The Venetian Hotel and Casino
The Venetian is where the bulk of the high-end, two-channel audio world resides (sorry, T.H.E. Show), and it encompasses four floors, as well as the hotel's main ballrooms. There weren't a great deal of product unveilings at the Venetian this year, though one thing is for certain: the high-end market seems to have gotten its moxie back, as no one seemed afraid of charging thousands upon thousands of dollars for anything once again. That said, the standouts at The Venetian were not those obsessed with dollar signs, but rather those that took a more frugal stance.
Krell was showing off the new Foundation AV preamp, which at $6,500 retail harkens back to Krell's Showcase days. The Foundation AV preamp was arguably one of my personal favorites of the whole show and one product I cannot wait to get my hands on (I've been promised the first review sample). The Foundation possesses ten HDMI inputs and dual HDMI outputs (4K pass-through supported), balanced and unbalanced preamp outs, balanced and unbalanced audio inputs, network control and upgradability, auto room correction with full manual and adjustable parametric EQ, complete with three user memories and more. I've talked about how there are AV preamps that manage to check most of my required boxes, but none that have managed to check 'em all. If the Foundation manages to sound good and deliver upon its many promises, then this will undoubtedly be the preamp to beat, arguably at any price. I even think Krell's new industrial design looks spectacular. Additionally, the Foundation, even with a lower than Classe and Anthem retail price, is made entirely in America at Krell's own factory (the exhibitors have the pictures to prove it).
Krell also unveiled the new Connect music streamer at $2,500 retail. While costly for a music streamer, this box promises Sooloos-like functionality, complete with app-based control and meta data, not to mention Krell sound quality. Again, as with the Foundation, the Connect showcases a major shift in Krell's prior thinking and methodology, one I hope pays off, as both products are legitimately exciting.
Sticking with preamps for a moment, Parasound debuted its own preamp at CES in the form of the P5. The P5 is part of Parasound's Halo line of products, a two-channel preamp that features a built-in DAC (USB, coaxial and optical), as well as analog bass management all for around $1,000. The P5 is expected to begin shipping soon and is available in both black as well as Halo silver.
Paradigm was showing updates to the D2V AV preamp, as well as the company's 30th Anniversary loudspeakers, which sounded as good as they looked. The 30th Anniversary speakers are not Paradigm's flagship efforts - that title still belongs to the Studio Series. Instead, they fall between the Reference and Studio Series and will be sold in limited quantities (how limited has yet to be determined), beginning this year. Paradigm was also showing off its new line of headphones, dubbed the H15s, which will come in both noise-canceling and non-noise canceling variants in the first quarter of this year. Paradigm has even redesigned its existing in-ear line of headphones for better performance, as well as for better fit.
Across the hall from Paradigm, MartinLogan was showing off some new subwoofers, specifically the BalancedForce 210, which is said to be shipping soon, though no price was given at the show. The BalancedForce 210 features dual ten-inch aluminum cone woofers, an 800-watt amplifier, Perfect Bass Kit compatibility (sold separately), MartinLogan-specific low-pass filters and more. It looked massive, had a nice finish to it and, from what I could hear at the show, sounded very musical. MartinLogan was also showcasing the new Stage X center speaker as part of the company's Reserve ESL Series. The Stage X will retail for $3,295 when it begins shipping later in the year.
The big news out of GoldenEar this CES was the introduction of the new Triton 7 floor-standing loudspeaker. The Triton 7 is a two-way design, featuring GoldenEar's trademark folded motion tweeter, sandwiched between two mid/bass drivers. The low end is augmented by a pair of passive radiators, but no subwoofer is present. The Triton 7 will retail for $699 each and proved to be one of the, if not the single, most exciting loudspeaker unveilings of the whole show. Compared to the Triton 2 and 3, I came away thinking the 7 might be designer Sandy Gross' best Triton speaker to date. The openness and coherence top to bottom was addictive.
