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Robert Harley’s Best of CES

Robert Harley’s Best of CES

Best of CES

Robert Harley

Best Sound

The Magico M5 loudspeaker ($90,000) driven by Soulution electronics through MIT cable was easily the show’s best sound. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, the M5 combined electrostatic-like transparency and resolution with the body and weight of a dynamic loudspeaker. Lush, refined, and immensely musical, the M5 might be the best sound I’ve heard at any show.

Three other systems stood out for their fabulous sound. The first was the new Boulder CD player playing Reference Recordings HRx high-resolution files directly from the player (no music server needed) through an all-Boulder system connected with Transparent cables. The loudspeakers were the new Wilson MAXX 3. The system had wonderful tonality, a huge soundstage, and tremendous dynamics.

I was completely blown away by the Rockport Aquila loudspeaker ($45,000) driven by Ypsilon PST-100 preamp and SET-100 amplifiers from Greece and fed from an MSB Technology DAC III. The source was an interesting new music server from Blue Smoke called the “Black Box” (see below). Cabling was all Transparent (Reference MM2) and the racks were supplied by Harmonic Resolution Systems. The midrange had a resolution, palpability, and immediacy that bordered on the spooky, and the treble was extraordinary quick and clean. The system completely disappeared, which is no small feat in a hotel room.

Finally, Richard Vandersteen has taken a major leap forward in sound quality, design, and pricing with the new Model 7 ($45,000). Employing proprietary drivers made from a sandwich of carbon fiber and balsa wood, the Model 7 completely transcends Vandersteen’s previous (and outstanding) efforts. The system included the magnificent Clearaudio Statement turntable and Aesthetix Io and Callisto phono and line stages, and Aesthetix Atlas monoblocks. The top-to-bottom coherence was staggering, as was the reproduction of low-level detail and resolution of spatial cues.

Most Significant New Product

The Magico M5 loudspeaker might just redefine the performance possibilities of dynamic loudspeakers. A stunning achievement, at least from a first listen.

Biggest Bargain

Vincent has upgraded the already outstanding (three TAS Editors’ Choice Awards) SV-236 hybrid integrated amp with higher-quality parts, a beefier power supply, and an increase in output power from 100Wpc to 150Wpc—all without an increase to the unit’s $1999 price.

Most Important Trend

The proliferation of music servers, particularly those few designed for sound-quality first and with high-resolution capability. A good example is the Blue Smoke “Black Box” server ($6995) that looks like the first turnkey server to offer uncompromised sonic performance.

Biggest Surprise

Vandersteen Model 7 loudspeaker. After more than 30 years of building value-oriented loudspeakers, Richard Vandersteen has entered the upper-end of the market not with just a bigger box and more drivers, but with completely new technology.  

By Robert Harley

My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.

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