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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 1
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Music, Sound and Personalities: The 2002 WCES and T.H.E. Expo
by Dave Glackin 

(this report first appeared at enjoythemusic.com, reprinted with permission by the author)

2002. My eighteenth CES. No more surprises, right? Wrong.

Mike Maloney of The Home Entertainment Expo (T.H.E. Expo, the new name for T.H.E. Show—www.the-expo.net) outdid himself this year. Originally scheduled to be held across town from the CES show, at the eleventh hour Mike was able to secure the Tuscany Hotel for T.H.E. Expo. This is the best venue I have ever seen for an audio show. The standard rooms were big (450 sq ft of usable space), and a 180-amp subpanel was in every room. It sure beat the bad old days of the Sahara Bi-Level, where the power kept going off. So what if on the day of check-in, the lobby was set up in one of the guest rooms, the switchboard was perched on a bed, and the real lobby still had statues sitting on the floor? The rooms were acoustically great, the grounds were beautiful, and it was wonderful to be able to walk right out of my room and into the show. And they now reportedly have a world-class Italian restaurant on the premises.

The CES portion of the high-end show was again held in the Alexis Park, the best venue I have seen that show held in. It was great to be able to get out into fresh air between the rooms, mentally wiggle my toes in the grass, and chat with old friends by the pool. It’s a far cry from the bad old days of dim hallways at the rat-warren Sahara. Here’s hoping this hotel stays in the CES playbook for many years. But, acoustically and esthetically, the Tuscany has it beat.

The show was made all the better by being able to see it with my partner in crime, Stan Ricker. Stan just seems to gravitate toward the good-sounding rooms like a music-seeking missile. His storehouse of knowledge never ceases to amaze me, even after interviewing him several years ago for nine hours and attending CES with him ever since. He can dissect what’s wrong with a system without breaking a sweat. Here’s to many more years of true friendship and fun, Stan. Oh, and as usual, I’m only writing about the rooms that I liked. The sound quality in many more, including some with very recognizable names, simply didn’t float my boat.


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News Flash! It warms my heart to see that Mobile Fidelity (www.mofi.com) is being resurrected from the ashes of the old company. The head of the new MoFi is also the head of Music Direct, Jim Davis. The director of new technology for MoFi is John Wood. They plan to release 180 gram LPs, plus CDs and SACDs, using the original studio in Sebastopol, California. You may have known all that, but I’ll bet you didn’t know this: the new company will be hiring Stan Ricker to do much of the LP mastering. Stan co-founded the original Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, invented the half-speed mastering process, co-developed the UHQR (ultra high quality recording), and mastered virtually all of the big MoFi titles. Sharing the mastering duties will be Paul Stubblebine, another shining light in the LP firmament, and a good buddy of Stan’s. Tim de Paravicini will be building the cutterhead electronics, as he has done innumerable times in the past for other companies. Tim’s overriding goal is that his electronics must be able to reproduce a 100 kHz square wave, which is no mean feat. (Ask him about it, and he’ll tell you.) Ed Meitner will be doing the digital electronics. So they’ve definitely got the A-team assembled here. Releases will be heavy on jazz and light (if at all) on classical, and they will be aimed at a broader market than just audiophiles, with plans to make their releases more affordable to the average consumer. For starters, three Patricia Barber albums will be released on SACD in March 2002. Go, guys, go!


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Press Conference! There was an audible gasp from the crowd when Mike Hobson of Classic Records (www.classicrecords.com) announced their new Blue Note Mono Series of LPs. Many highly sought after titles that command hundreds of dollars as mint originals will be released. This project has been more than a year in development, solving problems such as what to do about the lack of a groove guard on the originals. Classic really did this right when they decided to bite the bullet and restore a Westrex mono cutting system with a 2A cutting head and a mono Ampex 300 tape deck. The impetus for all of this is the fact that they compared the results of test pressings from stereo and mono cutting systems, and found that the results from the mono system were "spot on." Their first release is an album by Miles Davis as a young man. Friends who went up to the Immedia room to hear the playback after the press conference uniformly raved about the sound. Classic will also be doing a Vanguard Classical series from the original tapes. It’s great to see that we can look forward to more classical releases from Classic in the near future. Kudos to Mike Hobson, Coleman Brice, Neal Jones, and the rest of the team from Classic.


