A few impressions from the CES/THE Shows

I went with a friend looking for speakers to replace his Beveridges; they currently operate but he feels one amp is dying (again) and that it’s time. Unfortunately, he STILL hasn’t found a speaker to love. He’s pointed toward high-efficiency designs based on so-called full-range drivers, so we looked at many of them in 2-and-two-half days. We simply didn’t bother listening to MOST speakers as they weren’t interesting.

My friend’s and my taste in speaker voicing is VERY similar and we agreed overall about every system we heard. Both of us need MORE than a ‘neutral’ amount of energy in the orchestra’s power region–those 3 or so octaves from c. 100 to 800Hz–and we both want LESS treble energy than ‘flat’. We both love the spaciousness of dipoles but heard few to listen to.

First--the WORST sound, BY FAR, was the from the Wisdom M-75, priced at $55K/pair. It had so little energy in the power region, it wasn’t ‘thin’, it was clangy. Most disappointing for Dean was the Rethm, which wounded VERY think and bright, even with the horn extenders.

POSSIBLY the combined shows' best sound was produced by a prototype system by Cogent. It’s a 2-way system driven by 2 field-coil-powered compression drivers, horn-loaded of course, plus a monstrous mono-15"-horn-loaded subwoofer, all of which might retail in the $40-thousands. The horns were rectangular and built of birch plywood, painted, and had significant resonances, but both of us felt this system reproduced the sound of the orchestra VERY convincingly. The ‘possibly’ above is because they were in a much-too-small room. WAY over 100dB sensitivity. Maybe next year...

Overall, probably the best sound we heard was from the German-made $6500/pair Audio Physic Scorpio. It’s a rather-conventional-looking back-tilting, 4'-high floorstander that uses one dome tweeter and 2 MRs on the front panel and 4 7" woofers mounted 2 on each side and driven as bipoles. They had plenty of energy in the power region and great bass, extended and well defined. GORGEOUS veneers! Dean felt they were not quite as transparent as he would like; I disagreed, but he’s the GEA, not me.

The Vandersteen Quattros sounded very nice, neutral, spacious, etc., but were too ‘polite’ in the power region and hence uninvolving for both of us. Same for the Gallo Reference 3.1s, which produced probably the biggest and best soundstage of the show in a relatively HUGE room. Those little things were probably 10' from each sidewall.

In substantial contrast to their sound in Denver last September at RMAF, the Zus sounded QUITE good, especially the $2800/pair Druids with the $3K/pair ‘Method’ powered subwoofers. They were too bright for us but sounded VERY fine otherwise. I believe they’re Dean’s current favorites.

One thought both of us had--most of the speaker designers can’t be lovers of classical music--else they wouldn’t be designing speakers that sound, in the treble, little like real orchestras playing in real space. Oh well...
I felt the same way about the Vandersteen Quatros a few years back when they were first shown, at least until we asked them to turn up the volume.

Richard for some reason likes to keep the volume relatively low during the show. When asked to push it, though, he certainly will let his speakers speak out and shine a bit more. And even given my Vandersteen loyalty, I'll gladly admit that they ARE somewhat tame at low volumes.
Have you listened to any Sonus Faber's? I've never heard any myself but everything you describe screams of what Ive read about the Sonus Faber designs. I recall some stereophile measurements showing a nice hump in the region you're talking about. They are often praised for sweetness up top too.

I would be interested in more comments about the Quatro's. Also what was that Ayre unit sitting between the two ARC amps in the Quatro room? Line conditioner maybe?
They were too bright for us but sounded VERY fine otherwise. I believe they’re Dean’s current favorites.
Sorry for the confusion, Jeff, but is Dean the friend you mention in the beginning? If so, then who is 'us' in "they were too bright for us"? I'm trying to understand if he thought they were too bright yet still considers them to be his current favorites?

Thanks for the report. Wish I could have been there.

