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January 27, 2006

January 27, 2006

CES Report from Sound By Singer!

Dear SBS Family Member,

My best New Year's wishes to everyone for a healthy, happy, and peaceful 2006.

Being audio aficionados you undoubtedly know that January is CES (Consumer Electronics Show) time so yours truly wound his way down to Las Vegas to hear and see what's new and exciting. Unfortunately, with some rare exceptions, there was little new product to bring a smile to my face from the high-end audio/video manufacturers. However, we'll cover those rare pieces of wheat among the chaff in a two-part series starting below.

Mass market companies showed both HD DVD and Blue Ray High Definition video players. At their best, they both looked somewhat better than the best progressively scanned DVD players available today. Definitely not night and day. On average an Arcam, Bel Canto, Krell, or Esoteric conventional DVD player looked about as good. And when you think about the fact that, at least, at present, high definition video is the subject of a turf war between major manufacturers promoting different incompatible systems, two things become apparent:

1. A practical, reasonably permanent format for high definition video is at least a couple of years away.
2. The only rational thing for a videophile to do at present is to buy the best DVD player available and take advantage of the thousands of DVD titles currently on the market.

Prototypes of hundred-inch plasma TV's were shown by several manufacturers but, as of yet, no one has really figured out how to make these huge screens practical for home installation.

ARCAM AV-9 Processor

Arcam, a company which has revolutionized affordable high end audio/video came out with its new top-end AV9 preamp/processor. While evolutionary in concept, the AV9 now incorporates HDMI switching of the highest quality - a feature available only on the finest high-end AV processors.

VTL introduced a new reference phono stage with an estimated target price of between $6,000-$7,000, to be delivered in the first quarter of 2006.


Conrad Johnson finally came out with their new 60 watt per channel stereo amplifier and 140 watt power channel mono amplifiers - the LP-70S ($7,000) and LP-140M ($13,000/pr.) respectively. Of roughly equal sonic quality, the LP-70S and LP-140M are the natural companion pieces to the CT5 and CT6 tube line stages which CJ has been selling for the past six months.


Fantastic Digital Gear from Esoteric!

Too much praise cannot be heaped on Esoteric for their exceptional advances in CD, SACD and DVD playback. Leading the roster of new Esoteric components are the P-03 Super Audio CD transport ($12,500) and D-03 ($12,500) D-to-A converter. The P-03 features an exceptionally rigid one-piece body construction. With PCM digital up conversion, DSD conversion, word synchronization, a refined VRDS-NEO mechanism derived from the astounding P-01, a coreless motor with no rotational irregularities, etc. etc. etc., the P-O3 transport has more technical features than the space shuttle, and fortunately operates a whole lot better. Taken directly from their engineering statement piece, the monoblock D-01 DAC, the new D-03 Digital to Analog converter seems to do everything right. Consider their dual word synchronization modes, the highly advanced Ad 1955 DACs, the three separate high efficiency Rcore transformers (1 for digital processing, and one each for left and right analog processing), and the complete dual mono design, and you can begin to get your mind around the staggering level of technology involved in making the P-03 DAC.

New Products from Tom Evans!


Technology is wonderful, but when it comes to real innovation - something which is completely new, one designer comes to mind more often than any other - that is Tom Evans. If you know anything about high quality phono playback, you must have heard about the now legendary Tom Evans Design Groove ($3,600) and Groove Plus ($7,000) phono stages. To give you some basis for comparison, I recently compared the Groove Plus to my Boulder 2008 phono stage. Remember, the Boulder sells for $32,500 and the Groove Plus a mere $7000. The result: The Groove Plus was ten times quieter and sounded infinitely more life-like than the Boulder in every possible way. Following on the Groove Plus, Tom Evans created the Vibe line stage ($4,600), the Pulse power supply, the Linear A amplifier ($8,500) and most recently, the Linear B mono amplifiers ($16,000/pair). It would be impossible for me in this limited space to give you the complete Tom Evans story. Besides, you can get probably as much as you want from clicking onto and looking up the reviews of the Tom Evans Audio Design Linear A stereo amplifier in the August 2005 issue or checking out their December 2005 review of TE's Vibe Lithos 7 preamp & Pulse power supply.


The point, as made in the former review is "Each one of these products is unique in concept & design compared to anything else I am aware of. These Tom Evans designs are the real deal. They are true originals……” Or in the words of my friend -- TAS reviewer & fellow moonie Stephæn Harrell [system below with full complement of TEAD gear] -- after hearing the full suite of Tom Evans equipment in his own system: "This isn't just HiFi; this is stupe-Fi-ing!" As we both were in our respective systems, you'll most likely be stunned too when you hear the whole Tom Evans stack of gear playing the tunes."


Just as an example of the extraordinarily and innovative ideas incorporated into Tom Evans products is the fact that the Linear A, a single ended class A ultra linear device arrives at creating the effect of a legendary and virtually unavailable Japanese tube by combining four single ended EL 84's per side linked in parallel. What a brain, that thought this up! The Lithos 7 preamp is encased in Perspex, not to save money, but precisely because acrylic avoids trapping inside of the component the magnetic fields created by the mains power transformers. No capacitors, all DC coupled. The source selector is a Wesex advanced switching product (WASP). Why? Because it is the best in the world. Same for the DAC volume control. For a complete survey of the inside and the outside of the vibe linestage check out the Six Moons review. To hear what a Tom Evans audio design system sounds like, come on down to Sound By Singer and find out just how close to the music you can get.

The New Peak Consult Zoltan!


