Full Report Coverage by Contributor
Marc Mickelson

The dream of attending the CES is one of hand-shaking and hearty laughter, punctuated with periods of good music played over some of the finest equipment available today. The reality is both similar and different. Shaking hands and laughing are prevalent, but covering the Show is a long, mad dash from room to room, writing down model numbers and prices—and in most cases you get to hear only snippets of music. Bummer. But I shouldn't complain. I could've been SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider, who melted down on Sunday afternoon after three and a half days of constant motion and bedlam. Yet he always looked fresh as a daisy in the many pictures for which he posed. (I think he brought his own makeup person.)

Trick or Treat?

More than anything else, parading the walkways of the Alexis Park reminded me of trick-or-treating—but without all of the knocking on doors. Overall, the sound I heard at the CES—in the rooms I'm about to mention and the others I visited—was wildly uneven. Some rooms had great sound, and I didn't want to leave these, while others were dismal at best. In the good-sounding rooms one self-evident law prevailed: Lack of clutter is good. Of the three rooms whose sound I thought was exemplary, only one (Lamm/TreMa Sound) had anything on static display—and only one item (one of the new Lamm ML2 monoblocks). However, we're talking about different goals here—sight versus sound. Some manufacturers were really only interested in displaying their products, which is OK, even though it seemed like a lost opportunity. Oh well.

The Joseph Audio/API/Golden Tube/Cardas room featured a number of pairs of Joseph Audio speakers, although the $2299 RM22sis were playing when I visited, driven by a pair of Golden Tube amplifiers and preamplifier. Source components were a Judy Spotheim turntable with Judy Spotheim tonearm and Cardas Heart cartridge ($2775), or a Mark Levinson No.39 CD player ($5995). Cables were Cardas Golden Cross, and one of API's new Power Wedges provided line filtration. Even with a number of people milling about, the highly resolved sound had fellow SoundStager Dave Duvall pinned in the sweet spot of the listening couch.

Les Edelberg's API room featured a full display of his new Power Wedge Ultras, about which I overheard one person say, "They now look more like components." And so they do. The new line features transformers of proprietary design that address the added noise of the DVD medium, IEC receptacles so you can use your favorite after-market power cord, and a configurable ground switch for each outlet. API has Power Wedge Ultras for a wide array of system configurations, both audio and video, and Edelberg was quick to point out that all of the new products push the envelope for sonics and safety. Prices will range from $500 to $1500.

The Wilson Benesch room featured the ACT 1 speakers ($10,000 per pair) with new compacted-fiber cone technology developed by Wilson Benesch. The speakers were driven by an FM Acoustics 611 Resolution amplifier ($38,000). The preamp was an FM Acoustics 155 linestage ($4,980) along with the FM Acoustics 122 phonostage ($5500). The main source was the new Wilson Benesch Circle turntable/0.5 tonearm combination ($2995) with new Analog cartridge ($3800). The other source was the Pink Triangle Litaural CD player ($3695), which has two switchable digital filters, 20-bit Burr-Brown DACs and 24-bit HDCD capability.

"Why does Cardas have a room?" I heard one showgoer mumble to another. The answer was self-evident: It was branch office for all of the cable they had on loan at the Show. Whenever I saw burgundy interconnects and speaker cables, I knew that Cardas Golden Cross was in the house, including in the Nova USA, BAT/Hales and Merlin/Joule Electra rooms, which all had fine sound. There was no music in the Cardas room, but there was lots of talk. George Cardas moved from the topic of cable design to the methodology for counting hits on the Internet—with tightly reasoned stops in between—with rare speed and delicacy.

The Cary room featured Cary electronics (CAD-805 Signature amplifiers, $10,995 per pair; SLP-98P preamp with remote, $2995; and CD-301 CD player, $2495), the new Alon Circe speakers ($12,000 per pair) and Straightwire cable. The Police's Ghost in the Machine was playing when I visited, and playing LOUD-ly, although without obvious strain. The Cary 805 Signatures are especially attractive amps.

