New Gear from Audio Research
Audio Research had live demonstrations of a number of new products, including its new CD transport, the vacuum tube Reference CD-9 player ($13,000) and the vacuum-tube Reference 10 line stage preamplifier ($30,000). These were included in a system with their vacuum tube Reference Phono2 SE phono preamplifier ($13,000), their Reference D/A converter ($16,000), Reference 250 monoblocks ($26,000/pair), and a pair of DSM450M solid-state power amplifiers ($11,000/pair). The Ref250s and DSM450s were used to bi-amp a pair of Sonus Faber Aida speakers.
This grouping of products suggests the breadth and depth of the Italian Fine Sounds Group's portfolio. They purchased Sonus Faber in 2006, Audio Research in 2008, Sumiko and Wadia Digital in 2011, and McIntosh in 2012. AR's Audio Research's Director of Sales David Gordon played the "Gaelic Blessing" from Rutter's Requiem for me, illustrating the system's ability to generate a wide, deep, virtual soundstage. I found the pipe organ's baseline more subtle and musical than other demonstrations held at the show, being soft and reserved, but much more in balance with the chorus.
Audio Research's Reference 75 vacuum tube stereo amplifier ($9000) incorporates many of the new technologies found in the more powerful and pricier Reference line of amplifiers. For example, one pair of KT120 output tubes are used, and the front-panel meters can be switched from power output to bias adjustment readings. The Reference 75 weighs in at only 58 lbs.
Audio Research also introduced their Vacuum Tube Reference 10 Line Stage Preamplifier ($30,000). It comes with 7 pairs of balanced and single-ended inputs, an A/V processor loop, a touch-screen display, and remote control. The power supply is housed in one chassis, separate from the audio and control/display electronics in the main chassis. This preamplifier is dual-mono from the power cord on, with two power supplies, two mains transformers, two DC umbilical cords. It is a fully balanced design. I found the touch-screen control clever, particularly the graphics for monitoring tube life.
At 175 lbs, Audio Research's Reference 750 vacuum tube monoblock amplifier ($55,000/pair) tops the Minnesota’s flagship Reference line. It weighs almost three times as much as the Reference 75. Although introduced back in October 2011, CES 2013 was the AR REF750's first appearance at a CES. Because they require 220V lines to meet their output requirements, the amplifiers were not playing at the show. The Reference 750 consists of two chassis, stacked one on top of the other, inside a common frame, both isolating the lower power supply components from the upper audio signal boards, as well as providing cooling by convection, so no fans are required. Like the Reference 75, it uses KT120 output tubes, 16 of them versus the two in the smaller amplifier. David Gordon noted that the factory uses an automotive engine hoist to manufacture them.