that isn't of the same quality as those that will be in production version of the amps. This is what he played through a single Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 8 speaker. Vladimir acted as DJ for those lucky enough to be in the room.

Many of the classic jazz recordings that I cherish are in mono, so I wasn't put off by hearing only one amp, even with its non-production transformer. The ML3 Signature's sonic character was easy to compare and contrast to that of the ML2.1, a pair of which were playing for most of the show. The ML3 Signature, with its big GM 70 output tube, definitely had greater drive -- the ability to propel the music's pace forward -- than the ML2.1, and it also displayed greater high-frequency delicacy and air, rather like those amps I've heard that use 845 tubes. The midrange was as corporeal as that of the ML2.1, but the bass had more power, though nothing Vladimir played displayed its very depths.

One piece with a bowed-bass solo was amazing. It was from Mi Buenos Aires Querido [Teldec 0630-13474-2], a CD of Argentinean music I own and have heard many times. The body of the instrument and scrape of the bowing were captured with tremendous delineation and texture. This was the best portrayal of that bass I've heard.

Yes, the ML3 Signature amps, at $126,290 per pair, are wildly, outrageously expensive, but they were not created with all audiophiles in mind. They are extreme luxury items for those listeners who can afford any piece of audio gear they want. Vladimir told me that he already has orders for eight pairs. Like most talented audio engineers, he has a loyal following, including people who simply want to own the best products he can make. From what I heard on the last afternoon of the CES, a single ML3 Signature displayed the great promise required to fill this bill....Marc Mickelson, editor@soundstage.com

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