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The Best Sound in the Show was from Merlin Music Systems (www.merlinmusic.com). The ever-gracious Bobby Palkovic demonstrated the Merlin VSM Millennium loudspeakers, ably powered by Joule Electra tubed electronics from Jud Barber. This system had a combination of aliveness and dynamics, coupled with delicacy, transparency, and definition that I found absolutely captivating. The massed choir on the Proprius Cantate Domino was exquisite, with the business end of the room replaced by a gorgeous rendition of real singers in a real space. The choir on Winston Ma’s Hush, The Angels are Singing was reproduced with beautiful articulation and dynamic expansion. And the high-energy jazz on track 4 of John Marks’ Harry Allen Quartet: Blue Skies was fleshed out better than on any other system in the show. And that wasn’t all. During a return visit, Bobby brought out Radiohead's Amnesiac CD. The low bass on track 1, played through the VSMs, launched discrete acoustic blobs at various parts of my body that impacted with tactile puffs of air. This engendered glee from Stan and me. Even after eighteen CES shows, new experiences can be had. Kudos to you, Bobby, for a great system, and thanks once again for your always-generous hospitality. Associated equipment was a VPI TNT turntable, a Cardas Heart phono cartridge, and an Audio Aero CD player.


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The system with the Best Spectral Balance was from ORCA Design & Manufacturing Corp. (www.orcadesign.com), run by Kimon Bellas. ORCA manufactures the venerated Raven ribbon tweeter in California, and they import drivers from French companies such as Focal, Cabasse, and PHL. The loudspeakers at the show used the Raven 3.0 tweeter, a PHL 12" cone for the midrange, and a PHL rear-firing 18" cone for the bass, with the Raven crossed over at 750Hz. I was immediately struck by the purity of tone and the utter rightness of the spectral balance on my favorite choral recordings. The reproduction on this system was clean, natural, and transparent. The speaker system was voiced by Pat O’Brien of W.A.R. Audio in Perth, Western Australia (011-61-8-9242-5538 from the U.S.), who did a truly outstanding job. The Bel Canto Evo 4 digital switching amp, which uses PDM (Pulse Density Modulation) technology, was driving the speakers. This system was a Stan and Dave fave.


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The Most Stunning Electronics, producing one of the very best sounds in the show, were from the Hovland Company (www.hovlandcompany.com). Jeff Tonkin, a former professional architect of great taste, is responsible for the appearance of the highly regarded HP100 preamp and the drop-dead-gorgeous Sapphire amp. The Sapphire is a hybrid (solid state input/tubed output) push-pull design, and two were being used in bridged (80 W) mode to run a pair of Audio Physic Avanti 3 speakers. This system sounded natural and relaxed, with outstanding timbre and articulation, but also with excellent transient response. It’s the kind of system that you can sit and listen to all day. Track 1 of Sonny Boy Williamson: Keep it to Ourselves sounded so natural that it was almost literally scary. This year, Bob Hovland and Mike Garges had to stay home to oversee production to meet the high demand for the HP100 and the Sapphire, but Jeff and Alex Crespi put on an excellent show. Hovland was one of very few systems that really stood up during my end-of-show pass through the candidates for best-sounding rooms. It was a true pleasure, guys. Associated equipment included a G&D Transforms CD player and an Immedia RPM turntable. (I should also note that Hovland’s highly regarded Music Groove tonearm cable is everything that the reviews say it is. This cable, firmly ensconced in my reference system for years, has helped to make my vinyl listening a consistently rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Many thanks to Mike Garges for the opportunity to hear the latest incarnation of a tonearm cable that just seems to keep on getting better as new versions are developed.)


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(Pictured is Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen) The Best New Large Speaker from Impact Technology Ltd. (www.membrane.com/impact) Upon first seeing the Airfoil 5.2 loudspeaker, I immediately was reminded of the Linnaeum driver. It turns out that Paul Paddock, the designer of the Linnaeum driver, also designed the "bending wave transducer" for the Impact. This speaker is a beautifully crafted line source tower, covering 170 Hz and up, resting on a woofer enclosure. This system was being demonstrated in one of the largest rooms in the show, and had excellent transparency, neutrality, inner detail, and delicacy, coupled with great bass and a stunning soundstage. This system produced one of the best sounds in the show, and it was one of the very few that stood up to my end-of-show second pass after everything else was put into perspective. Contributing to the outstanding sound in this room were cables from Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen Technologies (www.AcousticZen.com), who from long ago I have come to know as one of the most dedicated and discerning practitioners of the audio arts I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Associated equipment: BAT (Balanced Audio Technologies) CD player, preamp, and VK-150SE amps.


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The Best Merger of Audiophile and Pro-Audio Sensibilities was much in evidence at Manley Laboratories (www.manleylabs.com). The ever upbeat and take-no-prisoners EveAnna Manley was showing off the highly acclaimed Manley Steelhead phono preamp, which has an incredible array of useful features right on the front panel, and the usual high build quality. EveAnna was also featuring an upgraded Wave Preamp/DAC (with a new 24/96 board), and the new Snapper 100 W monoblock. These were powering a pair of Coincident Total Victory loudspeakers from Israel Blume (www.coincidentspeaker.com). (Hey, the solar astronomer here... me... wants to know what happened to the Total Eclipse speakers from last year. Have they been overshadowed by a newer model?) There were many, many other Manley products on static display, including the new entry-level Shrimp preamp, along with veritable heaps of vacuum tubes that looked like they were recovering from a big party the previous night. The sound of this system was thoroughly enjoyable, relaxed, musical, dynamic, and F*U*N. The LP reproduction was phenomenal. The CD reproduction really floated my boat as well. It was one of the very few rooms where I just wanted to sit and listen. My hat’s off to EveAnna (not that she ever takes hers off) for taking the helm of this company and running with it.


