Audio Space's DAC-1 US ($3000) is a hybrid tube/Mosfet DAC with a difference.It has two pairs of RCA analog outputs: One deriving its signal from the tube DAC; the other taking its signal from the discrete Mosfet DAC.
"Lightning strikes twice," says the blurb on Ayre Acoustics' new KX-R preamp, referring to the 1996 introduction of the Colorado company's original K-1 preamp, considered to be among the best preamps. The KX-R ($18,500 in aluminum finish) retains the zero-feedback, fully-balanced configuration of the K-1, but has a Variable Gain Transimpedance (VGT) circuit, with something called "equilock circuitry" for the gain devices. This was explained to me as a circuit design that does not attenuate the inputs at the front end, and thus improves the S/N ratio. The KX-R is a slim but heavy unit (41 lbs), and as you can see, it looks stunning.
"Wow, that's great," I said, looking down at B&W's new $599 Zeppelin iPod player, the football-shaped Zeppelin, as it played a track from Tal Wilkenfeld's new Transformation album off of my Apple iPhone. Tal Wilkenfeld, a 21 year-old, very pretty, Australian girl, was all the buzz after she played bass with Jeff Beck at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival Concert in Chicago last summer.
I was rocking out in the DeVore Fidelity/Tone Imports room, listening to Polly Jean Harvey. In the midst of the hurly-burly of CES, I was feeling no pain. "I love the way you guys decided to set your Silver Diamondback References up assymetrically," I told JDV.
Meridian has completely redone its Signature Reference 808 CD player, now the 808.2 ($14,995). "We've changed its drive, drive navigation software, power supply, DSP, and clocking and buffering. I'd like to say that the only thing we've retained is the case, but we've improved that, too," said Bob Stuart.
The Benchmark DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier has long been our affordable digital recommendation, both in its original form ($975) or with an additional USB data input ($1275, reviewed in the January issue of Stereophile). The DAC1 looked a little different when I went into the Benchmark room at the THE Show; "That's because you're looking at the new DAC1 PRE," explained Rory Rall. The NY company has added a pair of single-ended analog inputs so that the DAC1 can act as the system preamp. It still has digital inputs, of course, though the AES/EBU XLR had to be omitted to make the rear-panel real estate available for the analog inputs. A switch scrolls between the four digital inputs, the USB computer input, and the analog input. The DAC1 PRE is expected to begin shipping in February 2008 and will retail for $1575.
"You know," Alon Wolf told us. A lot of what you liked about the sound of my music server was the Pacific Microsonics Model Two DAC I was using. But that's no longer manufactured, this is even better and only $5000."
We'd been told to check out Boulder's new music server, but that's not exactly what the $24,000 1021 Disc Player is. It's a CD player (with a few other formats "to be announced") that uses a computer disc drive to feed a one-minute buffer to "preserve the integrity of the audio signal delivered from the drive. "Also," confided Steve Rockwell, "the clock is about this far [pinches fingers together], so jitter is phenomenally low."
Bryston's James Tanner surprised me by showing me a new direction for Canadian amplifier manufacturer Bryston: it has developed a series of class-D (switching) amplifiers. "You'll notice from the line's hybrid name that we combine the class-D output module with regular linear power supplies, not switching supplies," explained James. "The switching supplies are too noisy."
I was excited to see Cambridge Audio's TT50 turntable. On display with their small, S30 loudspeakers ($259/pair), the TT50 was looking pretty darn sexy in its high-gloss jet-black finish. If it reminds you of Pro-Ject's popular Debut III, that's probably because the TT50 was developed in partnership with that Austrian firm. It uses a proprietary tonearm, an Audio Technica AT95E moving magnet cartridge, and its elastomer-coated acrylic platter is said to "control resonance and provide matched acoustic impedance to the vinyl record for maximum detail retrieval."
Britain's Cambridge Audio is known for its modestly-priced integrated amps and such, but now they've decided to move upmarket by introducing separate preamps and power amps. The Azur 840E ($1499) preamp and Azur 840 power amp (200Wpc,
$2199) are based on top-of-the-line Cambridge Azur 840A integrated amp, with upgraded power supplies and other improvements. Here they are, pictured with Ian McArthur of Audio Plus, the North American importer.