As usual, my report won't pretend to be comprehensive or definitive at all. Complete coverage of CES is clearly impossible. That's especially true if one were a lone rabid wolf rather than a carefully orchestrated pack attacking this big-game task - and hoped to retain a modicum of enjoyment. Imagine hustling from room to room like a turbo-charged but bulging bag lady. You're shlepping two weeks of liquid bread groceries in tow. Well, not groceries really but rather, inedible press material and brochures that quickly elongate your show arms beyond even the reach of John DeVore's new full-range primate, the 10.5 octaves DeVore Fidelity SilverBack [below left].

With its cast resin head housing a 6.5" 2-way monitor; its non-parallel side walls holding opposing 8" long-throw paper cone woofers in the integrated but isolated main chassis; 30Hz-40kHz bandwidth; a low reactance crossover with pure silver-foil capacitors; an impedance that never drops below 6 ohms; and a sensitivity of 90dB - you should closely watch this design. It played at CES with Art Audio's Diavolo SET in an Audio Physic long-wall array with severe toe-in. I wasn't too fond of the resultant nearfield seating but got enough of a positive impression -- adding to John's stellar prior track record -- to predict that the SilverBack is, indeed, a new contender to the "king of the speaker jungle" crown in the +/- $10,000 per pair dynamic multi-way class. Look for a 6moons review later this year.

To insure reasonable fun factor, my tour of duty in Las Vegas this year solemnly swore not to feed any dangerous animals except for the party kind. This exclusionary approach was particularly aimed at the sharks in the zoo. The zoo is fitting industry slang for the colossal labyrinth of mostly static exhibits at the Convention Center's main floor. I was told that certain portions of it have now morphed into an Asian bazaar of sorts. I instead bee lined straight for the High-End exhibits in the Alexis Park, St. Tropez and San Remo locations and still overlooked plenty. Merde! More importantly though, a crack team of fellow moonies -- Marja and Henk from Holland whose definitive appearance at the Las Vegas airport caused them to be recognized by total strangers as minor celebrities; Stephæn and Jeff from Washington State who managed to secure the only flight leaving the Seattle/Portland area during the freak ice storm; our resident eminence grise Jules Coleman and his antique-audio compadre Steve Marsh of North Lake Audio whom we talked into shortly joining our ranks to report on old-old-stock components and new-old-stock tubes; Phil Gold from Canada who hobnobed with Classé and NordOst... their combined presence signaled help in covering our subject from all kinds of angles. These individual contributions will shortly supplement and augment my own. The 6moons CES 2004 report must thus be considered a joint venture delivered in multiple parts. Think variations on a theme by Paganini.

As you can see from our ad in Mike Maloney's T.H.E. Show guide, this lunar adventure has rather grown since last year. I wish to publicly thank and acknowledge all of our writers for their hard work and fine penmanship; for their infectious passion over all things musical; and, most importantly, for their tremendous support. Here's a toast to those moonies who couldn't attend: To friendship, creativity and great fun in 2004 and the years to come. Cheers!

Without further delay, let me now single out my three favorite rooms. These were the finest examples of what I personally listen for. Note that I didn't say best, though admittedly and to myself, I do think of them that way. What was I looking for then? Systems that didn't attempt the unrealistic but left my body/mind suffused with a tangible afterglow of a deep musical encounter once my CD track had ended.

Many systems were impressive in different ways. The truly big ones were especially impressive in their capacity to stand in for a band in a life-sized venue. But without fail, their impressiveness was bedroom gymnastics and acrobatics as compared to the deep relaxed merger of Tantric love making. That's not about setting records but about erasing boundaries. It's about making the physical bodies transparent to something more luminous and expansive than flesh, blood and bones. It's something energetic that connects two bodies far more profoundly than just via their groins.

Too poetic? Not at all. My wife responded to the presence of this kind of musical magic just as instantly, calling other rooms dead, flat or simply less involving and compelling by comparison.

Important attributes that accompanied my top three rooms? A sense of billowing flow that subtracted even the faintest trace of electronic texture; presence, fullness and the unassailable power of communi-cativeness. The easiest way to check for these qualities? A sense of suspension while you're listening. It's as though the totality of your being was addressed. This obliterates distractions, thoughts, watchfulness, internal commentary and the accompanying distance of the critical observer. Then when the music stops, listen inside. Is there a living feeling inside your body, a lingering aroma just like upon waking from a truly sweet dream? Did this system trigger not just isolated parts in you but rather, engulf more of you and this to a greater, more complete and fulfilling extent?

