Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Vinyl Anachronist's Official 2012 CES Report

Since this was my first year at CES as an exhibitor, my coverage of the show is somewhat limited by the fact that I spent four days inside room 29-117 showing off gear from Unison Research and Opera Loudspeakers. I did venture out occasionally, but for the most part I was working--and having the time of my life--all through the show. You can read the Positive Feedback Online article for more on that.

My CES adventure actually lasted ten days since Colleen and I were responsible for driving--not shipping--all of our equipment to the show. As you can see above, we barely had enough room for our own luggage. Schlepping two pairs of floorstanding loudspeakers in your SUV definitely sucks up cargo space.

It's about 1300 miles from my front door to Vegas. So Day 1 got us to Tucson, Arizona, where we able to procure our second In-N-Out Double Double in as many weeks--not bad for two displaced native Southern Californians who ordinarily have to drive 200 miles to reach In-N-Out Land (i.e. Dallas). On Day 2 we hit Vegas just after noon since we had a very early start, and we picked up our Italian manufacturer, Bartolomeo Nasta, at McCarran at 3. We all checked into our vacation condo at the Wyndham, which was much bigger and cheaper than a room at the Venetian, and relaxed. Day 3 was set-up day, days 4 through 7 were show days, day 8 was breaking-down-the-room-and-then-going-shopping-day, and days 9 and 10 were spent driving back. We took a more northernly route on the way back home because we probably would have stopped overnight in El Paso, and if you've ever driven through El Paso on I-10 you'll know why we didn't want to leave $30,000 worth of audio gear in our SUV in a hotel parking lot overnight.

On set-up day I was amazed at the amount of product boxed up in the hallways of the Venetian. I saw a couple of pallets stacked with crates of Magico speakers, and I wondered how much the retail was on those two skids--a quarter million? More? It's one thing to see a ton of expensive gear at a trade show, it's quite another to see it all boxed up and ready to go.

As I mentioned, we brought two pairs of floorstanding speakers and they consumed most of our set-up time. I've gotten to the point where I can unpack an amp of a CD player and have it running in three or four minutes; 110 lb. speakers, on the other hand, require a bit more planning and a little more tenacity to retrieve the tiny yet important bits stuck to the bottom of the carton.

Seriously...I'm going to have to buy one of those poles with a "claw" on the end of it--you know, the ones short people buy to reach things on the top shelf. Those boxes are deep. (That's Bartolomeo, by the way, and not me. Everyone seems to love this pic.)

Surprisingly, it only took us about two hours to set-up the room and get everything dialed in. There were three of us, of course, and the other two have been doing this kind of work for decades. We were a finely-tuned audio machine. In other words, we were done by noon and had the rest of the day to ourselves. We did have one concern: the two speakers we demonstrated, the Opera Quinta and the Opera Seconda, were brand spanking new right out of the box. In fact, they are the first two pairs in the US ever. We had to get those puppies broken in as quickly as possible. Fortunately our room partners at Audience, who supplied the cables and power conditioner, had an XLO Sweep CD that worked wonders overnight.

We brought two systems' worth of gear, but only one would be actually playing in our room. What you see here is our $4495 Unison Research Unico 50 integrated amplifier (also brand new for the US), the $3895 Unison Research Unico CDE CD player (that one's my personal player, so it had plenty of hours on it) and the $5495 per pair Opera Quinta loudspeakers. Speaker cables, interconnects and power cords were all Audience Au24, and the power conditioner was the $5000 Audience aR6-TS. For about $20K, less than the equipment racks in some rooms, this system sounded fantastic.

The other equipment in the room, which could have formed another whole system and a half, included (from left to right) the $2150 Unico Primo integrated, the $2295 Unico CD Primo and the $2450 Simply Italy integrated--the latter which was also all-new for CES and the US. The other speakers, the $3995 per pair Secondas, were finished in a beautiful white veneer...and everyone forgot to photograph them because they were tucked in a corner. I'll see if someone else has a pic so I can post it. They're sitting in my dining room right now all packed up and ready to head out to a dealer, so I can't set them up real fast and fake it. You'd know.

The Audience guys--President John McDonald, National Sales Mananger Richard Colburn and design engineer Roger Sheker--also had their gear displays set-up in the room. It was funny how visitors to our room were split up between the Unison faithful and the Audience faithful. Nevertheless, the Audience cabling and power conditioning worked extremely well with our gear, and we've decided to share once again at the Jacksonville AXPONA show in March. They were absolutely great room partners and were enormously helpful. And Richard has great taste in music.

I know what you're vinyl in the room? Aren't you the Vinyl Anachronist? WTF, Marc? Hold on there...we did bring our Giro turntable to the show. You just had to head down the hall to the Joseph Audio room to hear it. Most of you know I'm a huge fan of Jeff Joseph's loudspeakers, and I looked forward to hearing how the Giro would do in a non-Unison/Opera system. As usual, Jeff used Bel Canto electronics and digital sources, mated to his flagship Pearl2 speakers with Cardas Audio Clear Beyond cables.

But what's that cartridge on the Giro? Could it be...why yes, it is...the Hyperion cartridge from Soundsmith! That's the cartridge I've raved about, the one with the cactus needle cantilever. I've been thinking about buying another cartridge for my Giro (the Transfiguration Axia is probably leading the field right now), but I'm glad I got to hear this exquisite cartridge, one of my absolute faves right now, taking the Giro to the limit.

Most people wouldn't put a $7000 cartridge on a $3995 turntable/arm combo, but the Giro received a lot of love and respect in the Joseph room. I spoke with Soundsmith's Peter Ledermann again, and he's a warm, friendly yet brilliant man who makes a killer product. While I set up the turntable for Jeff, Peter came in afterward and mounted the Hyperion. I'm glad I didn't have to do it--I get a little nervous when I'm dealing with super-expensive cartridges. I'd hate to screw it all up with all those people watching me.

Once the show was underway, I did my best (along with Bart and Colleen) to show off our system. Feedback was uniformly positive, with many visitors remarking how great are system sounded for a relatively reasonable price. CES is different from most trade shows since the general public can't attend, so fewer people were coming in, sitting down and listening to music. Most of the time we were talking to prospective dealers, supplying product information to journalists and just hanging out with our industry friends. But nearly every visitor stopped at some point, looked at the system, and said something like "Wow, that's really nice!"

When the show was over, Colleen and I had several new dealers, some very productive meetings and quite a deal of coverage from the audio press. Bart was very happy at the end of Day 4, and told his father back in Italy that it was one of the best CES shows ever. For Colleen and I, it's on to New Jersey at the beginning of March for a dealer event at Audio Doctor, then straight to Jacksonville for AXPONA. This time, however, we're flying.

I'll have a few more blog entries concerning some of the things I saw at the 2012, so check back.

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