Mark Levinson/Revel/JBL Synthesis
Harman, by way of the Mark Levinson brand, put on quite a show at the Venetian, thanks in part to the newly released No. 52 Reference Preamp and newly redesigned Everest loudspeakers. Also on hand were Revel's new Performa3 Series speakers, as well as a new AV preamp under the JBL Synthesis moniker (admittedly the new Synthesis preamp is little more than a rebranded Bryston). Both the Mark Levinson/JBL and Revel setups sounded fantastic in the packed Harman suite at the Venetian.
Pass Labs showcased the new Xs Preamp, all two chasses of it, spinning some soulful vinyl via a rebuilt and heavily modded Technics turntable. The XA amps kept the room warm in more ways than one.
Focal had a dizzying array of speakers on display at CES, anchored by a pair of Diablo Utopia bookshelf speakers mated to a Sub Utopia EM. The trio sounded quite good, though admittedly it was the company's more affordable product offerings, specifically the Electra Series, Chorus 700 V Series and Bird loudspeakers, which first attracted me. I even liked the artful arrangement of Mobile Headphones right in the entryway. While I may be commenting more on Focal's style, I know the company has the substance to back it up.
Vienna Acoustics didn't have much by way of new launches per se, but I was taken aback by the company's in-wall speakers, dubbed In-Waltz (cute), what with their truly unique grille design and robust construction.
If I could give an award for most absurd product - in a good way - I'd have to award it to Boulder Amplifiers, what with the 500-plus-pound, $200,000-plus monaural amplifiers, churning out over 1,000 watts apiece. As ridiculous as they were, they were also gorgeous inside and out, with an attention to detail unlike anything I have ever seen. The stereo version retails for a more affordable $100,000, just in case you were wondering.
Audio Research had its Reference 750 tube monaural amplifiers on hand, though I wasn't able to sit down for a listen due to time constraints. Suffice to say they looked impressive, not to mention capable of heating an entire floor of one's home if need be. One Audio Research rep jokingly stated that he wasn't sure why the company's sales in Southern Florida weren't higher during the summer months. Counting the number of tubes atop each 750 could represent a total of 32 reasons.
When it comes to digital cables, I'll admit I'm more than a little skeptical - okay, I'm a lot skeptical. Not skeptical of all cables, just those with an existence based in some form of standard, for instance, HDMI and USB cables. Wireworld wants to change my mind and is even proposing a new way of measuring cables in order to do so. I listened to Wireworld president David Salz's elevator pitch, took his literature and promised to return to the discussion at a later date. Suffice to say his reasoning and logic are rather compelling. As for his results? Well, I plan on following up soon. Also, Wireworld was showing off its new Series 7 cables. Can you tell which sales pitch I was listening to more closely?
Arcam was showing two new integrated products, the Solo Neo and the FMJ A19. The Solo Neo is an all-in-one solution, complete with newly introduced networking capabilities and an upgraded transport. It retails for $2,000 and looks every bit a high-end lifestyle product. For a bit less, there's the FMJ A19, which offers up a little less juice and forgoes network connectivity in favor of a phono stage and preamp outs. Both are fantastic values and both can serve as the centerpiece to any budding audiophile system.
THIEL may be under new ownership, what with Jim Thiel's passing not that long ago, but you wouldn't know it, as the company continues to put forth wonderful-sounding products that dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles and maybe even home theater enthusiasts love. THIEL was showing off its CS2.7s in the company's large room and they sounded wonderful, though I'm still partial to the smaller 1.7s myself. Still, glad to see the company didn't fold after the loss of its founder and I hope to see THIEL at tradeshows to come.
Kimber Cable was at CES promoting much of the lower-cost line of products, though it was a special request of mine that got me to take note. With power cords, there's no substitute for sheer girth. Having recently installed new 20-amp services in my office, I've been on the lookout for something beefy, as in ten-gauge extension cords to run from wall outlets to my main rack along an adjacent wall. As it turns out, ten-gauge power cords are a little difficult to come by through normal retail chains and hardware stores; not so at Kimber. I have a pair on their way and I'll be sure to let you know how they sound once they arrive.
