Consumer Electronics

February 5, 2016

CES 2016


Stalking the Tower for Turntables

by David Thomson

The Tower at the Venetian is a realistic way to get a feel for how the audio equipment presented there will sound in your living room. The emptied mini-suites are not too large and, as sound hounds sit in neat little rows of 3 or 4, the music is as clear as the bells clanging from Dark Side of the Moon. It’s kinda cosy, too. You know your in good company as CES attracts that certain breed that opts for the trek to track the improvements to their fave audiophile brands.

Editorial space eludes us so, we are not here to critique, only to drop names of what got our attention.

As usual, digital audio components are more prevalent yet, this year, thanks to continued growth in record sales, analog and it’s accessories are not going to be ignored.

Turntable arms are growing–some a long as 16 and 20 inches.  I spoke with Well Tempered Lab’s Bill Firebaugh. At 84, the well respected turntable designer is still as passionate, and articulate, as ever. “The longer the arm, the less arc as the cartridge swings across the record. Therefore, the cartridge gets to nestle more neatly into the groove which means less distortion.”

The Royale 440 comes complete with a 16” arm and, when coupled with the smooth VTL electronics and the rich sound of DeVore Fidelity’s new Gibbon X speakers, we were transfixed.

My other favorite listening experiences were in rooms with interesting similarities: They, too, had VTL electronics, but with Wilson Speakers, Lyra Cartridges and, both were “tuned” by Stirling Trayle. The turntables were Allen Perkins’ latest Immedia upgrade and Grand Prix’s Monaco 2.0; the former, belt driven and, the latter, direct drive. All of this is quite hi-end. Listening over my budget is a real motivator for me; It gives me a goal. As any stereo is always as good as its weakest link, incremental improvement with monumental consequences can be as simple as an interconnect upgrade.


Stirling Trayle’s contribution as “mechanic” means that he fine tunes each room specifically to its acoustics. Most importantly, I think, he aligns the cartridge and the arm on the turntable so as to calibrate the ease of which they effortlessly deliver the music. The fact that Bea Manley, at VTL, and he collaborate is a statement to Stirling’s superior, sonic sensibility.

Then, there was the never-in-my-lifetime experience: The Lamm maxi-suite.

Co-founder Vladimir Lamm is a Russian audio-physicist who doesn’t compromise with either components or cost. To own the system presented this year, let’s just say that you’d need Paul McCartney’s money. The music presented plays pretty seamlessly between digital and analog as, every year, the same octogenarian DJ shuffles back and forth, silently, along the long wall of electronics, to switch between LP and, most recently, DSD. There is no incredible, earth shattering, distinction between the 2 formats. The transparency of the equipment soon allows us to be transported by the music; jazz, classical, whatever, all extraordinary examples of audio’s reproduction abilities. Pavarotti, vibrant and vivid, filled the vast room. At the end, an aficionado, sat front row and center, suddenly, leapt ecstatically into the air and yelled, “It’s just like being at the Met!”  It’s probably as close as I’m going to get, I mused. Our DJ proceeded, nonchalantly, with the program. “Who is that ambling man?” I inquired. “That’s Vladimir.”

Back to earth: Elac’s Andrew Jones has done it again. His sweet and seductive speakers always attract standing room only crowds. This year his, new, two way cube has us wondering, where’s the subwoofer? At about 8” square, this bombshell blasts, even booms, music into the room via a one piece component with surprising ease. Highs, midrange, bass, it’s all there and, you can’t help wonder how he delivers it for under 500 bucks.

Another sign of the LP’s resurgence? There were more record cleaning machines this year. One that was exceptionally simple to use was the Nessie Vinylmaster debuted by and have combined record ripping with click and pop removal in one elementary swoop. And, the clicks are eliminated with no loss in resolution. Plus, SweetVinyl’s onboard software identifies virtually all songs, artists, lips, etc., and applies the metadata, automatically–a real time saver when archiving vinyl transfers.

Manley Labs new, tube headphone amp packing them in, too. A simple, elegant, portable design that will dock your device of choice and really give those audio files chance to breath. It couples with all components so, now, you can crank that LP without worry about the neighbors.

We can’t talk about it all as space robs us again. But, not to worry, T.H.E. Show, Newport Beach is in June. You can catch up there.


Be the first to comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *