Location, location, location, is everything. This year T.H.E. Show was held at the Flamingo Hotel for the first time. The proximity (15-minute walk) to the high-end audio exhibits at the Venetian hotel seemed to increase attendance at T.H.E. Show.

While I missed the more relaxed surroundings of the St. Tropez and Alexis Park locations, T.H.E. Show managed to maintain its friendly, attendee oriented atmosphere with the buffet lunches and opening day reception complete with live music by vocalist Napua Davoy.

Congratulations to T.H.E. Show crew for an excellent job. Even though there were only approximately 30 rooms I expect T.H.E. Show to continue to grow and achieve critical mass. Richard Beers deserves special recognition for his vision and dedication to keeping the venue alive during the tough economic times and location changes. Or maybe he is just really, really stubborn. The jury is still out on that one.

Attendance at the Venetian seemed heavier than last year but still down compared to two years ago. Some big name manufacturers decided to not exhibit this year and the total number of rooms was fewer. I was once again disappointed in the number of $30,000 (and up) me-too sounding speakers. Sometimes I think box design becomes a goal in itself and the music gets forgotten.

Again my criterion to include a room was it had to give me an emotional connection to the music. To appreciate my enthusiasm for these rooms you would have to realize how many rooms I had to suffer through. While others may claim to have a golden ear, I only confess to having a jade(d) ear. I am imperfect to be sure and may have missed some excellent rooms because of time constraints or the lack of opportunity to play familiar music. Rooms with hot, new speakers tended to be perpetually crowded and difficult to evaluate.

For the past four years I have been bringing a single, composition demo CD to CES. The CD is made on a Nova Physics Memory Player and every year I receive multiple compliments both on the track selection and recording quality (along with requests for a copy) so I must be doing something right. All my comments on room performance are based upon playback of my demo CD. With the exception of the first two rooms and the last selection I have included this year, there is no particular importance to the sequence.

The first two rooms mentioned are my favorites for the year. They created the most emotional connection with me. While the Quad room might be considered the more analytical of the two, it never gave into that side of itself. The music remained paramount. The Acoustic Technologies room was actually more fun because it took itself less seriously but I will save that discussion for the room report.

I visited both rooms a second time to verify my original findings and, well darn it, because I wanted to hear them again. As I compared these disparate speaker designs I wondered what they had in common besides being the two speakers I most wanted to take home. On an emotional note it was immediately obvious both speakers reveled in the sheer joy of the music. On a design level it took some pondering to solve the puzzle. What they had in common was what neither speaker had—a crossover. One value I prize highly is coherency and one way to achieve that is to eliminate any crossover or at least move it out of the critical listening range.



Quad (Venetian 29-228)

 

The Quad room was a very simple setup featuring the ESL-2805 speaker in the classic finish ($9500 as pictured, $8500 in standard black), Quad CD2 ($1600), and the Quad 25Wpc Classic Integrated amplifier ($6500). Listening to my demo CD quickly dispelled some Quad myths such as no bass or a restricted soundstage. The 2805s had a small toe-in but filled the room and sounded great off axis and even on the upper level of the suite. As for bass, I got a big smile on my face when the drums kicked in. Sure the bass was not as prodigious and did not reach as low as from some dynamic speakers but it was more than many could produce. Many dynamic driver speakers either have anemic bass or are boomy. To my ears bass in the Quad room was tight and articulate and musically appropriate, not special-effects-rattle-the-walls home theater bass. Remember that this was the smaller Quad with a 25Wpc integrated amplifier. Quad also offers the larger ESL-2905 ($12,000) which has two additional bass panels.

On the other hand, the Quads lived up to their reputation excelling in sheer musicality. The speakers were a joy to listen to and now hold the top position in my maybe-someday list.


Acoustic Technologies, LLC (Venetian 29-135)

 

This little gem of a speaker made my list last year and I don’t usually like to repeat myself but feel the repetition well deserved in this case. As with the introduction of any product, sometimes difficulties in making production schedules are encountered. That was a difficulty last year but the designer, David Maeshiba, has assured me the speakers are now available for delivery.

The Classic-Series speaker ($2650) has a 3” full-range driver and a cabinet designed to serve as both an amplifier and resonator. This design is very forgiving of both speaker and listener placement. While the Quad speakers were the ones I most wanted to sit and listen to, the Acoustic Technologies speakers set me free and allowed me to indulge my natural restlessness. The speakers were located along the wall in the upper level of the hotel suite. The music was truly delightful both centered between the speakers and in the remote reaches of the lower level of the suite. While I was wandering the lower level someone put on an orchestral piece and I was amazed at the grand scale and sound level of the presentation. These speakers are excellent for serious listening but they also lend themselves to immersing the listener in music while they tend to mundane household tasks. They celebrate music where other speakers take themselves much too seriously and force the listener to sit fixated. Electronics were an Ayon CD-2, Pass Labs X1 preamplifier, and a First Watt F3 amplifier.


Kubala-Sosna Research (Venetian 30-115)

 

Kubala-Sosna cables were found in several of the better sounding rooms. In the room sponsored by Kubala-Sosna, their Emotion cables lent their magic to the Marten Design Heritage Bird speakers ($30,000).

 

Pictured are Howard Sosna (left) and Mark Conti, the latter the designer of the Veloce Audio Platino LS1 linestage ($15,000). The Platino LS1 is battery operated with the batteries inside the main chassis and the charger in a separate box (the cube in the picture). Also in use were the E.A.R Acute CD player ($5900), E.A.R. Model 890 monoblock amplifiers ($14,600), Veloce Audio LP1 Phono Stage ($3000), and the Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable with Benz LP-S cartridge.