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The Best High-Power Tube Amps were in the Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL) room (www.vtl.com). Luke Manley was featuring the MB-750 monoblock, a monster of a double-decker amp that uses twelve 6550s per side. That’s twice the tube complement in my beloved VTL Deluxe 300s. The MB-750 puts out 750 W in tetrode mode, and 350 W when switched to triode mode (which is done with the flick of a switch). Luke was also featuring the new TL7.5 Reference preamp, a two-box fully balanced design that is designed to be the matching front end for the MB-750 and its big brother, the Wotan MB-1250. Running a pair of Wilson Watt/Puppy loudspeakers, the sound was magnificent and effortless, with quite real reproduction of the lower organ pedals coupled with delicate choral voices. VTLs are just about the only tube amp that will make my Eminent Technology LFT-8s really stand up and sing (many thanks to Ted Conger!), and I am quite enamored of them.


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The Most Refined Sound in the show, and one of the very best sounds, was in the Halcro room (www.halcro.com). This Australian company builds highly regarded solid state preamps and power amps, and this year I found out why. Philip O’Hanlon (the US distributor) was demonstrating the Halcro dm10 preamp and dm58 monoblock amps, powering Wilson Audio Maxx loudspeakers. He was playing some gorgeous Nagra master tapes kindly loaned by Peter McGrath. This system sounded utterly clean, natural, and effortless, with a delicacy and reproduction of tiny inner details that was bordering on mesmerizing. It was obvious from literally the first note that this system was qualitatively different, and a cut above, almost everything else at the show. The sound of this system was astoundingly clean, but that cleanliness was coupled with outstanding authority. These amps, designed in South Australia by Bruce Candy, appear to be a tour de force.


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The Most Cutting-Edge Solid State Amplifier was being shown by John Ulrick of Spectron (www.spectronav.com). John designs and manufactures Class D digital switching amps that operate on the principle of Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). The 125 wpc Troubador stereo amp weighs only 12 lbs, but is no musical lightweight. Powering a pair of Von Schweikert VR-5 HSE loudspeakers, this all-digital amp was utterly clean and musical, with fantastic peak-handling ability. John had a nice, succinct explanation of the operating principles of his amplifiers, all on a single poster. Positive Feedbacks’ digital guru Mike Pappas has gone full-scale gaga over these amps. I was intrigued enough by this technology to ask to hear one in my own system. Kudos to you, John, for your pioneering efforts to bring a new technology into high-end audio.


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The Most Awe-Inspiring Solid State Amplifier was from GamuT ApS (www.gamutaudio.com) of Denmark. Their gracious designer, Ole Christensen, greeted me as if I were an old friend, and proved to be a sheer joy to talk to. A system comprised of the GamuT CD-1 CD player, C-2R preamp, D-200 power amp, and GamuT Phono Stage, running a pair of Magnepan 3.6 loudspeakers, produced one of the best sounds in the show, with outstanding timbre and reproduction of a real choir in a real space. I was also really struck by the build quality of these units. Their faceplates were polished brass overlaid by polished nickel overlaid by polished chrome, and were visually stunning. But the real showstopper was the new Gamut S300 stereo amplifier. This 401-lb. brute sports twenty Rifa 20,000 F capacitors, and four 10-inch diameter 2500 W toroidal transformers. This thing can double as a step stool or as an extra seat for a visitor, as gleefully demonstrated by Ole. But the thing that really got my attention is that this beast has only a single (MOSFET) output device per side. As Ole puts it, the amp sings with a single voice, rather than with many that slightly differ. The sound, as you might guess, was authoritative and clean. A full assessment was precluded due to the small room size.


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(Pictured is Dave Glackin and Frank Hale) The Best New Desktop System was from Frank Hale and Jannie Tsui of Swans Speaker Systems (www.swanspeaker.com). Frank is the original owner of Swans, and it was a treat to see him brought back as a technical consultant by the perspicacious new owners of the company. The self-powered desktop system consists of two small satellites and a woofer module, and it retains the gorgeous appearance of the classic Swans loudspeakers. But what really grabbed me was the sound quality. This little system sounded better than many of the big systems in the show on my reference Cantate Domino CD, with soloists, choir, and organ all sounding quite good. The appearance and sound quality of this little system belie its list price of $200. Frank, it’s very nice to see you back!


