The $28.5k JosephAudio Pearl 3 is the latest iteration of Jeff Joseph’s highly-regarded, WATT/Puppy-like, two-box, three-way floorstander with twin aluminum woofers housed in the large rectangular bottom enclosure and a magnesium midrange and fabric-dome tweeter in the trapezoidal top enclosure. On the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, the Pearl 3s sounded suitably gorgeous, with a very good blend of drivers. Oh, the bass might have been a little subdued compared to what I'm used to, but it was also very articulate. The same blend of virtues and flaws was apparent on my Leonard Cohen LP, which was equally gorgeous but a little lacking in punch and texture in the lower mids and bass, with the luscious banduria sounding not as rich and plum-colored as it should’ve.
Last year I named The Point from Perfect 8 Technologies my Best of Show winner. This year the Boys from Linköping, Sweden, were back with the $115k Point Mk II, which boasts a better dipolar AMT tweeter (mounted, as before, on a tempered glass baffle with two dipole cone midranges arrayed beneath it), a new crossover, higher sensitivity, and improved, powered, DSP’d, side-firing ten-inch woofers (mounted in a push-push configuration in a glass cube below the baffle). Once again, The Point pulled off one of the best disappearing acts at this year’s CES. And once again, the speaker was simply wonderful in the midrange, reproducing Frank, Dean, and Der Bingle’s voices on “Style” with lifelike presence. However, the AMT treble was a little “toppy” on this same cut, and the bass from Nelson Riddle’s orchestra was not as dynamic or full-bodied as it should’ve been, rolling off below about 80Hz with audible suckout in the power range.
I was pleased to see that Andy Payor made an appearance at this year’s CES—not in person but in the form of his three-way (9-inch carbon-fiber-sandwich woofer, 6-inch carbon-fiber-sandwich midrange, and 1-inch beryllium dome tweeter) floorstanding Rockport Atrias. Driven beautifully by VTL MB450 Signature monoblocks (my favorite VTL amps), the more compact Atrias sounded, to my ear, considerably better and more of a piece than the larger, twin-woofered Aviors Andy has been featuring at other shows. The Atrias were superb on the twin pianos of Satie’s “Three Piece in the Form of a Pear,” on the Poulenc Concerto, and on the incomparable prelude to The Three-Penny Opera. Tone color was simply ravishing—not real, mind you, but incredibly beautiful. Since beautiful and exciting fit the needs of a large class of listeners, the Atrias are my second nominee for Best Sound of Show.
Sonus faber was showing its three-and-a-halfway $120k Aida floorstander powered (surprise, surprise!) by ARC electronics, including Audio Research’s new Reference 10 linestage preamp. On my Shostakovich Concerto, the sound was very lively with that traditional ARC blend of air and light and excellent staging. However, either the room or the Aida’s largish box may have been eating some low-level resolution because the sound wasn’t as detailed as I know this LP to be.
Alfred Vassilkov (one of my favorite speaker designers) introduced a new Estelon at CES—the $25k two-way, three-driver (two Accuton ceramic mid/basses and an Accuton ceramic tweeter) stand-mount XC. Dark, rich, robust, and beautiful-sounding (driven by Vitus electronics), the XC were immediate contenders for best intro in my price category. Also on display from Estelon were the $33k XB three-way floorstanders (driven once again by Vitus electronics). Like the XC, the larger XB was dark and beautiful-sounding but a little more refined and delicate than the XCs, with superb soundstaging and very deep and well-defined bass. Best of all (naturally) were the $65k Estelon X Diamonds (reviewed by me in TAS), which were simply more lifelike, more neutral, and more articulate than either the XB or XC (as they should be for better than thirty grand more dough). The X Diamonds reproduced the two pianos on the Poulenc concerto with genuinely lifelike sparkle in the top octaves and superb timbre and articulation in the mids. Though they were a little lighter-weight in the bottom octaves in The Venetian than they are in my room (where their bass is sensationally good), the X Diamonds remained true models of neutrality, transparency, and low-level resolution. Let’s face it: Mr. Vassilkov simply makes great loudspeakers.
And speaking of great speakers, my next stop was Richard Vandersteen’s room, where his superb Model 7s were being driven by Aesthetix electronics. Although I myself prefer the sound of the 7s when they are driven by ARC gear (Richard seems to switch between Aesthetix and Audio Research from show to show), the sound was nonetheless excellent—a little warmer and “browner” than the 7s with ARC but very finely detailed and present on everything from Shostakovich to Blue Tofu. Although it will take some time to perfect, Richard is currently working on a Model 9, a larger, more expensive, and (one assumes) even better version of the superb Model 7.