The High-End Audio headquarters were again held this year at the Alexis
Park Resort, one mile East of the Las Vegas strip. With hundreds of
companies displaying products, I'm going to highlight those that caught my
I apologize to those companies which I didn't have time for. The acoustics of the majority of rooms did not lend itself to honest evaluation so my equipment highlights should not be construed as an endorsement of their sonics.
For that, a long term home evaluation under known conditions with a variety of recordings would be necessary.
Analog front ends, e.g.. turntables, were set up in less than half of the
listening rooms while a CD player was used in all the rooms as either a
primary or alternate source.
Interestingly, I didn't find anyone using a DVD player to decode 24/96 discs or a SACD DSD (Direct Stream Digital) machine. Turntables from Basis, Garrard & Townsend were in evidence, but the best of show for turntables has to go to Clearaudio and their Master Reference, a German made product with the Master TQ-1 straight line arm fitted with a Clearaudio Insider Gold.
A nicely made solid state phono preamp, called the Phonomena, debuted at the Musical Surroundings booth. It's in the same price range as the Lehmann Black Cube, the unit which I think it will be directly compared against.
To my eyes, the best aesthetics in electronic components were on display by
Redgum Audio of Australia. They offer a range of MOSFET
integrated amps & power amps all having a red gum wood front panel.
The designs feature a unique heatsink assembly, dual mono volume controls & a minimalist design approach which offers shorter circuit paths.
Their model CD2 is a DAC with a user replaceable CD-ROM drive as transport and hidden behind a fold down red gum panel. The speakers of choice in Redeem's room were the Osborn Epitome, a 92dB efficient three way floor stander finished in red gum, matching the look of the Redgum electronics.
The Tact Audio TacT S2150 Digital Power Amp, US$2995, looks to be the future of amplification in our increasingly digital audio world. It's 96/24 compatible, upgradeable to 192/24, and is pure digital all the way to the output terminals.
The VTL IT-85 integrated amp offers 75W of tube power and at US$2500 is competitive in price with many high end solid state integrateds.
VAC was using their Renaissance Signature Preamp and 70/70 power amp to drive a Thiel 6 speaker. The power amp is a 70W dual mono design with the channels independent to the dual power cords. The preamp price is US$9990 & the power amp is US$16,990. The best sound I heard was coming out of the MBL room, consisting of the 1621 transport, 1611 HR D/A converter, 6010C preamp and 9010C power amps.
All this was powering a pair of 101D Radialstrahlers, a speaker the looks of which you love or hate. I walked in and heard a lovely German speaking soprano fill the air.
It was hard to get a feel for the performance of the top end Genesis Ones or the Nearfield Acoustics Pipedreams given the rooms they were in and the music being played. These designs need much bigger rooms to strut their stuff. Both designs have been contenders in the "Best Of" arena, though.
Getting back to what I call "real world" speakers, those affordable by the majority of audiophiles, the Alternate Audio PS40, a push/pull planar mid/high panel mated to a cabinet enclosing a 10" cone which, at US$4500, should be compared to a Magnepan 3.6 and Sunfire Signature subwoofer combination.
Also in the $5,000 price range, were the Paragon Acoustics Jade, a time-coherent three-way and the Meadowlark Audio Heron, a phase aligned three-way. Both use dual woofer cones. Two-way floor standers in the $1500-2000 range are also offered by these companies.
Totem Acoustics had their Arro, Sttaf and Forest floor standing speakers on display. Their narrow profile allows them to blend into many rooms.
The Italian company Mastersound had on display their line of floor standing speakers, ranging from the two way Butterfly 2.2 to the Diesis 3.2. All models are floor standing and distinguished by the tweeter attachment on top of the main enclosure and contained within a cylindrical shaped enclosure. I would compare the design most closest with UK company B&W.
Finally, the best imaging monitor speaker I listened to was the new
Reference Monitor from Vandersteen Audio.
It uses similar technology derived from their top of the line 5 and is housed in a truncated triangular enclosure and intended to be mounted on a stand.
I was disappointed with the preponderance of video systems on display at the Alexis. I know home theatre is where consumer electronics manufacturers see big growth, but those products are best demonstrated in the other halls. In the future, I would like to listen to state-of-the-art 5.1 audio only systems with audiophile recordings played on DVD or SACD systems. Soundtracks in a home theatre system are not the best way to evaluate music reproduction.
From our resident correspondent Jonathan Sek © Copyright 2000 - http://www.tnt-audio.com