Flying with a Tiger
During my travels to and through the CES and T.H.E. shows in Las Vegas, I read and finished Yann Martel's fiction, Life of Pi. It is a gripping yarn told from the perspective of a 16-year old boy who survives a shipwreck only to be trapped in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. It was interesting to read an adolescent's perspective on the additional themes of wandering, hunger, longing, terrified discipline and a desire to embrace the divine. These themes could also apply to my experiences trying to tame and write about this divine tiger called a consumer electronics show.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the sights and sounds of the show and Las Vegas and am still feeling a little overwhelmed. This report is far from being comprehensive but it covers my experiences from Friday afternoon through Sunday. I reserved Monday for sightseeing. I really enjoyed meeting people I had only read about, including other writers, manufacturers, distributors and dealers. I also got a few leads on products I would like to review this year. If I do this again, I want to bring my wife (who has better luck at gambling) and a better pair of shoes. The blisters on my feet have finally healed.

Friday in Las Vegas started with snow that turned to scattered showers for the rest of the weekend. You can get anywhere in Vegas without a car. However, when the weather is cold and soggy, all of the sidewalks and outside stairs are slippery! Only a dedicated (and ready to be committed) audiophile would venture out in this weather just to see and listen to audio equipment!

From the San Remo hotel where I was staying, I took T.H.E. Shuttle to the San Tropez hotel. After receiving a temporary press badge (my formal badge was at Alexis Park), I started to walk through the San Tropez backwards, following the room numbers from highest to lowest and entering rooms that sounded enticing from the hall. The first one visited was the Almarro room. The Almarro M2A loudspeakers sounded very pleasing with the associated Almarro tubed amplification. However, before I even stepped into the room, I met Ivette Ebaen. Srajan was there too, of course, but he was talking with designer Yoshihiro Muramatsu so I introduced myself to Ivette instead. Ivette appears understated, which compliments Srajan's outspokenness very nicely. They are a lovely couple. Of course, I also really enjoyed meeting the guy who reads (and edits) my articles first. Srajan is an astute Aquarian and has a direct and thoughtful manner. His
more playful side was revealed during our dinner conversation with the rest of the attending writers.

Some of the exhibitors had such loud demonstrations that I found myself wandering into other, quieter rooms just to escape the din. The exhibitor for Episode Audio noticed my plight and was kind enough to allow me to play some music. He mentioned that he wasn't happy with a subwoofer he recently borrowed to add some LF information to the Episodes. After listening for a bit, I asked if he would turn off the sub. Without the sub, the wide dispersion and clear image focus of the Episode speakers was more apparent. The midrange was articulate and the rhythm section on Santana's Abraxas sounded tight. The tone of Santana's guitar was appropriately electric, inviting and warm.

As I continued on through different listening rooms, fatigue from eight hours of traveling started to set in. Luckily, I happened to see a beaded curtain with parrots painted on it. I laughed and though, 'Now this is fun! I'm going in." So I pulled back the curtain to find John DeVore and our own Jules Coleman discussing all things audio while listening to a pair of Apogee loudspeakers sipping wine. I introduced myself and kicked back on the sofa next to Jules. The lights were dim and the music sounded fine. The NFS Audio (as in Not For Sale) room was set up by two audio buddies who just wanted to have fun at the show. "Can I get you something to drink?" asked one of the exhibitors. Sparkling water, thank you! It was just what I needed - an oasis of musical coolness. It figured that Jules would be there. Jules and John both recommended rooms to visit and put me at ease with the universe again. After drinking my fill at the oasis, I decided not to be overwhelmed but simply to be. Like the wonderful image of a jellyfish at the start of Ursula K. LeGuin's Lathe of Heaven, I floated through the rest of the exhibits and let the tide carry me.

I really enjoyed the music made by the Duevel Jupiter loudspeakers in the HighEnd Audio room although I can already tell you what my wife will say about them based on their looks. Still, they did a lovely job representing my old Ella Fitzgerald CD after it was loaded into the VRS Systems hard-drive music server. Does this make me guilty of file sharing? The sound wasn't about pinpoint imaging. Instead, it was about a more natural representation of music in the space of a living room (or hotel room, in this case). On "Angel Eyes", the piano smoldered in the background while Ella's voice glowed like a hot ember.

