Jeff Day at CES 2008. It's his first time since 2004. "Do you mind if I go undercover and don't commit to a show report so I can have fun and go wherever the wind blows me?"

"Hell no. Have a blast. Check back in when you're home."

That said, I didn't expect to hear from our man until after. Armed apparently with just an iPhone and a good wind in his sails, Jeff checked in this morning with a few pix from T.H.E. Show, with Marjorie Baumert saying "hi".

"Hi back, baby. Looking good!"
"This is Mr. Haruhiko Teramoto of Feastrex and the speaker to the left is a field coil driver." Joseph Cohen of Prana Wire and The Lotus Group is the Feastrex man in America in case you didn't know.
The new Harbeth 40.1 "with 25-watt DNM amplifiers and Resolution Audio CD player ... Simply stunning!"
"Harbeth chief designer Alan Shaw with Mr. Park, the Korean distributor and the Harbeth M40.1."
"More DNM amps in the Harbeth room"... as a Harbeth owner, Jeff naturally was attracted to this room. Should we assume he's ingratiating himself for an upcoming review? What an ingrate. Go, Jeff, go!
Jacob George of Rethm, with Opera Audio Consonance CD player and Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 integrated class T amp with battery power. "Very nice" sez Jeff. Hey, I recommended the Sig 30.2 as a killer match to Jacob who was a bit suspicious, no tubes and all. It better be very nice or my ass is grass. So actually, phew is more like it. On my end.
"The CAR 1.3 speakers were sounding very nice and worked surprisingly well in such a tiny room. These are big speakers!"
"TrueLife Audio from Greece was amazing with Tannoy Glenair speakers. The TLA gear is a work of audio art."
"Another photo of the Greek amps." Hey, Greece is just 'round the corner from Cyprus. Uh hum...
"The Fostex room was visually impressive with its stunning red speakers. GamuT electronics -- CD player and& integrated amp -- were warm, natural and emotive. Best music of CES so far. I could stop and retire from audio with this system!"
"Mrs. Fostex was a lovely and gracious host."
"mbl - if you have an extra half million in your pocket, it'd be hard to go wrong with their ultimate system. For all its size, it sounded lithe and natural ... almost delicate and extremely refined."
"Conrad-Johnson's new LP66s entry-level amp and ET2 preamp at $4,300 and $2,495 respectively. The $8500 CD2B CD player is to be released this summer."
"Merlin, Joule Electra and Audio Aero. What's amazing is how good most the rooms sounded at CES this year. As you would expect from these veterans, their room was outstanding." Our man then mused that "the interesting thing is how few people are here this year attending. T.H.E. Show was a ghost town. Maybe CES is faring better." Traditionally, many CES visitors begin their days in the Convention Center, then cover the formal CES exhibits and the outboard show venues are left for last. T.H.E. Show could well be bustling on day 3 and 4.
"Thorens had some good sound going with the TD 550 table, TEB 3800 pre and TEM mono amps."
"Westlake speakers were unique in appearance and sounded great. Amplification by Boulder and it was located in the speaker stands! Great tone with lots of body and presence. Wow!"
"Crystal Cable's room with the new Dreamline cables and Krell Modulare Duo speakers sounded - well, crystalline."
"ART speakers from Scotland with Japanese Audio Tekne electronics and the Big Red Da Vinci Audio Labs turntable & arm from Switzerland. Terrific room!"
"E.A.R. and Marten Design's new FormSeries speakers with triangular cross section. Dig that EAR table and the hot-rodded Teac 2-track. Most musical room I've come across so far! Huge synergy with natural sound, warm and involving. A true oasis at CES ... I may be here a while ... vinyl and R&R coming up! Jeff over and out."
"The Grand Prix Audio room with Eggleston speaker had some very nice equipment and of course the direct-drive Monaco turntable on the Monaco stand is something truly special."
"Jeff Rowland is a way cool guy. Jeff's new statement preamp (middle) has battery power, input & output transformers on every connection and a chassis as snazzy as those gorgeous Venetian hostesses. Jeff's new integrated amp (left) looks magnificent too. And that's his new amp on the right. Wowza!"
"The German Dyna Station II has the heart of the Sony Playstation 1 known for its high level of musicality and uses an NOS tube output stage, a new chassis and a multitude of hot-rod tricks for what is reputed to be an unparalleled digital front end. I'd love to get my hands on this baby!"
"The Totem room was sounding mighty fine. In particular I was impressed by the wall-mounted Tribe speakers, which were bloody impressive and a big temptation. I'd love to try a pair in my TV room. These wall-mounted speakers could give just about any speaker a run for their money, both musically and sonically. They'd be perfect flanking that new wide screen LCD you've been eyeing."
"The Magico speakers driven by Boulder amplification were sounding impressive when I stopped in. Beautifully crafted speakers to be sure - magico!"
"More magic ... on the Magico stage! Am listening to the solo guitar and vocals of an unknown musician on Rainy Night in Georgia *right now* that was recorded by Mark Levinson in the rural south of the US - spellbinding."
"The Avalon Indra speakers were playing to excellent effect. Very natural and very emotive. These guys won me over with great music by Greg Brown. The amplification was by Swiss company Audio Consulting, front end by dCs. This was one of those 'oasis' rooms that were a pleasure to visit."
"The Zanden room with German Cessaro hornspeaker had all kinds of ultra-trick electronics. On display was the new Zanden Model 2500 single-box CD player and some new Zanden amps custom-designed to complement the high-efficiency horns."
"The TAD room was packed with people wanting to hear the impressive Pioneer/TAD speakers. Gear for the deep-pocket crowd. If loud without strain is your thing, look no further."
"The Esoteric room had what appeared to be their entire line on display. The new (big) A-100 KT-88 tube amp occupied center stage and was impressively dynamic. All the Esoteric gear is gorgeously done and now includes their new C-03 preamp, the new X05 SACD/CD player and two new reclockers."
"The Soundlabs are even bigger than the Klangfilm Bionars, which is amazing in itself. The Soundlabs are so big in fact that I couldn't get far enough away to get the two front channel speakers into the lens of my iPhone. The rear channels were equally astonishing. If you have a really big wallet and a really small thingy, these babies will compensate for both. Guaranteed. For those of us with a modest wallet and a big thingy, look elsewhere."
"John DeVore had his whole speaker line on display. The cabinetry on John's speakers is absolutely first rate and if I remember correctly, Srajan purchased the review pair he was so enamored with. While I was there, John was making beautiful music with his Nines. Way cool!"

