While we’re on the topic of small things, TEAC America introduced their Reference 01 Series of budget-priced, room-friendly components, including the UD-H01 DAC, A-H01 stereo amplifier, and DS-H01 iPod docking station. (I’m waiting to hear back on the prices, but I’m fairly sure these products retail for hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars.)
Speaking of great things in small packages, here we see Parasound’s Zphono USB phono preamplifier ($349) and Zdac digital-to-analog converter ($450). Parasound’s Z Series products are handsome, truly affordable, and built like bricks. Interesting side note: The half-width, rack-mount design has its roots in a mic preamp that Parasound built for AMF bowling centers in the 1980s. I bet those mic preamps kicked butt, too.
I’m always encouraged when I see families at hi-fi shows, so I was happy to meet Alexander Vitus Mogensen, son of Vitus Audio founder, Hans-Ole Vitus; and I was even happier to learn that the 20-year-old Mogensen has started his own company, AVM-TEC, devoted to affordable OEM and DIY amplifier modules.
I like good hi-fi in small packages. Here we see the 25Wpc Napa Acoustic NA-208A hybrid integrated amplifier ($399). It measures a friendly 7” W by 5” H by 9.5” D and its stainless steel chassis and aluminum front panel seem solidly built. It uses a pair of 6N1 vacuum tubes and offers three inputs (two rear-panel RCA and one front-panel iPod mini jack).
When reviewing the Music Player a couple years ago, I was impressed with the build quality, sound quality and thinking that went into the design. There were a few nitpicks, and T+A was eager to show me the latest version where they claim to have addressed these (what I considered very minor) concerns.
The Music Player is still the same gorgeous form factor which includes a CD drive, DAC and preamp functions, but there is a bigger display and it now handles 24/192 via SPDIF or over the LAN connection and a handy new remote (shown below). There are five digital inputs and the device is UPnP compliant. All for $4,400.
Control of the T+A Music Player is now greatly improved with the new optional $900 remote. At the top of the remote is a color screen that will show you the metadata and album cover art from UPnP connected drives that you are controlling with the Music Player.
I entered the Oracle room and the Split Enz "I See Red" started singing in my head. This is not a shy red. This is a red that if seen out of the corner of your eye flashes and vibrates until you look right at it.
The new disc spinner is based on a Philips drive and the same processing as in the Paris DAC and also includes two SPDIF 24/192 inputs. It should be available next month for around $3,500
Also available in February for around $3.500, the Paris DAC features Toslink, SPDIF and USB inputs and the processing is built around the AKM DAC chips. Both balanced and unbalanced outputs are available.
New to me at this show is the QAT MS5 music server using an iPad (shown here) or a slightly smaller custom RP5 touch panel for control. There is a built-in Teac CD drive and 1TB of storage (around 2,500 CDs using FLAC) and the system supports a multitude of file formats and data rates up to 24/192.
The product and interface looked pretty slick and the company's sales and marketing director, Vital Gbezo, said that QAT is currently looking for US distribution. The MS5 is priced at around $6,000.
dCS had no new products, but announced several updates at CES. The Debussy DAC now allows DSD to be passed over its asynchronous USB input. The USB update will also be applied to the Paganini and Scarlatti products this year.
dCS also revealed a new web site that it will be developing in the coming months at www.onlythemusic.com. "The idea behind the 'Only The Music' project is that great music playback is a combination of talented people, great music and cutting edge technology. The OTM site aims to highlight some of these people, wonderful pieces of music, and the bits of gear that help to create such great sound."
Audio retailer Wes Bender Studio had a room set up in the Venetian to feature their selected product lines, and the Viola Crescendo caught my eye. It's both a preamp and DAC with both analog and digital inputs on the back. Digital includes 24/192 USB and SPDIF and the Crescendo should be available in the US in a Marchish kind of time frame. Retail is $19k and that includes an iPod touch.
Ron Sutherland had a rack of his components at CES to drive Vandersteen Quatro floorstanding loudspeakers. The rack consisted of the two monophonic Phono Block phono preamplifiers, recently reviewed by Brian Damkroger in Stereophile; the $15,000 Destination Line Stage (one non-audio signal carrying control unit with Nixie tubes, and one audio chassis for each channel); and the $10,000/pair, 200W monoblock power amplifiers. Except for the amplifier and control chassis, most of these units are configured into two side-by-side subunitsone for power supply and one for audio signalattached only by front and rear panels.
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering taught me all I need to know about Nixie tubes at CES. Used as the main visual display device used in his Reference N-1 preamplifier and in his Destination Line-Stage preamplifier's control unit shown in the photo, the Nixie tube was invented in 1955 as the first electronic display tool for reading out the numbers 09. The Nixie's designers fashioned a wire mesh into 9 layers, each layer in the shape of a number, resulting in a tidy small stack. This tiny wire stack was inserted into a small glass envelope, filled with neon gas, and then sealed. When any of the separate metal layers was charged with 175 volts, the neon gas around the wire ionized, and lit up. When plugged into a circuit board, the tube would read out the numbers, with each number appearing at a different depth. Paul was fascinated with the retro look of this type of readout, so he has installed it in his $15,000, three-chassis Destination line stage, and into his new $10,000 reference N-1 preamplifier.
The Audio Power Labs exhibit took my breath away, Imagine, a huge, beautiful $175,000 per pair, 200Wpc monoblock tube amplifier using 833C, graphite-plate, radio-frequency transmitter tubes that have a bandwidth of 30MHz and run with 1500V on the plates! These tubes were used in the output stage of BCF-1 radio transmitters. Now imagine that the amplifier's designers are named Squeek Rieker (right) and Peeya Iwagoshi (left), and you know why I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
The $25,000, 500W Mark Levinson No.53 digital-switching reference monoblock amplifier made its regular non-playing appearance at CES 2012 but this time with an illuminated cutaway display, allowing its lead design engineer, Mark Seiber, to walk me through its circuitry. The transparent panel, which the display used in place of heatsinks allowed me to easily see the No.53's four major subsections (analog input stage, modulation, amplifier output stage with its eight air-core inductors, and power supply section, which is at the bottom of the chassis.