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 CES 2011 Show Coverage
CES (the high-end audio portion) was even more upbeat than last year, with less foot traffic than last year (by our estimate) but with more qualified attendees according to many exhibitors. Meanwhile, T.H.E. has settled in nicely to its new home at the Flamingo with a friendlier atmosphere, better sound, and better navigation then previous venues. THE rooms were less crowded and more likely to present good listening conditions, with a more relaxed atmoshpere and less background noise like people talking, sound from other systems, etc. The exhibits were in every-other room, and staggered such that systems weren't sharing the same wall or playing directly against each other accross the hall. Besides the good listening opportunities, T.H.E. presented several social events and informative seminars. The nicely catered lunch served daily for T.H.E. attendees and exhibitors was a delicious break from the long hours of hard work, which for the exhibitors and press it is indeed a lot of hard work.

Nonetheless, Albert Porter and our photographers made it to every single room of both shows, capturing over 3,000 pictures which we have nearly finished uploading and organizing by room, and by each exhibitor. We also captured soundbytes with the use of a Sony PCM-D50, a highly rated portable recorder with built-in microphones and 24/96 resolution. We tried to record in as many rooms as possible; we got about 100 in all, and we have included the sound sample within each room's page. Beware that I (Audiogon Arnie) am a complete amateur at live sound recording (or live reproduced sound?). Also, the Sony's built-in mics picked up more of the ROOM's sound than I would have liked, but with an interesting result. It sounds as if it recorded the overall sound ENERGY in the room, which our ears apparently filter out.

What is remarkable though, as you will hear, is that it sounds as though the performer was IN the room performing, more so than a stereo system reproducing the performer. Even with a simple portable recorder, the resolution and dynamic capabilities of these systems become quite evident. You will hear it if playing through a decent computer system or on your big rig. If you have a USB dac, then definitely run out to it. If you have a volume control on your computer taskbar, turn it ALL the way up to prevent loss of dynamic range. Below are some of the standout rooms, where the recording device, speakers, and room came together really well. There are many other rooms with recorded sound, just look for the black speaker icon when looking at a list of rooms in these shows. Please keep in mind that if a system sounds "weird", then it is mostly due to our inexperience at capturing live sound.

Complete THE coverage: Room by Room | By each Exhibitor

Complete CES coverage: Room by Room | By each Exhibitor

Here are some of the rooms that really caught our ears:
The most Inviting sound
Sonus Faber Elipsas always seem to perform, but they were especially seductive with Prima Luna amplification and a new tubed CD player by Mystere. The tone, the dynamics, the harmonics, the air, the palpable presence, it was all there in spades. Even with herds of people talking in the room, this system sucked you into the music.
The most Authoratative sound
Zu's highly anticipated ''Dominance'' flagships lived up to their name, with effortless ability to reach concert level dynamics without hurting your ears or sounding the least bit strained. All the while maintaining the micro-dynamics, truthful timbres, and subtle nuances that bring you the EMOTION of the music along with the IMPACT.
The most Immersive sound
Wisdom Audio's new on-wall (?) planars had amazing dynamics combined with the pristine 'clarity' of stats, whether sitting or standing anywhere in the room. Most impressive was that you could have a conversation without yelling while the system was hitting you in the chest, exactly the way it is at a live, un-amplified concert.
The most Surprising sound
The new Clairaudient desktop speakers (by Audience) were dropping jaws all day. There are single driver speakers and there are mini monitors. Combine the two and add some battery supplied power by Virtue Audio and WOW! The phase coherence of a single driver and the size of the cabinet made for an eerily realistic sounstage.
The most Sublime sound
The uber-expensive differential tube amps by Engstrom & Engstrom made the massive Marten Coltrane speakers sing with amazing beauty. The Coltranes are usually seen with massive amps such as MBL or the company's own big guns. Yet ''The Lars'' had a vice-like grip on these speakers only with the warmth and space of tubes.
The most American sound
Rogue Audio assembled an under $7,500.00 system composed entirely of products Made in the USA. Headed by a Sota turntable and powered by a Rogue integrated, the diminutive Magnepans sang quite nicely. They even had BASS, which is not easy to accomplish via tubes running small planar speakers. Bang for Buck from the USA.
The most Telling sound
Here we have two considerably different speaker design philosophies, resulting in two considerably different interpretations of the same piece of music. Compare the fist two sound samples in this room, and you will notice the two distinctly different flavors, each with its own attractions. That's why we have so many speaker companies :)
The most Predictable sound
A Proac and ARC system is about as sure of a bet as you can get in the audiophile world. On first impression, words like clean and neutral come to mind. After a few minutes, the word BALANCE seems to fit. Hopefully the sound sample conveys what I mean.
The most interesting sound
Inex Innovation has apparently re-invented the digital source with no digital conversion, no digital filters, absolutely NOTHING digital in the signal path. Really? All Analog Digital? That's what I said, several times, as you will hear in the last sound sample. The sound did seem to have a certain liquidity not heard in traditional(?) digital sources.
The most InYourFace sound
In your face in a good way. Dynamic Contrasts was out to prove that the name fits exactly what they do to the sound. Crank this one WAY up, the exhibitor sure did! There are several cuts on the single track, and you will indeed hear dynamic contrasts that you never knew existed in music that you thought was poorly recorded.
The coolest musical Turn-On
The Electrocompaniet room is always a treat, turning people on to great music that most of us are not aware of. Last year it was a European released Yello tune that caught our ears. This year it was the City of Prague Philharmonic doing their rendition of "The Pirates of the Caribbean" theme. Long track, but well worth your time.
Some of the other well recorded samples:


Teresonic



Purist + Stahl-Tek



ADN Acoustics



Vitus + Wilson



Magico + Soulution



Acoustic Zen + Triode



There are lots of other rooms with sound samples, just look for the speaker icon in the Room By Room lists that are linked above. We hope you enjoy the eye and ear candy.