CES 2016 Show Report Day 4
Also in the Kii Audio room was the Kaluga monoblock power amplifier by Mola Mola. Designed by Bruno Putzeys, who also designed the amplifiers in the Kii Three loudspeaker, it is based on an NCore NC1200 amplifier module by Hypex but heavily modified. Power is rated at 400 watts into 8 ohms, 700 watts into 4 ohms and 1200 watts into 2 ohms. Signal to noise ratio is listed at 128 dB. Price is about $18000.00 per pair. They looked pretty!
In the category of bigger isn’t always better, I dropped in on Kii Audio where they were sampling their Kii Three loudspeaker. These small euro-style monitors pack some serious amplifier technology and DSP horsepower to deliver some incredibly huge sound to a room. Four 6.5 inch woofers (one on each side and two in the rear), one 5 inch midrange and a one inch tweeter with wave-guide are powered by six 250 watt NCore amplifiers on board along with full A/D and D/A conversion facilities. The active DSP and crossover filtering are designed for controlled dispersion and have selectable filtering to accommodate different room placements. A full compliment of digital and analog inputs are provided along with streaming ability with any WISA certified device. Just attach a source and you’re in business. You could be forgiven for mistaking these for a mere lifestyle product but you would be gravely underselling their abilities. The quality and accuracy of the sound the Kii Thees put out was outstanding. It was clear and detailed but with a massive soundstage that stayed very consistent as I moved around the seating area. The bass is rated down to 20 Hz and I could believe it. There were moments these little things shook the room with authority. If I were blindfolded I would have thought I was listening to big towers. Price of admission is about $13000.00 a pair. I imagine a fully matched 5 channel surround system with these speakers would be unreal and you wouldn’t need subs.
The Kronos Sparta turntable. Jim Clements was lusting after this one!
Audio-Technica’s product line has a large selection of phono cartridges to choose from and a few nice looking platters for all the cool kids to spin their vinyl on!
One of the many interesting finds in the Harman display wad the JBL 4367 Studio monitors. Taking driver technology from JBLs acclaimed M2 Master Reference Monitors and adapting it for home use seems to be the goal here. The tweeter compression driver is the same as in the M2 but adapted to a smaller custom waveguide in these speakers. The woofer is a 15″ JBL 2216Nd that has specially modified for this use. Sensitivity is 94dB and the price is $15,000.00 for the pair. If you like those classic horn speakers of old, these may just be your ticket.
The Revel Ultima Salon 2. Why am I posting a picture of a speaker model that’s going on 7 years old? Because Revel Chief Designer Kevin Voecks conducted a stereo listening demo with a pair of Salon 2s and, to my mind, they still sounded superior to much of what I heard at CES this year. Incredible imaging, great dynamics and deep bass slam. A testament to an excellent speaker design.
Nola speakers was featuring a modest 2.1 system in their room. Called the Brio Trio, it stood out from the norm in that the top driver in the 12″ tall main monitors operates open baffle while the bottom driver is ported. The subwoofer features a long throw 8″ driver with an on-board 250 watt class A/B amp. The sound was surprisingly room filling with a relaxed and open character. A nice little setup that will be available in spring for $2700.00.
I have never heard of Starke Sound before but the surround sound demo coming from their room caught my attention so I decide to check them out. They were running a Dolby Atmos demo using standard size speakers on an overhead truss as height channels. Regardless of that, the clips of Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick sounded fantastic. Then they played a jazz music performance featuring Lee Ritenour and Marcus Miller and that sounded excellent as well. The speakers consisted of the IC-H5 Elite towers for mains, an IC-H5C Elite center channel, and two pairs of IC-H3 Elite speakers for surround and height channels. Power was provided by a Starke Sound A7-450 multichannel power amplifier. Starke reps claim 7 channels of 450 watts each at full Class A. Judging by the size of the amps, I am slightly skeptical of this claim. In any event, I will be keeping an eye on this company as the speakers here sounded very good
Jumping off Jim’s earlier video post, here are some additional pictures from the ELAC room. I’ll echo Jim’s comments and just say that a pair of the Uni-Fi UB5 bookshelf speakers are probably one the best ways to spend $500.00 in audio. They were absurdly good! ELAC also was showing a final version of their Debut series integrated amp and their Discovery music server which they previewed at RMAF. The DA101EQ integrated amp has 100 watts per channel, a dedicated subwoofer output, coax and toslink digital inputs up to 24/192 and an asynchronous USB digital input up to 24/192 as well. It also an auto EQ feature that measures the near field response of the mains and subwoofer and sets the optimal crossover frequency and phase and EQ’s the sound for the room. It is fully controllable from an app on both IOS and android. Price is $599.00 and will be available mid year. The Discovery Music Server has the Roon music library service embedded in it’s hardware that provides a rich user interface and metadata on your IOS or Android control device. Plug in a NAS or a hard drive stuffed with music and you’re on your way. It will also integrate with Tidal and other online music services too. Price is $999.00 and available in April.
