Audio Research's "Magnepan" Amplifier
My last stop of the day, and of the show, was the Audio Research room. Dave Gordon showed me their new DS-650 (I'm not sure that the designator was DS) stereo amp and laughed that it was their "Magnepan amp." Yup, I agree. As I discovered when I paired a pair of MG-3.6s with Classé CAM-350s, while any competent 20Wpc amp will drive a pair of MG-3.6s adequately...any top-notch 300400W amp will actually drive them well. Then Dave casually noted that the 650 was a class-D amp and told me to put my hand on its top. Sure enough, it was cool as a cucumber in spite of having been on and making music for several days. "The entire amp is ours, from the bottom up," Dave noted, "there's nothing standard or off the shelf in there."
The only way they were able to get the sound they wanted, or rather, needed for an Audio Research product, they had to start from scratch. The usual disclaimers about show conditions apply, but if the 650 sounds as good at home as it did in Las Vegas, this is an amp to be reckoned with. I believe that Dave said the new amp would go for $7995.
The system also had an up-to-date version of the classic Well Tempered turntable and arm, the epitome of clever engineering. This version had the arm attached to what appeared to be an actual golf ball, which was partially submerged in damping fluid, instead of the expected paddle assembly. I wonder if Surlyn covers sound different than balata, and what effect different dimple patterns might make. I've seen Well Tempered systems described as crude, or "Rube Goldberg" designs. I prefer the term "brilliant" although, I'll confess, the golf ball is a bit much.
The WT fed ARC's two newest front end components, the Reference 2 phono stage and Reference 5 line stage. On the digital side of the rack, the system had ARC's workhorse CDS disc player-transport, which sounded quite good in its own right. I contemplated the system for a few minutes and being an analog guy, the inescapable conclusion was that I need both the Ref Phono 2 and Ref Line 5. Plus, after three days of the show, $12k for each sounded pretty reasonable. I'm sure that Trish wouldn't mind...or is it possible that I've been in Vegas a little too long?