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SoundBites Newsletter

Contrary to what the media has been saying, the big story is not the new Millennium, but the wonderful array of new music-making techno-goodies available at this years WCES! Expect to be dazzled – read on...


QUAD: Yes, Virginia, the new Quad speakers really do exist! I know I've been teasing you for a year now, after hearing the pre-production prototypes at last year's CES. But, believe it or not, the real McCoy was on display/audition at this year's event. I was able to touch, feel and hear both the 988 and 989, along with the reborn Quad 240 tube monoblock's and a Quad tube preamp.

For those unfamiliar with my previous rantings, let me digress for a moment. Most all of you have heard, or at least read about, the illustrious ESL-63 electrostatic speakers. It is one of the very few (if not the only) speakers ever produced that have attained classic status. This musical marvel served up a midrange sweeter double fudge sundae with extra whipped cream! It is still a speaker, several after being discontinued, revered by many knowledgeable listeners as a milestone, yet to be eclipsed. Perhaps, until now.

Think of the new 988 as an updated ESL-63 – more rigid frame, revised electronics and sleeker appearance, but most importantly, it is intended to preserve the qualities of its predecessor, the ESL-63.

Some listeners wished for a wider dynamic envelope and a tad more bottom-end from the '63. Those prayers have been answered in the form of the 989, which offers 30% more panel area thus increasing both dynamic capability and bass extension.

Those of us who fell under the spell of the ESL-63 mourn the day it disappeared. If you missed your chance on the first go around, rejoice in the fact that the opportunity has returned. Your chance to own one of the World's truly legendary loudspeakers is soon at hand.

PASS LABS: In a surprising turn of events, Pass has discontinued the Aleph products! Shocking, but true. There is a bright side to the story, however. Through an association with an outside party, many of the superb Aleph designs will live on. Allow me introduce Volksamp!

Repackaged in a more cost-effective chassis, Volksamp products seek to bring the Aleph magic to a broader market. Three models were shown. The new A30 is a two gain stage, 30 watt pure class A stereo amplifier that will sell for less than $2000.00.

The A60 monoblocks will offer 60 watts each, and again are two gain stage designs and pure class A. Price projected to be under $4K.

The third item is the Zen. This unique design uses a single gain stage that offers 10–20 watts, pure class A. For some years, Nelson has offered the circuit schematic of this one of a kind design to do-it-yourselfer's who were interested in building the amp themselves. Now, for the first time, the Zen amplifier will be available as a finished product. Price, less than $2000.00.

A preamplifier may also find it's way into the line. Volksamp products should be available in late February.

Also new here, were several X series components. The X3 is a three channel amplifier similar to and designed to partner the two channel X150, for a dynamite five channel system.

The Aleph Ono (phono to line stage preamplifier) has been updated (and will now be known at the X-Ono), getting an outboard power supply, separate regulators and shorter internal wire runs and is now sheathed in a sleek new "X" Series chassis. Price, $3200.00.

The all new X1 preamp uses Nelson's Super Symmetryä circuit topology (which improves performance by precisely matching the two halves of a simple Class A circuit) in a completely balanced configuration. Also unique, a radical new patent-pending volume control, claimed to reduce distortion levels by a factor of ten over the current state of the art. $4500.00.

Also revised, the X2 preamplifier, retailing at $2500.00.

TOTEM: Without fail, the Totem room (and designer Vince Brusezze) are always full of surprises, and lot's of great sound.

The three models of small floor-standing speakers – Arro ($1100.00), Staaf ($1500.00) and Forest ($3000.00), sounded amazing. Further subtle tweaks have improved the performance of these very special transducers, and I continue to find them musical, dynamic and involving. If you are considering speakers in this price range, strongly consider the Totem's. You'll be glad you did!

I always have fun demonstrating the Totem speakers, as no one is ever prepared for what they hear. Disbelief is common. How can that huge sound come from those diminutive speakers!? As Totem proclaims, "Listen and Believe."

Working with Sim Audio, Totem has produced a whopper of an integrated amplifier. The big silver beauty packs a powerful 120 watts into 8 Ohms, 240 into 4 Ohms, and is capable of driving most any speaker out there, including Totems' own difficult load, the Mani-2. The unit has been named Amber and will sell at $5000.00.

If you are building or remodeling, and in need of in-wall, or in-ceiling speakers, Totem debuted some remarkable performers at CES. There are two in-walls: TAW-6.5 ($400.00pr) uses a 6.5" woofer and a .75" tweeter, the TAW-8 ($550.00pr) employs an 8" woofer and 1" tweeter. There are two models of ceiling speaker: TAC-6.5 ($650.00pr) with a 6.5" woofer and .5" tweeter, the TAC-8 ($700.00pr) uses an 8" woofer and 1" tweeter. All four models employ very high quality drivers and crossover components, and all use pivoting tweeters.

I was very surprised by the performance of these speakers. While I don't consider myself an expert on custom installation products, these speakers are the best of their kind I have heard, regardless of price. I recently finished building my home, and I installed other brands. I am considering replacing all of them with Totem's!

SHUNYATA RESEARCH: Caelin Gabriel is enjoying the deserved success of his remarkable line of AC cables, PowerSnakes. If you have not tried these cables in your system, you are missing a real treat! I urge you to call me for a sample. They offer: Black Mamba $695.00, Cobra $1200.00 and King Cobra $1995.00.

New (and very exciting) here, prototypes of both interconnects and speaker cables! While the designs are still being fine-tuned, sound in the room was excellent, suggesting great things to come. If Caelin is able to apply the same magic to this category of cabling that he has in AC cables, we are in for an eye popping experience! I can't wait, and told Caelin to reserve my place in line!

PLINIUS: Following on the heels of the hugely successful 8150A integrated amplifier, Plinius announces the all new 2100i integrated. So well received was the 8150, that Plinius decided to utilize the same circuitry and simply downsize the output stage to 100 watts per channel, thus preserving the same sonic signature. At a projected retail of $1995.00, the 2100i should be very popular indeed.

Also new here, the Jarrah stand alone phono to line stage preamplifier. The circuit was lifted from the M-16 full-function preamp, and will guarantee great performance. $749.00.

SOLILOQUY: This Company known for their ultra-high value speakers debuted a new flagship model here at CES. The 6.3 is a two way, three driver system utilizing two 6.5" polyfiber woofer/midranges and a 1.25" silk dome tweeter. 6.3 $3000.00.

ART AUDIO: We have really enjoyed our association with Joe Fratus at Art Audio. Truly a gentleman, Joe has been a great guy to work with, appreciated by all. Of course, the Art Audio products have been a joy as well. The highly reviewed Diavolo and wonderful Jota amplifiers have delighted many an ear.

New for 2000, the Gill Signature amplifier is 15 watt zero-feedback, SE triode design employing the new Valve Art EL-34 Black Plate output tubes. The unit is priced at $3800.00, and will be available in mid February. For such a reasonable price, I was surprised by the loads of goodies packed into the Gill. Have a look:

Extensive use of Kimber, Axon and Wima capacitors, Roderstein resistorsâ Linear Technology regulators , Telefunken ultra-fast, soft recovery diodes â Tube and solid state high voltage supply â Ceramic tube sockets and silver Teflon wiring.

For $200.00, you can add an optional volume control.

CARY AUDIO: On display was the new CD-303 24/96 CD player with HDCD. Utilizing a Phillips CDM-12 mechanism and Burr-Brown 1704 24/96 DAC's, the 303 is said to concentrate on the midrange performance as the key to its musicality. Indeed, the sound in the Cary suite was warm, relaxed and buttery smooth. CD-303 $2995.00.

Also new, the CAD-2A3-SI 15 watt per channel, pure class A, push-pull integrated amplifier using the KR 2A3 output tubes. This little guy has a good measure of the single-ended "sound," but is more capable of driving difficult loads, and has much better bass punch and drive. $3995.00.