And yes, Jeff is correct - a pair of Nines is indeed a proud part of my speaker harem.

"EMT had their new tonearm on display - a very nice choice in a vintage style tonearm. The tonearm was fitted with an EMT cartridge and fed the signal to a way trick and fully adjustable dual mono phono stage, all courtesy of Tone Imports."
"Audio Tekne is an exotic and musical line of electronics from the land of the Rising Sun. Imported to the US by Tangram Audio, they were making beautiful music with the A.R.T. Deco loudspeakers from Scotland."
"The impressive Accuphase electronics were making beautiful music with Avalon speakers and looking downright captivating."
"Nelson Pass wasn't in attendance but his gear was making a big impression on listeners in the Pass Labs room. I had a nice chat with race car driver and former Avantgarde Acoustic importer Jim Smith there who is known also as one of the more knowledgeable audio consultants on planet Earth. Good to see you Jim!"
"Closeup shot of the awesome Thorens 550, a truly lust-inspiring table that the falling US dollar has put out of reach of many. I've heard that the dollar has fallen 24% against the euro since 2004, making it tough on sales for Euro imports to the US. Conversely, US brands are reportedly experiencing brisk sales in other world markets for the same reason."
"Cary Audio had a big crowd when I stopped in. I couldn't get close enough to the gear to get any real details but it was sounding nice! Dig those crazy Proclaim speakers!"
"In the Norvinz room, Gingko had a wonderfully musical portable system that was a joy to hear. Both TBI speakers -- the tiny portables on top of the stand-mounted TBI speakers in the photo -- are sure to be a hit with music lovers. If the moons align I'll be telling you more about these little wonders in the future."
"I'll tell you point blank that the Acoustic Revive gear is stunning. I have it in for review now and it has transformed my listening room and HiFi rig in a big way. The AR booth had the full line on display - you gotta check the AR gear out!"
By Wednesday, attendance at T.H.E. Show had really picking up when I stopped by. It didn't hurt that they had a great lunch going for showgoers. Kudos to these show organizers for taking such good care of their guests."
"The first lady of vacuum tubes, Kara Chafee of deHavilland, made great sound as seems to be hoary tradition with her."
"The Wavac room had a number of the gorgeous Wavac electronics on passive display as well as playing music. In combination with an Einstein CD player and Belgian Venture loudspeakers, the Wavac tube gear was sounding mighty fine."
"The new $50,000 Kondo turntable was gorgeous in the Sounds of Silence room."
"The Almarro room was sounding swell when I stopped by. They had new prototype speakers on display that will be released in the near future while the equally new top-line A340 monos with dual 6C33Cs in class A push/pull were close to release."
"In one room of the Norvinz suite was a near complete system of Sanders electronics and speakers, the exception being the top of the line Merrill-Scillia turntable. You might remember that Roger Sanders did all the speaker design for his company Inner Sound before a 'corporate takeover' saw him temporarily displaced. Roger is back now with his brand-new electrostats and the result is most impressive indeed!

