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CES 2014: Analogue

CES 2014: Analogue

Given all the fuss about the ever-increasing interest in all things vinyl, you might have expected CES to be packed full of turntables. This wasn’t quite the case. Where two or three years ago, manufacturers were keen to show their analogue credentials with turntables or even playing reel-to-reel, such devices were a lot less prevalent this year. I suspect this has a lot to do with many electronics manufacturers wishing to showcase new DSD-compatible digital components. Vinyl was being played – even reel-to-reel was being played in the Nola room – but many of those playing vinyl this year were makers or distributors of vinyl. I suspect this is a temporary vinyl hiatus, with companies returning to their LP roots when high-res audio is more established.

This was also the year the Germans came to town. Top tier turntables usually reserved for the Munich show mid-year began to appear in Las Vegas. This is no bad thing – if there’s one thing German audiophiles love more than their record players, it’s very well built record players, and they give good engineering – Brinkmann, Clearaudio, Sperling, Transrotor and TW-Acustic are all popular choices among the European platternspieler cognoscenti, and their decks were very well received on the other side of the pond. Of these, arguably the most impressive (and certainly the most expensive) setting was the Transrotor Crescendo Nero, which didn’t look out of place in among hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of VAC system, (including the new $70,000 Statement Phono stage), a Soulution CD player, a pair of Focal Utopia Grande EM and lots of Critical Mass Systems equipment supports.

Staying with products sweeping majestically Westward, we’d seen the Rega RP10 when visiting the UK factory in the middle of last year, and it’s easy to forget that this is the new deck’s first public showing. This new turntable and RB2000 arm combination (also playing through the new Aria phono stage, alongside the recently introduced Elicit R amplifier and Saturn R CD-DAC player, and into PMC’s Fact.12 loudspeakers). Bundled with the company’s Apheta moving coil cartridge for $6,495, the deck takes the stressed-beam, dual braced magnesium and phenolic race-track plinth of the company’s RP8, and adds a high flywheel effect diamond-cut ceramic platter, a DSP-driven power supply and an ultra high-grade, polished for lowered mass version of Rega’s ever popular arm design. Elsewhere in high-end vinyl replay, $6,495 often represented the cost of a single component part – until and unless the almost mythical Naiad appears, this is the top of the Rega vinyl tree.

VPI Industries has a commanding reputation for pushing the vinyl envelope, and this year was no exception. The fabled 3D printed version of the JMW tonearm was being shown in a number of rooms. No longer a virtual product, the $2,500 9” arm and $3,000 12” arm is not just printed 3D for the sake of it; there are some very solid structural reasons why a one-piece unipivot armtube makes a lot of sense in engineering terms. With this and a DD version of the Classic and rumours of yet more new decks that could even undercut the Traveller on the drawing board, the company’s place at the head of the US turntable, er, revolution is assured.

 

A product that was not playing, but still gaining a lot of attention was the Japanese TechDAS Air Force Two. This pulls together many of the threads of the striking Air Force One – including the complex combination of air suspension, air bearing and vacuum disc hold down – but in a lower cost cast chassis. Although it had been damaged in installation, rumours abound that it delivers almost all the performance at ‘only’ $55,000.

Another turntable bringing top deck performance to a wider audience is the new Sparta from Kronos Audio. This smaller, slimmer, lighter (and, at $21,500, cheaper) version of the large counter-rotating turntable was shown – rather than played – in prototype form in the Magico room. Elsewhere, the big Kronos also showed off the Black Beauty 12” unipivot arm, first seen at RMAF.

The ‘first seen at RMAF’ mantra was common with turntables at CES. Products that were showcased at RMAF had come to market at last at CES. Alongside the Black Beauty arm and the VPI Classic Direct, Music Hall’s new $1,195 Ikura turntable (seen here at the top of a Creek/Epos system) was a popular choice in white or black.

 

Over at T.H.E. Show, the legacy of the late Tom Fletcher (of Nottingham Analogue fame) lives on. Not only in the shape of the Notts Analogue turntables, not even in the recently launched Fletcher Audio range, but now with the Slovenian Pear Audio Blue trio of turntables. The model in play was the $5,995 Kid Thomas turntable with the £2,195 Cornet arm, but prices start from $2,850. As ever, the design features a high-mass platter with a low-torque, perma-powered motor, and a wooden plinth made of ‘undisclosed’ tree, as well as a unipivot.

Slovenia is proving to be a hotbed of modern turntablism, with Kuzma finally showing its CAR range of cartridges. To mix things up a little, the demonstration used the top $6,550 CAR-50 cartridge, coupled to a $6,500 4-Point tonearm, and a $1,800 Stabi S turntable. While not the usual way of presenting things, no one seemed to complain.

Last, but far from least, Zanden Audio announced its new 120 phono stage. This LCR phono stage retains the elegant musical characteristics and multiple EQ curve settings of the company’s two highly respected models in the line-up, but this is the first phono stage from the brand to use an all solid-state implementation. A veritable pig to photograph, the new phono stage also brings Zanden vinyliciousness to a new low price of just $7,500. Given the company’s top 1200mk3 phono stage costs several times as much as this new 120 model, the word ‘low’ applies. Sort of.

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