Tuesday, January 28, 2014

CCI's Adventures at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show

Did I say "adventures"? To tell you the truth, it was a fairly quiet CES for Colleen Cardas Imports. My theory is that CES keeps getting larger and larger--as in number of square feet someone has to cover to see it all--yet attendance seems about the same. That makes it appear much quieter than it really was--everyone is too spread out. I said the same thing about the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last October. These shows keep getting bigger and bigger, but the same number of people keep showing up year after year. It's not necessarily a bad thing. CES can be such a stressful show because it's a trade show that's not open to the public and everyone is there to do business. The 2014 CES, therefore, was mellow compared to years past. But I wouldn't mind seeing a little more excitement next year, when they start holding CES on the weekends once more. That's been one of the criticisms of CES during the last couple of years--they switched the show to mid-week and a lot of people can't get away from their day jobs.

Oh yeah...there was some bad weather that may have affected the 2014 CES. That "polar vortex" wound up delaying something like 18,000 flights the day before the show started, so a lot of exhibitors had to work through the night to get ready for day 1.

Despite all this, Colleen and I were very pleased with the way our system turned out. We debuted two new products in the Unison Research/Opera Loudspeakers/Furutech room: the new Unison Research Triode 25 amplifier ($3495) and the new Opera Quinta SE loudspeakers ($6995/pair). Our digital source was the Unison Research Unico CD player and all the cables and power management was by Furutech. It was another simple system that only took a couple of hours to set up correctly. Once we had everything hooked up and playing music, we were quite proud of the results. For about $15K without cables, the overall sound was quite amazing.

I know--I'm expected to say that. I'm a company man. But I love the way this system played tunes. The Quinta SEs go very deep in the bass, and although the Triode 25 only has 22wpc in triode mode, the bass filled the fairly large room with ease. I had the pleasure of breaking the system in for a couple of weeks prior to the show, and it was the system I installed back at home after we returned. The Quinta SEs, which were serial number 001, have already been sold but I get to listen to them for another month or so. These speakers make me have happy feelings.

So what is the Opera Quinta SE? First, its arrival was a bit of a surprise--we had no idea Opera was working on this model. It's basically an Opera Quinta--for all intents and purposes it looks the same--but it sports a new SEAS midrange/bass driver that's formed out of woven polypropylene. It looks a lot like a carbon fiber cone but it sounds smoother.

The Quinta SE, as you can see in this photo of the back panel, is ported. The regular Quinta has a sealed enclosure. The standard Quinta can reach down to 30 Hz, so the SE version may dig down and retrieve another couple of Hertz. After hearing deep bass on familiar recordings that I've never heard before, I'd say that spec is just about right.

The Unison Triode 25 integrated amplifier was also an unexpected treat. Unlike most Unison Research tube amps, which are mostly single-eneded parallel Class A designs, the Triode 25 is a push-pull Class AB design that can switch from triode (22epc) to pentode (45wpc) with a flick of the switch. First of all, I wound up leaving the 25 in triode mode for most of the show because it sounded so darned good that way. (Pentode mode allowed more extension at the frequency extremes, but it flattened out soundstage depth a little.) That said, the Triode 25 comes close to the sound of the S6--my personal favorite in the Unison Research line-up--for almost $2000 less. I really love this little amp and I'm planning on holding onto it for a while more as well.

Once again I have to make the excuse that I was stuck in my room for the entire show, so I didn't get out and listen to a lot of other gear. (I did venture into the Joseph Audio room a couple of times, which I'll report in the next blog entry.) But I did visit the T.H.E. Show at the Flamingo to check on another one of our brands--My Audio Design from the UK. Timothy Jung, founder and designer for MAD, was showing his gorgeous Grand MM monitor speakers ($8200/pair without stands) in a system that included Burmester and SOTA, and he was getting a powerful, authoritative sound out of his fairly large stand-mounted monitors. At one point Timothy really cranked up the volume on the system and my head started to spin, but the MMs didn't fail to reproduce the accurate sound levels of a live rock performance. I'm just getting old.

Last year I reported on one of my pet peeves at trade shows--fear of sitting in the "sweet spot" chair in order to appear polite. At this CES I found something new to grumble about. Here's the scenario: a person walks into the room saddled with all sorts of photographic equipment--tripods, cameras, maybe even an assistant. They snap a few quick photographs and then quickly exit a room. Okay, that's not so strange considering all of the international press that covers CES. But at this CES, it happened every few minutes all day long for the entire show. None of these people asked questions about the equipment they were shooting. They didn't stop for a second to listen to the music. These people were on a mission--to photograph EVERYTHING at CES.

Ordinarily this wouldn't bother me, but I'm seeing a trend on audio discussion forums. Someone will mention a particular trade show, and then someone else will say, "Hey, let me post some of my pics from the rooms at the show!" Then that person posts page after page of photos of all the gear. On one forum I saw a guy post forty-eight pages of photos. Of course the other posters would ask questions like "Wow, those Magico speakers look amazing! How did they sound?" Unfortunately, the shutterbug doesn't have a clue and made some sort of lame excuse for not offering an opinion on the sound quality. This person doesn't remember because this person wasn't listening.

To all the shutterbugs, I must say that you're doing it wrong. Sure this gear is beautiful and it deserves to be photographed. But your hi-rez digital photography only scratches the surface. Set your camera down for a minute and listen for a change. You'll have more fun.

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