There is no question that the Magico M5 is a first-rate speaker, and that by the end of the first day Alon Wolf had the whole system humming. However, this was still a stereo presentation, with all the incumbent limitations of that format. For my Best Sound at CES pick, I tried mightily to find the system that most reminded me of live music. For me, that was the IsoMike/Pass/TAD/EMM multichannel setup. Multichannel, when done right (which is quite a rare feat!) can do things that stereo simply cannot.
For example, I was played a multichannel SACD of a marching band that had been recorded outdoors. In a good stereo system, I would hear a facsimile of the great outdoors spread before me. That's nothing to sneeze at, but in the IsoMike system, I was quite literally transported to the recording site. That is, I felt like I actually was outdoors. No stereo can do this, just as no stereo can convincingly place you inside --as opposed to looking into -- the hall in which an orchestra was recorded.
Yet the IsoMike system avoided the pitfalls of many multichannel systems. That marching band was not surrounding me as if I was in the midst of the ensemble. Like all the recordings I heard in this room, the musicians stayed put in front of me. On vocals, I could imagine a real singer standing before me. The rear speakers seemed to be playing.....nothing at all. They were not identifiable as sound sources, just as one does not explicitly hear the rear wall of a concert hall. In both cases, there is a rear sound source contributing to the overall musical experience, but it is not a distraction from the primary musicians, who are up front.
The IsoMike system sounded like stereo without the artiface inherent in trying to create a complete sonic environment with only two channels. We speak a lot in TAS about how digital makes the mind work harder than analog, rendering the former a less relaxing experience. The same can be said about stereo versus good multichannel. The IsoMIke system simply sounded more natural than stereo, without my having to strain to imagine a soundspace. (You see, even our language -- specifically, the use of the word "soundstage" -- admits to one of stereo's limitations. A "stage" is always in front of you; a space is all around you.) Being thus ensconced, I was involved and more transported into the music, which was more beautiful in the way that live music is beautiful.
Ray Kimber is to be congratulated for this achievement, and for having the guts to put on a multichannel exhibit, frought with peril, rather than taking the safe route. I believe he has shown us several ways in which audio can take a leap toward the absolute sound.