I finally got to meet Roy Hall of Music Hall. I, along with many of you, have been recently delighting in his colorful and off-color manufacturer’s comments in the pages of Stereophile. New to the stable of products Roy distributes is Creek’s Wyndsor phono preamplifier ($2495). This is a fully adjustable phono preamp with all of the settings available as you scroll through the on-screen menus. The preamp is powered by an external power supply and has just started shipping.
Cary Audio Design is known for producing both solid state and tube gear. This year Cary unveils a new set of solid-state amplifiers, the SA-500.1 ($4995 each)and SA200.1 ($3995 each). Shown here is the SA-500.1, a 500W monoblock amplifier that can also push 1 kilowatt of juice into a 4 ohm load. Both amps are built around a modular design that allows a dealer to convert an SA-200.1 to an SA-500.1 and vice versa. The amps each use 1500kVA low-noise transformers and employ 16 bipolar output devices. The amps have been voiced to maintain a similar house sound to Cary’s tube amplifiers. The SA-500.1 sounded warm, open, coherent and dynamic playing high-resolution files courtesy of David Chesky and HDTracks.
Audio Research of Minnesota is located only a mile from my home, yet my visit to their room at this year’s CES was the first time I’d really met any of their staff. Getting pride-of-place in their CES system this year was the Reference Anniversary Preamplifier ($24,995), a two-chassis preamp celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary. According to the folks at Audio Research, this preamplifier has been a huge hit and has, to their own surprise, exceeded their sales expectations. Orders for the preamplifier will be taken through April 2011 and, unlike Brett Favre, will not come out of retirement.
British Naim Audio showed an adorable new product in their room at this year’s CES. The appropriately named Unitiqute (pronounced Unitycute, $2500) is an all-in-one streamer, DAC, preamp, amp, FM tuner and headphone amp. The Unitiqute also has the ability to pull the datastream off an iPod and be controlled by an iPad or iPod. The amplifier section puts out 30Wpc into 8 ohms and has just one button on its front plate. I thought the Unitiqute struck the perfect balance of functionality, cuteness and elegance.
Onkyo showed a nice new set of high-quality, two-channel separates, including the M-5000R Power Amplifier ($2499). This amp puts out 80Wpc into an 8 ohm load but can also deliver dynamic power of 450W into 1 ohm. The products begin shipping this January. It was great to see a mainstream company like Onkyo keeping up a commitment to two-channel music!
We're still in that transition period where most folks who move to music servers and care about quality are going to source their tunes primarily from discs. As a result, most of the current server crop has a disc slot and the new Weiss MAN 202 is no exception.
The MAN 202 also includes AES/EBU, SPDIF, Ethernet and USB inputs on the back along with AES/EBU, SPDIF and Firewire outputs. Since there is a DAC inside, there are also a pair of balanced and a pair of unbalanced analog outputs. And there's more: Wordclock in and output via BNC connectors and a WiFi antenna is included for communicating with an Apple iPad through a free app which serves as the interface to run all of the music.
Weiss says that the MAN 202 will handle all digital formats up to 24bit/192kHz (with comparable quality to the Weiss DAC 202) and should be shipping in 4 or 5 months for a retail price of between $10,000 and $15,000. I love this kind of product, which is optimized for the modern audio enthusiast who doesn't have time to play around with computers.
Lew Johnson has been bitten by the computer audio bug and was proudly displaying Conrad-Johnson's new USB-only DAC, the HD USB3. While the digital portion was designed by Kevin Halverson of Muse, Johnson emphasized that their own designers spent quite a bit of time getting the analog part of the DAC just right. He likened the analog circuitry and its importance to final audio quality with the vital function a phono preamp plays in a vinyl playback chain.
The new DAC should be available in late February for $3,000. Johnson added that maybe they will also include a C-J logo on the front panel for the final product.
With the show spread out between a half dozen hotels, and Las Vegas one of the most inefficient cities to move around in, it's tough to see everything. I simply ran out of time before getting over to the Bellagio to see Olive, but Kal Rubinson was able to make it one morning.
His photo above shows the company's new O6HD which is described as a "music server for audiophiles". On top is a modest 10.1" touch screen and inside is a fully balanced differential DAC design that can run at 24bit/192kHz. There is also a headphone jack and slot for ripping discs under the lip on the front. Internal storage is 2TB and it has both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs in addition to HDMI, USB, Ethernet and WiFi which supports the free iPad/iPhone apps. Price is $4,999.