Later this year, Cary will be introducing a hybrid amplifier. The CAD-380SA will be rated at 40 watts per channel into 8 Ohms, and 70 into 4 Ohms. Price, $1795.00. There will be a companion full tube preamplifier, the CAD-380SP priced at $1495.00.

JEFF ROWLAND DESIGNS: Jeff Rowland debuted the final production versions of his three new amplifiers – Model 112 Stereo, Model 10 stereo two-chassis, and the Model 12 four-chassis mono blocks.

All of the new designs feature a unique solid aluminum billet chassis (meaning the parts are machined from a solid block of aluminum) that serves not only as an elegant testament to Jeff Rowland's well deserved reputation for superlative cosmetic design, but as an incredibly non-resonant and superbly shielded enclosure. No typical heat sink fins to be seen here. Rather, the entire chassis assumes the role of heat dissipation – a functional and aesthetically pleasing design concept.

Rowland has designed a unique switch-mode regulated power supply for the new amplifiers (except 112). Jeff suggests this new ultra-fast, ultra-high-performance supply is an important contributor to the speed, transparency and musicality of the new amps.

AERIAL ACOUSTICS: Michael Kelley and Company debuted three new products at this year's event. Aerial introduced a flagship center channel, the CC5. Larger and with more extended bass response and volume capacity than the CC3, the CC5 has been designed for large theater systems that demand the best center channel speaker available.

A left/right main speaker version of the CC5 was also shown, the LR-5. This system can be used as a stand alone system for two channel or in a multi speaker array for home theater.

The LR-3 is similar to the CC-3 center, but can be used as a left/right main or surround speaker where point source speakers are called for.

STAX: Stax is back! After a long hiatus from the U.S. market, YEI is now importing these wonderful electrostatic headphones from Japan. Stax offers a broad range, priced from $455.00 to $6265.00, there is a headphone to fit most every budget.

DUNLAVY AUDIO: John and Joan Dunlavy were as excited as first time parents with the arrival of three new members to their family of loudspeakers.

The Corinthian I and II are unique creations with the shape and appearance of classic Greek marble columns. The larger Corinthian II stands 72" high, and is rated at 20 –20KhZ plus/minus 1db! Woofers are located at the top and bottom of the cylindrical enclosure, giving the speaker omnidirectional bass that envelops the listener.

The Corinthian I (a bit more diminutive at 52" height) utilizes the same midrange/tweeter compliment, and one woofer instead of two. This model offers virtually flat response (plus/minus 1dB) from 33 – 20kHz, but is down only 3dB at 20Hz.

Imagine, if you will, the already significant capabilities of the SC-IVA, throw in 1500 watts per channel of tri-amplified power, DSP correction and electronic crossovers. Then dream about the possibilities. John Dunlavy and John Ulrick of Spectron did just that, and the collaboration has produced a unique concept speaker.

The as yet unnamed product is a bold step into unexplored territory, as the World's first digital speaker with built in DSP correction. They have taken an SC-IVA and added three channels of digital amplification inside each one. Each amplifier channel produces a massive 500 watts, so with three in each speaker, you have a total of 1500 watts per speaker, 3000 watts for the system! Oh, my!

Input to the amplifier is digital, eliminating the need for a preamp. A remote control will be provided to adjust volume and balance.

The new product was briefly seen, but not heard. The final version should be ready for prime time very soon.

FURUTECH: Originally, it was assumed that materials used to make CDs were non-ferrous. We have since learned that magnetic properties of the paints used on the labels, and impurities in the aluminum substrate, do indeed become magnetized, resulting in reduced sonic performance.

Attempts at removing this residual magnetism have utilized hand held or table-top bulk tape erasers or dedicated devices that spin the CD (Bedini). While both of these methods proved the value of demagnetization, neither offered the ideal solution.

