Show Reports

CES/T.H.E. Show 2011 – The Best Sound at The Shows

High resolution digital and analog music at T.H.E. Show and CES 2011 by Teresa Goodwin

The best sound I heard at CES was from audiophile LPs. As much as I love SACD and high resolution downloads I have to admit this painful simple truth, high resolution digital is getting closer but it is still not the equal of the best analog.

I heard the new Analogue Productions 45 RPM 180 Gram LP pressing of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances with Donald Johanos conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, in the Blue Light Audio suite and it was the best sounding recording I have ever heard and I have heard 2 Track 15 IPS master tapes. It was amazing, I got goose bumps galore. It was like Telarc on steroids, the deep bass was “finally” like what I hear in a good concert hall, those who do not like realistic deep bass may wish to avoid. This also proves that LP still does the deepest and most powerful bass, well at least at 45 RPM! The LP was killer and was my highlight of the entire show!

I’ve always believed that belt drive turntables were the best, however this wonderful LP was played on a newly designed Wave Kinetics NVS Reference Direct Drive turntable with a $7900 Durand Talea II Reference tonearm and the $4200 Ortofon MC A90 moving coil cartridge, which turns this widely held belief on its head.


CES / T.H.E. Show – The Best for Last – James Darby – Stereomojo

Last year at THE SHOW in Vegas, we declared the Blue Light Audio/Playback Designs room the Best Sound at Show.

In fact, we said, “We’re not even going to try to describe the sound. All we can say is that this was not just the best sound at this show, it was the best sound at ANY show we’ve EVER heard. In fact, we can state that it’s the best stereo reproduction we have ever heard…period. And that friends, is saying a lot.”

That room featured the large MMTwo speakers by Evolution Acoustics (below) that costs $35,000. Of course, the system supporting the $35,000 speakers costs upwards of about $500,000.

This year however, Jonathan brought his new Evolution Acoustics speakers, new Playback Designs MPS-3 CD Player, new Wave Kinetics NVS turntable and darTZeel NHB-108 amp and NHB-18NS preamplifier and this supporting cast was pared down to a measly $70k or so, not including the turntable and custom ATR Services Ampex ATR-102 reel to reel.

The speakers were even more downsized as you can see below – a pair of small standmounts, again by Evolution.

The outcome, regardless of the shrinkage, was still the same. This was the Best Sound of Show.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that the new MMMicro One speakers retail for – are you ready – $2,000 per pair, not including stands.

After listening for a few minutes and being totally blow away by what we were hearing from a two-grand speaker, Darby said, “OK Jonathan, what’s the catch? Don’t tell me; the speakers stands are $20,000 and a mandatory option, right?” He laughed and said, “That’s what everyone has said, but no. They’re optional and cost less than $1,000.”

We ended up listening to almost the entire Stereomojo Ultimate Evaluation Disk (he was demoing the new Playback Designs MPS-3, so we could actually play the CD), something that never happens. The sound was just plain stunning. It sounded very much like the big ass system we heard last year. The ultra low bass may have been less impactful, but there was no real lack of bass in the diminutive Micro One’s. The whole room was filled will glorious, immersive MUSIC! Once we got over the crazy mini-speaker visual, the music just took over with no sense of anything emerging from a stereo system, small speakers or not.

A thought crossed my mind and as if reading it, Jonathan said, “I know there’s some expensive stuff driving these speakers, but we designed them so that they can be played by less expensive stuff, but still not limit the really top level gear that some people have. There are lots of people who want unlimited quality, but live in small apartments in New York or Tokyo or places like that. Other audiophiles can buy these and be assured that the better their other stuff gets, these will go right along with them.”

Great point. And besides, we’d heard many rooms where the amps, cables and sources cost MORE than those we were hearing there, much less the speakers. So $$$$  are clearly not the thing.

I don’t know how Jon and Evolution get such performance out of their speakers, but you know what? I really don’t care. I didn’t ask a single techy question about drivers, materials or even specs. It didn’t matter. The music did.

