Venetian Hotel and Casino
Las Vegas, NV
by David Necro
No, not the popular 70s T.V. show...I'm talkin' about state-of-the-art stereo systems that can raise the hair on the back of your necks. All of this (and more,) was on display at the 2009 CES. But, I wanted to narrow it down. And I came up with 3 systems that I guarantee will knock your fuckin' socks off. This is not fuckin' BOSE. BOSE SUCKS, period. There, I said it. BOSE is not high fidelity, it is slick advertising. They are an insult to hi-fi. These are manufacturers that have products that project true high fidelity sound. Yes, the cost is high and I know the economy is bad, but why not indulge in something sweet, eh? Life's too short to worry about such things. Anyway, I did my homework here, and I hope you feel the same way.
Before I started my search and destroy mission (heh eh,) I first went to the Steve Hoffman lecture. Steve is a famous (or is it infamous?) mastering audio engineer who eschews using high levels of compression in his work. Steve says that this limits the dynamics of the recording. As was the case last year, Steve dazzled us with rare recordings played on a top notch system. The lecture itself was well-presented, and it was very informative as well as entertaining. For more info, visit his website at http://www.stevehoffman.tv
I then began my mission...first stop was the Bryston/Thiel room. Like last year, on display was a dizzying array of amps, preamps, cd players, and a digital audio converter! But there was something different, something different indeed. You see, like many other high-end audio manufacturers, not wanting to stay stagnant and always striving to be the best they can be, there is in fact a new line of amplifiers. They are the the Bryston SST² (squared) Series. The changes and the improvements over the old SST series (which are still great amps,) are as follows:
The front panel power switches as well as the rear panel serial numbers will have the squared (²) symbol as part of the model/serial number.
EX: (28B-SST²), (7B- SST² ), (4B-SST² ) - etc.
Depending on the specific amplifier model advancements include:
New power supply transformer design
New push on/of power switch
New chassis design
New Soft-Start Circuit
New Balanced input stage
New Power Supply board.
Bridging mode performance improvement
Reduced point to point wiring
Reduced circuit board count
Redesigned output chokes
What this adds up to, is a exhilarating audio experience, as heard in the Bryston/Thiel listening room. On display were the 7BSST² amps (600 watts per channel,) Thiel CS2.4SE speakers, BP26 preamp, BCD-1 cd player, BDA-1 digital audio converter, media server by Sound Science, and power conditioning by Torus. Now, this did fall short of what was on display last year (see last year's review here) but it was still highly intoxicating. The new amps, from what I heard, are more dynamic and transparent sounding. This system was the best "bang for the buck" @ CES. Bryston has always been known for that, and this was no exception.
A great part about the new SST² series is that the prices will stay the same upon further notice. That's something every hi-fi freak and mad audiophile can appreciate.
My next stop was the McIntosh room. Yes, the legendary McIntosh. One of the few hi-fi manufacturers that is a household name. Probably because they are celebrating their 60th year anniversary? Yeah, probably. Anyway, they had on display the massive MC1.2KW amps (1200 watts per channel!,) C500 preamp, a McIntosh cd/sacd player, McIntosh speakers, and the impressive MT10 turntable.
All of this added up to a rich, full sound that had no problem filling up every corner of the room. The sound was powerful, accurate, and energetic. It had no problem in putting me into a trance-like state where the mind could wander and the imagination kicks in. This was one Hell of a drug. Or maybe it's because I gulped down a shitload of Vicodins! Who knows? Just kidding (I think,) but the sound was very comforting, like your grandma's macaroni and cheese.
The next stop was the Pass Labs room. Pass Labs is headed and founded by legendary designer Nelson Pass whose previous company, Threshold, won the hearts and minds of many audiophiles worldwide. I had never heard the new Pass Labs stuff, so here was my chance.
On display were the XA100.5 monoblock amps, the SR1 speaker system, the XP20 preamp, a Marantz cd/sacd player, a Basis turntable, and a prototype phono preamp.
The sound was very gutsy, and instrument separation was fantastic. You could hear all of the instruments and little nuances in the recording. As it should be.
What else? The equipment looks like a million bucks, and I wish I had listened a bit longer. But, one or 2 songs did it for me. That's how good it was!
The bottom line is, I could live happily undead ever after with any of these 3 stereo systems. All of them had their strengths and weaknesses. However, their strengths outweighed their weaknesses. Hopefully I can win big at video poker and be able to actually buy 1 of these damn things! You never know, do ya?
Well, that's it for now. I'll definitely be haunting the CES hallways in 2010! So watch out!!!
Special thanks go out to Steve Hoffman, Elton, James Tanner of Bryston Ltd, Sally Goff of McIntosh Labs, and Colin Pass of Pass Labs.
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