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The Best Clues to the Mysteries of the Universe were offered by Ric Cummins of Rosinante and Argent Audio. Ric has annually been transporting large quantities of the proprietary and mysterious DarkMatter from Eudora, Kansa, to Las Vegas, Nevada. Astronomers have now linked this oscillation in space and time to a heretofore-unexplained perturbation in our local arm of the Milky Way galaxy. This mystery has greatly perplexed astronomers who have been struggling to interpret data from the Hubble Space Telescope, but after eliminating all other possible explanations, they have now concluded that it must be due to Ric. His smiling face will soon appear on the cover of the Astrophysical Journal as an example of an A-number-one troublemaker. Nice going, Ric. (I’d hate to see what havoc you could wreak with a little DarkEnergy in your arsenal.) What the heck does this have to do with audio, you ask? As it turns out, not much, and if that bothers you, go read something else. But just a minute, maybe there is a connection after all....

Ric’s Dulcinea speakers, exhibited at the show for the second time, are awash in DarkMatter. Heck, the whole baffle board is made with the stuff. And when used in audio, instead of to perplex poor astronomers, DarkMatter really shows off its positive qualities. Ric’s system was sounding smooth, musical, transparent, and authoritative, with an expansive soundstage. His efforts really show, as it sounded the best that it ever has. Ric’s Sancho powered subwoofer was handling the frequencies below 40 Hz, and is said to be flat to 18 Hz. Also aiding the sound were several Argent RoomLens room treatment devices (Helmholtz resonators that are quite effective at taming room acoustics). Check out www.roomlens.com, if you dare. Associated equipment: Gill tubed preamp and tubed DAC (both available with remote) and an Art Audio Jota 13 W tubed amp. Ric was in fine form, throwing a great quip off the top of his head when he opined that: "Karma is merely random revenge without the satisfaction."


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The Most Effective Use of Primordial Vacuum was by Keith Herron of Herron Audio (www.herronaudio.com). Keith has succeeded where all others have failed, and has uncovered a source of nearly fifteen-billion-year-old vacuum, deep under Transylvania, which product he has cleverly dubbed Pinot Noair, containing only "single crystal oxygen free vacuum." Keith noted "theory has it that this was the pure stuff that flooded the universe in the instant (at minus-one chronon, the smallest particle of time) before the big bang." Now let’s see. That means that in the infinitesimally small instant before that, the universe underwent... the big suck. Or not. Sadly, Keith noted that his far-flung expeditionary forces had originally discovered two mines, the one under the Himalayas producing prodigious vacuum until it imploded, thus necessitating the arduous move to Transylvania. From this mountainous region, they transport the primordial vacuum on railcars, frozen into a relatively safe wet state, referred to as Liquid Vac. But with the recent slowdown in the market, Keith noted that he has, sadly, been forced to store large quantities of vacuum underground near his facilities in St. Louis. So watch your step.

Herron.jpg (18853 bytes)And how does this primordial vacuum sound when it’s injected into little glass bottles? Pretty cosmic. Keith’s tubed electronics were being used with an Immedia turntable, the soon-to-be-available Audio Physic solid state amps, and the Audio Physic Avanti III loudspeakers. The sound was effortless, with great delicacy, and a gorgeous soundstage that floated in the room. This Herron/Immedia/Audio Physic system created one of the best sounds in the show. In an adjoining smaller room, the Herron VTSP-1A preamp, VTPH-1 phono preamp, and M150 power amps were running a pair of the small new Audio Physic Yara loudspeakers, with an Immedia turntable (www.immediasound.com/AudioPhysic.html) and Helikon cartridge providing the input. The sound had a delicacy, subtlety, nuance, and tonal purity that was captivating. This was one of the small handful of rooms in which I just wanted to sit and listen. Keith’s impeccable musical sensibilities always seem to have that effect on me. And needless to say, Keith took Best Quip of the show. Work on it, Ric.


The Best New Small Dynamic Speaker was the Audio Physic Yara, as heard in the Herron/Immedia room (above). This looks like a real bargain for $1495 list price.


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(Pictured is Stan Ricker and Mike Maduras) The Best Use of Carbon Fiber in high end audio goes, hands down, to D.J. Casser of Black Diamond Racing (www.blackdiamondusa.com) and Mike Maduras (mmaduras@aol.com) of the Glass Amplifier Company. Mike was showcasing his new, much more cost-effective amp, the PL509SE.1. It may not have a fancy faceplate, and it may use a tube that most folks never heard of (the 40KG6), but this 17 wpc SET amp sure sounded nice! Last year I reported that my experience in this room was the only time that I have liked the Avantgarde horn loudspeakers. That experience was repeated this year. Stan spent a long time in this room, being quite drawn in by the sound, and having a blast with his Swedish Jazz Kings CD. I should also note that DJ’s shelves, pucks and cones are used throughout my reference system, and they are really helping my system to sing in top form.


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The Best Application of Art to Audio was Emotive Audio (www.emotiveaudio.com), hands-down. Shown in the S.A.P. (Strumenti Acustici di Precisione) room, the Sira preamp had a stunning etched metal top plate, signed by the artist, Jacob Rogers. This must be seen to be believed.