And yes, we WILL get a pair of these for review! Are you feelin’ me, Jonathan? Huh


Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2010 – This is a Dogma- Free Zone by Miles B. Astor

My first encounter with the Evolution Acoustics speaker line came earlier this year at CES and Jonathan Tinn followed up at RMAF with the debut of the new Evolution MMMiniOne/Two (15K without subwoofer and 27K with subwoofer). Belying its appearance, the MMMiniOne is actually a 2-way bookshelf (a 5-inch ribbon tweeter coupled to 7-inch ceramic midbass driver) integrated into its own high mass stand. Thanks to its modular construction, the MMMiniOne speakers can be upgraded with the addition of the MMMiniSub woofer; to my ears, I much preferred the sound of the MMMiniOne plus subs. The subs added a far more substantial foundation to the music as well as more dimensionality and midrange presence.

Some people might accuse Tinn and company of stacking the deck by bringing along either a modded Studer 810 reel-to-reel machine to playback 15-ips/2-track tapes or a $15,000 Playback Designs MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player with 24/192 input (the PD was hands down and by light years, the best sounding digital front-end I heard at the show—and unlike the others actually did justice to the music) and a $2500 Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference music Server ($2500) to playback high-rez digital files. On the other hand, these sources allowed Tinn to demonstrate the system’s resolution, frequency response and musicality.

And did they ever! The highlight of this year’s RMAF was the simply jaw dropping sound of second generation, 15-ips tape copies of two of my favorite LPs: the first was Solti performing Glinka’s “Russian and Romantic: Overture” from Romantic Russia (original Decca release SXL 6263) and the other, Oscar Peterson’s “You Look Good to Me” from We Get Requests. Neither LPs ever sounded like this! On the Glinka, the low end extension, string delicacy and sense of space, a Kenneth Wilkinson’s trademark, was beyond spooky. On We Get Requests, Ray Brown’s bass was incredibly solid and powerful. It ws almost as if Brown was there in the room. Peterson’s piano never sounded more wooden. The digital was no slouch either though not up the quality of the 15 ips tape playback. Bruce Brown of Puget Sound Studios played some outstanding high-rez digital files from audiophile favorites such as the Muddy Waters “Good Morning Little School Girl” track from Folk Singer. (Muddy Waters as well as Buddy Guy were remastered for Winston Ma’s FIM label and HDtracks.) Of course, all this did is give me a Jones for the original tapes!

Tasked with the job of playing back the front-end sources were the new and the Dartzeel CTH-8550 250 wpc integrated amplifier with phono stage ($20,300), assorted cables from Dartzeel and resonance control footers from Wave Kinetics.


CES / THE Show 2010 – Finishing with Evolution and darTZeel by Jason Victor Serinus – Stereophile Magazine

As John Atkinson and I entered the room at THE Show in which darTZeel electronics partnered Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers, I was immediately struck by the fullness of the midrange. It was as though the system was opening its heart and welcoming us in. That’s how warm and nurturing the sound was.

What was especially wonderful was that this system was about far more than midrange. From a very open, clear and realistic top all way down, the darTZeel/Evolution Acoustics system sang true. And beautifully. Very, very beautifully.

First we listened to a favorite audiophile demo, tenor José Carreras singing an excerpt from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criolla. The air around voices and instruments was as wondrous as the clarity of playback.

Then came something very, very special. But first, a description of the system.

This not exactly bargain-priced system consisted of darTZeel’s new NHB-458 monoblocks, whose 1000Wpc will set you back a mere $135,000/pair, and the darTZeel NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier with MC phono section ($29,000). Speakers were the brand-new, just introduced Evolution Acoustics MMtwo loudspeakers ($35,000/pair). Weighing 375 lbs each, these gorgeous babies claim a frequency response of 10Hz–40kHz ±3dB, and a sensitivity of 93dB. They also sound marvelous.

The rest of the system comprised Evolution Acoustics’ DRSC speaker cables ($5000/pair), the LINK-Reference 50 ohm BNC–BNC interconnect ($6000), and PC2One power conditioning power cord ($2000). Playback was from either a Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player with 24/192 input ($15,000), or the world-premiered Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference Music Server ($1995) controlled by an Apple iPod Touch. Other goodies included the Audience Adept Response aR6-T power conditioner ($4600).

