Walking through the halls of T.H.E. Show, we stumbled across Ray Samuels (of Ray Samuels Audio) manning his table of headphone ecstasy. We listened to Samuels' Raptor ($1175) driving AKG's new K 701 headphones ($400), which HeadRoom's Tyll Hertsens told us were his new reference cans. Maybe ours, too, based on the sound Ray was getting. Wes has begged for a pair for review. Stay tuned.
We'd heard a lot about Raidho's Eben X-3 loudspeakers ($16,500/pair), so we dropped by T.H.E. Show to check out these dynamic three-way floorstanders. When we arrived, Art Audio's Kevin Carter was listening to the X-3s driven by Art's Vivo 25Wpc 300B push/pull stereo power amplifier ($13,000). It sure was purty.
We were on another mission from God—in other words, a request from Editor John Atkinson, which is the same thing for working journalists. "You have to check out Hovland's new power amplifier," JA gushed.
At $9750/pair, Tetra's 506 ain't cheap, but they sounded awfully good with Dissun's Original electronics. An 8" midrange/woofer and a 1.25" fabric-dome tweeter were making pretty music in this rear-ported design. Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock have already purchased pairs, we were told. We asked, "Where's [Tetra's designer] Adrian Butts?"
Chinese OEM manufacturer Dissun was sharing a room with Tetra, so when we stopped by to see what Adrian Butts had wrought, we were pleasantly surprised to see the suite filled with interesting components—all of them looking well built and beautifully turned out.
McIntosh displayed the full-range, $80,000/pair XRT2K speaker in their two-channel room at the Alexis Park. It sets a record for number of
drivers per side—110—with
40 tweeters, 64 midrange units, and six woofers. Frequency response is claimed to be 16Hz–45kHz. The system driven to full volume by the 495lb McIntosh MC2KW monoblock ($30,000), which can deliver 2kW, demonstrated awesome dynamic range.
The German Clearaudio company, ever-reverent of James Bond's lineage of luxury philosophy, introduced the $17,000 Goldfinger cartridge. Magnets have been doubled up to eight pieces, and a dynamic range of an extraordinary 100dB is claimed. Eric Clapton's "Layla" on vinyl (Reprise 9362-4502-1) never sounded better, I thought.
The Audio Refinement brand of affordable components from France's YBA is no more—problems with their Asian manufacturing partner, I understand. But there’s good news: Audio Refinement has been reborn as YBA Design, with a new Asian manufacturing facility that promises to be more reliable. The first two products in the line—designed by Yves-Bernard André, Mr. YBA himself—are the YA201 integrated amp and YC201 CD player, each priced at $1499. The industrial design is stunning in its elegance and simplicity, and, judging by the sound of a pair of Focal-JMlab 1007Be loudspeakers driven by the YBA Design combo, the performance is up to YBA's usual high standards.
We're suckers for Proacs, so we were delighted to hear importer Richard Gerberg explain that the Studio line was designed to be affordable. "Well, affordable for Proac," Gerberg said. Our hearts fell—until Gerberg told us that the handsome stand-mounted Studio 110s were $1500/pair and the floorstanding Studio 140s were $2800/pair. Not cheap, but in line with our expectations for the venerable Northamptonshire manufacturer.
Codenamed "ML-DVD" during its development, the Mark Levinson No.51 Media Player made its debut at CES. The $18,000, limited-edition player (only 150 will be offered for sale) is intended to get all there is to be gotten from CDs and DVD-Vs, but pointedly will not play SACDs or DVD-As (though it will, of course, play the video-zone Dolby Digital tracks of the latter). I listened to the No.51 in a system comprising the Mark Levinson No.40 controller, the new No.433 three-channel amplifier for the LCR speakers (a pair of Revel F52s and a C32) and a No.431 two-channel amp for the Revel M22 rears, along with two Revel F15 subs. Whether it was two-channel music—Greg Browne's "Who Killed Cock Robin?", which was everywhere at the Show—or film surround sound—Pleasantville—there was an addictive ease to the system's sound, coupled with extraordinary dynamic range.
DEQX (pronounced "decks") has been succesfully showing their active EQ system for several years now, and each time, they push the envelope forward with a better product and better demo. This year they topped themselves again and have teamed up with newcomer Wasatch Acoustics to create a state-of-the-art system comprised of a modular speaker system with amplification and active digital EQ.
Some think that the high-end audio business is a competitive, cut-throat endeavor, leading to animosities, but this picture of (l–r): EveAnna Manley (Manley Labs), Dennis Had (Cary Audio) and Kevin Deal (Prima Luna) shows that it isn't always that way, at least for purveyors of tube equipment.