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The Best Small Planar Speaker was from Eminent Technology (www.eminent-tech.com) and the ever gracious and understated Bruce Thigpen. Bruce’s small LFT-142, which has been in development for several years, is now in production, and it was sounding quite good at the show. This new small panel represents an evolutionary version of the Eminent Technology LFT-8 push-pull magnetostat. That speaker has resided happily in my reference system for many years now, standing up against all contenders. The LFT-142 creates very nice bass for such a small panel, which led Stan to wonder where the subwoofer was, which led Bruce into a long technical discussion of their innovative construction. Ultimately, Bruce plans to use the small panels as the building blocks for a new large system, which I can’t wait to hear. Bruce also makes a very nice small planar speaker for use as computer monitors. It was a pleasure to see you as always, Bruce.


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The Most Stunning Turntable was exhibited by George Cardas of Cardas Audio (www.cardas.com). The SpJ La Luce turntable is a true work of art. On a more personal note, George’s contributions to audio, his dedication, and his concern for the well being of others in the field are becoming legendary. One particular act of his a year ago that I am privy to left me practically speechless. My hat is off to you, to say the least. I should also note that George’s interconnect and speaker cables have been making my reference system sing in top form for many years.


The ReTHM/Diva room was sounding great, producing one of the best sounds in the show (except for some unfortunate voice-coil rubbing in the Lowther drivers). The ReTHM speakers (www.rethm.com), being demonstrated by Jacob George, and the Diva tubed electronics, from T. S. Lim (www.divaaudio.com), combined to create gorgeous timbre, great spaciousness, and naturalness, with excellent peak-handling ability. We heard the 25-wpc Diva Tian Zhu amplifier, a parallel single-ended design, with EL34s being driven by 2A3s (how’s that for something different?).


The deHavilland (www.dehavillandhifi.com) and Buggtussel (www.buggtussel.com) system produced a sound that was alive and dynamic, yet delicate, with a great sense of a real choir in space, and excellent low bass reproduction of the organ on Cantate Domino. A pair of Buggtussel Lemniscus loudspeakers was being driven by a pair of deHavilland GM-70 SE triode amps. These are unusual amps, in that the 300B sitting up front isn’t the output tube, it’s the driver for the output tube, which is a Ulyanov GM-70. An unusual setup, but the results speak for themselves. I should also note that Kevin Blair of Buggtussel manufactures a very interesting record cleaning solution called Vinyl-Zyme Gold, which contains an enzyme that biologically munches all of the bad gunk in your grooves. An interesting, different, and reportedly very effective product.


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The Most Stunning Turntable (Runner Up) was the Clearaudio Maximum Solution. It can accommodate up to three tonearms, and has a power generator that resynchronizes the power to the three motors. (www.musicalsurroundings.com)


The Best Demo of the Advantage of  more than Two Channels was in the Gradient (www.gradient.fi) van den Hul (www.vandenhul.com) room. Ever since hearing a demonstration of what 5.1 channel sound can do for full orchestral recordings, at the home of none other than Gordon Holt, I have been convinced that something is missing with two-channel sound. And I’m not talking about egregious sound effects crapola that would have you perched right between the oboe and the bassoon. I’m talking about the realism that is added in terms of acoustics and hall sound to well-recorded source material. While in this room, I had a most enjoyable discussion with former journalist A. J. van den Hul about journalistic ethics, and we found ourselves to be in complete agreement. A most refreshing discussion.


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Vince Bruzzese of Totem Acoustic (www.totemacoustic.com) manufactures what is, in my opinion, one of the consistently great lines of loudspeakers. This year, he was demonstrating the Totem Wind loudspeakers, powered by electronics from Myryad, and they were sounding as beautiful and holographic as always. Totem has more recently expanded into in-wall and home theater systems, and the Dreamcatcher 5.1 system was sounding excellent.


Lionel Goodfield of SimAudio (www.simaudio.com) was demonstrating his Moon line of electronics: the Eclipse CD player, the P5 preamp, and the Moon Rock (get it?) monoblocks, with fully balanced differential circuitry. This is a real beast of an amplifier. Powering Merlin VSM Millennium loudspeakers, the sound was spacious, with excellent bass.


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The Best Classic Turntable was the Garrard 501 from Loricraft Audio of England (www.garrard501.com). Loricraft have acquired sole rights to the Garrard name from the Brazilian company that owned them, and their factory is close to the site of the original Garrard factory. Terry O’Sullivan demonstrated the 501, the "first new high-end Garrard turntable in 25 years," and the Missing Link phono stage, in the Kondo/Audio Note room. Martina Schoner of Loricraft and Scan-Tech Europa discussed some of the company’s ambitious future plans. The sound of the system was gorgeous, and as loyal readers of Positive Feedback know, the turntable is a winner.