The new speaker from Peak Consult is the Zoltan ($35,000/pair). With more detail than the Empress and all the slam of the El Diablo, the Zoltan is the logical speaker for the music listener with a penultimate system on his mind. Lke all Peak Consult speakers, processing, controlling and assembling of Zoltan is handled by skilled craftsmen within Peak Consult's own facilities. Countless hours of measurement and critical listening are logged to correlate design theory and practice. Zoltan’s impedance curve looks more like a purely resistive ribbon than a dynamic speaker, making use with any kind of amplifier easy. The final blend of art and technology have made Zoltan an uncompromising performer. Zoltan is a true State of the Art loudspeaker, able to recreate music with stunning realism, regardless of whether or not you are using small tubes or a big solid-state amplifiers

New SONICS Speaker Line From Legendary Designer Joachim Gerhard!

From Joachim Gerhard, the genius who brought you the original Audio Physic Virgo speakers, comes the new speaker line from SONICS! Joachim has not been a part of Audio Physic since designing the legendary Virgo II speaker. The Sonics line took the CES convention in Las Vegas by storm, and everyone's been talking about them since. The Sonics have the magic of the classic Virgo speaker, and even more detail!


The Allegra ($7,800/pair) combines the outstanding spatial three-dimensionality and lack of resonance of a mini-monitor with the authority of a large standing loudspeaker. The fine resolution over the entire frequency range sets standards, like all concepts by Joachim Gerhard. Not only tonal aspects, but also information about the place of recording, instruments and voices are transferred effortlessly. Beautifully designed and engineered, the Allegra is amazingly expressive, and provides everything an experienced listener could ever want!


The Allegretto ($5,200/pair) is designed as a classic 2-way floor standing speaker with many detailed improvements. Chassis material, housing and crossover are all state of the art. With a sound every bit as captivating as the original Virgo, the Allegretto is certainly heading for the Audio Hall of Fame. Tonally speaking, the Allegretto is tuned homogenously and free from discolouration. Tones are pleasingly differentiated. For example, there is no trouble in differentiating between an alto and a tenor saxophone. The bass goes way down and is very mobile. The watch word for the Allegretto is musical.


The Anima ($2,600/pair) is a 2-way monitor which can be operated both on shelves and freestanding. It can play in rooms of any size and can achieve very good results in large rooms if you sit near to the speaker (approx. 2m).

Finally, the Argenta ($1,500/pair) is a 2-way monitor of classic design which can be operated both on shelves and freestanding. It can play in rooms of any size and can even achieve very good results in large rooms if you sit near to the speaker (approx. 2m).

Next month will complete our report from the Consumer Electronic Show. Now it's time for recommended systems. This month will bring you a number of surround sound audio-for-video systems ranging in price from under $3,000 to $75,000. This is hardly a comprehensive list of all that is possible. You can go much higher. Please note the absence of any video recommendations. This will follow in the near future.

Recommended Systems

The Little System That Could
6.1 Surround Receiver: Cambridge Audio Azur 540R ($699)
DVD Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 540D ($399)
5.1 Speaker System: JM Lab Sib/Cub ($1,388)
Total: $2,486.00



The Family Moon System
Front Speakers: JM Lab Cobalt 816S ($1,895)
Center Speaker: JM Lab Cobalt CC-88S ($650)
On-Wall Rear Speakers: JM Lab Cobalt SR-800S ($795)
Subwoofer: JM Lab Cobalt SW-800S ($1,095)
Surround Receiver: Arcam AVR-250 ($1,599)
DVD Player: Arcam DV 78 ($999)
Total: $7,033.00



At The Movies System
Front Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Mozart Grand ($2,750)
Center Speaker: Vienna Acoustics Maestro Grand ($1,195)
Rear Speakers: Vienna Acoustics Hayden ($1,295)
Subwoofer: James EMB-10 ($1,195)
Surround Receiver: Arcam AVR-300 ($1,999)
DVD Player: Arcam DV-79 DVD Player ($1,799)
Total: $10,233.00



ARCAM AV-9 Processor

Front Speakers: JM Lab 1027Be ($7,495)
Center Speaker: JM Lab CC-1000Be ($2,695)
Rear Speakers: JM Lab 1007Be ($3,995)
Subwoofer: JM Lab SW100Be ($3,995)
Surround Processor: Arcam AV9 ($5,749)
7-channel Amplifier: Arcam P7 ($4,499)
DVD Audio Player: Arcam DV 29 ($2,999)
Total: $31,427.00



The Full Monty System
Front Speakers: JM Lab 1027Be ($7,495)
Center Speaker: JM Lab CC-1000Be ($2,695)
Rear Speakers: JM Lab 1007Be ($3,995)
Subwoofer: JM Lab SW100Be ($3,995)
Surround Processor: Lexicon MC-8 V2 ($6,995)
5-channel Amplifier: BAT VK-6200 ($9,745)
DVD/Universal Player: Lexicon RT-20 ($4,995)
Total: $39,915.00




The "You Are There" System
Front Speakers: JM Lab Alto Utopia Be ($18,500)
Center Speaker: JM Lab Center Utopia Be ($6,000)
Rear Speakers: JM Lab Micro Utopia Be ($6,000)
Subwoofer: JM Lab Sub Utopia Be ($6,000)
Surround Processor: Lexicon MC-12 Bal V5 ($9,995)
Stereo Amplifier: Burmester 956 MKII ($10,995)
3-channel Amplifier: Burmester 37 ($12,995)
DVD/Universal Player: Esoteric UX-3 ($8,200)
Total: $78,685.00