The Audioengine2 speakers are some cool little performers at $199/pair. We bought a pair of 2s with a few clicks on the AudioEngine website for our pair of daughters and we're all thrilled. I'm still holding out for the bamboo-clad 2s which are due out "soon". And it's always a plus when the guys behind the company are some of the nicest around.

Zanden/Cessaro Horn Acoustics
The Zanden room with the Grand Prix Monaco turntable in some ways sounded the least analog of all the analog I heard - precise, clean and polished. Cessaro Horn Acoustics from Germany is another intriguing speaker company.

They currently have three models with a modular approach so no matter where you start, you can move up the line (unless you start at the top). All models use TAD drivers with Alnico magnets and beryllium diaphragms. The Alpha I was on display (€40,000/pr) and sounded impressively coherent and fleet-footed. Also available are the Beta I (€100,000) and Gamma I (€150,000). Delivery and setup is included for the Beta and Gamma.

Rogue Audio/Eggleston Works
Rogue Audio rocks. And they continue to do so in their own non-flashy way. The new Athena preamp ($4,995) and M150 monoblocks rocked the Eggleston Works The Nine loudspeakers effortlessly.

The stand-mount ProAc Response D Two ($3500/pair), Sugden Masterclass amp/preamp and CD21SE were a study in relaxed musicality.

Wavelength Audio/Vaughn Loudspeakers
Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio is the only Chief Scientist (it says so on his business card) I met. It was nice to finally meet Gordon who's been on the US tube audio scene essentially forever. The system included an Apple Macbook, the Crimson Silver ($15,000) or the new Cosecant v3 ($3,500) USB DAC, the new Wavelength Audio Royal direct-heated triode preamplifier ($7,500) and the Cardinal Silver Amplifiers ($25,000 pair).

Another first in the Wavelength room were the faux-gator linoleum clad speakers from Vaughn Loudspeakers. On active display was the $7,500 Zinfandel model, a 97dB three-way using a Fostex driver run full-range augmented with a side-firing subwoofer, passive radiator and ribbon tweeter. Claimed frequency response is from 26-40kHz.

Acoustic System International
Frank Tchang of Acoustic System International has so much energy, it's no wonder he's interested in energy. Frank did a quick demo with a resonator in the fridge and then out of the fridge while playing the same track and I absolutely heard a change in the sound. No I am not kidding and if you want to argue this point, I'd suggest sticking your head in your refrigerator for a few hours instead. And to continue with the risqué portion of our program, they had the DynaStation II on static display which uses the drive unit from the Sony Playstation 1 (Franck's speakers below with AMR and Karan).

I was very intrigued by the unusualness of the new Gradient Helsinki Series 1.5 speakers. A direct descendant of the original Gradient Model 1.0 from 1985, have you ever seen a speaker go this way and that? The Gradient 1.5s ($7,000) were driven by the Mastersound 845 Monoblocks in one room and the Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B Stereo Amplifier in another. A relatively easy load, dipole bass and a waveguide for the tweeter coupled with a unique design, these Finnish speakers certainly march to the beat of their own drum.

I passed one permanent Las Vegas audio installation located in McCarran International Airport by a company called Bose. I think they're French and its pronounced \bō-(ˌ)ˈzā\.

A Very Expensive System (VES) that shall remain anonymous
Unfortunately when I hit the VES room, the same wave of exhaustion seemed to hit me and the VES rep simultaneously. "What would you like to hear?" he asked comfortably seated in an empty silent room. As I briefly flashed back to the previous evening's riff on exactly this theme over some limoncello liquor and beers (and lotsa laughter), I was suddenly at a loss for words.

"How about some feral female banjo music?" I thought to say but thankfully didn't. "Jazz, classical?" the genial rep offered. "Jazz would be great, thanks." As my head spun with the possibilities of what selection would be culled from a few decades worth of monstrously wonderful music, the first few bits of Jazz at the Pawnshop's perfectly recorded sounds sunk my battleship. "Thanks, sounds great."

Stretching the Truth
"What kind of music do you want to hear?"
A harmless enough question. Granted, exhibitors can only bring so much music to shows (just wait 'till the next show when terabytes' worth are a-plenty). But the answer to that simple question is different in audiophile land just as a happy ending means one thing in a Disney flick and something else everywhere else, especially in Las Vegas.

Audiophile genres. Shorthand requests for types of music that will test different aspects of a systems performance. Just for reference, I found there are three main genres: Female Vocal, Classical and Jazz. Here, the essence of a recording is related to audio playback qualities. No artists, composers, eras, genres or sub-categories needed with the possible exception of the 'large-scale' prefix for 'Classical'. Music as test disc with the general assumption being the quality of the recording trumps the art in the recording The idea that music should be communicated regardless of its audiophile qualities has for the most part taken a back seat to noise-free resolution.

It's the non-singing Zenph'ed Glenn Gould versus the Columbia hummin-like-a-mutha Glenn Gould. We're erasing noise, editing content along with bits of history and as Peter Qvortrup's Segovia tracks illustrated, important aspects of the performance itself. All in the name of a better hifi experience.

Aural cosmetic surgery.
This year, the 2008 AVN (Adult Entertainment Expo) overlapped with CES' tail end. As amplifiers, DACs, docks, speakers and cables were being packed, crated, paletted and readied for their return trip, the adult film industry was arriving en masse. I'd imagine, based on the few examples I saw first hand, they have much lighter bags to pack.

And just as we gape in amazement at the AVN attendees' impossibly proportioned figures as they parade through the Venetian lobby on impossibly high clear acrylic spindly heels, shock absorbing multilevel platforms and the occasionally brave bare-footed unnatural beauty, I think we may be listening in amazement at the unnatural beauty of our newly scrubbed and impossibly proportioned media. Mo-Fo. Audio porn. The Strip tea.

NFS (Not for Sale) Audio Writers
Even though my badge said Press, there's Press and there's The Press. Enthusiast and Professional. After all, a URL is not a credential in and of itself. I'd like to say that experience alone counts in audio reviews, but even our most experienced reviewers disagree as to what constitutes good, better and best. And I know people who've been doing the same thing for years and they still suck at it. I'd suggest the best we can shoot for is being careful not to mistake opinion with fact and try to leave the dogma at the door.

And while I did encounter a few 'badge scanners' checking for credentials, by far the majority of people I met were gracious, kind and accommodating. For me CES/T.H.E. Show was a learning experience and an opportunity to better understand the business that is high-end audio. And one thing I found is a lot of passion along with a love of the art and craft of making music. And as is so often the case of late, I was reminded of how much I don't know.

In particular the after-hour events, the people I met and the people I already knew and got to spend time with made this trip not only educational but a complete blast. My martini glass nearly runneth over with good times. And unlike some other professions I've been involved in, the after-hour events still centered on the business of the day although now the point was solely its enjoyment. The 'day job' mentality pleasantly absent, unwinding meant more listening and more talking about music and its reproduction.

As a matter of fact, the fact that we were in Las Vegas ended up making little difference. Music is a universal and subtle yet powerful language that can even drown out and overwhelm a place as impossibly loud and impassably garish as the All-American (trip) Strip.

photo of Michael by Josh Ray of SonicFlare returning the favor...