Today was fantasy day. With each new room at the more exclusive “high-end” show, an audiophile geeks dream was fulfilled. This is a place where some of the most extreme electronics available to “select” consumers are demonstrated. To give one shining example, we went into an amplifier manufacturers sound demo room. In front of us were two monaural tube block amps that obviously were verrrry pricy, judging from their appearance. It wasn’t until I had a look at the dealer price sheet, to learn just what the word “expensive” actually meant. Their signature “reference” amps were $350,000 … each.

To put this in perspective, most advanced Audio/Video systems are 7.1 capable … That means seven channels and a subwoofer. And of course, for the absolute best audio reproduction, the front speakers should bi/tri amped. (two to three amps per speaker) Here’s the math for the already too shell-shocked: (tri-amped version) 13 x $350,000.00 = $4,550,000.00 … without tax! This is with no preamp, no SACD/DVD player, no turntable or cartridge, no turntable tube preamp, no tuner, no digital music server, no digital time correction device, no speakers or subwoofer and no video projector, lens or screen. And for amps of this nature you would have to have an electrician install special wiring, because no house is capable of that much amperage draw. Not to mention some type of line conditioning to filter out noise and give some type of voltage over/under protection. The special wires (such as shielded oxygen-free, silver super fine multistrand, multibraid with “gold over silver” connectors) literally cost as much as a new BMW … with a lot of options! Speakers that go with this caliber of equipment easily run into the six figures per pair. An acceptable turntable and cartridge well over $30,000.00, and so on. The video projector and its anamorphic lens, far more than $100,000.00. And bear this in mind as well, we are talking about sound and video, for just one room.

And next year, it’s all obsolete.

In terms of sheer electronic high-end weirdness, this was a tame CES compared to some of the past “breakthrough” items. One of my favs was a speaker that required tanks of nitrogen to control a hot-as-the-sun carbon-arc to provide a pulsating, gaseous envelope to produce sound. I never got to hear it actually run and I’ve never personally known anyone who has either. But you can always find someone at the show that remembers it. Which is just as well … I figure if you weren’t blinded by the carbon-arc, you would be suffocated by the nitrogen. I don’t even think the extreme car audio crazies would be brave enough to use this thing at a volume contest. But I’d be glad to watch the results on YouTube! And I believe others would as well … Hollywood has always known that any good movie has lots of explosions.

Another “break-through” design I saw a couple of years ago, was an amplifier that ran so hot that it couldn’t be exposed to air … yes, you read that right … the core of the design had to be completely submerged in a high temperature, non-conductive synthetic oil solution. Sitting and watching the seething, churning red-hot solution in its pyrex-like container, trying to cool this ferocious amp from five feet away is still burned into my memory. You know how a blacktop country road during the Texas summer has that “wavy” look? Well, seeing that effect in a small room, in such quantity from that thing, demands respect. Should the container have fractured, releasing the oil and the main power tube been exposed to air, I suspect a Chernobyl-like effect wouldn’t be too far behind.

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