I liked the Rethm. You may have heard them with the subwoofers turned off. I found the coherence beguiling. They are somewhat of a niche product of course.
This was a fantastic show IMO . Great weather , good kharma everywhere and some excellent sound to boot. Running into old friends and meeting new ones is really the highlight so let me start there. Jonathan Tinn and Mike lavigne are often spotted together and its a geat treat to hang out with them for a while . There is so much incredible energy between them thats its impossible not to get caught up in it. Ed Meitner was often spotted and always had a moment to spare for the wannabes like me .David Chesky was seen everywhere and was always kind enough to stop and talk . Without people like him pushing the envelope , we would have nothing but hardware and lousy recordings . Craig Oxford was forthcoming about new exciting developments in the Nearfield Pipedream line and I for one find him stimulating to talk to . Mike Verreto , importer for ESP was a treat to get to know as he has some new products that were as good sounding as they looked. Tor and Lew at CJ are always the best , and Gentleman Mike Kelly was as usual gracious and kind from Aerial Acoustics . There were some incrediible products this year with the Von Gaylord liquid cooled tube amp at near 60 k the most unusual . Swedish Solutions plastered your ears back with some outrageous dynamics with their 250 k speakers that didnt quite look like 250k speakers. Burmester as usual had a sound to die for and I saw their electronics in another room I really was taken with... The Audio Physics room . The Scorpio was being shown and I was floored by its lifelike soundstage , clarity and accurate midrange presentation . This speaker is a winner for them . The Esoteric room was showing the beautiful 20 t speaker from Aerial Acoustics and it was so smooth you could listen for hours on end . I personally loved the MBL room . I will own a pair of these one day. The 101 E Radialstrahler is one of those products you love or hate but cannot dismiss as it produces effortless dynamics and a soundfield to get lost in . Personally , i fell for the TAD speaker they were showing this year . Not sure the model but at 40 k , I saw it as a bargin . Saving the beat for last , there were 3 rooms I could write a check for. Once again its Jonathan and Darren duking it out at the Alexis for top honors in my view. Darren and Bonnie controlled several rooms and while he was relentless in expressing enthusiasm and knowledge { the guy is brilliant }, Bonnie is cool , dishing out great hot chocolate. All of their rooms were meticously set up and they sounded that way. The Ascendo CAT Reimyo room was simply gorgeous sounding and easily some one of the best sound I have ever heard .Explosive dynamics yet intimate with lifelike, uncolored timbre. Top end extension was natural and the dimensionality was phenomenal . In another of his rooms I was floored by the Karan solid state amps . This is something you must hear to appreciate, it has an iron grip on the bass region and was liquid from the upper midrange on up. Worth a look if you ask me. One of the biggest surprises of the show was Frank TChang of Acoustic Systems. Frank is a Chineese acoustical engineer living in Paris with a name like... well Frank. What a combination ! He was showing [to great effect ] , a block of wood with a tiny cup on top . The cups come in various metals and do different things to some degree. The product was called a Resonator. He effortlessly manipulated the soundfield and soundstage by simply repositioning the cup. It widened , closed , deepened and moved forward the soundstage with the slightest change in position . It was atounding and has my vote for tweak of the .... century! Way to go Frank!! JTinns Von Schweikert VR 9, DarTZeel, Meitner room was once again at the top of the class this year. Its what we go to Vegas for. Jonathan carries only the finest gear and what i like most is he just lives for this stuff. His room was small but the system blew the walls away and was deep, rich in harmonic texture but transparent as hell. Air and decay was world class and the system was completely free of grain . I was blown away. He was also showing a new turntable for 16 k that took my breath. I may have to spring for this one. Last but far from least at THe Show at the San Tropez was the debut of Alex Peychev of APl and his proprietary system consisting of his own design of speakers , hybrid amp , cables and most importantly , his NWO -1. This is an Esoteric UX 1 that is gutted and rebulit with 10 dacs per channel and dual tube output stage. The sound was open , extended , cohesive and had a wonderful midrange. It was as linear a sound as I have ever experienced . The room stayed packed from sun up to sun down . I wasnt the only one who thought so. Great show , see ya next year!!
All the 'us'es are Dean and I, and yes, he too thinks they're too bright but that CAN be fixed and Zu offered to do it.

The Rethm still sounded unacceptably thin and bright. :-)
I loved the ZU's, what a bang for the buck, also impressed with the ACI Saphires.And MBL had a great display, But what a bunch of dross I heard, But as a first time attendee,It still was a very impressive snakeoil show.
Art, WRT the Rethms, what subwoofer? I was in the Rethm room on two separate occasions, and there was no subwoofer on either. To be sure, a subwoofer would have been a necessity in order to achieve anything resembling neutral tonality. I've never listened to the Rethms before, so I don't have experience to know how they might have sounded in a different room, but I don't know when in my memory I have ever heard such a skewed tonal balance. For me, this was the most frustrating speaker at the show. It did so many things exceedingly well--transparent, open, dynamic, and probably as close to "live" sounding as anything this side of $50K or more. If I could have been convinced that a subwoofer would have cured all its tonality issues, I would have bought a pair on the spot.
After further thought, I think my comments about Zu 'fixing' their 'too bright' speakers create a wrong impression. First, the Zus apparently aren't 'too bright' for lots of folk; probably they're rather flat in their upper frequency response. They did have more treble energy than I personally like, but not as much as some speakers I heard. I listened, happily, to these systems for many hours over 4 days. This characteristic of the Druids and the Definitions is NOT a 'defect' that Zu offered to 'fix'.

Zu personnel, I'm sorry if my initial comments were inaccurate.

