I’ve saved the best for last — my list of the best systems I heard in Las Vegas, that is. These are the systems I’d most like to hear in my own listening room — although they did just fine in the hotel rooms that housed them.
With all of this as an introduction, one system I was pleased with includes products that I use at home. The Lamm room had the company’s ML2.1 monoblocks driving Wilson Audio MAXX 2 speakers to great effect — though not to the same level I experience in my listening room. My system conveys more presence and bloom than what I heard here, but then there are some differences in equipment. I don’t currently have Lamm’s L2 preamp, for instance, and I’ve never heard the gleaming Metronome digital combination in use. Even so, I enjoyed the music from a seat off to the side of the room. I wanted to let others have a chance to hear this system from the sweet spot, something I can do at home.
And this speaks to show etiquette: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen press barge spontaneously into a room and expect that it will become their personal listening haven for the time they are there. It happened here again today, and it’s distasteful. From my experience, the print press is far more inclined to do this than any of us Internet wordmeisters; maybe it has something to do with the odor of ink. Keep it for after hours, or do what everyone else has to: make an appointment.
After the cold, rain, and snow (yes snow) that made last year’s Consumer Electronics Show very forgettable, it would not take much for this year’s show to be an improvement. But when you consider sunny skies, average temps in the mid 60’s, and knowledgeable crowds that were neither too big nor too small, the 2006 CES and T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas were simply fabulous.
Let’s do away with the obvious things that come with most of these shows like the fact that it is so hard to get a room set up properly in order to get great sound. Small rooms get overwhelmed by big speakers, mini-monitor/subwoofer combos fail to adequately fill large spaces, and there is always some poor guy who either has part of his system held hostage by customs agents or obliterated by a shipping company. Despite these things, most companies still managed to put together some really impressive sounding systems. Also, please bear in mind that I did not get to visit every room and some rooms had wonderful individual components but the overall system may not have been among the best I heard. In future reports I will focus on individual pieces of merit. But since the first question people usually ask me about a show is which rooms did I like the best? I though I would start there. So in alphabetical order, here are the best of the best of what I heard during that weekend:
Top Ten Rooms at the 2006 CES/T.H.E Show
Big amps, big speakers, big sound, and thankfully a big room. Lamm Industries featured a couple of new amps in the powerful M1.2 Reference hybrid ($21,690/pr) and ML2.1 single-ended tube monoblocks ($26,990/pr). They also used L2 Reference preamp ($14,790), and LP2 phono preamp ($6,990). The M1.2 Ref. amps did a heroic job of driving the Wilson Audio Maxx 2 loudspeakers to room shaking volume levels and still maintained a musically satisfying presence. The Metronome C2 Signature DAC and Kalista transport provided the digital signal from the stunning classical disc, Mephisto & Co. [Reference Rec.]. The system got a major assist from the splendid Silversmith Palladium interconnects and speaker cables. A VPI H-RX turntable w/JMW tonearm and Dynavector DRT XV-1S cartridge were also on hand. The components sat on Audiophile Base racks and stands.
www.stereotimes.com, Dave Thomas, CES 2006 report, page 2
There were several other exceptional sounding systems that caught my attention and deserve recognition. And here they are:
LAMM Industries was making sweet music indeed with an analog front end that consisted of a VPI H-RX turntable, JMW tonearm, Dynavector DRT XV-1S cartridge, and the LAMM LP2 phono preamplifier and L2 Reference line preamplifier. This was in keeping with a growing trend – a return to vinyl for critical listening. The rest of the system included the Wilson Audio Maxx 2 speakers and the LAMM ML2.1 tube monoblocks. Silversmith Audio Palladium cables wired the system.
La platine Kalista de METRONOME TECHNOLOGIES et son convertisseur avec alimentation séparée
Le préampli LAMM L2 Référence
et les amplificateurs LAMM ML 2.1
Enceintes VENTURE CR8 & câbles VENTURE
Les amplis LAMM ML2.1 et ML1.1 utilisés alternativement pour alimenter les enceintes WiILSON Maxx 2
Elina LAMM et Vladimir LAMM
Audio Magazine (Poland)
Inna znana kombinacja, która “dziala” z Wilsonem sa wzmacniacze Lamm. W pokoju tej firmy mozna bylo posluchac dla odmiany modelu Maxx II. Wzmacniacze Vladimira Lamma (który jest jedyna mi znana osoba noszaca nazwisko po swoje firmie, a nie na odwrót) sa przez wielu uznawane na najlepsza amplifikacje na swiecie. Oczywiscie okreslenie “najlepszy na swiecie” nalezy do najbardziej naduzywanych okresleñ w hi-fi, ale faktem jest, ze topowy model ML2.1 (18W trioda single-ended, 30.000 USD) jako jeden z nielicznych, potrafi prawidlowo wysterowac monstrualne Wilsony Alexandria X-2 (z czym problemy ma wiele, nominalnie duzo mocniejszych wzmacniaczy) i robi to z typowym czarem SETa. Maxxy II, mimo ze o 3-dB nizszej skutecznosci niz topowy model Wilsona (92dB vs 95dB), równiez nie byly problemem dla ML2.1. To polaczenie tez bardzo mi sie podobalo, a biorac pod uwage, ze Lamm generuje 1/10 ciepla Audio Researcha, nie wiem, czy bym nie wybral wlasnie tego zestawienia. Z uwaga sluchalem takze hybrydowej konstrukcji Lamma – M1.2 Reference (22.000 USD) – która jest klasycznym wielkim tranzystorem pracujacym w klasie A z pojedyncza lampa 6922 w drugim stopniu wzmocnienia. Po tym odsluchu powiem tylko tyle – slowo “Reference” znajduje sie w nazwie nie bez powodu. M1.2 sa chyba najbardziej naturalnie brzmiacymi tranzystorami jakie slyszalem. Móglbym miec takie w domu.
Jeff Smith, designer of the wonderful Silversmith Cables was displaying with his outstanding Palladium cables connecting a full complement of Lamm electronics with Wilson Audio MAXX 2 loudspeakers. Sound in this room was full and complete with a very good musical presentation. Dynamics and power were there in spades but all in control. Midrange purity was outstanding coupled with a deep, powerful low end and very open and clear high frequency range. Playing mostly digital playback, vocals were rendered with authority and a pureness that was captivating. Acoustic instruments were reproduced also in a very pure, easy manner and gave a distinct impression of the real thing.
The Lamm rooms are always the essence of musicality. This time, the main setup included Wilson Audio Maxx 2 powered by Lamm Reference pre and power amplifiers. The cool-looking Metronome Kalista transport and C2 DAC were on digital duty. Good sound, here. Very detailed and musical. Not an ideal room for such large speakers, I would suggest, but some of the best sound I’ve heard out of these speakers. I never thought Lamm and Wilson a perfect match, but they sounded musically friendly at CES.