In the one of the EgglestonWorks/VTL/Z-Systems rooms were the new EgglestonWorks Fontaine speakers ($6300 per pair) driven by the VTL MB-175 Signature amps ($4995 per pair), a VTL 2.5 preamp ($2045), a Z-Systems RDP-1 digital preamp ($4995) and Wadia 860 CD player ($7450). Next door were the EgglestonWorks Andras ($14,700 per pair) driven by the VTL Wotan 1250 Signature amps ($27,500 per pair), a VTL 5.5 preamp with phono ($3700), Wadia 27 DAC ($8450) and new 270 transport ($7950), VPI turntable and JWM Memorial 12" tonearm and Audiocraft cartridge. Whew! Cabling in both rooms was by Transparent. Which system sounded better? The Fontaine/MB-175s/2.5/RDP-1/860 system, which was very effortless and extended. The bigger, more expensive system was in the room next door, but the larger Andra speakers and two-storey Wotan amps proved to be too much for the smallish space. There's just never a good ballroom available when you need one.

In similar fashion, Hales and BAT also sponsored two rooms. Elecronics playing in both when I visited were the BAT VK-500 amplifier ($5000), VK-5i preamp ($4000) and VK-D5 CD player ($4500). The speakers were the Hales Revelation Threes ($2195 per pair) and new Transcendence Fives ($5500 per pair). All cables were Cardas Golden Cross. There was no clear winner this time, both rooms sounding powerful and dynamic. Judging by sound alone (what else would one judge by?), Hales offers a lot of speaker for the money.

Artemis had on display the Eos Signature speakers with their matching, and portly, Bass Modules ($15,800 per pair) driven by prototype Reflection Audio amplifiers. The Reflection OM-1 with battery power supply ($5500) handled the preamplication chores, with a Basis turntable, Graham Model 2.0 tonearm and Nightingale dedicated armwand/cartridge providing tuneage. Cardas cables were used throughout. The system produced very good sound that was punctuated by some readjustment of the analog rig while I was trying to snap pictures and generally getting in the way. The Reflection preamp can also be ordered without the MC phono stage and battery power supply for $800 and $1,550 less respectively.

I saw Utopia, actually a pair of them, in the YBA/JMlab room. Interesting fact: JMlab has 41 speakers in its line, of which the Utopias ($28,500 per pair) are only outpriced by the Grand Utopias. As you can guess, the Utopias are big, although, as I was told, they're easier to unpack than some of the smaller JMlab models. In addition to the Utopias were pairs of YBA preamps and power amps, and YBA cables. Beautiful tonality, but as with the EgglestonWorks Andras, the small room didn't allow these big speakers to breathe.

Signet had both audio-only and audio-video systems set up in separate rooms. The video room featured a Pioneer projection TV surrounded by a mob of Signet speakers: A/VP Standards with built-in 150-watt amp ($2500 per pair) for the front channels, VL Bi-Rads ($540 per pair) as satellites, and the VLC266 center channel speaker ($300). The audio room had a pair of SL388 speakers ($1200) driven by OCM electronics, a Micromega Stage 5 CD player, XLO wire and Golden Sound cones. In particular, the SL-388s sounded like they offered very good value for the money.

The ALR Jordan/McCormack room featured the lovely ALR Jordan Factor 2 speakers (price to be announced), McCormack DNA-2 amp ($3495), ALD-1 linestage ($1745), and DAC-1 digital-to-analog converter ($995). The transport was a PS Audio Lambda II Special ($1995). Power-line conditioning was from Van Evers. And yes, ALR Jordan knows its name is one letter away from "Air Jordan."

Goin' Mobile

My only off-site excursion began as a group of us SoundStagers took a trip to Caesar's Palace (via two buses and a long walk) to hear the new Genesis APM-1 speakers, which looked and sounded like they cost more than their $7500 list price. We then split up, and three of us trekked over to Bally's and the Madrigal suite, which had an abundance of Proceed and Mark Levinson equipment on soundless display and some good food that hit the spot. Of immediate interest were the new Proceed products—the Amp 5 five-channel amplifier ($4995) and AVP audio/video preamplifier (also $4995)—and the new Mark Levinson No.32 Reference Preamplifier, an advanced two-box design that separates all DC power and audio signals from the AC power, power-supply regeneration, control and logic functions. It was shown in a late prototype stage and will list for somewhere around $15,000.