Unbeknowst to me, but prior to the show, U.K. speaker manufacturer Wharfedale - or at least its North American distributorship - was under some duress. Thankfully, all has been resolved and for the better, as it is now in the hands of former Harman and Meridian front man Walter Schofield. Walter filled me in on the new product he was bringing stateside, as well as a whole new shipping and logistics setup he put into motion in order to fulfill customer/dealer orders faster with fewer hiccups. While not wholly audio related per se, it's nice to know that if you were contemplating buying any Wharfedale products, you're in better hands now than you were prior to CES.
Theta Digital was showing its soon to be released Prometheus monoblocks that are set to retail for $12,000 per pair. Theta swears the 200-watts-per-channel monos will be shipping within the next 90 days. Regardless, they sounded very authoritative.
Nordost was exhibiting this year in Nola's room, though it was the company's demo of its $350 Nordost Blue Haven that caught my attention as Nordost was literally doing A/B comparisons between the Blue Haven and the competition. Nordost started the demo by playing music through a Belkin HDMI cable before switching to another, more expensive cable that retailed, I believe, for $1,200. Then they substituted in the U.S.-made Blue Haven HDMI cable at $350. Many in the room, myself included, mentioned that the Blue Haven sounded more live than the other two, which of course prompted me to want to investigate further.
McIntosh's rooms are always a flurry of activity, as arguably no other product or brand has as big a cult following as McIntosh. McIntosh was showing, among other things, the new D100 digital preamplifier, which at $2,500 retail is decidedly un-McIntosh-like in terms of pricing. There was no mistaking its physical appearance as anything but a McIntosh piece. Still, the D100 is nicely equipped with five digital inputs, each with its own DAC, and remote volume. Also the D100, according to McIntosh, has been designed to optimize headphone performance - no doubt why it was being demoed via headphones in McIntosh's suite.
Cary Audio/Audio Electronics
Speaking of headphones for a moment, both Cary Audio and the company's Audio Electronics arm were showing off two new headphone amplifiers, the Nighthawk (Audio Electronics) and the HH-1 (Cary Audio). Both pieces shared some similarities in the looks department, as well as behind the scenes (as expected), though the Audio Electronics Nighthawk will be available direct where as the HH-1 will be sold through Cary dealers.
Polk actually had several presences scattered throughout CES this year. One was in the main convention halls, where they exhibitors were mixing live music (yes, I said live) into an array of Polk-sourced headphones -a nice touch and one of the more interactive demos of the whole show. Meanwhile, over at the Venetian, Polk chose to showcase its newly updated TSx line of speakers, which replace the outgoing TSi Series or Polk's mid-level speaker range. On hand and playing sweet, sweet music were the larger TSx500r floor-standing speakers that will retail, when available, for just under $1,000 per pair.
While famed audio designer Dan D'Agostino may be more well-known for his work at Krell (he founded it, after all), his new company D'Agostino hasn't exactly been resting on its laurels. On hand at CES was Dan's new Momentum Preamplifier, which not only looks the part, matching both his existing Momentum monoblocks and stereo amplifier brilliantly, but also sounds the part, too. While I don't wholly agree with all of Dan's stylistic choices, I do love that timepiece-inspired display. So sexy.
Wisdom Audio has made a name for itself at CES and other tradeshows by showcasing its top wares for years. At this year's show, I got to see a different and more affordable side of Wisdom. Don't get me wrong, I love the LS3 and LS4 on-wall loudspeakers (a term I use loosely), but the soon to be released Insight Series should make for some budget, high-end waves - at least, based on my impressions stemming from the show.
Internet-direct store Monoprice was at CES this year, bringing a host of affordable cables, mounts and more. I felt the most notable Monoprice product unveiling at this year's show was the arrival of the 27-inch, 2.5K LED IPS computer monitor for under $400. This monitor boasts a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 and features the same panel that's found in Apple's 27-inch Cinema Display courtesy of LG. Did I mention it retails direct for under $400 and has a better warranty?
All in all, it was a good show. Not a great one, but good one. There are a great many questions still surrounding the pending arrival of UltraHD/4K, which unfortunately were not wholly answered at the show. I suppose I was a little disappointed by the lack of education that seemed to be present as a result of all this "new" technology; manufacturers and media alike seemed consumed by either their own hype or a need for hype, which didn't sit well with me. Still, the show wasn't without its success stories; I guess I was just surprised by where they originated.