Amplification in the Signature system in the Lamm room featured the ML3 Signature power amplifiers ($139,290/pair). Like the LL1 preamplifier, the ML3 isalso a four-chassis system. These 32W, single-ended, pure class-A amp is based on a direct-heated GM-70 triode.
New to the Pass Labs product line is the XP-25 two-chassis, solid-state phono preamplifier ($10,600). Intended to be designer Nelson Pass’s statement phono stage the XP-25 allows the user to select gain, and resistive and capacitive loading to match any cartridge you might want to use. The XP-25 will accept two line inputs and offers both single-ended and balanced outputs.
I reviewed the Pass Labs XA 30.5 a few months back for Stereophile . I loved it. Now Nelson Pass, known for his impulsive but inspired ideas, has taken the same class-A solid-state power amplifier and transformed it into an integrated amp. Though the new INT-30A ($7150) was only on silent display (the unit seen here didn't even have any guts inside!) I hope to hear it in my own system soon.
Though the Stereophile Product of the Year award is more transparent than an Oscar or Golden Globe, it is no less coveted. In the Ayre room at the Venetian, the proud winners of the 2009 Amplification Component of the Year award show off their trophy next to a cut-away of their winning KX-R preamplifier. The preamp was featured in Ayre’s system at their suite high atop the Venetian.
Also showing in the Ayre room were their MX-R monoblocks ($9250 each) and also a Stereophile “Product of the Year” in 2007), connected to the actual samples of Vandersteen Model Seven speakers that Michael Fremer will be reviewing for Stereophile in March. The MX-R, like its KX-R brother, is carved out of a single block of aluminum and puts out 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. The amps were fed by Ayre’s CX-7eMP CD player and KX-R preamplifier and the sound of the MX-R amps driving the Vandersteen Sevens was detailed and pun fully intended airy.
Technical Audio Devices (TAD) was showing off new monoblock power amplifiers to attach to their well-known line of speakers. The M600 amplifiers ($26,500 each) feature a graphite cast iron monoque construction to help eliminate vibration. Though imposing in size (they weigh 198 lbs each!) the TAD amps feature only one stage of voltage gain. The M600 also features a 22lb transformer, custom-built 33,000µF capacitors, and can put out 600W into 4 ohms. They accept only balanced inputs and will be available in February 2010.
If anyone could possibly bewitch me, it's Ella Fitzgerald. I found it impossible to resist her spell as she sang "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" through the wonderful pairing of Karan Acoustics' KA L Ref MK2 line preamplifier ($17,500) and KA S 180 stereo power amplifier ($9700), Zanden Model 2500 Signature CD player ($20,000), Finite Elemente racks, Cardas Clear cabling, and new Avalon Acoustics TIME dynamic loudspeaker system with new diamond tweeter, ceramic mid, and two 11" Kevlar woofers ($47,000/pair). This system's intimacy, midrange warmth, and complete lack of barriers beckoned me deeper into the magic of Ella's delivery. Wonderful.
At the last few Nordost demos I've witnessed, I've been amazed by the huge soundstage, deep bass, and tonal accuracy produced by Raidho's diminutive C-1.0 loudspeakers. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this little speaker, no larger than many a bookshelf design, lists for $18,000/pair. Then again, it produces a fuller, larger, and more coherent image than many a full-range floorstander of comparable price. It also has a pretty even 6 ohm impedance, and is said to be very tube friendly.
I've been a major fan of Echole Obsession cabling ever since hearing it paired with Kaiser Kawero loudspeakers at RMAF 2008. With those marvelous babies lamentably absent, here it was paired with a loudspeaker new to me, the towering, 500 lb Tidal Sunray ($178,600/pair), whose 6'8" designer, Jörn Janczak, is equally imposing.
Here's a product that should warm the digits of anyone with a vinyl collection. Furutech, who is generally known for its high quality connectors and cabling, will be releasing the $450 GT40 USB DAC with built-in phono stage this March.
Speaking of handy little devices, the new Lindemann USB-DDC 24/96 converts USB to SPDIF for the simple reason that some folks who want to use their computer as a source already have a classic DAC that they love, but it lacks a USB input. It's available now for $650.
More and more companies at all price ranges are releasing disc players that can also function as a DAC/preamp for other digital sources. Burmester is no exception, bringing their new top-of-the-line CD player to market with both Toslink and SPDIF along with a pair of analog ins on the back and a selectable volume control.
I had a great time listening to my own recordings in the Halcro room. Though the room lighting and the alien looking Vivid Audio G2 Giya speaker gave foreboding vibe in this photo, the sound was warm and detailed and the Halcro folks were really friendly. Featured in the Halcro system were the dm10 preamplifier($20,990) and the dm78 power amplifier ($41,990). The dm 10 is Halcro's top-of the line preamp and features its own phono stage. (It was reviewed in the April 2004 issue.) The dm78 is a mono amp that puts out 225W into 8 ohms and handled big dynamic swings in recordings of both Vivaldi and Eric Whitacre with ease and grace.
Minneapolis-based Bel Canto Design (props to my homies) brought a new amplifier to CES this year. The e.One REF150s ($1495, shown on the lower rack) is a fully balanced dual-mono amplifier that will put out 150Wpc into 8 ohms This may be a wee-sized amplifier, but it sounded huge strapped to a pair of new Joseph Audio bookshelf speakers.