Constellation Audio's eye-catching set-upthe first time they've shown their reference system at an audio showincluded a prototype turntable with two arms that is expected to replace the Continuum Caliburn table. (Is Michael Fremer watching? You betcha.)
The company's smiling Irv Gross was happy to show me the new, shipping within 60 days Constellation Inspiration integrated 1.0 ($13,500). "This one has it all, and it's also our most affordable product," he said. "It's an Inspiration preamp combined with one half of an Inspiration amp, and it includes a headphone jack and theater throughput for easy integration in HT set-ups. It also outputs a legitimate 100 watts."
Now this was an interesting one. Just one room over from the expensive Constellation set-up sat extreme bargain-for-the-money Audio Alchemy, designed by the same man who oversaw Constellation's engineering, Peter Madnick. But since my beat was the high-priced spread, I turned from Audio Alchemy's great-sounding gear to the TAD CE1 loudspeakers ($24,000/pair), designed by Toru Nagatani (above).
15001600 parts, 14 circuit boards including six input boards . . . that's just the start of what gives Pass Labs' top-of-the-line XS Phono stage ($45,000) the right to the "excess" moniker. It's a while back that Nelson Pass told veteran preamp designer Wayne Colburn (above). . .
Germany's T+A introduced the DAC 8 analog to digital converter and preamp a couple years back as a compact and sportier version of its pricier siblings. New this year is the addition of a dedicated DSD processing section, new upgraded volume control and headphone amplifier.
His name was Thom Pahmer and he broke all my rules: It was 10am the first day of the show and I walked in to his empty room, I introduced myself, "Good morning. My name is Herb Reichert and I covering the lower cost part of the High End for Stereophileand I am especially interested in stand-mounted speakers." Mr. Pahmer looked at me crossly and said, "These are NOT stand mounted speakers!" I pointed at what I thought was a stand and he says, "The speakers are bolted to themit is all one unit." I asked about the retail price and he told me, $5500/pair.
With my assignment high-priced amps, preamps, loudspeakers, and turntables, I started off by heading to the big rooms in the Venetian Tower. First up was the EsotericCabasse room, where Esoteric was showing the latest incarnations of its “2” series, the Tokyo-made C-02X stereo line-stage preamplifier and S-02 stereo amplifier ($20,000 each). In a classic case of “trickle-down engineering” (which actually works, while trickle down economics rarely does), the preamp uses the same dual-layer supercaps as in the Grandioso ($40,000). It’s a fully balanced design, with a separate volume control for each phase of each channel. The sound is claimed to be faster, lighter, and more highly resolved, with a “big open soundstage.”
The reemergence of Technics on the world audio scene is, I believe, the biggest audio news of 20152016. I reviewed their SB-C700 stand mounted monitor speakers in the January 2016 issue and they already feel like my 2016 nomination for Stereophile's Product of the Year; but obviously it is still way early. Nevertheless, Technics is back with two lines of stylish excellent sounding equipment...
Kicking off CES early, AudioQuest held a press conference Wednesday morning to present their three new portable DAC/Headphone amps to the public for the first time. Designer Gordon Rankin and AudioQuest's Steve Silberman were on hand to explain the new products and run a brief demo.
The day before the opening of CES is devoted to press conferences, mostly by the big boys: Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, etc. These are generally of little interest to Stereophile readers, so our detailed show coverage doesn't start until the official CES opening.