CES 2005 Initial impressions...

Just got back from a day at CES, being that I live in Las Vegas this is the second year I have gone. Last year I really didn't know where to go or what to do, this year I had a few targets that I missed out on last year. Following are merely my impressions of some of the rooms, many based on a 2 or 3 song audition so they are not reviews just a general overview. Here are a few rooms and my impressions:

Wow....this was one expensive setup with their flagship lineup, probably several hundred thousand in gear though I am not very familiar with it. Sounded great though they were playing classical strings when I was there at low volume, not exactly what you look for to maximize a huge line array, but awesome soundstage and very musical.

Esoteric had a whole slew of new disc spinners as well as preamp and amp combos on display. They were playing through Dynaudio Evidence speakers, very accurate and precise, first time I have heard these speakers, impressive but maybe lacking a bit of organic feel. Precise to a fault?

Music Hall-
I know they wanted to show their products together, but who the hell puts their new $6000 Shanling Scd-300 with a Music Hall Integrated and $700 Epos speakers? Not the best sounding rig even of the budget bunch. The player is pretty cool though in a sci-fi way. Aesthetically it matches modern solid state gear despite the visible tubes, wish I could comment more on the sound.

They were playing their new floorstanders, not sure which model, Celius I think. This combo was the same as last year, very forward and somewhat colored in the upper mids, but put on anything with a saxophone or clarinet and they are magic, like nothing else I have heard on reed instruments. Cairn showed their new Fog3 which looks much the same, not sure of the mechanical differences but look for it soon.

April Music-
OK, so I am like everybody else, I assumed Korean audio could not be good, but man this was a great sounding room. Their Stello CD transport along with their DAC/Pre and monoblocks made very convincing music for the price. The speakers I was not familiar with, I believe they were one of their brands as well. The system had a nice even sound and extracted lots of detail without harshness, and seemed to be very honest with vocals in particular. This was one of the best "affordable" rooms I heard.

They had their Megalines hooked to all sorts of stuff I didn't get to investigate, man they are some amazing speakers, especially when they turned the level up. Very composed and seamless for such a big multi driver speaker in a small room.

Kharma/Lamm/Kubala Sosna-
How do you convince people your cables sound great? Hitch them to this rig. Not sure what contribution they made, but again this year I was amazed at the soundstage and detail of the Kharma 3.2's. The room also had the Kharma sub this year which blended very well as it did not seem slow or detract from the imaging at all. This for me is the best I heard all day, though I can never afford it. I usually prefer a little more warmth but these speakers are so engaging I can't help but like them.

Von Schweikert -
Their VR4jr's sounded phenomenal with a simple system, and the unveiled the VR4sr's that were paired with a VAC pre, Spectron amp, and Oracle CDP and sounded superb. Even in the tiny room they were in they threw a convincing stage and had a well sorted bass despite close placement to walls. The sr's definitely had more low level detail than the jr's as well as deeper and tighter bass, however for $8000 they better. Overall there was a family resemblance that was striking despite the price difference.

Sim Audio-
Didn't listen much here as it was very crowded, but had to mention their gorgeous new series of products coming out. They had what looked to be a universal player with top loading like the Eclipse. I love their products and wish that I had more info, but too many people in there to ask any questions.

Bel Canto-
Superb resolution with their Universal player, pre, and digital amps through what I believe were TAD speakers? System that seems to be contradictory, as it was both highly detailed and transparent and highly musical. They really have some nice products.

Acoustic Energy-
I listened to their lower priced Aelite home theater speakers for a while as they were playing a concert DVD of Peter Gabriel who I love. I admit it was not reference grade, but for the price of the speakers and an Arcam reciever driving full 7 channel surround, it seemed a bargain as it had crisp detail and effects, and did not strain much on loud passages. Seems a system you could live with on a budget and be happy as a clam, did not sound like most HT systems do, no boom-crash-smash, just relaxed and musical with good staging.

I listened to their ESLs which are not really my cup of tea but can still be a very interesting listen. Their midrange is very impressive, I just miss the impact of cone drivers too much, and paired with Quad electronics the top was a little soft and the bottom a little light. They also had a home theater with their full L series on display. The finishes are gorgeous, though the sub level was too high and it ruined the sound somewhat, overall for inexpensive speakers these were even more refined than the Acoustic Energy system if not as dynamic and bold.

Audio Physic-
They had their new Caldera on display, stragely shaped cabinets that look non-symetrical from some angles. Sound was good but definitely forward and a little shouty. They had all solid state gear of an origin I didn't recognize, it was all laid on the floor?? no rack, so it was very hard to see what it was, but did not look very esoteric from a distance, just small square silver boxes. This system is not really my cup of tea either, I don't think I could live with it for long though it is very detailed and precise.

Well, this is about all for now, I may return tomorrow and revisit some of my favorites and have a more detailed report, that is if I feel like walking after trekking all over the main halls looking at everything from Bluetooth phones to Home Theater screens all day today.

I wonder what is the cabling of the Von Schweikert used in the show. Anyone knows?
VSA was using Jena Labs cables. And yes, Dan, the DarTZeel pre-amp was a real stunner.
For speakers I was impressed with the Intuitive Design Summit, The Rethems, and the Mangers in the Overkill room. These rooms I could stay in for some time without wanting to leave.
For electronics I liked the Rowland-Wadia room which used the Kubala-Sosna cables.
Another good sounding room was the APL-HiFi room using Manley Snapper amps with ESP speakers.