Yes, it was an expensive room, filled with equipment I cannot possibly afford. But it’s not about me, John, or Stereophile; it’s about the music that gives us joy, and the equipment that brings it to us in all its glory.

After the Carreras track, Jonathan Tinn of Evolution Acoustics began telling John how much he loved listening to a track from one of John’s recordings, Cantus’ While You Are Alive. (Stereophile’s newest reviewer, long-time audiophile Erick Lichte, was Music Director of Cantus at the time of the recording and produced the CD). As the conversation grew more animated, I quietly mentioned that I just happened to have the CD with me.

I cannot begin to tell you how it felt to enjoy John’s energy as he immersed himself in two tracks from one his finest recordings. What I can tell you was that the sound was little short of heavenly.

On that high, I bid adieu to THE Show and CES 2010. If John, in his talk earlier in the afternoon, both acknowledged the bad year that has past and the good year that he expects to unfold, the Evolution Acoustics/darTZeel demo confirmed that 2011 has the potential to launch a very full, rewarding, and musical decade. With sound like theirs, the admittedly struggling high end gives indications that it is indeed alive and well.


CES / T.H.E. Show 2010 – BEST SOUND AT SHOW by James Darby – Stereomojo Magazine

“There’s no denying that this is an expensive system. We almost passed it by altogether. It was the last room we ventured into just a few minutes before the show officially closed.

We had heard darTzeel components before. We knew they were megabuck icons, not something we’d ever review. And we’d certainly never heard of Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers. Probably just another overpriced speaker system. A couple of ceramic drivers and nice enough lacquered cabinets, but nothing special compared to all the monstrosities we’d seen that weekend and at countless shows before. Not surprisingly, this system was heard at The Home Entertainment Show, not CES. Things just seem to be better at THE Show. Only real hardcore music and audio lovers venture there, not the teaming hoards that populate the massive Consumer show.

The moment we entered the room though, we knew there was something special going on. The room was crowded with several people standing outside the door, peering in as if something cool was happening. When they saw our Stereomojo badges, they eventually ushered Darby to the center chair.

Usually when you go into a megabuck room such as this ( Kondo in particular), you’d think you were at the last green at the Master’s Tournament waiting for the final putt. There’s a hushed reverence. Eerie. Not here. Everyone was so relaxed and jovial, like they had all just smoked some very happy weed. The room’s hosts were playing a selection from Reference Recording’s “Tutti” disk, one we know very well. Though we had heard that track thousands of times before, we had never heard it like THIS!

We’re not even going to try to describe the sound. All we can say is that this was not just the best sound at this show, it was the best sound at ANY show we’ve EVER heard. In fact, we can state that it’s the best stereo reproduction we have ever heard…period. And that friends, is saying a lot.

Yes, the darTzeel amps (NHB-458 monoblocks, whose 1000Wpc cost $135,000, but that’s a pair – not each…ahem), and preamp (NHB-18 NS – $29,000 – but it includes a phono stage…gasp) together cost around $300,000. Cables by Evolution as well and all the other ancillary gear probably added quite a bit more. The Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD costs another $15,000.

However, the Evolution Acoustics model MMtwo speakers were not anywhere close to those numbers, or close to any of the megalithic (we made that one up, too) speakers we saw. The Evolutions weigh 375 pounds (!) and sell for only $35,000 per pair. The “only” is in contrast to all the other six-figure speakers at the show.

They are 53″ tall, 18′” wide and 30″ deep. The tweeter is a 5 inch aluminum ribbon between two 7″ ceramic midranges and one 15″ treated paper cone for the woofer. Frequency response, according to the literature, is 10Hz-40kHz and that’s +/- 3 dB.

At -6 dB. they go all the way down to an unheard of 7 Hz. They claim that impedance is 7 ohms and only deviates by +/- 2 ohms, so no wide swings. Sensitivity is a very high 93 dB. They are phase and time aligned. Woofers and tweeters are user adjustable. An internal amplifier for the low end is rated at 600 watts RMS. Max power handling is 400 watts. Minimum watts, they say, is 5 watts. Hard to believe. But if those watts are only driving the 93 dB sensitive mids and tweeters, maybe so.

