CES update 2009

Tomorrow, I will begin to share information about CES 2009. I just got back late tonight and will try and post a few pics and give a few highlights of the show. There were a lot of good systems and a lot of fun. Initial highlights were of course the MBL system, the Boulder Wilson system, my overall favorite for a few reasons I will detail later, and the Avantgarde System which was a surprise for me as I am not a horn fan as a general rule. The Boulder Wilson combination made me feel I could live without tubes...a big thing. It was really that good.....more later....
This is an update on CES 2009. First I will talk about the MBL room, always one of my favorites. This room was as bit disappointing for a few reasons. Last year, they were cited a record number of times for playing music too loud....unfortunately, their speakers sound best loud. The CES limit was stated at 85db...people actually listen to music that low???? At modest levels, they are a bit flat, shallow, and far less engaging, this included the new 101 models, and another one down the line a bit. For a brief, fine-free time period, they did crank them up to MBL real world levels, and the magic returned with space, detail, dimensional magic, and all they are famous for. Which brings me to the caveat with these speakers. If you want them for low level listening, look elsewhere, they just don't do soft well. If you like 90db plus levels, they are simply magic, and you must give them a listen.
The new Wilson Sophia produced great sound, surprising bass for the size, and a big stage.
The Boulder and Wilson flagship were one of my top 3 favorite at the show as they did low level well, and could provide the drama of large scale music with startling realism, huge sense of space, great extension from top to bottom, and definitely a speaker I could live with indefinitely. These sound so coherent from top to bottom, at all listening levels, I prferred these to the MBL for the flexibility in listening level enjoyment. At loud levels, they were a true joy to hear and were different with the MBL enjoying a wider and deeper stage, but the Wilson a bit more dynamic. Both world class, possibly the best I have heard. I want a pair of both.....The Boulder and MBL electronics had no hint of solid state offenses and were better texturally than many of the tube based rooms I listened to. I am sure tubes will work with the Wilsons, as their sensistivity is higher, but the Boulders sounded so right, I am not sure I would bother to try to make it better. Sometimes the enemy of good is better....more later...
Nice review.
I have a general question though, should the sound out of a pair of loudspeakers improve as the volume raises or should only the sound get louder but the quality remain the same as the loudness increases or even if it decreases?
I would think that a threshold must be reached to energize the voice-coil.This will be different for the technology employed.Dynamic,electrostatic/planar or expending spherical et al.
If it were a perfect speaker nothing would change but the volume. In the world we actually inhabit some sound wonderful at low to moderate volume [LS35A for example] and others only sound good when they are cranked up. It's another of the many choices we make. The trick is to chose the speaker that matches your listening habits. When I was a Quad dealer a customer insisted on the Quad 63 even tho he was an acid rock fan who listened at volumes that would deafen a rock. I also carried the Nelson Reed, which would play at 120 Db. but he wanted the Quad. You know what happened [several times]. Know how you want to listen and chose the speaker that will do it.
Stanwal, you got some great gear in your set up, obviously you do like the British sound.I must say that I beg to differ from some of what you say. If what you are saying is correct then why do not the speaker manufacturers put on the spec sheet, only good at 80db, or 120db? I have only seen the 'volume' on a volume control and not the words 'sound quality control increase'. Joking aside, my Impulse H1's (in storage) do not improve when the volume is increased, they only got louder, louder still, and then very loud.......
I am not saying they are perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I agree that electrostatics may not be the best choice for crazy volume rock music (well my aged MG-1's are not anyway but are preferred for late night listening with a lower volume listening level due to their very open midrange), but that chap you knew obviously liked the sound of the Quads so much that he had to have a pair with lots of repair. My listening habit is the same whenever I put on a cd, I do it with both ears, although it depends whether I want to listen at a more sedate level, or want to crank it up to a frenziest eye popping level to annoy the neighbourhood.Usually the former, unless
it is Rage Against The Machine, or AC/DC then its warp 10 mr sulu for some mindless head banging boogie.My current Oris 150's fit the bill regardless of music, they play quiet or they rock the house and can cause a slight warble of the foundations. Some of what I am saying may seen contradictory, I like to fill my room with sound and its 27' long with the Oris 150's, and for late night listening I use the Magnepans MG-1 for much closer, lower level listening approx 8' or so from speakers.
I'd have to agree on the MBL's at CES: I was very impressed with their room at RMAF '07 - that system was just breathtaking in that room. This year I was not wowed by them, and certainly the volume was more limited during the time I spent listening there. The soundstaging was not as impressive as I recalled from RMAF.

A few standouts for me this year if you are discussing systems at that level: The Hansen speakers delivered the goods big time for me. The Kings were in a room that I would say was a bit too small for them, but impressive nonetheless (if you could get past the guy explaining every cut he played and what to listen for). I liked the Prince model better, though cannot recall the electronics they were using in that room. The Acapella horns were outstanding and Avalon's new, modestly priced floorstander sounded very good, with much of the same smooth and effortless character as their larger siblings albeit without the fuller extension. Their speakers were in many rooms this year...As were the CAT JL2 amps (always sounding excellent in various combinations, including with Hansen). Lamm's room was sounding lovely, organic free-range music with nothing artificial sounding at all - I felt it was a edging on being just bit sedate (lacking some sparkle...a tad flat) in some ways, but it could have been the cuts of music playing while I was there, or their choice of speakers (Alexandreas, which have yet to grab me in the three or four different systems I've heard them in). Plenty of good sounding rooms compared to RMAF '07 (my last show before this) - I think the rooms at the Venetian are a bit more audio-friendly in their size and internal materials.

Further impressions from THE Show and CES some in the more 'affordable' realms: Hats-off to Duke at AudioKinesis, who wasn't there but his speakers were, and they sounded great hooked up to an interesting music server and room compensation device (sorry, can't recall the manufacturer but the demo was impressive). I finally got to hear Vinnie's Red Wine Audio amps (I think the 70.2 monos) and new Isabella DAC and they did not disappoint. The Magneplanar demonstration was very impressive - they did a behind the curtain demo playing several cuts of music of their own selection (I believe this was very significant factor in the success of the demo). When the lights come up everyone is astounded to find out the music was coming from a tiny panel speaker about 1 foot square, supplemented with a more conventionally sized woofer enclosure which is separate. Regardless it was hard to believe the sound that came off those tiny panels. I liked Studio Elektric's speakers once again, powered by their new amp (enjoyed them at RMAF too). Ref 3A's Grand Veenas and their smaller step down both sounded great, as it did at RMAF. Enjoyed Edge, but thought the big Montana speakers were way overkill in that room as the bass just about rattled my old fillings out, but the electronics did a very impressive job at keeping a hold on it. The Modwright / Audio Machina combination was very engaging with those speakers seamlessly extending down to lows I would not have imagined from their modest size, integrating that all very well, with Dan's Transporter and new amps doing a very impressive job at the helm (disclaimer: I was at CES to photograph Dan's room for him). Atmasphere, Classic Audio and Triplanar are once again a standout together as they were at RMAF for me. Ralph has great taste in music, but you won't find Patricia Barber or Jazz at the Pawnshop in his collection (the likes of which seemed to echo throughout the Venetian). Speaking of Ralph, Once again the people were a big highlight for me - I enjoy that aspect of the show more than the gear, and, boy, are there some fascinating characters in this business! I mean that in the best of ways...this business draws a really wide variety of unique individuals. It's always a great time hanging out with everybody's favorite audiophile ambassador, Albert Porter - my mouth still hurts from smiling and laughing so much. The attendance for both shows was markedly down, but the word was the emphasis was on quality over quantity. Many of the vendors I spoke with were very happy with the overall outcome. I think most of the thinning out was the general public (who ostensibly portray themselves as a part of the business in order to attend CES) while the more serious attendees (actual buyers, distributors, reps, consultants, dealers, reviewers, etc.) made up most of the attendance. T.H.E. Show definitely suffered from proximity, but I heard some nice sounds there (commented on here) and vendors there made the same observation for the most part (quality over quantity).
I thought the best sounding system was the Wilson's driven by the LAMM ML3 tube amps, i would agree very sedate but smooth and lovely sounding. The Vandersteen room with the big and expensive Clearaudio linear tracking turntable ( $150k) was the second best. The Magneplanar room was impressive for such tiny speakers , but we had to wait close to an hour to get in to see them then were quickly rushed out cause some important reviewer had only a few minutes so the whole group of us were thrown out before we could ask any questions or have them play some of our music , very dissapointing since i own Maggies.
Rodger Sanders electrostats were also nice sounding even though the room was not very well setup.
I also thought the Soundsmith Strain Guage cartridge was an interesting setup even though the sound in the room was nothing great.