The Saturday at CES was one of the busiest days for the Venetian Tower, with trade visitor numbers peaking in the mid-morning. This gave the show more dynamism and energy than seen during the first day, and it was reflected in the products on show.
Also, by this time many people have had a chance to see a number of products and are willing to trade ‘what’s best?’ stories. Normally, these are a disparate collection of products from a range of different rooms, and there is very little consistency. This year was different; practically everyone had the same names in their notebooks time and again. Myself included. By mid-Saturday, we were almost all in agreement: from previous days, Chord Electronics, Raidho, and Kronos/Audionet/YG Acoustics were unilaterally ‘must see’ products, but so were ELAC, VTL with dCS and Wilson Audio, and so were Audio Technica and KEF (for slightly different reasons).
ELAC’s upcoming Adante range is an example of what designer Andrew Jones can do when he puts his mind to things. Given his output with KEF, then TAD, and more recently ELAC’s Debut series, such a statement should be a given, but he still has enough left in the tank to shock even seasoned listeners, and the $2,500 per pair Adante standmounts – playing through Audio Alchemy electronics – did just that. Combining a tweeter in the acoustic centre of the midrange, and a internal bass driver in a coupled cavity to drive the passive front radiator, this was one of the most exciting, lithe, dynamic, and fun speakers at the show irrespective of price (and there were some outstanding challenges to that statement, including models by Totem and GoldenEar that will be covered at length by Chris Martens later). Andrew claims the loudspeakers are still a work in progress and he can extract still more from them, and there is a pair of $5,000 floorstanding models shown (but not played) in prototype form. If the final result is anything near as good as the Adante prototype playing in Las Vegas, there will be many, many more people playing a pair of ELACs soon.
VTL was showing its new TP-2.5i phono preamplifier, in a system where every other component cost many times as much, culminating in a pair of $25,500 Wilson Audio Yvette loudspeakers. Luke Manley was making a bold comparison; playing this revised $3,750 phono preamplifier and putting it up against the company’s own TP-6.5 Signature Phonostage, with silver MC step up transformer, which costs a cool $15,000. Naturally, the more up-market model was better, but what was surprising was just how close the new TP-2.5i gets in terms of timbral and tonal accuracy, and even detail levels. Best of all, the phono system (with a Brinkamnn Balance turntable and 12.1 arm, RöNt power supply and a Lyra Etna cartridge) hung together brilliantly on both phono stages and made an overall sound that put a smile on some very jaded faces!
Staying with turntable a little longer, Audio Technica won an Innovation Award for its $4,999 AT-ART1000 Direct Power cartridge. This unique system mounts the moving coils of the cartridge directly on top of the stylus tip, thereby eliminating any deleterious effects introduced by placing the coils at the other end of the cantilever to the stylus. It’s an excruciatingly time-consuming process and just a couple of hundred ART1000 models will be produced each year. Alongside this flagship, the company redrew virtually its entire line of cartridges, launch nine new models in its VM line using its V-shaped dual magnet system. The range includes stereo and mono models. In addition the company launched a new automatic belt-drive turntable, two ‘Pure Digital Drive’ Bluetooth headphones and three new lines of consumer grade in and on-ear earphones, including at least three models with Bluetooth.
Finally, KEF’s LS50 Wireless loudspeakers have been shown several times since their Autumnal launch in the UK last year. However, with the rise of Amazon Echo Dot, the demonstration performed by KEF has taken on excellent ‘next generation’ levels. The two connect wirelessly and seamlessly using Bluetooth, with a perfect ‘no manual required’ simplicity. This allows the LS50 Wireless to leverage the power of Echo Dot’s speech recognition-driven connection to music libraries like Spotify. The idea of saying “Alexa! Shuffle James Brown. Play Volume Level Five” and hearing the random James Brown track emerge from a pair of traditional audio loudspeakers a few seconds later at the right volume is something that was the stuff of science fiction just a few months ago. This is one of the ways audio gets to have a future!
One of the joys of CES is the finds. In the Genesis room, I found one of the true stars of the show, late on Saturday. The new Genesis Maestro floorstanding loudspeakers ($30,000 per pair) are th enew replacement to the company's G-series, a five-way design with servo controlled bass capable of delivering sub 20Hz with a domestically-unthreatening appearance.
This was being driven by a pair of Viva Auro Mono amps, via a SMC Audio VRC-1C and Genesis' own Phono preamp. Perhaps most exciting, the whole, vinyl-only system began with VPI's new $40,000 Vanquish direct drive turntable topped off by a Transfiguration Orpheus cartridge using a diamond cantilever.
There were also many more products on display that I caught up with at the event. Not all of them shiny and new, but shiny and new doesn't always mean 'better' and everything from the excellent PrismSound Callia DAC to Naim Audio's striking (but still as yet unavailable) new Uniti range were sounding damn fine. But these are simply my highlights of the day!