As big as those speakers were and crammed into a small room, when the music started they utterly disappeared. Linda said they sounded just as good to her and she was seated next to the left wall, way off axis. For the first and only time at this year’s show, we listened to the entire Stereomojo Ultimate Evaluation Disk. As every track played, we were mesmerized. We have heard each of those tracks thousands of times, but in this room it was if we’d heard them for the first time. No, there wasn’t any new sounds or noises we’ve never heard before, but what we did hear was simply….Wow! And it was not the amount of sound we heard, they weren’t blaring, it was utter realism of the voices and music. Herve Delatraz of darTzeel commented on what a great demo disk it was. The music wafting from that system was better than most live concerts. Publisher James Darby was heard to say to Evolution Acoustics’ Jonathan Tinn, “This is the only system I would PAY to hear”.

Usually we go home and cogitate on our Best of Show Awards, but this experience was so compelling that we told Jonathan Tinn that he and darTzeel had just won our overall Best Sound at Show Award for 2010.



CES / T.H.E. Show 2010: Best of Show by Dave Thomas – Stereo Times

“The best sound at T.H.E. Show came from the darTZeel electronics and Evolution Acoustics room. Just like seemingly everything else at the shows this year, the components in this room were drop-dead gorgeous but monstrously expensive. But darTZeel was also one of the few companies to demonstrate that their gear was actually worth every penny. The system featured the new 1,000 Wpc NHB-458 monoblocks ($135,000/pr), and NHB-18 NS reference preamplifier ($29,000). But the speakers in this system are what struck me the most. They were the new Evolution Acoustics MMtwo. These breathtakingly beautiful 375 lb monsters, had every right to claim a six figure price tag compared to most of the speakers I saw that cost that much. But priced at only(?!) $35,000/pr, they would have to qualify as a definite bargain. They feature two 7” ceramic midrange drivers, one 5” ribbon tweeter, and a 15” treated paper woofer. They have a frequency response of 10Hz–40kHz and are 93dB efficient. They also have one of the most beautiful finishes I’ve seen on a pair of big speakers in quite a while. Oh, I forgot to mention the most important part, they sound fantastic.

The system was fronted by the Playback Systems MPS-5 Reference SACD/CD player ($15,000) and the Music Servers Direct MSD-1 Reference Music Server ($1995). Evolution Acoustics cabling was used throughout and an Audience Adept Response aR6-T ($4,600) provided the power conditioning.”


CES / THE Show 2010 – T.H.E. Show of Shows by Robert H. Levy – Positive Feedback

“I then raced to the Blue Light Audio suite where Jonathan Tinn, Mr. Playback Designs, was presenting a knock your socks off system sonic show. Powered by the darTZeel Swiss made NHB-458 monoblocks, $135k and 1000 watts per channel, the Evolution Acoustics MM Two loudspeakers were amazing. With gorgeous fit and finish, they sported top notch Acuton drivers and more. They sell for only $35k per pair, but look and sound like they should cost double that! Also used was the NHB-18NS preamp with phono section selling for $29k. If the Playback CD was not good enough for you, they had the new Ortofon A-90 MC at $4.2k playing as well. All was hooked up with Audience AR6-T Power Conditioning at $4.6k. WOW! What a sound! This was sonically best of show by a very wide margin. Was it the amps? Was it the speakers? Who knows or cares? The end result was an ‘alive within the room’ performance quality sound. “


CES / THE Show 2010 – by Dean Seislove – Positive Feedback

On the other hand… there were the empress’ dowery (or credit line, anyway) products. As I’ve said before, superb materials, engineering, and innovation don’t come cheap. How cheap and how superb is a matter of perspective, but there’s no way of escaping the bitter truth that the rooms that absolutely stun you with an unbelievable level of detail, range, and musicality will set you back 50 large, minimum. I rarely have fifty little, maximum, but that shouldn’t stop me from barging in the queue to listen at the feet of the gods, and it didn’t. I loved the darTZeel NHB-458 monoblocks/Evolution Acoustics MM2 speaker pairing—this is how I’d spend my two hundred thousand (including Kubala-Sosna cables, a Playback Design Music Playback System 5, a really comfy armchair, and an even comfier investment portfolio).