To be sure, this was some of the best sound I heard at T.H.E. Show. The M-S turntable was awe-inspiring and it's easy to understand why our own John Potis bought one for his personal use. What a nice room!"
Intermediate conclusions: "Hands down my favorite room at CES was Tim de Paravicini's E.A.R. room. Musicality was a couple of levels above any of the other rooms I visited there and the sound was great too. This exhibit was a music lovers' haven for sure. Superb music played over digital, vinyl and reel-2-reel made this unquestionably my 'Best Room of CES'. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven with superb tunes and a great host! Kudos to E.A.R. and US importer Dan Meinwald!

My 'Best of T.H.E. Show' goes to Harbeth and Alan Shaw's new masterpiece, the Harbeth Monitor 40.1. Utterly natural and musical, with great sonics to boot, of all the speakers at CES and T.H.E. Show combined, these were by far my favorites. Absolutely brilliant work, Alan!
"I also got a chance to meet Noel Nolan of Skylan Stands fame in the Harbeth room. Noel's one heck of a nice guy and I really enjoyed chatting with him. His speaker stands are my favorites!

I was hoping to also get a chance of meeting Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV in the Harbeth room but he was out and about when I stopped by. Walter is the US Harbeth importer and one of my audio heroes because it was he who introduced me to this speaker line for which my ears and heart shall always be grateful. Thanks Walter!"
"David Macpherson's Studio Electric made a fine showing at T.H.E. Show with the Studio Electric T3 speakers and the Electrodyne hybrid amplifier featuring NOS Siemens tubes."
"Benchmark showed with Studio Electric. Benchmark's new DAC1 PRE was the source and preamp for the Studio Electric system and really intrigued me. The PRE has four digital inputs, a USB input, a stereo analog input, two stereo analog outputs, two headphone outputs and an analog volume control. The PRE uses a 24-bit 192-kHz DAC. This is an impressive bit of technology that I'd just love to try with my Macbook!"
"The Norvinz rooms were really on a roll this year. The Merrill-Scillia turntable and the new Opera Consonance CD player really impressed me with their musicality and excellent sonics. Read John Potis' excellent review of the Merrill-Scillia for the full story and stay tuned for a review of the new Opera by yours truly."
Conclusion from back home:
First off, my apologies to those who I didn't get a chance to visit with. I ended up aggravating a back injury I've been dealing with and spent all Wednesday afternoon & evening laid out on the couch in my hotel room with a bottle of aspirin. This cut short the visits I had intended to make considerably.

The good news is that I was able to still see quite a lot and I was impressed overall with how well everyone was able to get their systems sounding under show conditions, which can be challenging at best. I didn't encounter a real stinker the whole time I was cruising the rooms and a couple of rooms were amazingly good -- the E.A.R. and Harbeth -- with the E.A.R taking top honors for both CES and T.H.E. Show.

On the vinyl front, I was most impressed with the E.A.R. Disc Master, the Thorens 550 and the Merrill-Scillia MS1 & MS2 turntables. For tonearms, the one that really stood out for me was the Tri-Planar arm. It would be my first choice if I were going out to buy an arm today.

On the digital front the E.A.R. valved Acute CD player made a big impression on me as did the new Opera Consonance CD player (a review is presently being arranged). The new Benchmark DAC1 PRE was very cool and should be a big hit with those like me who want to use their computer as a source component. I'll be following up with the Benchmark folks to see if I can arrange for a future review of this little digital wonder.

On the solid-state amplification front, I was impressed by the Swiss Audio Consulting gear in the Avalon room and the DNM gear in the Harbeth room. For valves, the E.A.R. gear was impressive and I'd love to get my hands on Kara Chafee's new deHavilland GM70 mono amps - they are something special. For loudspeakers, the king of Las Vegas was the new Harbeth M40.1, hands down. I was also very impressed with the Marten Designs FormsSeries speakers in the E.A.R. room, the new Avalon Indra speakers, the new Sanders electrostatics and -- surprise! -- the Totem wall-mounted Tribe speakers.

On the cable front I stopped in to visit with Mark Markel of Analysis Plus. I told him how impressed I was with the Yellow Oval guitar cable I bought from him - it was such a startling improvement in tone for my Eastman 910CE archtop and Henriksen jazz amp that I was positively floored. Mark's going to be at the NAMM musicians' show next week but after he returns to his factory, he's going to send me a new audio cable to tell you about. I can't wait!

What really was the best of both shows were the people. It's always a pleasure to see all the great people who make up the audio industry - good on you all and may 2008 be your best year ever! Over and out from Vegas.