January 8-11, 2013
All prices in US dollars unless indicated otherwise
I hardly intended to write a piece about Magico. The California-based company has received a great deal of exposure on our Ultra Audio website. No, I resolved to profile something high-performance that had heretofore flown under the proverbial radar. Yet as I stopped by the Magico room and took in their newest offering -- the two-way S1 loudspeaker -- I suddenly had no interest in writing about anything else.
Earlier in my CES coverage I highlighted the Parasound Halo P5 and Primare Pre32 as examples of a growing trend in the audio industry: the combination of an analog preamp and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). I came across three more of these evolutionary components, but at considerably higher prices.
System 2 price: $30,799
Simplicity can be a beautiful thing -- in this case, both in form and function, and in sound. In this virtual system -- a combination of new products that I dreamed up while walking around CES -- I start with the elegantly slim Magico S1 ($12,600/pr.), the new entry-level two-way floorstander from the Berkeley, California-based company. The S1 features the company's Nano-Tec cone material, this time in an all-new 7-incher that handles bass and midrange duties. The beryllium tweeter is the same as seen and heard in the larger S5. This speaker sounds huge compared to many speakers I heard at CES that were much larger -- jaws dropped when these babies were cranked up. Perfect start.
Call me a cheapskate, but I'm always on the lookout for great budget gear. When my colleagues at the SoundStage! Network start talking about $20,000 power amplifiers or $50,000 speakers that offer good value, I am usually not as enthused as they are. So when I come across a high-quality component that has been designed and manufactured by a specialty audio company and costs less than $1000, I can't help getting excited.
Klippel GmbH is not a name that most audiophiles will recognize, but it's one whose work most will have heard. Klippel, started in 1997, is the brainchild of Professor Wolfgang Klippel. The company sells two products, the R&D System and QC System, both of which are evaluation tools that have been sold to hundreds of professional customers in the audio industry over the past several years.
I meandered into room 30-225 here at the Venetian, and with two names that I was unfamiliar with hanging over the door, I hardly expected to see something that would occupy me for the next 15 minutes -- an eternity here at CES.
The audio industry is constantly evolving, so it came as no surprise that within my first few hours of show coverage, I began to notice that a number of companies are currently offering analog preamps. This trend involves the integration of an analog preamp and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). With the demand for computer-based audio products growing exponentially over the past few years, I am surprised that it took this long for a product like this to really catch on. That being said, I think this could be a turning point in the industry, as the combination of these two products not only saves space, but it also reduces the complexity and cost of an audio system.
If one person called me a hard worker and another said I was lazy, they'd both be right. Certain things I put a lot of effort into, while other things I don't. Insofar as audio goes, turntables are the things I don't like to work hard at -- I don't really like shopping for the individual parts, and I'm not really into setting them up. I leave that stuff to guys like one of our writers, Jason Thorpe, whom I phone for 'table advice when I need it. But if I had to shop for and set up a turntable for myself, I would want the simplest solution, yet I wouldn't want compromises. Impossible?
Some of the best systems at CES are those not assembled -- they're virtual systems. In other words, combinations of components that I've created based on the hottest products at CES. Although the sound of these setups is purely speculation, the quality of components is not. This is one I think would be a knockout.
System 1 price: $73,045.
I've been to enough shows around the world in my 17 years of audio reviewing to know this: companies from Europe typically showcase their wares better than companies from most other places. Obviously, there are exceptions, but for the most part I find that the Europeans have great "display taste," often dressing up their rooms and products so that they're exhibited in the most flattering way. Even if they're showing in a hotel room, which is the way it is with CES, they won't just throw their components on the floor or an end table and call it a day -- it must be a display. They'll also take bolder risks with product styling and colors, often going in directions that conservative North American and Japanese companies just won't touch.
About a year ago I reviewed Ayre Acoustics' $14,950 VX-R stereo amplifier. I loved it back then, and it remains one of the very best amplifiers I've ever heard, as well as one of the most beautiful I've seen. If you own one, you're lucky. And if you'd like to own one but can't afford it (count me in that camp), Ayre's new VX-5 is likely what you're looking for. Ayre's North American sales manager, Alex Brinkmann, says the VX-5 will be "about $8000" when it's released later this quarter, yet, in my opinion, it looks and sounds like it could cost more.
Maryland-based GoldenEar Technology announced the release of the Triton Seven, a new addition to their Triton tower series, here at CES 2013. Building off of the success of their powered Triton Two and Triton Three loudspeakers, the latter of which I recently reviewed, the Triton Seven is a wholly passive affair. Priced at $1398 per pair, the 40"-tall design features the same High Velocity Folded Ribbon of the larger models in the line, along with a pair of 5.25" midrange-bass drivers. To maximize their bass response, each Seven houses an 8" passive radiator on each side of the floorstanding speaker's cabinet. Unlike the larger Triton Two and Three, which make use of a curved front baffle, the Seven has a flat front edge. But its overall design is still similar to its larger siblings, with a rearward rake that makes the Seven narrower at the front than it is at the rear.
The Consumer Electronics Show is best known for showcasing state-of-the-art technology -- the cutting-edge stuff that pushes the boundaries of what most consumers think is possible. Almost all of this advancement comes at extreme cost. Yet in the midst of a recession, many audio companies are introducing products that offer a great deal of functionality at very affordable prices.
When you have to ask whether the quoted-by-the-manufacturer price of a component is in the hundreds or thousands, you know the audiophile world has gone mad. I'm barely halfway through the first day of CES 2013 and, already, when a company rep told me the price of their loudspeakers was "17," I had to wonder whether it was $1700 or $17,000, because I couldn’t tell for sure. It turned out to be the latter.
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