Sony’s F55 4K motion picture camera. For the pros.
Sony 4K LCD displays this year were touting Quantum Dot technology and a dedicated processing chip called the 4K Processor X1. Last year I remember noting a minor level of graininess in the pictures of the Sony sets, not so this year. The images being shown on the X930D series 4K displays were quite impressive. Available in 55, 65 and 75 inch sizes and HDR capable, many of these should find happy customers I think.
Here is a video of one of the Sony 4K displays in the round.
Sony obviously wanted to grab our attention with their TV displays!
The LAMM Industries room featured a pair of M1.2 Reference monoblock power amps, a pair of LL1.1 Signature mono pre-amps and an LP2.1 phono preamp. LAMM electronics totaled up to about $81,000.00.
The speakers are the Kharma Exquisite Classique, costing $130,000.00. The Amazon Grand Referenz turntable was $17,000.00. Add a Moerch DP8 Tonearm for about $5000.00. Tack on a ZYX Universe premium cartridge at $14,500.00 and an EMM Labs XDS1 V2 Integrated CD/SACD player and DAC for another $25,000.00 and you’ve got yourself a nice little bedroom or small office system, maybe even a second system for the kids.
If this wasn’t eye-watering enough, all the various interconnects, speaker wire and power cabling provided by ZenSati’s sILENzIO (their spelling) series, rings in at almost $376,500.00!
And the room actually sounded kind of nice…
Here are some photos from the Emotiva rooms to supplement Jim’s video footage. The new speaker line sounded very good by the way.
At RMAF, HiFiMAN previewed a working prototype of their Edition S on-ear headphones that can switch from closed to open back listening via the removal of the ear-cup covers. Here at CES they had the final production version which is shipping later this month for $249.00. The sound was very good in both modes although open back was harder to judge in the noisy room environment. The sound was more refined and had come a long way from the RMAF sample I heard months ago.
HiFiMAN always likes to preview work-in-progress products and ideas at shows and CES was no different. Here are some shots of their new electrostatic headphone and amplifier concept, the Shangri-La. The sound, as the name implies, was quite heavenly.
The Chord audio room had some beautiful looking and sounding equipment. I was particularly interested in the portable “Mojo” and the new tabletop “Dave” model of DAC/headphone amps. Listening through some equally nice and new Audeze LCD-4 and Sine headphones. Very, very good sound was had here!
TAD had a similar room in the Venetian as last year, playing music though the wonderful TAD CE-1 loudspeakers which still had some of the most natural and appealing sound at the show. This year though, in place of their own electronics, TAD was using power and control components by Audio Alchemy. The company’s founder Peter Madnick was holding court and running the demonstration using the DDP-1 digital decoding pre amp with the PS-5 power supply, a pair of DPA-1M monoblock amplifiers and digital files from a network player. Combined, all of the electronics used cost less than one of TAD’s own amplifiers but the Audio Alchemy gear performed splendidly by all accounts. But a surprise came when TAD CEO Yoshihiro Hirano took us to a smaller room to listen to a new concept speaker. Nicknamed “White Carat” for its finish, this pair of bookshelf sized monitors looked for all the world as if someone took the CE-1s in the other room and hit them with a shrink ray! They had the same type of drivers and porting design but just all smaller. Powered by an Audio Alchemy stereo amp, the White Carats had the same phenomenal sonic signature as their bigger brothers. Precise, natural sounding with a big, wide soundstage that belied their size. Vocals sounded lush and seemed perfectly placed and the bass was solid and ample. While the design is going through some additional refinements, Mr. Hirano said that the target release date would be later this year with a price point just under $15000.00. When I reviewed the CE-1s last year, I was hoping that TAD would find a way to bring some of the speaker’s qualities to a more affordable model but I didn’t expect them to do it so directly! Very cool!
The fine folks at Paradigm were showing off a number of interesting things this year. Firstly, the Prestige series speakers in the artic white finish looked stunning. The Soundscape powered soundbar ($1499.00) is part of their Shift series and features 7 drivers with a 50 watt amp each, digital and analog inputs and Bluetooth with aptX connectability. They also featured some new premium wireless speakers that are DTS-Play-Fi certified and use Anthem’s ARC calibration system to optimize their sound for the room. Also on display were some new custom install in-ceiling model speakers and a wireless streaming server and power amplifier to help a customer play their music wherever and however they wish.
Anthem was showing off their updated line of MRX receivers, a new pre-pro, and some updated amplifiers. The MRX 1120, 720 and 520 feature 11, 7, and 5 main channels of amplification respectively. The 1120 and 720 feature Dolby Atmos and DTS-X capabilities. All the units feature upgraded DACs and HDMI 2.2 for UHD BluRay support and of course they all feature Anthem’s ARC room correction system. The AVM 60 pre-pro features all the goodness of the 1120, minus the amplification but adds an array of balanced outputs. The updated MCA power amps feature 225 watts into 8 ohms in either a two, three, or five channel configuration.