What drew most of my attention in the Madrigal suite was the Mark Levinson No.33 amplifiers on display. If you've only seen the No.33s in pictures, you really haven't seen them. To say that they're big is a big understatement (my shot at the poetic comparison: they look like a pair of futuristic network servers), but their insides are truly an impressive sight—an orderly maze of circuit boards and wiring and cabinetry. And get a load of the power cord and plug (no, the power cord is not detachable).


Sonic Frontiers' new Transport 3 ($4995) was making showgoers oooo and aaaah with its Iris access hatch, which opens and closes like the secret entrance to Batgirl's changing room, and overall engineering sophistication. The transport and matching high-tech processor, aptly named the Processor 3 ($6695), both use the I2S Enhanced digital interface and connect via a special computer cable that makes, in the words of Sonic Frontiers' President Chris Johnson, "after-market digital cables obsolete." I'll be reviewing both the Transport 3 and Processor 3 sometime soon.

Apollo's Aria modular rack system made me reminisce about all of the time I spent as a child building things with my Erector set. The Aria is a truly flexible system, allowing you to add extra "modules" and thus reconfigure your equipment rack as your system grows or changes. All of the supports are isolated from each other via rubberized washers, and the shelves are available in black veneered MDF or tinted safety glass and can sit on the supports directly or on upturned spikes for greater isolation.

Swiss company Piega was displaying, and playing, their line of sleek speakers. The P4 L ($2380 per pair) features a proprietary Piega ribbon tweeter and a cabinet that's made in a sandwiching process and has an outer polished-metal surface. Also in use were an FM Acoustics amplifier and preamplifier as well as a Wadia 860 CD player ($7450). The nondescript cables were, according to a Piega representative, "nothing special."

American Power & Light isn't exactly a name that causes high-end arousal, so it seems only right that their speakers, which utilize a patented electro-magnetic driver system, shouldn't quite look like high-end speakers. The LT 11 ($11,000 per pair) is a 36" high, 22" wide 2.5" deep box that can be mounted in or on a wall and covered with acoustically transparent fabric or artwork and thus tastefully camouflaged. The LT 11 is, however, a first-order, highly time-aligned planar loudspeaker. While hanging on a wall, the speakers will produce frequencies below 100Hz, even though they have only midrange and tweeter panels. Of course, when mated with a subwoofer, the LT 11s will produce full-range sound. Of great consequence for home theater applications is American Power & Light's use of the same drivers in the frame of a projection screen that has a diagonal size of 132". Appropriately named The Screen, it sells for $16,000.

Italian company Strumenti Acustici di Prescisione showed its line of speakers. The Genio, which lists at around $1400 per pair, includes a pair of 15W on-board class-A tube amps, with ventilation holes in the back of each speaker. The Genios are two-way stand-mounted monitors that sit on what would normally be considered their sides. They sounded open and delicate, even with the forest of other equipment around them.

Finally, the Mesa Engineering room had on display something often overlooked at audio shows: Music. Srajan Ebaen, Mesa's high-end guru, brought a vast collection of CDRs that he recorded and a collection of poster boards that indicated what visitors could hear. The tune you're looking for isn't listed? No problem. Srajan can cross-reference it in his printed master listing and find something he does have. Highly recommended.

They're Everywhere

Every room looked essentially like the next, and this effect was only enhanced by the near-constant presence of certain accessories. Officially, Acoustic Sciences Corporation (ASC for short) supplied their Tube Traps to 21 rooms, but I spotted them in a number of others too. Something tells me that these guys get little credit for the music that their soundless products helped produce. I also spied Golden Sound's cones and squares and the Osiris Audionics Osiris speaker stands, Giza bases, and Ariel isolation platforms holding up their end of the bargain in a handful of rooms each. The Van Evers power-line filters were almost always tucked away in a corner or on the bottom shelf of the rack, but the tasteful signs did a good job of announcing their presence.

Lamm ML1 amplifiers were in three rooms—Lamm/TreMa Sound, Thor, and Verity—with a pair of M1.1s workin' it in the Walker Audio room. Master of Paradise Jim Saxon noted, "It was very difficult for a room with the Lamm ML1s to sound bad."

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