CES 2015 • Best of Show

Shane Buettner, who handles press for Vandersteen and Brinkmann, is one shrewd dude. Instead of encouraging us to hear his demo system early in the show, he set up appointments for Friday, the last day, after the electronics and speakers had nearly four days to warm up, loosen up and sound their best. On top of that, he played analog exclusively -- the only digital in the room was the camera we used to take pictures.

The outcome was stunning -- not just one of the best systems at CES, but one of the best demo systems we've heard, period. The new Vandersteen Model 7 Mk II speakers ($62,000/pair) were paired with their companion M7-HPA amps ($52,000/pair), driving only the midrange and tweeter, because the Model 7 Mk II's bass section is internally powered. The source was a Brinkmann Spyder turntable ($14,000) with two 10.5 tonearms ($6300 each) and RoNt II tubed power supply ($4300). Cartridges were a Lyra Atlas ($9500) and Lyra Kleos mono ($3500). The preamp and phono stage took up the remaining three places on the Harmonic Resolution Systems equipment rack and were both from Audio Research: Reference 5 SE ($13,000) and Reference Phono 10 ($30,000), respectively. Interconnects and speaker cables were AudioQuest Wild Blue Yonder and Wild Wood.

Shane spun cuts from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Simon and Garfunkle, and the Doors -- stuff we've heard many times, but never quite like this. The best of analog was on display -- unforced resolution, tonal saturation, unmatched ease -- coupled with massive dynamics and bass that was unrivaled in its variation from recording to recording. It almost seemed like we could walked into the soundscape of "Riders on the Storm," umbrella in hand. This was "wow" sound of a different kind, a complexly satisfying combination of refinement and fireworks, a puzzle that you were compelled to experience and figure out.

Another interesting angle on this demo: by Friday we were feeling frazzled from the three previous days, but the disarming, relaxing sound of this system cured that. Put us down for Friday next year, Shane.

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