Very few systems triggered this afterglow. I'm sorry to say, none of the big Halcro, Wilson, Von Schweikert, Wisdom and JMLab rigs came even close. In many cases, they had dynamics, precision and clarity galore - but not this acute presence of flow, of oceanic wholeness, of ease and opened heart space.

What I'm talking about is not something abstract or obtuse, theoretical, flowery or subtle. It's tangible and obvious to those who listen to music in this particular way. Which, by the way, is neither the right way nor the only way but simply the way I and certain other showgoers proved to be wired to listen to music. It's why those of us on this frequency band bumped into each other in the same rooms time and again to thereby agree on our favorite show destinations. Would it surprise you that my three systems -- and my two runner-ups -- featured tubes? Lest you think me hopelessly biased, there were transistor-based systems (most notably Ensemble, Vitus/Soundlab and Ayre/Avalon), that did everything else just as well or merely differently but lacked that billowy element of flow, that unselfconscious ease whereby a baby breathes and radiates innocent but completely present bliss. The room that epitomized my central quality of spiritual energetics to utmost perfection was the Audiopax/Zanden/Grand Prix Audio/Z-Cable/Lindsay Cable/BPT system. It gets my vote for personal favorite of CES 2004 and thus takes pride of place on this opening page.

This particular system became the unexpected last-minute beneficiary of Zanden Audio's Yamada-San. Flying in delayed from Osaka/Japan, he carried with him the world debut unit of his Model 2000 digital transport with outboard power supply. Hitched to his Model 5000 Mk IV DAC, this three-piece front end substituted for the MSB Platinum Plus CD player with latest upgrades which Audiopax designer Eduardo de Lima [below with Hifi Plus' Roy Gregory who put the Model 88s on the front cover of his January 2004 issue] owns and regularly brings to shows.

I was fortunate to be present when Eduardo and partner Gordon Burkhardt-Schultz [above left leaning against wall] pulled out the mighty MSB, cracked open Yamada-San's hand-carried FedEx box and unveiled his groundbreaking transport which now is nesting on a Grand Prix Audio shelf at yours truly for an exclusive review. The most notable difference which all of us present noted immediately and commented upon in very similar terminology? A potently heightened sense of unobstructed flow when the Zanden transport entered the picture. Yes, Yamada-San's DAC fleshed out the midrange and naturalness beyond what the MSB itself was capable of, but the more fundamental change was one of gestalt, as though we were transitioning from a semi-solid medium of tiny bits and pieces to a completely fluid state.

Because the Model 200 unit is in for review, I shall retain the vital statistics for later except to confirm that it's doing the same "belt-drive-squared" thing of gushing relaxation in my home system now, indicating that its jitter performance (reputedly lower by a factor of 100 than Esoteric's premium two-box transport with outboard reclocker that was on display in the German Avantgarde Acoustic room) might have a more profound effect on digital playback than even the choice of conversion. That at least is Yamada-San's contention who believes to have stumbled upon an invention that will create the new de facto standard for RedBook disc spinning [above right, Yamada-San stands next to Z-Cable's seated Mark Hampton whose countless Z-Sleeves put a unique spin on the phrase "catching a few zs"].

The Audiopax Model 5 [$4,990] transistor preamp with RF remote and unique twin gain adjustments controlled the Audiopax Classic Model 88 monos [$12,490] into the 28Hz to 30kHz Audiopax REF 100 three-way speakers [$12,990] which combine Scanspeak's premium RingRadiator with Eduardo's own 8-inch midrange and 10-inch woofer. Power was delivered by way of two of Chris Hoff's BPT BP-3.5 Signature balanced power conditioners which Gordon purchased in the wake of our review and pronounced "exactly as described", outfitting this room with no less than three Blue Moon Award recipients. Incidentally, a cosmetically simplified version of the Audiopax monos dubbed Version 2.0 retails for $8,990 while the Classic/Version 2.0 Stereo 88 retails for $6,990/4,990, the more affordable cosmetic being Henry Ford-Style black paint over aluminum rather than the chrome-plated brass and automotive lacquer cheeks of the Classic display units.