After meeting John DeVore, I had to stop and listen to his new DeVore Gibbon Super 8 loudspeakers ($4,000/pair) powered by Shindo electronics. The sound was quite good and, compared to the sonic assaults in other demonstrations, egalitarian. I sat in the middle of the communal sweet spot and asked the exhibitor to play a cut off a CD I brought - "Orenda" by Joanne Shenandoah and Lawrence Laughing. Their voices were separated nicely without losing the honest intimacy of the performance. Joanne's voice floated in the background and Lawrence's speaking voice was deep without sounding boomy. A ceremonial prayer song was a great way to clear the air.

It was very upsetting to hear about the theft of the Shindo equipment. The open-door policy of the rooms at the show made the experience very casual and friendly. I would hate to see that change. I feel terrible for Jonathan Halpern and John DeVore and sincerely hope that they can somehow recoup part of their losses. [As of the time of this writing, Jonathan Halpern of Shindo USA has informed us that Mike Maloney, organizer of T.H.E. Show, has made arrangements to reimburse Jonathan for the value of the equipment stolen as he books exhibitor rooms for T.H.E. Show 2006. We're also told of plans to install security personnel on the premises next year, likely including the parking lot as is customary for The Alexis Park of the neighboring CES. All is well that ends well. – Ed.]

In the Audience LLC room, I met John McDonald and got an eyeful of the adeptResponse power conditioner ($3800) that offers filtered outlets for up to 12 different components, a digital voltage display, an attached Audience powerChord and a video ground isolation transformer. I have two friends who plug their amps directly into the wall because every power conditioner they've tried made the music less involving. John assured me that plugging an amplifier into the adeptResponse will offer improved sound and will not interfere with other attached components. I'll tell my friends.

The Rogue Audio/Meadowlark Audio room [left and above] had the Kestrel2s ($1,995+) on display, leashed to the Rogue Audio Atlas power amplifier ($1,395). I also got to see the brand-new Metis preamplifier ($995). The Rogue Audio products look sleek, sounded fine and seem priced to sell. Even though I am the only writer for 6moons who still uses solid-state gear exclusively, I can be tempted! In
the back room, the Meadowlark American E-Series floorstanders ($995/pr) were connected to the Rogue Audio Cronus integrated ($1,795). I really wanted to hear the new Meadowlark Audio Blackbird subwoofer but didn't see one in either room.

Chang Audio in the Divergent Technologies room gave an effective demonstration of their power conditioner by switching the amplifier to receive power from the Chang conditioner or directly from the wall. The Chang power conditioner did have a positive effect on how the music sounded. Are you one of those audiophiles who insist on connecting the power amp(s) directly to the wall? Now I've seen two products to tell my friends about.

The April Music room had Stello Audio equipment with Bill Eggleston's Wegg3 loudspeakers. These exhibitors managed to achieve a very musical presentation, which is not as common as you might expect at an audio show. New products from Stello include the CDDA200 CD player ($1,995) and the AI320 integrated amplifier ($2,795). Paul Candy is scheduled to review the Stello preamp and monoblock amps this year. I was also impressed with their fit and finish.

It was dark and drizzling when I stopped in to see Grant Samuelson of Shunyata Research. While I attempted to dry out, Grant explained some of the technology behind the latest Hydra products. The Hydras don't just remove noise coming from your wall outlet; they also have the same effect on current returning to the wall from any connected equipment. Grant showed a graph indicating the effect of the Hydra on a paper shredder. The graph looked impressive but I wonder how the Hydra would work in my audio system. My curiosity is piqued. Prices start at $395 for the Hydra Model-2.

What impressed me most about all of the exhibits I heard that night was how many different rooms were able to create satisfying music using completely different engineering and design criteria. The type of audio system you choose determines how you listen to music. It shapes and limits your perceptions of the musical experience. Different people choose different paths. That's like the three different religions practiced by Pi Patel in Life of Pi. The young boy is eventually admonished by all three of his religious teachers for not choosing a single faith. Their peers might also admonish audiophiles who switch paths. Each of the musical systems I heard at CES and T.H.E show offered a unique method of transportation to musical Elysium.