Robert Harley's Best of CES

Show report
Robert Harley's Best of CES

Best Sound

Although I’ve liked the sound of Hansen Audio speakers in the past, I was absolutely blown away by the stunning Grand Master. This $239k loudspeaker, driven by some expensive amplification from Tenor and a dCS Scarlatti front end, was absolutely magnificent on a wide range of music. I listened to my own music for more than 45 minutes, reluctant to give up the listening seat. The Grand Master had gorgeous rendering of timbre that was simultaneously lush, liquid, and highly resolved. The soundstaging was huge and beautifully defined. But it was the Grand Master’s complete sense of ease and composure during loud and complex passages that was its greatest achievement. The Grand Master appears to be a major accomplishment.

There was some controversy over the Magico Q5, perhaps because it sounded different on different days. I heard it early in the show and again on the last afternoon, when it was much improved. The Q5 was unbelievably detailed, dynamic, and clean. The sound had a sense of precision that some interpreted as clinical. I did hear, however, an extremely realistic and intimate rendering of Sonny Rollins’ sax from The Tape Project’s release of Saxophone Colossus.

The Wilson MAXX 3 driven by Lamm’s new LL1 Signature preamplifier and ML3 power amplifiers electronics was gorgeous—the best I’ve heard this speaker sound.

Perhaps not by coincidence, I heard four great sounds from four different Marten speakers in four different rooms—Vitus Audio, EAR, Engstrom, and Cary. In the Cary room, the Marten Coltrane was driven by a Cary SLP 05 preamp and CAD 211 Founder’s Edition monoblock amplifiers with a Cary CD 303T CD player at the front end. In a sea of hi-fi sound, the Cary room was pure music. 

Greatest Bargain

Four of my five best sounds at the show were systems costing upward of $150k. The fifth cost $12k. That system was the diminutive sphere-shaped speakers and DSP crossover from Kubotek called the HSP1C07. It produced an extraordinarily realistic impression of live music. I don’t know how this system fares on a variety of music, but on voice and piano it was magical.

Greatest Technological Breakthrough

The Holm Acoustics DSP room correction system appears to be the most advanced and sophisticated system of its type. The DSPre1 (starting at $7850) can be configured for single amplifiers, bi-amping, or tri-amping with the DSPre1’s DSP crossovers.

Most Important Trend

The dissolution of traditional product categories and the emergence of new multi-function products. These new products combine legacy technologies with advanced capabilities. The Electrocompaniet Maestro is a good example—a single box that offers Blu-ray playback, FM, Internet radio, iPod interface, wireless streaming, D/A conversion, and a three-channel integrated amplifier.

Most Significant New Product or Company

Holm Acoustics has been working behind the scenes for six years on their DSP correction system and has finally come to market. The products appeared to be fully realized rather than the work-in-progress impression one often gets from high-technology software-intensive products. The DSPre1 system sounded wonderful in the two rooms in which I heard it.