The Prettiest OTL Amps were in the Tenor/Rockport room (www.tenoraudio.com). Robert LaMarre and Francois Lemay were showcasing the drop-dead-gorgeous 75 wpc OTL monoblock amp. They were powering a pair of the enormous Rockport Hyperion loudspeakers, which, in this reviewer’s opinion, did not do the amplifiers justice, because I know how good they can sound. This company has ambitious plans, and I have always been quite enamored of their products, and impressed by the high-tech nature of their plans.


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The Best Headphone Amp in the show was from Antique Sound Lab (www.divertech.com). I had an informative discussion with Joseph Lau Tze Wah, the designer of Antique Sound Lab’s equipment. The new Twin Head headphone amp, which uses 2A3 tubes, has two outputs: with a transformer in the signal path, or OTL. The pre-production prototype that I heard sounded quite impressive, and it will drive the low-impedance Grados as well as my fave Sennheisers.


The Best Modern Interpretation of a Classic Speaker was in the Quad room (www.quad-hifi.com). The new Quad 989 has a kind of ultimate purity of tone that is attention grabbing, probably matched only by the Raven tweeter in the ORCA room. I’ve always wanted to hear a pair of Quads in my own room, and my experience at the show this year may finally get me off my audio butt to make that happen.


The Best Grit and Determination (Permanent Award on the Mantel) goes to Barry Kohan of Bright Star Audio (www.brightstaraudio.com). Barry’s well-known line of vibration control products is used in many applications throughout the industry now, and they were scattered profusely throughout the show. Barry was showcasing his more cost-effective products this year, the improved Air Mass 3 ($99) and improved Air Mass DVD ($149), as well as the mind-bogglingly inexpensive IsoNode feet. Barry has suffered tremendous personal adversity over more than the last year, and it was a real relief to see him fully recovered. His attitude has been a serious inspiration.


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The Best Reborn Tube Company is the Westrex division of Western Electric. While this company is not exactly new news, Charles Whitener continues to lead an organization that makes what are generally recognized as the best sounding 300Bs around. Soon, the WE274B, a full-wave rectifier, will become available. Newly manufactured Genalex Gold Lion KT88s are also due to become available in 2002. Finally, the company has plans to produce the 212E, one honking big audio tube at 13 and 5/8 inches high. You can take an interesting tour of the Kansas City factory at www.westernelectric.com.


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The Best New Room Treatment at the show was by Ben Piazza of Shakti. This was demonstrated in the E.A.R. room. The Hallograph Soundfield Optimizer is a tall floor-standing wooden device designed to work in the room corners behind the speakers. On top of a wooden post are four vertical wavy wooden segments, made out of two different kinds of wood, each containing a resonant chamber. They are difficult to describe in words, but they did work. With the devices in place, the soundstage filled out and the midrange and treble sounded more natural. With the devices removed, there was reduced ambience and naturalness to the sound. Go to www.shakti-innovations.com to learn about the audio (and automotive) products from this company.


The E.A.R. (www.ear-usa.com) room was sounding great, with electronics by Tim De Paravicini driving Quad 989s. The E.A.R. 312 preamp and M100A monoblock amps were powering a system that sounded holographic, with great articulation and transparency.


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The VAC (Valve Amplification Company) room (www.vac-amps.com) of Kevin Hayes was sounding tasty, with the new VAC Virtu amp powering a pair of the towering Pipedream loudspeakers (www.nearfieldacoustics.com). This was the best sound I have ever heard from these speakers.


The Best Depth of Image in the show was attained by Randy Bankert from O.S. Services (www.ossaudio.com). Randy is a distributor of audio equipment from around the world. He was demonstrating an impressive array of electronics from Cadence Audio and Audion, and hybrid horn/cone loudspeakers from the Italian company Zingali. The Zingali horn midranges are crafted from solid blocks of poplar, using a proprietary exponential horn design with a rapid flare rate. The tulip wood cabinets were beautiful, as befits anything Italian. We heard the Cadence Audio Canasya 845-based amps (50 W Class A, 200 W Class A/B) and the Audion Premiere 1.0 remote control preamp with the Zingali Overture 3S loudspeaker. This system produced startling depth of image, outstanding image definition, and immediacy. And the room treatment? None, other than the bedspread provided by the Tuscany. Bravo.


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The Best Lamp of the show reared its pretty head in the GamuT room. Darrin and Gene O’Neill of Audiolimits (www.audiolimits.com) were displaying a stunner of a lamp created partly from a big old Western Electric 861 tube, whose filaments were glowing brightly. These aren’t inexpensive devices, but are perfect for the audiophile who thought (s)he had everything. I want one.


The Best CD Treatment in the show was from Toy Shigekawa of Torumat. Toy’s fluid has been an essential part of my reference system for years, and his latest CDX-16-3 is his best yet. I also use his Torumat TM-7 fluid in my Nitty Gritty to clean LPs. It helps when you have someone with a degree in physical chemistry making this stuff. Toy also manufactures turntable mats and pucks, which have received very favorable reviews, and I hope to audition a set on my VPI TNT shortly. Contact Toy at tmshigekawa@quiknet.com.


