Yoshihiro Muramatsu of Almarro showed a simple CDP/tube integrated system around a 2-way floorstander of modest proportions. Dubbed the M2A, it uses an inverted Focal Titanium tweeter and a 6-inch mid/woofer for a claimed frequency response of 31Hz - 21kHz with 88dB sensitivity and a price of $2,300 - $3,000/pr depending on finish.

Anthony Gallo found himself once more tarred and feathered on the Home Theater stake. Though at heart a 2-channel purist and fully intent on returning to his music roots at future shows, CES 2005 mandated surround-sound. How else to present his new Reference Center channel? Gallo is already working on a vertical monitor version. It will reorient the tweeter, increase its lateral dispersion and optimize the architectural geometry for the intended upright stand/wall-mount employments.

This radical center channel expands the MTM cluster of the Reference 3 with two additional spheres to deliver robust bass extension to 55Hz. The patented CDT II tweeter has been restricted to 120 degrees of horizontal dispersion. Treble extension is 50kHz, sensitivity 88dB, impedance 8 ohms nominal, power handling 150 watts RMS, 300 watts peak. A 2.5-way, the outer woofers operate from 125Hz down via a 1st-order low pass while the inner mid/woofers reach to 3kHz. Dimensions are 25.2" W x 6.2" H x 6" D, weight is 22 lbs and finish options include matte black and stainless steel.

A clever full-enclosure grill cage mimics the dressed appearance of the Reference 3 while a set screw on the swivel bracket of the integral curved stand allows for some play to adjust tilt of the array. Using the Chinese Hero movie's first flashback fight scene in the game parlor's court yard -- rain drops intermeshing with the blind zither player and gravity-defying martial arts battle -- this was a demonstration in celebration of space and extreme realism verifiable in the watery sounds we know all too well from dripping faucets.

In the adjacent suite, our "champion of the financially sane" had deliberately mated his new 3-inch Nucleus TI (for Titanium) and T-1 subwoofer with a $150 TEAC all-in-one box to prove that good sound need not equate to a rice'n'beans mono diet to capitalize audiophile acquisitions.

Anthony expressed disappointment that the sound here at best reached 70% of what he gets at home with the same equipment but I had zero complaints for the money. Let's just say that Gallo's ambitions are to give you the moon for a song. For those desiring stealthy installations or sound coverage in studies, hallways, offices and commercial applications, the new ceiling/wall mounts just became available to go all-out Nucleus in every room of your house.

Barry Kohan of Bright Star Audio introduced a tall Reference 3 stand purportedly endorsed by Anthony himself. Alas, when I asked the latter, he stated categorically that Barry's stand was three inches too tall. Having heard it with said stand in the St. Tropez, I concur. It negatively affects the time alignment of the drivers. The production version of Barry's stand thus will be the proper height. Also, while a souped-up after-market modified Reference 3 was supposed to be introduced, the presenters opted to demo the stock version after all. Though a cursory study of the Reference 3 might suggest plenty of opportunities for improvement (after all, it was designed to a price point), the innate balance which its designer achieved is far harder to maintain than just chasing specific aspects that promise an easy upgrade path. Definitely not easy if you intend to honor balance.

The chaps from Audience introduced their $3,800 Adept Response fully cryo'd 12 lbs power line conditioner with 12 individually isolated outlets. Those are double-filtered from each other to allow arbitrary mix'n'match of analog and digital components without fear of cross contamination. A massive magnetic circuit breaker doubles as the power mains and a digital display confirms line frequency though this inductive component is decidedly not a voltage stabilizer of any sort. Audience claims that integral power factor correction has even powerful amps plugged into this device gain dynamics. Jules Coleman will report on results in a formal review. The concentric ripple effect of the front panel is achieved via a silk screen application prior to anodizing. A Speakon power inlet with matching power cord is standard.

The makers of the Aural Audition headphone amp introduced their $4,695 Telos 40wpc Class A transistor amp with low-noise high-gain JFET input stage. Weighing in at 80 lbs, this svelte looker is quite the beast that consumes 285 watts at idle in true Class A fashion.

Avantgarde Acoustic's Matthias Ruff presents a deceptively casual, happy-go-lucky facade behind which lurks a very keen intellect and prodigious design expertise. It hosted 2005's launch of the new $70,000 statement electronics (50w Class A single-ended bridged-balanced monos and remote-controlled battery-powered preamp) and $70,000 fully horn-loaded Meta Duos which are shrunk
Trios + Basshorns in a physical package just slightly deeper than current Duos. The amp sports a power meter and 10-turn adjustment to limit the amp's power output when -- as with Avantgarde's own ultra-high efficiency speakers -- only a few watts are required. Some very secretive circuitry breakthroughs are a few months away from the patent application hence mum was the word. What could he share? Conventional amps suffer minuscule non-linearities in the time domain when the wave form crosses the zero line between its phase halves. Imagine pushing a heavy crate across a concrete floor. It requires considerably more force to move it from standstill than pushing it about once in motion. Likewise, all amps momentarily "turn off" whenever the signal crosses the zero line. By applying a permanent bias current to all circuit junctions and parts, Matthias claims to have solved this stop'n'go problem.

Five years in the making, nothing about these electronics isn't the result of a comprehensive re-evaluation of existing standards and even the cosmetic packaging is a strict ultra-modern form-follows-function affair.

With new 18-ohm drivers, a HF circuit that adopts the biased-parts philosophy of the electronics, 4 x 250-watt amplifiers per side direct-coupled to four 12-inch custom woofers in a short horn controlled by Ruff's patented ADRIC circuitry, the Meta Duos are two-piece constructs available in any number of wood or synthetic veneers for the main chassis, brushed aluminum for the bass horn flanges and the usual automotive lacquers for the horns.

CEO Holger Fromme was unapologetic about the attached price tags. According to him, there's no shortage of Trio/Basshorn customers - that is, customers who can afford them. There is, however, a shortage of customers who have the requisite space to house them. Hence the design mandate was to shrink Avantgarde's statement speakers without sacrificing performance. That was a tall order for Matthias who is contractually bound to materialize the wild'n'wacky ideas of his visionary partner. On the subject of shrinkage, US distributor Jim Smith demoed a Solo/iPod system that scored extremely high on the wow/kewlness scale. How did the over-the-top setup sound? To avoid presetting a course for Marja & Henk's upcoming review, I shall adopt the enigmatic Zen visage and just smile mysteriously as though I had all the answers but just wasn't telling. Hey, I'm merely copying Holger Fromme below. Pending patents and all. Mum's the word indeed...