So new it's not yet priced, MBL's revamped Noble Line will be available mid-year. Heard in prototype form, and demmed by their designer, Jürgen Reis (above), the E31 CD/DAC, E51 integrated amplifier, and E21 stereo amplifier are intended to deliver "fuller, richer, and more refined sound" than the entry-level Corona line. "It is still the Noble family sound, but it is improved, with higher resolution and greater transparency that make it more modern," says Reis.
When I entered the room with equipment from PBN Audio, EM from Japan, and Mark Johansen's ZenSati cabling, I encountered PBN President Peter Noerbaek playing an LP of one of the Bach solo cello suites. This he followed with cellist Aage Kvalbein's audiophile-quality CD of the Theme from Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, available on the KKV.no label's Mirakler far den nye Verdem (Miracles from the New World). (Click here and here for more information.] The sound was very detailed, clear, and warm, with great dynamics. New was PBN Audio's fully balanced, all-FET EB-SA2 power amplifier ($34,995), which outputs 650Wpc into 8 ohms and 1200Wpc into 4. "It's way overbuilt, as is everything we do," said Noerbaek of his 165 lb baby.
In one of the last rooms I visited on the 30th floor of the Venetian hotel, Mark O'Brien, Rogue Audio founder, president and electrical engineer/designer, debuted the big brother of the Rogue Audio Sphinx, the Pharoah hybrid integrated amplifier ($3495). A tube/solid-state hybridtheir literature variously claims the power at 185Wpc and 175Wpc into 8 ohms, 350Wpc into 4 ohmsthe Pharoah includes an adjustable MM/MC phono preamp section, tube headphone amplifier, processor loop, and home-theater bypass. Paired with a Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable with Jelco tonearm and Arché headshell, Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge, Synergistic Research "Core" cabling and Quantum power strip, and Dynaudio Confidence C1 II loudspeakers, the system exhibited quite lovely, fairly neutral, and extremely listenable sound. "A good cozy-up system," I wrote in my notes.
Before I learned a thing about Pass Labs' new .8 Series of amplifiers, which is designed as the new bridge between the company's current .5 and XS Series, Pass's Kent English welcomed me to listen to the Impex Records LP transfer of an RCA Red Seal 1958 mono recording of Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.8 with Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Bey. (Only 2000 LPs were pressed, and this was number 1244.) Wow! The clarity and believability of the presentation were phenomenal. Bey's piano was recorded far too distant, but the layered complexity of the sound of Heifetz's violin was mesmerizing. All that audiophile talk about hearing the sound of the rosin on the bow had never before seemed as real as when I auditioned this recording. And the presentation was musical to boot!
Lovely full-range sound, superb clarity on the bottom end, realistic bite on the trumpets, and blessed neutrality (as in natural timbres) distinguished the presentation of a bit of a 24/96 file of Ricardo Chailly?s performance of Mahler's Symphony 3 in Boulder?s room. Shoeboxed into far too small a space, Boulder's new 2150 mono amps ($98,000/pair), which weigh 240 lbs each, output a mere 1000W into 8 ohms, and replace the 2050 model that was in production for 17 years; the new 2110 preamp ($54,000), which includes a fully differentially balanced volume attenuator and new gain stages, and replaces the 2080 model that remained in service for 16 years; and the 1021 network disc player ($25,000) joined forces with Chario Serendipity loudspeakers (approx. $40,000/pair) and Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval cabling to wow me silly.
So accustomed am I of associating Ed Meitner's EMM Labs with digital reproduction that I almost missed his first amps for the company. The MTRX class-A/B monoblocks ($130,000/pair), which output 1500W into 4 ohms and 3000W into 2, were designed as an homage to Meitner's previous Museatex MTR-101 monoblocks. Ten years in the making and first shown at last October's RMAF, they are claimed to "drive anything with ultra-low distortion."
"This is a pretty major change for us," says Balanced Audio Technology's Steve Bednarski of the change from capacitor-coupled outputs to custom output transformers in their three new VK-P12 phono stagesthe VK-P12 ($7995), VK-P12SE ($9995), and new flagship VK-P12SE SuperPak ($12,495). Unfortunately, none had arrived at the time I visited the room. Instead I encountered a display of the new VK-3000SE ($7995) 150Wpc into 8 ohms hybrid integrated amplifier, whose preamp stage is outfitted with the same 6H30 SuperTube used in the Rex II preamplifier. Also new are the VK-P6SE phono stage ($5995) and VK-P6 ($3495) phono stage.