Jan Jurco from J J Electronic, manufacturers of tubes and some gorgeous tubed electronics from Slovakia, were playing their JJ 243 preamp and JJ 322 amp (single-ended with 300Bs) into Reference 3A loudspeakers, a high-efficiency favorite. The sound was warm, natural, and seductive, lacking only in the low bass. Check out their electronics, and their wide variety of tubes, at www.jj-electronic.sk.


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The Best Visual Setup at the show this year was by Ron Welborne of Moondog Audio (www.moondogaudio.com), which is a new arm of Welborne Labs. Ron was showing his Oris horns from Europe (106 dB efficiency with Lowther drivers), sitting on top of bass cabinets using Cabasse drivers. They were being powered by the Moondog 2A3 monoblocks (3.5 wpc).


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The Best Manufacturers Missing in Action from the show were D. J. Casser of Black Diamond Racing, Dr. Bruce Edgar of Edgarhorn, and Cy Brenneman of Cyrus Brenneman Audio. They all seemed to have excellent excuses, but I don’t plan to cut them so much slack next year. Bruce Edgar is shown here with my old friend Saul Sokolsky, who runs The Audio Enthusiast, a high-end audio dealership in Palos Verdes, California. I am indebted to Saul for many things, most recently for introducing me to David Platus’ phenomenal prototype platform, a review of which appears elsewhere in these pages.


The Best Editor Missing From the Show was David Robinson. Stuck in Portland was he, poor guy. A lot of folks were asking after you, David. Hope you make it next year.


The Best Dealer Missing From the Show was Brooks Berdan of Brooks Berdan Ltd. in Monrovia, California. Brooks is an internationally recognized turntable guru, analog maven, and source of excellent advice and support. My system wouldn’t be what it is without him. Brooks can be contacted at 626-359-9131.


The Manufacturer I’m Most Sorry to have Missed is Status Acoustics (www.statusacoustics.com). Twice in past years, I have awarded designer Shane Rich and company founder Roger B. Hassing best sound in show, for a loudspeaker that Stan Ricker and I both thought just did everything right. My only excuse is that they were only showing at the Convention Center, and there was simply too much to see where I was. My humblest apologies, gentlemen. This is a company that deserves major recognition.


The Best Breakfast at the show was graciously provided by Steve Rochlin, editor, publisher, and chief web grunt at EnjoyTheMusic.com. It was nice to be able to meet some of my fellow writers, whose ranks seem to be growing rapidly. And the tux was a nice touch, Steve (although I kinda missed the moose slippers).


The Best Evening Social at the show was kindly provided by Coleman Brice, Neal Jones, Troy San Thompson, and their chief, Michael Hobson. It is always a distinct pleasure to deal with Colie Brice, an outstanding individual who is doing an exceptional job as Director of Marketing for Classic. We also had a fascinating conversation with Neal Jones, their Director of Production, about all of the things that go into the record jackets that most people would never even notice. I’ll look at Classic’s LP jackets with more insight from now on. Thanks for the great evening, guys!


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The Best Live Music in the show? I heard two good choices. The first was a concert by Crosby, Stills and Nash put on by Monster Cable as part of their annual awards dinner. Although the sound reinforcement was excruciatingly bad in the Grand Ballroom of the Mirage, and these fellows’ voices aren’t what they were in the sixties, it was great to see them perform a lot of their old hits. The highlight of the evening had to be Stephen Stills’ guitar playing. He remains a real virtuoso (even if he did stick to electric guitar... where was the acoustic, man?). Many thanks to Noel Lee of Monster Cable for the invitation.


The second choice for Best Live Music was a concert by The Persuasions, made possible by David and Norman Chesky of Chesky Records (www.chesky.com). This a cappella group has been around for four decades. They performed at the CES party on Tuesday evening, and sang Beatles songs, mostly from Abbey Road, using nothing but their voices for both instrumentals and voice. This has got to be a real challenge, but they were innovative, polished, and witty, and they really held the audience’s attention. Kudos to Chesky for having the imagination to record this group, and for having the generosity to make it possible for us to hear them live.


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The Most Collegial Fellow Writers in the show were Clark Johnsen of Positive Feedback and EnjoyTheMusic.com (great minds think alike), and Bob O’Neill of Bound for Sound. Stan and I enjoyed our evening at the Holy Cow. Clark knows his brews, cold.

The Best Audio Buddy in the show was mastering and musical maven Stan Ricker. Stan and I have done the show together for several years now. This year, I thought that if I’d had a tape recorder running during all of our conversations over the years on the way to and from CES, in the hotel room, at dinner, etc., that I could write another 45-page interview with Stan that readers would enjoy as much as the original one in Positive Feedback. (FYI, that article reappears on EnjoyTheMusic.com. Click on "Review Magazine," then on "Archives," then on "Factory Tours and Interviews," then on "Stan Ricker." Curl up in your easy chair with your laptop, and enjoy the story of one of the few true renaissance men of the audio and music world.

