Thoughts on What I heard at the 2011 CES and THE Show

This year’s CES was much like all others. There were the limitations on hearing what the manufacturers had to offer. In many rooms the talking made it difficult to hear much and the hall noise and bass from adjacent rooms intruded. Then there were two primary room conditions, namely the awful balcony rooms in the Venetian Towers, and second too much equipment in the room. The electricity under the load of all the equipment must have been awful on Saturday, when the rooms in the Towers universally sounded awful, especially those on the 29th and 30th floors. The 34th and 35th floors seemed to have escaped this. Finally and inevitably, much of the equipment is brought to the show just completed with no break-in. What you hear on Thursday bears little resemblance to what will be heard on the final day of the shows. At any rate, what I am going to say largely consists of what I heard on Sunday.

I heard many outstanding rooms and the very best tended to be in large rooms and with limited demonstrated components. I have had great difficulty with the concept of “best,” so although there is some inherent ordering in what I will say, please don’t assume that I am either implying that number one is clearly superior to number two, nor that number nine (yes, nine) is poor. I am only talking about rooms that demanded several returns.

 

Two attached rooms on the 34th floor really stood out for me. Both used Venture speakers and some Weiss electronics. The main room had the Venture Xreme ($199,000) speakers with their V 100A+ monoblock amps ($62,000), VP 100Preamp with phono stage ($46,800), and Weiss digital front end and Ventura phono. The bass was thunderous with no overhang and nice decay. The rendition of symphonic works was just awesome, but so were vocals. Nevertheless, this is far beyond most audiophiles and homes. I just loved listening toward the very back of the large room.

Nearby were the Encore III speakers ($46980) with Hegel H20 amp ($6000), the Weiss Man 202 Music Archive Network Player (prototype) ($15,000 including the Dac202 internally), ATT 202 Reference Passive Attenuator ($7178), Mac storage, and Sound Applications ac filtering. This room had a great view but was too small to allow the speakers to flourish. Nevertheless, it was effortless, totally neutral, and involving. Jazz groups and vocals were totally convincing.

 

 
The Tidal Sunrays driven with the BAlabo – BP-1 Mk II ($77,500) and BAlabo – BC-1 Mk II line stage ($59,000) with Argent Audio wiring sounded unready on Thursday but shined on Sunday. Again this was embellished by being in a large room and having deep bass capabilities. The electronics had not impressed me at CES 2010, but rocked here. I just love the sweetness and extension of the diamond tweeter. The bass on this system, although good to 20 Hz in specifications, did not have the impact of the big Ventures, nor did any other demonstration.

 

 
The SoulSonic Speakers in the Mead 1 room at THE Show were visually and sonically stunning. They are open baffle glass with a ribbon and four 12” drivers. This is the Impulse speaker ($100,000). One of their lesser model, the Wave, had survived shipping and was displayed ($65,000). I was surprised to see these Slovenian speakers, but the sound was outstanding. With the open baffle perhaps they did not go down as deep as some but the presentation was very real and involving. Again this was a big room.

 
The Evolution acoustics MMMicroOne speakers ($2000) belie their small size in a crowded room. They were driven by a darTZeel NHB-108 Model B amp ($25,000) with the darTZeel NHB-18 preamp ($30,000) and the Playback Designs MPS-3 player ($8500) which is very serious company for the inexpensive little guy, but the sound was great although, of course, not with great bass extension.

        


Synergistic Research’s room at CES used the YG Anat Reference  Studio loudspeakers ($70,000) using the Technical Brain TBP-Zero amp and TBC-Zero preamp (expensive is all I can find). Needless to say their room used SR cabling, the new PowerCell 10 SE Mk II conditioner, and many of the SR ARTs system. It sounded different just walking into the room. By Sunday, it was excellent sounding and it was in one of the balcony rooms that seemed to be improved with the ARTs.
 

 

 

The Perfect8 glass speakers “The Force” ($325,000) were driven with the Ypsilon SET-100 MkIII monoblocks ($93,000), their SET-100 PST MKII ($37,000) as well as their dac and transport. This expensive system gave great sound in a very nice room. The bass was not comparable with that of other full-range speakers.

Apparently, in an after hours presentation a new music server by Ypsilon was used in this system, and reports are that it was outstanding.

The Sony SS-AR1 speakers ($27,000) were driven with the big Pass XA200.5 amps and preamp. They were heralded as easy sounding, and certainly they were by Sunday.
I would additionally note that this CES brought several new music servers. I have already noted, there is a new Playback Designs MPS-3, a prototype of the Ypsilon server, the just released L1000 Auraliti, and the Weiss MAN 202. Additionally, many rooms used Macintosh based servers with Pure Music or Ammara playback from Itunes. I must say that this is a very easy way to play music and has reached levels that I would never have expected of digital.