Trickle-down theory may not work on the economic front, but it sure seems to apply to Constellation Audio's prestigious products. After a very high priced launch, the company has slowly introduced lower-priced products. Most exciting is the arrival of the Argo 125Wpc integrated amplifier ($20,000, above), whose price is one-third that of the Virgo preamp and Centaur amp. With four inputs (two balanced), a preamp output that can run headphones, and two slots in back for optional, not-yet-available phono and DAC cards, the Argo will ship by February.
After three years off the market, Meridian has re-introduced its G57 two-channel amplifier ($6000), pictured on the left in the photo. Originally introduced seven years ago, then withdrawn, it was re-introduced due to dealer demand. The G57 outputs 200Wpc, and converts all signals to balanced. The amp boasts dual-mono construction, and, when bridged to mono, outputs 600Wpc into 8 ohms.
NAD has refreshed its top-of-the-line Master Series. Due out the end of the second quarter is the NAD Master Series M12 ($3499), a 2-channel audio hub that contains both preamp and DAC. Below it in the photo sits the M22 ($2499), a 2-channel class-D, dual-mono hybrid digital amplifier with an analog input stage and Encore Hypex digital module output stage. In a system that included Dynaudio's excellent C4 Signature and AudioQuest Rock series cabling, Esperanza Spalding's voice on her recording of "Little Fly" was flattered by the system's warm sweet sound. I wouldn't be surprised if Stephen Mejias, who speaks often of NAD's reliability and good sound, has his eyes on these babies.
The $12,000 price tag for Burmester's first "entry-level" foray into class-D amplification, the 101 integrated amplifier, may not be cheap, but the unit certainly produced smooth and eminently listenable sound on a certain track by Chris Jones that offers no sanctuary for reviewers who encounter it at least once on every show floor. The 101, which pairs nicely with Burmester's 102 CD player seated above it in the photo, boasts five inputs, remote control, a headphone output, the company's XM layout design, and a "special" low volume setting that offers richer sound (and, for all I know, is comparable to the "loudness" function on the receivers of my youth).
After years of thoroughly enjoying the sound of lower-priced electronics from Tri (Triode Corporation LtdJapan), always in pairings with Acoustic Zen loudspeakers, I was surprised to encounter the price of Tri's prototype Junone Ultinate [sic] reference preamplifier ($15,000). Due the first week of March, the Junone boasts outboard dual-mono power supplies, one for each channel, with separate volume controls for each channel that are connected to a center knob.
Aerial's new 6T loudspeaker ($6000/pair) is a 4-driver, 3-way and will be available in February. It sounded very promising: tight bass (the material didn't challenge the extreme bass, but what I did hearbass drumsuggested more extension than you might expect from two 150mm woofers); open top end, uncolored mids; fine imaging. Typically fine sound from Aerial Acoustics.
If you were fascinated, as I was, by JA's February 2013 review of the BSG qøl Signal Completion Stage but were deterred from satisfying your curiosity about this unusual device by the asking price, you no longer need hold back. In the ReveelSound room, BSG's Larry Kay showed and demonstrated his new, tiny and inexpensive implementation of the technology in the form of the øreveel. Contained within the small package in Larry's hands is an all analog in/out version whose size and connectors clearly indicate that its target is headphone use. When I told him that I don't listen to headphones, Larry made the convincing demo with a desk-top system. The unit is powered by a rechargeable battery and, although I didn't ask, it looks like it should also run on the included power supply. Price? Just $119.95 and an ear-opener.
SVS showed two new subwoofers, both based on a newly-developed 12" driver that features dual ferrite magnets, a reinforced Nomex spider, a long-throw rubber surround and tinsel leads integrated into the cone to eliminate tinsel slap and improve reliability. Each is also powered by a amplifier, the Sledge STA-500, rated at 500W continuous and it incorporates a DSP engine with an array of filters, controls for volume, gain and phase as well as a frequency-dependent limiter/compressor to control driver behavior. Both driver and amp come in a compact sealed design, the SB-2000 ($699, right above) with a FR of 19-240Hz and in a larger, more powerful ported design, the PB-2000 ($799, left above). During a brief audition, even the smaller SB-2000 seemed more than capable of filling the demo room with powerful, tight bass.