Two notable speaker design houses, one by way of a technical engineer from a veritable conglomerate, congratulated Eduardo in no uncertain terms on his new speaker. The engineer was ready to place an order for the novel midrange driver, something its Brazilian inventor politely but resolutely declined. To get the low-down on this tube-optimized speaker design with its 11-ohm nominal impedance, our own Jules Coleman will do the honors with an in-depth review. Meanwhile, David Chesky returned to this room multiple times, spending more than an hour during one visit which is a very rare, blue-moon-kind of occurrence indeed. Why? I saw David barely last through one of his self-mastered Chesky tracks in multiple other rooms. Plus, I have myself been subject to his intense on-the-spot evaluation while still manning active exhibits for manufacturers in the past. David knows his recordings and only needs seconds to determine how closely playback mimics the live studio experience.

Parties interested in the Audiopax brand should contact Walter Swanborn of Fidelis AV. Walter took on US distribution for Harbeth last year and added Audiopax as of January 13, 2004 to bail out previous representative Jim Smith of Avantgarde-USA. Jim recently became sole owner/proprietor of Avantgarde USA, both in preparation for launching his own show room as well as being able to support forthcoming Avantgarde electronics without conflicting interests. These new Avantgarde electronics shall be unveiled at the German High-End show. We might capture a preview glimpse during my March visit to Germany when I shall be dropping in on not just family but also Hans and Mark Strassner of HMS Elektronik and Holger & Matthias of Avantgarde Acoustic.

Quoting from Jim Smith's recent press release, we learn that "... I've closely and with great satisfaction marveled at these two trends of expansion and growth which are currently operating through the umbrella of Avantgarde-USA. Contemplating the associated obligations to provide both Audiopax and Avantgarde Acoustic with the requisite resources of time, energy and capital, Eduardo de Lima and I have jointly agreed that the time has come for a larger organization to take over the distribution of his products for the US market.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to have watched Eduardo emerge from relative obscurity, to have shepherded his introduction to US audiences and thereby paved the way to more international visibility, and to now watch him move on to even greater things. Meanwhile, to support Avantgarde Acoustic with its present and forthcoming products, I have recently bought out my old friend and former partner, thereby acquiring complete control of Avantgarde-USA. This, and the opening of a formal Atlanta-based showroom for our dealers, Georgia-based customers and as a fly-to destination for those without regional dealer representatives, had been on my mind for quite a while. It's the next step in the evolution of Avantgarde-USA as an import/distribution house properly positioned to respond to the challenging business climate of today.

This showroom development, with its time-intensive demands, plus Eduardo's expansion into loudspeakers, further compounded the need to hand the future US distribution for Audiopax over to someone better positioned to provide Eduardo with the requisite tools and resources his success now demands. Regardless of who will be appointed the new Audiopax distributor, Eduardo has granted me ongoing retail rights in my local market. My forthcoming showroom will thus proudly feature Audiopax products. I will continue to promote and sell his unique creations to my personal clients, and use his Model 88 monoblocks as my personal reference amps..."

Kudos to Jim Smith for his staunch support of this previously unknown brand that's now clearly going places; for introducing Eduardo to Walter as his personal replacement; and to Walter Swanborn for stepping in to assist in taking things to the next level. Having been one of the first reviewers to discover Audiopax outside Brazil and now observing these latest developments, I confess to a measure of gratification myself; including the fact that this particular combination of Blue Moon winners turned out to be such a synergistic match, something we all know is by no means synonymous with assembling a rig from all "Class A" pieces. Best of luck to Eduardo de Lima and his friends - which include one José Carlos of Skysom, Brazil's distributor for the Triangle speaker brand who showed with the Model 88 and mighty Magellans at the Sao Paulo show last year. He introduced me to Gal Costa's stunning Todas as Ceisas e eu album [Indie Records] which I designate "must-own" to all lovers of female vocals and Brazilian aural charms. Gracias, José! Hombre, if all Brazilians are possessed of your suave elegance, I'm clearly living in the wrong country. Time to move, Rio here I come? More on that later this year...