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
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
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
Also revised, the X2 preamplifier, retailing at
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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