The big, D’Appolito-arrayed, multidriver Dynaudio Evidence Temptations ($30k) were being shown in the Boulder room, along with Boulder’s 1021 CD player, 1010 preamp, and 1050 monoblocks. I have to admit that the sound here was what I would have called, before RMAF, “typical Boulder,” which is to say, typical solid-state. But having heard the Boulder gear sound wonderful with Focal speakers in Denver, I don’t know if what I heard at CES was the result of a bad room or a poor combination of electronics and loudspeaker, or, contrarily, if what I heard at RMAF was just a lucky accident. Next-door was the IsoMike room, where eight huge Sound Lab Pro-Stats ($34k/pair) were being fed IsoMike surround tapes through EMM Labs electronics. The recording I heard, of piano, was superb. IsoMiked or not, the Pro-Stats (commercial versions of the Sound Lab M-1a’s) are one of the truly great fullrange electrostats, with simply gorgeous timbre.
Also on the 34th floor was Andrew Jones’ beautiful, three-way, floorstanding TAD Reference One loudspeaker ($60k)—with its famous concentric beryllium midrange/tweeter and two ported 10" woven-Aramid-sandwich woofers—fed by Ayre electronics and one of The Tape Project 15ips, two-track tape players. The sound on the tapes was, needless to say, astonishing. On my own discs, the results were mixed—very good on Captain Luke’s voice and guitar on “Rainy Night in Georgia,” less impressive on Mark Cohn’s “Ghost Train,” where the bass seemed weak. Perhaps it was the arid Ayre electronics, of which I am no fan. Nonetheless, I know these speakers are special, and they need a review in TAS. In an adjoining room, I heard the gorgeous, threeway, stand-mounted TAD Compact Reference One ($TBA) with Jones’ concentric beryllium mid/tweet and slot-loaded Aramid-sandwich woof. Though they’re not Magico Mini killers yet (they’re still in development), the sound they made driven by TAD’s own preamp and 300W Class A amp was big, robust, and beautiful, with very deep bass, very good dynamics, and very nice staging (in spite of the fact that the speakers were parked against a wall). Overall, the Compact R-1s were a smidgeon darker than life but still extremely attractive. I’ll be waiting for them with open ears and arms, when Jones deems them ready for review. On to the 35th floor, where Sumiko debuted the Vienna Acoustics Klimt Series “The Music” ($25k), a statementlevel three-way with a coaxially mounted tweet on a flat polymer/ glass-fiber cone that together play from 150Hz to 20kHz, with the low bass handled by three woofs. Though the bass was overblown on Marc Cohn’s “Ghost Train” (perhaps a room resonance), the sound was otherwise excellent. Detail here was extremely high, with exceptional resolution of fingerwork on Guitar Gabriel’s guitar (the sound of fingers sliding on strings was astonishingly present) and a warm, sweet tonal balance.
From the 35th floor I headed down to the Venetian Meeting Rooms in the Sands Expo and Convention center, where I heard the most enigmatic speaker of the show—the omnidirectional MBL 101 Extreme ($180k!). Those of you who remember my CES report from last year will recall how disappointed I was with this flagship from MBL’s Wolfgang Meletzky. This year, though ultimately also disappointing, was different. I can honestly say that no other speaker at CES reproduced Marc Cohn’s “Ghost Train” with more three-dimensionality, more body and sock, more sheer density of tone color (Lord, you should have heard that guitar!), more sheer exciting realism than the Extreme. And yet, on other music the speaker was bright and shrill and confused-sounding. Part of the problem was the horrible room, which had what looked like forty-foot-high ceilings—a veritable echo chamber. Part of the problem was poor setup (even the channels were reversed). And part of the problem was the volume level that MBL insists on playing music at. I understand, from experience, why MBL plays loud—the Radialstrahlers sound better loud. But loud is one thing; deafening is another. And deafening is where the volume pot was generally set. This won’t do, not for a $180k speaker driven by half-a-million dollars worth of electronics. MBL really needs to get its act together with these babies, because they just might be great. In fact, they were great on the Cohn disc. So…Best of Show? Worst of Show? Probably, a little of each, though more, alas, of the latter.
JV’s Best of Show
Best Sounds : No single speaker stood way above the pack this year in my price range, so I’m going to name several Best Sounds of Show: the Magico Mini II , the Magico V3 , the Quad Reference ESL-2905, the Cessaro Alpha 1, the Nola Baby Grand Reference, the Von Schweikert R-5, the McIntosh XRT1k, the Gershman Black Swans, the Wilson MAXX 2s, the Avalon Indras, the TAD Reference One and TAD Compact Reference One, and the Kharma 3.2.2s.