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Positive Feedback ISSUE 11
january/february 2004


CES 2004 Show Report
by Victor Chavira

The 2004 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was an outstanding event. Our team of editors returned home with empty wallets, sore feet, and bags full of product literature. A comprehensive analysis of the show would be a major task for even the most gifted audio hobbyist. Hence, I focused my time and energy on seeking out rooms according to musicality. If I walked by a room and the music sounded pleasing, I went in, sat down, and listened. It is important to note, however, that the primary objective for most participants, be they manufacturers or distributors, is not to achieve new heights of audio ecstasy, but to generate business, meet old friends, check out the competition, and keep their sanity under extreme circumstances. Here are the rooms I found most interesting, in no particular order.

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The Bertrand Audio Imports room featured floor-to-ceiling speakers from Denmark. In spite of their imposing size, the Dali Megalines produced intimate and richly detailed music via the Xindak SCD2 Super Audio CD player, Messenger tube preamp, and MingDa tube amplifiers.

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Gilmore Audio resorted to sensationalism, with their ads featuring model Linda O’Neil. Nevertheless, Atmasphere amps and Gilmore’s Model 2 speakers created musically coherent sound and impressive bass, as demonstrated by fully-clothed Los Angeles session ace, Abraham Laboriel.

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I found myself returning to the Vandersteen room quite often. Vandy’s new Quattro ($6500) and Audio Research tube monoblocks filled the room with subtle warmth and vivid harmonic textures from both analog and digital sources. If I could choose one system from the show to live with for the rest of my life, the one in the Vandersteen room would certainly be on the list.

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Another room with pleasing sound was shared by E.A.R. and Sweden’s Marten Design. The focus of attention was a prototype pair of the carbon-fiber Alto loudspeakers from Marten Design that promise performance near the level of their $50,000 Coltranes for less than half the price. The Altos were powered by E.A.R.’s 25th anniversary 509 amps, a Modwright Sony SACD player, and Origin Live turntable. Cables were from Jorma Design, also from Sweden. More interesting for me, however, was the more affordable back room that featured excellent sound from a pair of Marten Design Mingus speakers, an MSB CD player, and the new E.A.R. 834T hybrid integrated amplifier.

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Axiss Distribution also made wonderful music with a little help from Air Tight amplifiers, sculpted Odeon speakers, TransRotor turntables, and Accuphase CD players.

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Several other products are worth mentioning for their potential. Music Hall displayed a beautiful wood version of their successful MMF5 turntable with a   Goldring 1022GX cartridge for $850. Margules Audio of Mexico showed a sexy new hybrid integrated amp with curved aluminum faceplate called the ARCH 1.2 that will list for a very reasonable $1400. I hope we review this product soon. The MSB Reference CD Signature II was featured in many rooms, making good music.

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Finally, I must report on the inevitability of 5.1 audio, as deftly demonstrated by such established companies such as Genisis, Theil, Magnepan, Talon, Verity, Wisdom, Halcro, JMLab and many others in the main convention center. Although the demonstrations of high-quality 5.1-channel audio were clearly impressive, I walked away feeling ambiguous about the new paradigm. For me, stereo is still such a rich and rewarding experience, and I only needed to listen to any of the rooms hosted by the companies listed above for evidence. Victor Chavira