At the Venetian, Avatar Acoustics' Darren Censullo set up several of the products he distributes including the Purist HDR 6D music server/DAC from AMI HiFi. Darren explains that there are seven versions of the HDR 6D and 6DA, depending on how it is configured, ranging in price from $2,500 to $25,000.
On the front is a slot for loading or playing music from discs and a clever flush-mount receptacle for putting your iPod Touch which then acts as a touch controller and display. There is also a free iPad app.
All the usual inputs and outputs are included: AES/EBU, SPDIF, USB, Ethernet, WiFi and HDMI which supports a full video player. The HDR 6D handles a wide variety of file formats up to 32bit/384kHz (on the 6DA) and the company says that sound quality is enhanced by a process that entirely caches each track for playback. Also included is upsampled Web Radio and multi-room playback.
Famed audio designer/engineer Demian Martin, known for his work with Spectral Audio, Constellation and others, is also part of Auraliti, who were displaying their wares at T.H.E Show in the Flamingo.
Shown above is the heart of their new product line, the L1000 File Player, which is controlled by either a wireless iPhone/iPad type device or networked web browser and runs Linux. The company says there are no moving parts in the L1000 which boots from a Solid State Drive and has an AES/EBU output for connecting to your DAC. The L1000 Outputs up to 24 bit/192kHz and can handle FLAC, WAF and AIFF files. Price is around $3,000.
Fang Bian has long been a maker satiating the desires of headphone enthusiasts. Head-Direct's line-up of products includes many headphones including the orthodynamic headphone HE-6 ($1199), headphone amplifiers, and seemingly the only portable music players that could be legitimately called high-end. The HM-801 ($790) looks and feels a bit cumbersome, but the electronic goodness of the Burr-Brown PCM1704 DAC chip and OPA627 op-amps, and the ability to play back 24bit/96kHz FLAC and 16bit/44.1kHz FLAC, WAV, APE, OGG, WMV, and MP3 files will make your portable listening a real treat.
So, as if his headphone activities over the past decade or so isn’t a career enough, he’s also been going to school and a few months ago received his doctorate in nano-technologies. Wow! I wouldn’t be surprised to see a HiFiMAN player ten years hence in a pill. Twenty minutes after you swallow it you can hear a CD by rubbing it between your hands. :-)
Congratulations Dr. Fang Bian, on both your academic and sonic successes!
For a decade or more, I’ve begged Japanese company Audio-Technica to bring more of their domestic models into the US. Woot! Seems like they’re doing it. The recent addition of the ATH-A900 (closed back; $249), ATH-AD900 (open back; $299), and the beautifully finished Black Cherry wood of the ATH-W1000x Grandioso (closed back; $699) will broaden choices for the strong following among headphone enthusiast who prefer a tastefully done fast and airy sound.
I know you guys have more stuff over there . . . if you’re listening, bring it on.
Steven Hill, designer and owner of Straight Wire, has released his new Expressivo line of speaker cable ($700/8 ft pair). The cables, which contain four conductors surrounded by multiple spiral shields, include a compressed conductor of special OFHC certified copper and a spiral polyethylene rod that encapsulates the conductor. The net result of his geometry is that the spiral rod only touches the conductor group in a small area, resulting in an effective air-spaced dielectric.
Hill claims that Expressivo’s soundstaging, imagery, and detail retrieval surpass those of his Maestro speaker cable. Expressivo occupies the middle of Straight Wire’s loudspeaker cable line, with three lines above it. The company’s full range of cables ranges in price $1/foot to $150/foot for speaker cable, and from $15 to $900/1m pair of interconnects.
Cable manufacturer Kubala_Sosna has been in business eight years, with business expanding each year. This year, the company’s products were in use in 12 rooms at CES.
Just introduced are two new digital cables, the Emotion S/PDIF ($1500/first meter, $300/each additional meter) and Elation S/PDIF ($2700/first meter, $400/each additional meter). Both cables are a step up from Kubala-Sosna’s previous Expression level.
“We’re raising the bar, no doubt,” said keen recordist Joe Kubala (pictured on the right). In perfect agreement was partner Howard Sosna (left), who designs the cables in collaboration with Joe.
With the new cables used to connect the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport to the Perfect Wave DAC, I heard impressive bass and captivating warmth coming through the not-too-shabby Tenor Audio Reference 350M monoblocks ($100,000/pair) and Estelon Model XA loudspeakers ($43,900/pair) from Alfred & Partners in Estonia. Of course it helped that Estelon’s entire line is internally wired with Kubala-Sosna.