Bryston's James Tanner surprised me by showing me a new direction for Canadian amplifier manufacturer Bryston: it has developed a series of class-D (switching) amplifiers. "You'll notice from the line's hybrid name that we combine the class-D output module with regular linear power supplies, not switching supplies," explained James. "The switching supplies are too noisy."
Attendance was light at the Alexis Park on Wednesday, with the rooms closest to the front getting the most attention. That was certainly the case for Evolution Acoustics, whose imposing MM3 modular speaker commands respect. After seven years of development, this huge baby, designed by Kevin Malmgren (left, formerly of Von Schweikert) made its initial debut at RMAF 2006. Then, the company went low-key while Malmgren and his wife were busy raising their first child (who, after almost one year of development, has just made a most auspicious debut in his stroller at T.H.E. Show 2008). Well, not really. The speaker was back-ordered even before it was launched, and has kept Malmgren and its distributor so busy that they haven’t had the time or need to yet establish a dealer network.
As much as I had hoped to write about new companies at T.H.E. Show this time around, I keep finding myself drawn to "old friends" for one overriding reason: their sound is the best I encounter. Such was the case with veteran audio designer Peter Ledermann's Soundsmith. Despite Peter's 1960s-holdover proclivity to turn his consistently impressive, housed-in-wood electronics into multi-colored light shows—thank God you can dim the lights or turn them off entirely—the former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation continues to astound with the sound of his phono cartridges and the amazing frequency response of his small Firefly speakers.
Music Culture Technology Corporation's Reference line has been designed and engineered by MBL's official engineers. Though not yet distributed in the US, the combination of MC's partnership with MBL and their components' arresting good looks drew me in for an extended listen. It was also a belated listen, but that had to do with the Hard Rock Café across the street from the St. Tropez, whose bass blasting from the rock video they project in their parking lot between 5pm and 10pm made listening to anything other than equally blaring rock music an absurdity. Call it high end trumped by high insult.
Instead of using conventional CD playback technology, the Rockport room featured the DC-powered Black Box Audiophile PC from Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems of Chicago. (Preliminary pricing, expected to lower before the unit reaches the market, is $7999.) With no moving parts in the box into which one inserts a CD, the DSP-based system reclocks the data after reading the CD, basically eliminating jitter. It copies the audio data from a CD onto a hard drive, reading the CD multiple times if necessary to eliminate data-reading errors. It is said to be far more accurate my own conventional stick it in the iMac and burn it in iTunes setup. The unit can process data up to 24/192. Lordie did it sound good.
Microsoft wanted to talk to me about its Windows Home Server division—and I wanted to hear what they said because I was impressed last summer at the company's commitment to making its Home Server software as simple as pie.
Naim has created a separate line of music server products that will be marketed independently of its component distribution system. On display at CES2008 was the DigiLinX compatible six-stream NaimNet NS01 Music Server ($6200), which has an internal ripping drive, a 400GB RAID 1 array, so data is secure.
Meridian has completely redone its Signature Reference 808 CD player, now the 808.2 ($14,995). "We've changed its drive, drive navigation software, power supply, DSP, and clocking and buffering. I'd like to say that the only thing we've retained is the case, but we've improved that, too," said Bob Stuart.
It was great to again encounter Andy Payor of Rockport Technologies and hear the stunning 200 lb Ankaa loudspeaker ($26,500/pair). Of all the speakers I heard on the first two days of T.H.E. Show, the Ankaa produced images so large and lifelike that it made other speakers (including several wonderful-sounding models I’ve already discussed) seem like pipsqueaks. I have no doubt that the expensive, neutral-sounding Gryphon Antileon Signature stereo amplifier ($31,000 for 150Wpc) and Mirage preamplifier ($25,000), as well as the debuting Purist Audio Design Proteus Provectus cabling had a lot to do with Andy's triumph. As he rather selflessly noted, "The real reason for a good image lies in the collaboration."
I was so impressed by the 9" Feastrex drivers designed by Haruhiko "Hal" Teramoto of Japan that I was excited to hear how the 5" Feastrex DF Monster alnico driver sounds in MaxxHorn's new Lumination loudspeaker. The speaker, which also incorporates the Tractrix horn technology developed by Johan van Zyl, is so new—the pair at THE Show had been finished a mere 12 days before—that only the dealer price ($18,500/pair) has been set. All speakers are hand constructed, with 3–5 pairs produced a month.
Empirical Audio's Pace-Car Reclocker ($1100—2300, depending on number of clocks installed) is designed to reduce the jitter of any source to "inaudible levels." Empirical's Steve Nugent said the device is primarily intended for USB, WiFi, and network devices such as the Sonos and Squeezebox. "The pace-Car is inserted between source and DAC, it can either provide a master clock to the source or accept the source's data stream and 'bracket' the rate of the stream. No modifications to the source are required."
In what has become a tradition, Anton Dotson (aka Buddha on the Stereophile forum) and Michael Alazard set up a room at T.H.E. Show as NFS Audio (Not For Sale), which they describe as "a chill out zone for people tired of the show's relentless grinding down of the human spirit."