CES and THE Show 2010

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One of the most important—perhaps the most important—events on the audio calender is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which is trade-only show held annually in Las Vegas. Manufacturers from all over the world go to CES to show off their latest gadgets and make product announcements. CES is so big that it takes up several venues, but fortunately just about all of the high performance audio exhibits are in one place: the Venetian.

Because this was my first visit to CES, and my visit was mostly about making contacts and introducing Vinylphile, I didn’t get much chance for an in-depth look at some of the new products. But I did meet some very interesting people including founder of The Absolute Sound, Harry Pearson. I was hoping to meet my fellow vinyl junkie, Stereophile’s Michael Fremer, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next time.

Taking into account the limiting acoustics of a hotel room, quite a few of the rooms I visited had pretty good sound. But what really impressed me was the large number of exhibitors using vinyl as their (sometimes only) source. Forget about what the detractors would have you believe: vinyl’s comeback is real!

As I said previously, my visit to CES was more about establishing relationships with people than it was about the gear per se, so I can’t recall all the cool new products I saw, and I didn’t take my camera with me. With those caveats in mind—and my apologies to any manufacturer I miss here—here are some of my recollections from the show (in roughly alphabetical order).

Audio Research Corporation were playing tunes through the Reference Phono 2 phono stage, Reference 5 line stage, and their new DS650. The DS650 is a solid state Class D power amp, and is expected to retail at around $8,000. Continuum Audio Laboratories were playing their top-of-the-line Caliburn-Cobra-Castellon turntable and arm. Mated with an Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge and Audio Research Reference electronics, the sound was sublime!

In the Convergent Audio Technology room, Ken Stevens was demonstrating his new SL-1 Legend tube preamp, a beefed up version of the SL-1 Renaissance featuring Black Gate capacitors in select locations, a Teflon PCB, a more sophisticated stepped-attenuator volume control, and a much heavier chassis. And down the corridor, J-Corder’s bank of a dozen or so reel to reel tape decks were a reel (sic) treat for analogue lovers!

In the Nordost room, Roy Gregory and Lars Kristensen were demonstrating their new Sort Kones, which will be available with a choice of three balls: aluminum, ceramic, and titanium. The sonic effects improve as one goes up the range, as Roy showed by playing a short passage of music, changing the cones, and then repeating the track. He also demonstrated the need for correct placement of isolation devices, by changing the configuration of the titanium-balled cones from two at the back and one at the front to two at the front and one at the back.

Oracle Audio were showing (and playing) the latest incarnation of their long-lived Delphi, the Delphi VI. Pass Labs were demonstrating the new two-chassis XP-25 phono stage and X260.5 monoblocks, and British turntable manufacturer from yesteryear, Revolver, hinted at a return to their turntable manufacturing roots... Simaudio were showing off their new Moon 300D DAC, and their retooled and renamed LP5.3 phono stage and its matching optional power supply, the PSX5.3, and finally Wadia Digital were playing music from their new “iPhone Ready” 171iTransport and previously-announced 151PowerDAC mini.

Although they weren’t an official CES exhibitor, MartinLogan did have a suite at the Mirage where Justin Bright showed me ML’s recently introduced Motion Series of dynamic speakers (also on display was a new electrostatic hybrid, the specs and details of which have yet to be finalised). The Motion Series consists of six models: two bookshelf speakers, two centre channels, and two towers. Prices range from $200 each for the Motion 2 bookshelf speakers up to $1,500 for a pair of Motion 12 towers.

Over in the Flamingo, The Home Entertainment Show (THE Show) was taking place. A smaller and more intimate affair than CES, THE Show was also very busy. I only had time for a very brief tour: I spent far too long drooling over the vinyl on display at the various booths (Classic Records, Acoustic Sounds, The Elusive Disc, and Music Direct to name a few). I had the pleasure of having a quick chat with reviewer Myles Astor, and listened to Harry Pearson’s talk on Saturday night.

Well, that’s about it for 2010’s CES and THE Show; next year we’ll have much better coverage of all the new goodies, especially those related to vinyl!