NAD is well known for its traditional, high-quality, and relatively affordable integrated amplifiers. At this year's CES, NAD introduced a revolutionary new integrated, the M2 ($5999). NAD's Stephen DeFuria (right) told me that the M2 is what NAD calls a "Direct Digital" amplifierthere is no analog circuitry!
Dynaudio had something for almost everyone with an exhibit that ranged from affordable to cost-no-object. At one of the room stood the imposing Consequence SE, whose bass was so powerful that it would interact with the spongy wall behind it unless the mighty Michael Manousselis braced himself against the corner. But on the other end of the long room sat a marvelous little system composed of the Contour S 1.4 ($3500/pair, with optional stands costing an additional $450), Octave V40SE 40Wpc integrated amp ($4900), and an optional capacitance Black Box ($1200) that increased the capacitance of the integrated amp's power supply. Interconnects were from Tara Labs, and speaker cables the Ocos Pro ($900/3 meter pair).
Irresistible warmth in the midrange. It's not what you usually associate with digital, but it's the only way to describe digital reproduction in the EAR USA room. Auditioned were the EAR Acute CD player ($5495), EAR 509 monoblocks ($14,000), and EAR 912 preamplifier ($11,500), played through the brand-new Marten Getz loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) and connected by Jorma Origo cabling. The new Marten Getz, part of the Marten Heritage series and seen hear in JA's photo with EAR's legendary designer Tim de Paravicini, is a three-way model that combines an active and passive woofer in a single box. The Getz boasts 87dB sensitivity, and a frequency response that extends from 30Hz (3dB) up to 40kHz.
I've been a major fan of Echole Obsession cabling ever since hearing it paired with Kaiser Kawero loudspeakers at RMAF 2008. With those marvelous babies lamentably absent, here it was paired with a loudspeaker new to me, the towering, 500 lb Tidal Sunray ($178,600/pair), whose 6'8" designer, Jörn Janczak, is equally imposing.
I spent much of my time at CES roaming around with Stereophile's self-proclaimed Web Monkey, Jon Iverson. I'd never met Jon before I came to the 2010 CES but he was a wonderful guide both to Las Vegas and to CES, as well as a smart and kind person to get to know. On Saturday morning he suggested we head on over the THE Show located at the Flamingo Hotel, right on the strip. One of the first rooms we happened upon was the Edge Electronics room. Jon said, "We've got to go in here."
I had gone into the Koetsu USA room at the Venetian to catch up on the latest developments to the Italian Blacknote DSS30 media server, which I hope to be reviewing later in the year. But I was very taken by the sound of the three-way Odeon Elektra loudspeakers ($19,100/pair), which, driven either by the DSS30,a Goldennote Stibbert CD player, or a Montegiro LP player, via a Goldennote 75Wpc, solid-state integrated amplifier, didn't sound at all like what I expect from horn speakers. Strings had a natural sheen, brass winds a natural "blattiness." Whether solo voice, classical orchestral, or solo piano (a high-rez Beethoven Sonata from 2L), the sound was uncolored, unstrained, and enjoyable.
I was surprised at how ambitious the new Maestro from Electrocompaniet looked on paper: Blu-ray drive, both audio and video streaming, internet radio, FM tuner, options including iPod dock and DAB/HD radio, integrated amplifier delivering 120 Watts into three channels, and optional 75 Watts times two amplifier for surround that can be wirelessly driven using a RF link. All this for between $8,000-10,000 depending on options.
Ed Meitner's EMM Labs also has a new SACD/CD player/reference DAC called the XDS1. Available now for $25,000, the company's Shahin Al Rashid says that if you want the lastest and greatest from Ed, this is the piece to buy. In addition to the XLR and RCA stereo outputs on the back, there are both AES/EBU and Toslink input jacks to accomodate external sources.
Ensemble has taken the position that with all the formats flying around, the biggest library of decent-sounding music remains the CD, so they might as well perfect it. Their Dirondo Player and Drive is a straightforward top-loading CD-only machine based on a Philips pro mechanism that allows the user to select the upsampling rate up to 24 bit/192kHz. Price is $12,000 and the Dirondo is available now.
Since the ES14 from the mid-1980s, speakers from the English Epos company have been renowned for their midrange magic, not for ultimate dynamics. But Mike Creek, Epos's owner, is aiming for both with the Encore 50, which made its debut at CES. This three-way floorstander, priced at $9995/pair, uses two port-loaded 9" woofers with Kevlar/carbon-fiber/pulp-composite cones, in a large cabinet to achieve a high 90dB sensitivity, while the metal-dome tweeter uses an injected-molded roll surround to give high excursion. The midrange is fed by a tapped autotransformer to allow adjustment to a tight tolerance in production.
Havng recently used Esoteric's four-box SACD playback system, with its dual-mono DACs and the ultra-high-precision Rubidium Clock unit, I checked out what the Japanese company was displaying in the rooms they were sharing with cable manufacturer Synergistic Research. My eye was caught by this beautifully styled one-box SACD player/DAC/100Wpc amplifier. The RZ-1 is scheduled to sell for $6000 and as well as using one of Esoteric's highly regarded SACD/CD transport mechanisms, it has both 192kHz-capable S/PDIF and 24/96-capable USB digital inputs andsignificantly for the way the audio market is goinga phono preamplifier. The 32-bit D/A section uses an AKM AK4392 chip and offers both a conventional reconstruction filter, one that resembles Meridian's minimum-phase "apodizing" filter.
As John Atkinson and I entered the room at THE Show in which darTZeel electronics partnered Evolution Acoustics loudspeakers, I was immediately struck by the fullness of the midrange. It was as though the system was opening its heart and welcoming us in. That's how warm and nurturing the sound was.
Here's a product that should warm the digits of anyone with a vinyl collection. Furutech, who is generally known for its high quality connectors and cabling, will be releasing the $450 GT40 USB DAC with built-in phono stage this March.