I really enjoyed the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. I saw a number of innovative products and heard some very fine stereo systems. As always, there was good and bad, and gradations within each. So, in no particular order, here are my favorite products and experiences from my most recent trip to Vegas. And just because it needs to be said, I’ll include one thing that, uh, failed to impress.
Unlike in years past, the worst meal I ate in Vegas was at Mr. Lucky’s, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. First, the basic breakfast -- eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns -- was $16. In my book, that’s too much. The hash browns were so undercooked that Doug Schneider asked, “What is that?,” a look of disgust on his face. I won’t go back. On the other hand, I had two excellent breakfasts at Hash House a go go, the home of twisted farm food. The same basic meal cost $9.50, but the potatoes were cooked just right, and the rest of the eats were also a step up in quality. Also on the menu are fresh-squeezed orange juice and tangerine juice. Nothing like a hearty breakfast before traipsing through the Venetian.
But my breakfast selections are probably of little interest to you; here’s hoping my observations of hi-fi are more pertinent. I’ll start with Dan D’Agostino.
In my “The Luxury/High-End Conundrum: A Solution,” I asked a rhetorical question: “Mr. D’Agostino, remember your Krell KSA-250 power amp, which cost $5700 when you introduced it, in 1991? At three times the price today, an amp of similar power and quality would be considered a steal. Why can’t we have that?” Guess what: It looks as if Dan the Man has delivered. The D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Cinema Standard (the name will change, according to D’Agostino, to better reflect how good this amp is in stereo) is a 120-pound beast reportedly capable of producing 250Wpc into 8 ohms, 500Wpc into 4 ohms, or 1000Wpc into 2 ohms -- specs very close to those of the Krell KSA-250 of yore. And the price? As of now, it’s $12,900. Even if that rises a grand or two, it’ll still be well below my request of $17,100, or three times the KSA-250’s price. Will the Cinema Standard and its variants reclaim market share from Dan’s former company, Krell? Uh, yes -- fer sure.
I won’t spill too many pixels on Devialet’s Phantom speaker, mainly because Doug Schneider has already explained the product, and I’ve given my CES listening impressions in our SoundStage! Global coverage. What I will say here is that the Phantom will be utterly disruptive. No other current wireless speaker of its size can compete with it. Most high-end speakers can’t compete with it. And with its crazy connectivity and Devialet’s built-in Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) power, the Phantom has all kinds of things going for it. When you factor in the $1990 price, you begin to realize how important this product introduction is. The Apple of the high end? At least. Yes, Devialet has their sights set high. So far, they’re delivering.
The $1,000,000 system was a bust. Not because it didn’t sound good -- no one got to hear it, because Verity Audio couldn’t produce their Monsalvat speaker system in time for CES. The reason it was a bust for me, however, was the tired marketing of a “million-dollar system.” Who cares? It’s been done before. At a CES over a decade ago, Tom Bohlender presented his Infinite Wisdom Grande speakers ($600,000/pair), powered by stacks of Jeff Rowland Design Group amplifiers, for a total system cost that exceeded $1 million. The real question is, if you’re not trying to impress with your product’s high price, what is important about it? I think we can all agree that, in the high end, high prices no longer pack much shock value. Would anyone be surprised at the announcement of a $2 million system? Not I. Impress me with great sound, not ridiculous prices.
The best remote control in the industry, in my book, belonged to the Devialet amplifiers. It’s been surpassed. Crystal Cable’s remote for their Crystal Cable Integrated (aka CCI; approx. $20,000) amplifier is now tops. Although it has the same basic feel as the Devialet, the Crystal remote’s two-way communication lets you read the volume level on the remote’s screen in real time, whether the level is being changed using the remote or at the device. Same with input selection. One benefit of this is that you can hide the CCI in a cabinet and still see all the information you need, right on the remote. Crystal/Siltech’s Edwin Rijnveld was excited about it. I am, too.
Subwoofer enclosures matter. OK, I’ve listened to the best subs available: Paradigm’s Sub 2 ($9000) and JL Audio’s Gotham g213 ($12,000), to name two. But I’d never heard bass like I heard from Magico’s QSub-18 ($36,000). Some of its design features we’ve seen before: crazy-powerful amps, huge cones, force-canceling opposed drivers. The QSub-18 is also made from huge slabs of aluminum and weighs 570 pounds. This monster beats everything I’ve heard in terms of bass articulation, right into the subsonic frequencies. It sounds and feels different -- and better -- than the rest. One sub to rule them all.
Munich’s High End is coming in May. As always, I’ll be excited to see what this crazy industry has in store for us next.
. . . Jeff Fritz