Live from Casa Saxon

February 1997

The Audio Dealer from Paradise does CES

Because of warnings that a member of the South Florida Audio Society had arranged a singing telegram pie hit on me in Las Vegas, I attended the WCES incognito. Observing the best Frederick Forsyth tradition, I registered for the show in several false names, wore different disguises each day and stayed at a different hotel every night. The best trick of all was that I sent my evil twin brother, Alfred, to meet Doug Schneider and the rest of the SoundStage! editorial staff, who strangely enough thought Alfie was a good guy. Soundstage!-ers are a counter-culture group.

On Day One, I stayed at the Cracked Mirror Motel just off the Strip, under the name Jim Bozo. I figured that a guy in a clown suit would blend well with the festivities. Imagine my chagrin upon entering the first room at the Show and Brad O'Toole of Transparent Audio called me over. "Hey Jim, how you been?" he said, extending a handshake. Since I was wearing grease paint, a red wig, large bulbous nose, and a polka dot suit, I was a bit taken aback. "You look well," Brad added. I hate flattery.

Later on, I ran into DJ Casser of Black Diamond Racing fame, whose cones support everything I own. DJ, being an old bond trader like myself, volunteered to sniff the flower in my lapel and received a face full of water for his efforts. "Saxon, you're the greatest, " he roared. We former securities brokers appreciate idiocy more than the next guy.

On Day Two, I moved over to the Gilded Bathtowel, an economy motel within rocket-range of the Strip, under the name E. Blues. Since I'm partial to black clothing and shades, this was easy duty. The only problem was when I attended the Madrigal Awards Dinner everyone wanted me to sing. I performed a muted rendition of "Soul Man" and was roundly booed for my efforts. Can you believe, the only microphone they had was a uni-directional attached to the dias. I could move head and torso, but feet were immobile. Elwood would have turned over in his grave.

On the Third Day I registered as Scott Adams, and was comped at Caesar's Palace. This Dilbert stuff is catching on big time. I glued the necktie to my eyebrows and the girl at the check-in counter proposed marriage. Later on, I was invited to look inside every component on display. I never saw so much incomprehensible circuitry, so I just shook my head and muttered "Incomprehensible" and everyone admired my techie profundity.

Finally, on the Last Day, I saw HER, the singing telegram girl. She was scurrying around in a Phillip Morris suit with a white box under her arm. She approached me with a photo of my evil twin, and I glowed with righteousness. "Bless you, my child." I was wearing a clerical collar at the time, feeling very Robert Ludlum-like, and actually thought of smashing the pie over her pill box hat. The presence of house detectives curbed the impulse. Instead, I directed Miss Muffet toward a fellow with a clean shaven head who was wearing a tartan skirt. This turned out to be the lamented Tube God, Harvey Rosenberg, who executed a perfect pirouette, kicking the pie into the pool. Mr. R knows from pie hits. Later on, I sent a telegram to the South Florida Audio Society, which read in pertinent part, "Next time, think of setting a thief to catch a thief. It will take at least a high end dealer from New York to trap me."

During the four days I was in Vegas, I was never once myself. Anyone who thinks he saw me unveiled is whistlin' Dixie. However, if you were there and saw Bozo the Clown wiping beer suds off his bulbous nose, you caught a rare glimpse of audio's Beretta in action.

Now, for a few observations. First, IMHO during recent years fledgling audio designers had closed ground on the old guard. In 1997, this trend reversed itself. Never before has the high end establishment shown so much creativity in a single year. Excluding loudspeaker manufacturers, whose bunny-like proliferation continues to astound, the high end is turning into a sharper pyramid, with the "haves" peaking faster than the "have-nots." With few exceptions, notably Balanced Audio Technology, whose amplifier products appeared highly competitive, I was more impressed with offerings from older companies, rather than from the young turks of today.

Secondly, here are a few finds of which I am proud: the Essence power cord, which clarifies the sound of any component; the Black Diamond Racing carbon fiber equipment rack, which at $4,000 redefines conspicuous consumption; new cigar-thick Transparent Audio AES/EBU digital cable; Muse digital transport (stunning in silver); Clarity and Mapleshade recordings; Caz-Tech 845 SET monoblocks ($2,500 a pair); and new entry-level Odyssey components designed by Symphonic Line of Germany but manufactured to a high standard in Indiana, U.S. of A.

Finally, I would like to cast a few Best Sound votes. First, Best Sound at the problematic Alexis Park was the Egglestonworks, Sonic Frontiers, Transparent Audio room. Best Sound at the awful Debbie Reynolds, was the Sequerra room featuring stacked mini-monitors, while Best Sound at the elegant Golden Nugget, and therefore the entire show, was the Audio Research, Genesis V demo, where a turntable was kept running to fool the flat-earthers. In my experience over seven Shows, the sound of ARC's REF1, VT100, and DAC2, as transduced by Genesis' mighty-mights, has never been bettered at WCES, not even by vinyl.

James Saxon