Proper demagnetization of any object involves slowly increasing the flux field, then slowly decreasing it until a complete state of demagnetization was achieved. Now, there is a new CD/DVD demagnetizer from Japan that uses the ideal "loop-ebbing" demagnetization process to completely and correctly demagnetize your discs. So complete and effective is this process, the manufacturer suggests that it need only be repeated twice per year.

The demonstration of the Furutech RD-1 was interesting, but static, and could not hear the effects. I am told that the improvement is dramatic, and a significant step above competing products. I have one on the way, so feel free to check in with me. $350.00.


DODSON AUDIO: The amazing DA-217MKII DAC was making its presence known at CES. Used in several rooms, Ralph Dodson tells me that numerous manufacturers have purchased units from him: Jeff Rowland Designs, Joule Electra, Bybee, EAR, Reflection, Audio Magic and Hovland.

I have had people compare the Dodson to anything and everything out there, including the very most expensive digital components available (even with up-samplers), and found the Dodson to be superior. I invite you to put the Dodson head to head with any processor you are considering, regardless of price. I think you too will find that the DA-217MKII is as good as it gets!

The 24/96 upgrade is on target for delivery at the end of January, at a price of $995.00. I'm sure all you guys lucky enough to own one of these superb DAC's will want to upgrade, and Ralph tells me the improvement is significant (if that is possible!).

The Question Remains Unanswered – I had hoped that at this year's CES would get the answer to the question that has plagued us all, namely which digital format will predominate. However, DVD-A, originally set to debut now, has been postponed until the second half of this year. According to an article that appeared in the December 20, 1999 issue of TWICE magazine, the delay is the result of ongoing investigation by the music industry and the DVD forum's Copyright Protection Technical Working Group into the effectiveness of the new formats' encryption system.


MUSICAL SURROUNDINGS: Proprietor Garth Leehrer of M.S. commissioned Michael Yee to develop a very special, yet cost-effective, phono to line stage. Together, they came up with the Phonomena. This American designed and built unit offers many features, including: All discrete circuit topology (unlike many of its competitors which use op amps), Class A operation, adjustable gain from 40 – 60dB in 16 steps, Super-Matched parts, single gain stage with internally nested RIAA (simplifying the circuit and allowing the use of higher quality parts at the same price), adjustable loading from 30 Ohms 100K Ohms in 128 steps…. Whew! All that for only Six Hundred Bucks!

A new battery supply for the Phonomena was shown. Set to retail at $400.00, the device should further improve the already superb performance of the Phonomena by further reducing background noise.


CALIFORNIA AUDIO LABS: Shown at CES were a bevy of new creations from the fertile minds at California Audio Labs. The home theater oriented group includes four products: CL-2500 CD/DVD player, CL-2500 SSP Surround Sound Processor, SL-2500 VSW Video Switcher and the CL-2500 MCA Multi channel amplifier. Each is intended to be a statement in terms of both ultimate performance and value.

Peaking my interest, was a brief mention in Vol. 8, Number 5, Issue 34 of Widescreen Review. In the New Equipment section Richard Hardesty writes: "The CAL components include some breakthrough technology that will change the industry standards for reference quality audio and video for home theater, and set new standards for value as well." Rather strong words from a magazine not given to hyperbole, so I was intrigued.

The new products can be used in total as a complete home theater front end, or individually in a pre-existing set up. When used as a whole, the CAL gear interconnects via an RS-232 cable, linking each for total remote control ability. Let's describe each unit individually.

The new CL-2500 DVD/CD Player is a logical progression from the previous models, the popular CL-20 and CL-25. Combining the features of the more expensive CL-25 (like component video outputs), at the price of the 20 ($2500.00). The unit also up-samples to 88.2 using the new Crystal CS8420 chip. The predecessors were two of the best CD/DVD players on the planet, so any further upgrades are more icing on an already delicious cake.