Martin Logan was introducing the Renaissance ESL 15A and EM-ESL electrostatic speakers. The ESL 15A were playing in the room and sounded very sweet and full. They have a 46″ tall panel and two 12″ woofers in the base section. The woofers are powered by two on-board 500 watt amplifiers and can have Anthem’s ARC system installed, as an option, for additional tuning.
Stopped by Sennheiser to sample the flagship Orpheus headphones but appointments were all booked up so that’ll have to wait for another day. In the meantime they had a new version of the 800 series headphones called the HD800S. Apparently they are tuned a little differently from the regular HD800 for a smoother, more laid back top end. A quick comparison between the two models confirmed that description. I prefer the originals myself but I have friends who would feel differently. It’s nice that there is a little something for everyone in Sennheiser-land.
In a separate room, Paradigm was demonstrating their statement loudspeaker, the Concept 4F. Besides being a stunningly beautiful looking work of art, finished in an arctic white with silver/grey trim, it’s sound was also, equally, stunning and evocative. Years of R&D have endowed this speaker with a whole host of technologies that Paradigm has honed over that time. A 1 inch beryllium tweeter, a 7 inch pure beryllium mid-range driver and 4, 8.5 inch aluminum woofers compose the driver compliment. The last couple of pictures show just how overbuilt those drivers are. The woofers are powered by on-board DSP and amplification totaling 1400 watts RMS per speaker and are tuned with a version of Anthem’s ARC calibration system. During the actual demo, these speakers proved themselves to be everything you’d expect from a statement product. They played with a massive sense of scale and incredible dynamics. From the quietest passages to the loudest drum hits they were just completely effortless and the bass felt physically impactful.
They sounded as clear as light.
The Constellation room may have been the best sounding room at the Venetian this year. Irv Gross does a great job here filling you in on the system complement. The sound was radiant and lively. The Constellation amps with their special circuitry controlled the big Martin Logans without any glare or hot spotting. The realism factor was an 11! More importantly, watch to the end when Irv shows off the new Constellation integrated. This would be a good plug-in point for many people to get into the true high end performance.
Emotiva also had a full lineup of Airmotiv speakers at the show. These speakers sound very sweet!
Bang & Olufsen put on a demo of the incredible BeoLab 90’s. Those speakers really rock. And they have the best imaging I have ever heard at a trade show. B&O also made a really big deal about the BeoSound 35 which is the last product Petros highlights in this video. It did sound pretty decent to be honest. I like B&O and their unique style. They even managed to come up with a way to get their iconic vertical CD changer to be fully functional with all the products shown here. And I didn’t get it on camera but the speaker under the TV screen did lower from the unit when powered on.
As promised, here is Dan Laufman of Emotiva discussing the Emersa line of affordable, high performance stereo and surround products. He is right about the unheard of build quality and the cases do have a lovely look and feel which invites you to interact. I also like the concept that the product serves you as opposed to you serving the product. Brilliant!
Andrew Jones of ELAC discusses the new Uni-Fi UB5 Bookshelf speaker. At a mere $500 a pair, everybody who heard them was flabbergasted by the incredible sound which not only had excellent mid and top range but also included unexpected bass slam and extension. I hope ELAC has their production capacity at the ready because these speakers are going to make major waves throughout the industry!
I very much enjoyed using the Bluesound module in the NAD Masters Series M12 preamplifier that I reviewed in 2015. Secrets of Home Theater and HiFi wound up awarding that product the Digital Preamplifier of the Year Award in 2015. In this video, NAD’s Greg Stidsen runs through six dedicated Bluesound products that are all part of this high resolution ecosystem.
PSB was showing these new in ear monitors with RoomFeel technology. They are a unique 2-way design. They actually use dynamic drivers for the bass and balanced armatures for the high frequencies. There is a tiny crossover in each ear piece and the bass unit is ported with a miniature port. The ports were so tiny that I needed reading glasses to make them out! But the biggest advancement is probably the RoomFeel technology which, in simplified terms, is claimed to correct what you hear to make it more consistent with the fact that music is performed and mastered in actual rooms and not inside your head. They have received some major awards including a SoundStage HiFi Recommendation as well as a CES 2016 Innovation Award. Another well thought out and successful design by Paul Barton.
Sennheiser was presenting a new 3D audio technology they are calling AMBEO. Their demos included a enclosed sound room with a discrete 9.1 speaker system, a virtual reality mic that captures audio in four quadrants, a system for “venue modelling” and the EDEN VR game (seen here). I most enjoyed the venue modeling. The venue modelling system is intended for artists to calibrate their sets before playing any particular hall. It is much more sophisticated than the crude systems in the early days of surround sound. The phones also had accelerometers that registered the position of you head and adjusted the soundscape accordingly. I had fun with it and could see myself using if for casual listening.
Carlo Lo Raso rocking out in the Astell & Kern demo room.