(PS. Zu personnel did NOT contact me in any way about my initial comments.)
Out of curiosity: do either of you gents have any experience hearing the Linkwitz Orions? Very dynamic, very coherent active dipoles. Siegfried Linkwitz is an avid classical music listener. These might fit your bill.
Rethms: This year the speakers had large wooden extensions attached to the rear bottoms of the speakers. The extensions looked to me as large in volume as the speaker itself. I asked if they were subwoofers. He said not exactly but they are for the bass, and he can turn them on or off. So I may not have been technically accurate in calling them "subwoofers", but there was definitely something new sitting there designed to play the bass.

I was beguiled by the qualities that you mentioned, and particularly the coherence. This may just be where I'm at right now: I'm very attracted to the coherence of Ref 3a DeCapo i's too.

Ok Art, now we're on the same page. Yes, the large wooden extensions were present and "on" as it were, but in my query regarding them, Jacob expressed that they weren't having the effect in his CES room that he had experienced in other rooms. To work optimally, the room apparently needs to be perfectly rectangular and not irregular like the CES room. However, he feels that the addition of a subwoofer is still most useful for bass extension. I wish he had demonstrated his system with a good sub, for if it had balanced the sound sufficiently I would have gotten real excited. I am certain that the room was a contributing factor, because merely standing from a seated position on the sofa brought the balance about 50% of the way home. While in their room on my second visit, I met Jeff Dorgay ever so briefly. Apparently he owns a pair of Rethms that he has added a subwoofer to, and feels that the tonal balance in his room is quite good. He did comment that he felt the CES room was responsible for the skewing, so I'm going to have to wait for another opportunity to listen to these in a different setting. And yes, that coherence you mention is most appealing and a quality that I find I must have in a speaker system.
Jimlevitt, are you an Orion owner? I do have some experience with the Orion in the early version, but would very much like to experience the latest version. Since I don't share Siegfried's feelings regarding interconnect cables, speaker wires and solid state amps, I would probably end up with a much greater investment in an Orion system than one that doesn't require so many channels of amplification. I mean, eight channels of amplification for a tube amp lover would be a bit much unless you lived in Alaska and could use the heat. And, the investment in interconnects and speaker cables for all those channels would break the bank if you chose anything other than Radio Shack wiring.
I posted several comments elsewhere that focused on speakers.

I thought the sound, as usual, was best at THE Show. I heard four speakers that impressed me. First the Zen Acoustics little guys with the Red Dragon switching amp. Second the Tonian $1500 speakers which have to be the best buy for the money. Third were the Ars Aures big speakers. With low phase distortion, they gave an excellent sound stage and realism. I could listen all day with the Art Audio 845 amps. Fourth and best, were the Cerious Technologies satellite speakers with powered subwoofers. They were no doubt helped by the H-Cat, but their sound stage realism was dumbfounding. I have never heard such accurate bass. They are also incredibly priced at $7800.

The Acapella Violon Mk IIIs were also excellent, but their price is offputting. The little one, also pricy, were also excellent.

I would entirely agree with you about both the Wisdoms and the Rethms. I have heard the Rethms sound quite good although most limited in frequency response, but this time I stayed as short a time as I could.

I cannot agree about the Zus, however. I only listened to the bigger ones but thought they were far superior even in the very close field at RMAF. I lost all interest in them.

The Cogents were a thrill and a disappointment. It is good that there is an American all out effort, but although I liked the sound considering the small room, I really don't want to get back to a four way system and the very great expense of getting there.

As you can see, only the Cerious Technologies is a viable interest for me.
Art pleased to hear you liked the Tonian's
I have their less efficient Monitor 88db NFSM and it makes me very happy !

Tony Minisian may not be a well known name but his products at their price point are some of the best yet
He's also a great a guy to boot .
I think that the Cerious speakers are ridiculously overpriced at $7800. The high end rolled off quickly but that might be attributable to either the preamp or interconnects.
The Zu Definitions at $9000 may have been the best "value" speaker at the show.
Theloveman: I'm not an Orion owner. I've heard them a couple of times - using relatively inexpensive electronics and very inexpensive cabling. They're damned impressive. I'm still waiting to hear them with the ATI amp that Siegfried Linkwitz recommends. You can opt for more expensive amps if you wish; the total cost would still be far less than the price of some of these megabuck speaker systems discussed here.
i liked THE SHOW this year. not too crowded and some very nice equipment. i was impressed with: Totem (of coarse), vmps room, audio research/wilson room, prima luna/new sonus faber room, acoustic zen speakers, Von Schweikert, kharma, usher, the cary/dynaudio room (one of the better rooms imo), LSA room, and others. i was also impressed by the nordost demonstration when he went thru the blue heaven cables up to the valhalla cables and demonstrated the sound difference when you moved up the chain. I heard many small speakers that sounded much bigger than what they were: amphion, totem arro, and others. i was impressed with some of the switching amps that were being used (the nu force amps were 3 pounds each). HD radio sounds promising. we spent 3 days going thru alexis and st tropex rooms and didn't get to see it all. we also never made it back to see our favorite rooms a second time. there's always next year.
IMHO, the best sound was in the Cerious Technologies
suite at the St. Tropez. Bob Grost's Two/Bass combo
was simply outstanding. My best-in-show award.