Upcoming Music Reviews

Here’s some of what will be spinning in my listening room soon. The following folks have kindly given me LPs, CDs, and now SACDs to review. You’ll be reading about these in the future. Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds (www.analogueproductions.com) sent SACDs of Wild Child Butler and Harry Hypolite, as well as 45 rpm LPs of Henry Gray and Pinetop Perkins some time ago, which have yet to be reviewed due to home remodeling. I’ll have the listening room back soon, Chad!

Mike Hobson and Coleman Brice of Classic Records (www.classicrecords.com) supplied the first of their mono Blue Note recordings (Miles Davis) and a new Sarah Vaughan LP.

Joe Harley of JVC XRCD (www.xrcd.com) fame supplied new CDs of Kenny Burrell, West Side Story, and Henry Mancini.

Winston Ma of First Impression Music (www.fimpression.com) supplied a new CD entitled Autumn in Seattle, plus three new SACD titles.

John Wood of the newly reborn Mobile Fidelity (www.mofi.com) supplied an SACD of Patricia Barber.

David Chesky of Chesky Records (www.chesky.com) supplied a new CD of The Persuasions singing Beatles songs a cappella (see description of concert above).

Mark Waldrep of AIX Records (www.aixrecords.com), a new company, supplied a DVD Audio/Video sampler that has two sides. The DVD-A side contains brand new recordings done with 24 bits/96 kHz mixed to 5.1 channels. The DVD-V side contains the video of those performances, along with stereo and Dolby Digital audio mixed to 5.1 channels. I’ll have to find a willing friend with a great home theater system on which to try this out fully.

Robert Pincus of Cisco Records (www.ciscomusic.com) provided new LPs of music by Prokofiev and Mozart. These LPs represent a new departure for Cisco, who are now producing their own 180-gram LPs in the US, mastered at AcousTech Mastering, and pressed at RTI (Record Technology, Inc.).

Finally, a brand new label called Pure Audiophile (pure@kc.rr.com), started by Dennis Cassidy in Kansas City, Missouri, has released their first LP. It is a new interpretation of a classic album by my favorite saxophonist. Entitled Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane, by Karrin Allyson, it was originally released on Concord. This 2-LP set, half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker, is available on 180 gram blue vinyl, pressed at RTI. The blue vinyl requires special pressing and quality control techniques. Karrin Allyson was nominated for a Grammy for this performance.

The Reference System

For new readers, so you know where I’m coming from, the following is a description of the system used in the post-show reviews. LPs are played on a VPI TNT with a 10" JMW Memorial arm, a Benz Ruby cartridge, and a Black Diamond Racing (BDR) record clamp. The turntable rests on a BDR "The Shelf for the Source." (My Bright Star Big Foot TNT will be added back to the stack before too long.) This all rests on a VPI TNT stand filled with 200 lbs of lead shot, spiked to a reinforced floor.

A Hovland Music Groove tonearm cable takes the signal to a Klyne SK-2A headamp, then Cardas Cross takes it to a Music Reference RM-5 tubed preamp. Cardas Golden Cross takes the signal to a pair of Vacuum Tube Logic (VTL) Deluxe 300 tubed monoblocks, outfitted with 6550 WE Sovtek tubes. Biwired Cardas Golden Cross speaker cables connect the amps to Eminent Technology Model 8 loudspeakers, which themselves are Cardas-wired and mounted on Sound Anchor stands.

The equipment before the power amp is isolated in a walk-in closet, while the amp and speakers are in a dedicated listening room treated with RPG Diffusers, Room Tunes, ASC Tube Traps, and a big Navajo rug. Everything except the power amp is plugged into two Audio Power Industries Power Wedges. A Philips CD680 CD player is used as a transport, connected to a Theta Cobalt DAC via Cardas Microtwin, while Cardas Cross is used from there to the RM-5. The DAC uses a Hovland power cord. The electronics in the closet are on a Target B5 stand.

The headamp, preamp, amp, CD transport, DAC, and TNT power supply are isolated with various combinations of BDR Pyramid Cones, Pucks, and Shelves. Open- reel tapes can be played via a Technics RS 1500 semi-pro 2-track 15 ips tape deck, the one with the big U-shaped transport (a really good machine which is used as a transport by Chesky in their analog mastering). CDs are treated with Torumat CDX-16-3. LPs are cleaned on a Nitty Gritty 2.5 Fi using Torumat TM-7XH. A Hunt EDA Mark 6 record brush, the best I know, is used for dry cleaning of LPs. Headphone listening can be done with an EarMax tubed triode headphone amp and a pair of Sennheiser HD-580s.

And as we go off into the sunset... until next year!

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