The all-new CL-2500 SSP Surround Processor separates the digital and video sections for optimum performance from both. Additionally, there is an analog bypass, eliminating the need to digitize analog sources (this is great news is you own a turntable, FM tuner or tape player that you want to connect). The SSP is a true 96kHz processor, unlike many competing units that claim 96K performance, but actually down-convert to 48kHz. At the heart of the SSP is a Motorola 32 bit risc processor. The unit is ready for update to the upcoming IEEE 1394 (Fire Wire) system with provision on the rear panel ready for implementation as soon as the standards have been set. The SSP includes a pre-programmer Pronto touch-screen remote control that operates all the new CAL components. Both the processor and the Pronto remote control can be custom-configured directly from a Windows based computer.

To partner the SSP is the CL-2500 VSW Video Switcher. This HDTV ready high definition (100MhZ bandwidth!) piece offers 6 composite/S-Video inputs, three component in, main, tape and zone out. The VSW was designed into a separate enclosure for best performance (separating video and audio signals prevents one from contaminating the other). The unit features dual power supplies, independent transformers and filtration on the incoming AC line.

The CL-2500 MCA promises virtually unlimited dynamics from any speaker system. At 500 watts for each its five channels, the MCA is the most powerful high performance home theater amplifier that I am aware of. More, the MCA operates in pure Class A up to 50 watts! This means that most of your listening will be done in pure Class A, a statement unable to be made by any other multi-channel I know of.

The MCA uses a new "Zero Voltage Transition" digital switching supply. A "typical" amplifier design of the same power would require 32 amps from the wall outlet, but the new topology requires less than 20 amps. Inside the MCA is a sophisticated microprocessor that allows the unit to be controlled by the SSP. Beyond simple turn on/off, the amplifier can place unused channels into stand-by, thus reducing current draw and heat.

DREAM VISION: Wow, these guys have been busy since they introduced their first product last year. Dream Vision displayed a total of seven new potential products!

To compliment the wildly successful DL-500 DLP projector (the talk of the industry), Dream Vision displayed a supporting cast of characters. The entry-level White Magic LCD projector is being offered at only $4499.00, and is available immediately.

Next up is the Movie Star. This SVGA DLP projector employs a Zeiss light engine and Zeiss lens, all wrapped in a sexy Pinninfarina designed enclosure. The Movie Star projects a bright 900 ansi lumen picture with an expected bulb life of 4000 hours. A full array of inputs will be included, all for only $7000 – 8000.00. Expect April/May availability.

Movie Star Plus is the flagship of the line. Take all the features of the Movie Star, then bump the resolution to XGA (HDTV ready!) and increase the brightness to an eye-popping 1100 ansi lumens, and you have a mind blowing projector at less than Ten Grand!

Want more? Ok, how about two plasma displays and both a doubler and a remarkable new scaler. Following in the Dream Vision tradition, expect these products to break new ground in price vs. performance.

ENLIGHTENED AUDIO DESIGNS: The innovative folks provided excellent audio and video in their suite, provided by a PowerMaster 2000, TheatreMaster Ovation and the new progressive scan DVD player. The TheatreMaster P utilizes the DVDO chip to give a progressive scan output, producing a picture that was razor sharp! The piece shares the gorgeous cosmetics with the rest of the line. At $2500.00, the TheatreMaster P looks to be a hot property.

Also announced is the impending arrival of their latest in the series of PowerMaster amplifiers, the 1000. This 5 by 200 watt unit is set to retail at only $2500.00.

SIM AUDIO: This well respected Canadian firm enters the home theater market with two new products. The Moon Attraction is a very upscale and full featured surround sound processor. The list of goodies includes: AC-3, DTS and MPEG-3 decoding. 6 digital inputs, 6 video inputs, 5 balanced audio outputs and six single-ended outputs. RS-232 interface, HDCD and audiophile grade digital domain equalization. The Attraction will be priced at $5000.00.

A positively huge five channel amplifier was displayed. With an estimated price of $15,000.00, the behemoth is so powerful that it will require connection to a 220V line.

For more information on any of the items mentioned in the Newsletter, give us a call or visit the Manufacturers Websites, which you'll find listed on our Links Page.


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