I also liked the Ars Aures speakers. Nice sound and
gorgeous fit-and-finish. Italian made.

The best-bang-for-your-buck award went to Tonian Labs.
The TL-D1 delivered jaw-dropping sound for $1500/pair.

Totem also had a good room. Love the sound, look and
footprint of Vince's speakers.

Gear-wise, I was impressed with the entire Bel Canto
line (Mike McCormick was very hospitable/knowledgable)
and the new Boulder 850 monoblocks.
I also had a great time at the show. Got to hear wonderful equipment.

My most significant observation was regarding the Von Schweikert VR9..this was my first time hearing them. What struck me was how similar they were to the Wilson MAX. I think they were modelled on the Wilson sound (good idea considering Wilson's success). It would have been nice to be able to do a direct comparison with the same amplifeirs driving both. I found the VR9 to have a softer top end and more bass (if thats possible) than the Wilson. Fantastic rock and pop speaker.

great show !
Anyone hear the new TAD or Focus Speakers.
Here's pics of them..


Twilo, I saw the TADs but given the sound and my previous experiences with the Model Ones, I did not bother to go into the room. I wish they had not abandoned high efficiency designs.
Twilo , I spent many listening sessions in both rooms actually as i found the speakers amazing . The TAD room was large and well appointed with plants and soft lighting. Amplification was all top tier Pass , 4 monoblocs if i remember correctly. The sound was beautiful and delicate on soft passages without losing frequeancy response coherency and explosive on dynamic material without any hint of compression . I was blown away. Fit and finish was stellar. The Focus room , I forgot to mention in my above post re the show was another winner in my book. Large enclosures that dissappeared quite easily. They repeated a James Taylor disc that was rich in harmonics and transparent to boot. I came back 3 or 4 times over a 5 day period to hear them . It was a room that never overplayed nor misunderstiood the speakers attributes. Like the TAD , they too disappeared easily and left you falling deep into the music. It was sort of strange to me . I kept catching myself sitting through 3 or 4 songs at a time and losing track of the time I was occupying the center chair. Hope this helps.
I agree with Brainwater regarding TAD.

The new TAD Model 2 looked fabulous and sounded sublime, and I must say that Andrew Jones was a real pleasure to talk to. He explained a number of aspects of the manufacture of the vapor-deposition Be-coned high and mid drivers in the TADs, and as a former owner of the old Yammie NS1000s back in the '80s, I was most interested in what he had to say.

He had some high-rez sources that were a delight to listen to. Some, like Patricia Barber's "Alfie", could be heard at other rooms at CES through SACD, but he also had some 24bit/88.2kHz masters from Prof. Keith Johnson's Reference Recordings which are being transferred to CD, and one could not hear these elsewhere - pretty stunning.

As far as being "explosive on dynamic material", I'd agree with that - a short excerpt from a Marcus Miller track practically lifted the roof off.


First, a disclaimer that I am a Focus Audio dealer...but I'll say that with the Master 3 being driven by the Vitus Audio amps, this was among the best I've heard them Master 3. Relative to the other times I've heard them (with Blue Circle, TacT/Boz, and PS Audio amplification), there was a level of clarity and refinement that I just hadn't heard from them before...not that these other amps aren't high quality, but the Vitus stuff is in that stratosphere of elite amps, and the Master 3's were good enough to really let that fact shine thru...
CES doesnt look like crowded because Venetian Hotel is huge, personally i like the set up. First impression, DH Labs/Primaluna/Njoe Tjoeb room was very impressive. Von Schweikert VR5 SE was unlistenable, i think it wasnt set up properly. Overall i think CES is a success. THE Show on the other hand, i think the room that impressed me the most is the Ars Aures, those speakers are amazing, all i can say is WOW!!! Theres a lot of imports, but exhibits are significantly low comparing from last year. Im shopping for preamp, any recommendations? ( for my 8kOhm input impedance amp)

I did spend a good deal of time listening to the TAD 2s and Andrew Jones' great presentation. I still don't like the speakers and wish TAD would have stuck with high efficiency speakers where the crappy powerful Pass amps would not be needed.

In my opinion the sound is colored more so than the Pioneer XE speakers that cost a fraction as much. I don't know whether this is the amps, the set-up or room, or the speakers. The sources were great.

I heard the LSA Model 1s and the YGs, both of which have extremely rigid aluminum non-resonant boxes. It is against them that I found the TADs colored. It is, of course, possible that both wooden and aluminum boxes, no matter how rigid, have their own colorations.