Great est Bargain: In my neck of the woods, that would have to be the Quad Reference ESL-2905.
Biggest Surprises: The Cessaro Alpha 1, the Nola Baby Grand Reference, the Von Schweikert R-5, and the McIntosh XRT1k.
Most Importa nt Trend: The persistence of analog. In the spite of the iPod and the computer-based music server, the turntable just keeps spinning along, and now reel-to-reel tape is making a mini-comeback in the form of The Tape Project decks and 15ips half-track tapes.
Most Significant New Products : The Lamm ML3 monoblock power amplifier.
Greatest Technological Breakthrough: Though it isn’t exactly a technological breakthrough (in fact, it’s a technological throwback), the one product at CES 2008 that raised the bar on musical realism, reproducing information that I had never heard before from discs and LPs I know by heart, was the Cessaro Alpha 1, which simply set a new standard in lifelike treble-range resolution and transient response.
I’ll end this report with another speaker that suffered from terrible room conditions (it, too, was parked in a Venetian Meeting Room echo chamber with forty-foot ceilings)—the German Physiks Carbon Mk IV ($39k), a “bending wave”-driver (like a neo-Walsh driver) loudspeaker that uses a carbon-fiber cone and a carbon-fiber enclosure. To be honest, I didn’t really come to hear the German Physiks speaker but the Continuum Criterion turntable with Copperhead arm that had been so disappointing at last year’s show (and was not overly impressive in various rooms at this year’s). With an LP from Acoustic Sounds’ Chad Kassem—a Speaker’s Corner EMI reissue of Maurizio Pollini playing Chopin’s First Piano Concerto—spinning on the Criterion, I sat down to listen, not expecting much. Guess what? In spite of the terrible room the German Physiks sounded quite respectably good, with very nice detail on string choirs, good depth and separation, excellent piano tone and imaging, and a marked liveliness without aggression. This was much better than the German Physiks and the Continuum had sounded in the past (or than the ’table/arm sounded elsewhere at the show). I think, next year, these guys ought to do themselves a favor and find a smaller, less daunting room to show in. If the speakers and ’table could sound this good in awful conditions, imagine how both might sound in better ones.