Siltech's Edwin van der Kley handed me his new preamp. There were no wires attached, but the four tubes were glowing. "It's battery-powered, and I could use a low 25V voltage rail for the tubes because they are ECC86 dual-triodes, which were developed for car-audio and microphone use." Edwin went to explain that as this tube uses a 6.3V heater, he could run the heaters of the four tubes in series from the same 25V supply. It also offers very low 1/f noise for a small-signal tube, he told me. Siltech has a plentiful supply of the tubes and the preamp wil sell for $28,000.
Bel Canto has clearly been busy on the digital front. Three new DACs are on display: the e.One DAC1.5 at $1,395, e.One DAC2.5 at $1,995, and the e.One DAC3.5VB at $3,495. The company explains that the core of all three products is the "jitter-eliminating" Two-Stage Master Reference UltraClock.
Minneapolis-based Bel Canto Design (props to my homies) brought a new amplifier to CES this year. The e.One REF150s ($1495, shown on the lower rack) is a fully balanced dual-mono amplifier that will put out 150Wpc into 8 ohms This may be a wee-sized amplifier, but it sounded huge strapped to a pair of new Joseph Audio bookshelf speakers.
For those of you who lust after a Benchmark DAC but wish it had remote control, rejoice. And in typical pro-audio fashion, they didn't add just any remote, but a motorized Alps pot that turns the front panel knob. The company claims that digital volume controls can reduce dynamic range and analog IC type controls add distortion and noise, hence their custom motorized design.
I love wandering the halls and coming across a fully formed company that had up until now snuck under the radar in the US. Bladelius is such a brand, enjoying success all around the world and presently making a push into North America. President George Ioakimedes, who resides in the US, is at the show to sign up dealers and spread the word about the Swedish company.
Music server manufacturer Blue Smoke returned to CES this year as part of the Rockport Technologies suite in the upper echelons of the Mirage. The company's product is the $6,995 Black Box music server where they focus on creating an optimal environment for digital music on the hardware side and assume the customer will choose a Windows compatible music player and interface. For their demo, Windows Media Center was used with a Dell touchscreen (seen on the right) and keyboard/mouse combo for the control functions. A MSB DAC, located under the Black Box in the photo above, converts the data to analog.
Boulder has updated their 1021 disc player, reviewed by John Atkinson last July, adding an ethernet jack on the back and an iPhone app to control multiple streams of content such as a NAS drive on the network or media server. Boulder's Rich Maez says the new player is currently in the debugging stage and should be available near the end of January for $24,000.
More and more companies at all price ranges are releasing disc players that can also function as a DAC/preamp for other digital sources. Burmester is no exception, bringing their new top-of-the-line CD player to market with both Toslink and SPDIF along with a pair of analog ins on the back and a selectable volume control.
With 1TB of internal music storage, backup management program and Shoutcast internet radio capability, the Cary Audio Design Music Server appears to be a screaming deal at the estimated $2000-2500 price range. You can also add additional music storage via USB and control everything with an iPhone or Touch running their app.
Newly unveiled in the Cary Audio room was the CAD 211 Founders Edition amplifier. This fully balanced monoblock retails for $20,000/pair. The amps have taps for 4, 8 and 16 ohm speakers and specified as putting out 70W in class-A, increasing to 110W when pushed into class-AB. They also employ zero feedback so I'm not going to send them to JA's test bench (low-feedback designs seem to make him grumpy). They sounded sweet and full-bodied driving the Marten Coltrane speakers, with cabling by Tara Labs. It is ironic, however, noted JA, that Cary founder Dennis Had retired from Cary in the fall of 2009.
I was aware of CEntrance from the code they supply for the Texas Instruments USB receiver chip used by Benchmark , Bel Canto and others to allow USB connection without there having to be a driver program on the host PC. But the Chicago-based company also makes USB-based hardware, and at THE Show, Jason Serinus and I bumped into their Managing Director, Michael Goodman (left) who is showing Jason the cute DACport USB Headphone Amplifier ($500). This 24/96-capable, bus-powered, cigarette lighter-sized product has a miniature USB port on one end and a ¼" headphone jack on the other, with a small volume pot on top. CEntrance also makes similar bus-powered products with an A/D converter to connect microphones and electric guitars to a PC via USB.
Some of my favorite industrial design in the audio industry comes from Chord. I'm not sure that the cool glass and aluminum flourishes found on many of their products have key functional utility, but they sure look inviting. So the relatively understated casework done for the new Cyan Click Digital Integrated Amplifier still stands out among more staid designs from others.
Musical Fidelity, now distributed in the US by Tempo, had a room at the Mirage and were displaying lots of new equipment. As part of their newly released M series, Antony Michaelson's company showed off the M6i dual-mono integrated amplifier. The amps' circuitry design trickles down from the Musical Fidelity Titan amp reviewed last June by Michael Fremer. The amp puts out 200Wpc, retails for $3000, and, surprisingly, features a USB input.
Nothing can beat starting off a morning in a state of grace. That's how it felt when Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings warmed up the new Clearaudio Concept turntable ($1400) with Borodin's Quartet No.2, appropriately performed by the Borodin Quartet and reproduced on an immaculate Decca pressing. The sound was warm, liquid, and eminently pleasing - everything I would want from good vinyl reproduction.
Designer Peter Madnick, one of the original founders of Audio Alchemy a couple decades back, has returned as part of a new Southern California company called Constellation Audio. In addition to preamp and amplifier offerings, on hand was the $50,000 Sirius DAC and CD player two box system. One box (which they call the "clean box") contains the DAC and audio stuff and then the "dirty box" houses the transport and power supplies (pictured above).