A closer view of the Dan D’Agostino Momentum amplifier, with its watchface-styled meter. Photographs just don't do this gorgeous amplifier justiceI just wanted to stroke that meter, caress those copper flanks!
Audio Power Labs was a new name to me, and not without reason. The company was recently started up by a number of audio enthusiasts, including a number of ham radio operators and this was their first showing at a CES. The 833TNT monoblock amplifiers (price not set) use an interesting compliment of tubes, including two 833C tubes that are often used in small AM transmitters and a switching power supply.
Audio Research of Minnesota is located only a mile from my home, yet my visit to their room at this year’s CES was the first time I’d really met any of their staff. Getting pride-of-place in their CES system this year was the Reference Anniversary Preamplifier ($24,995), a two-chassis preamp celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary. According to the folks at Audio Research, this preamplifier has been a huge hit and has, to their own surprise, exceeded their sales expectations. Orders for the preamplifier will be taken through April 2011 and, unlike Brett Favre, will not come out of retirement.
Back in the Audience room, PR representative Frank Doris mentioned that Audio-Technica was displaying a turntable at the Convention Center. Of course, I wanted to see it: Audio-Technica’s AT-LP240-USB direct-drive professional turntable ($499) was mated to a pair of M-Audio BX5a active loudspeakers ($400/pair), making a fun and easy system.
After Thursday’s full day at the Venetian’s high-performance audio exhibits, it was time to throw all caution to the winds and head to some of the major headphone exhibits at CES’ official three-ring circus, aka the Las Vegas Convention Center’s South, Central, and North Halls.
I’m glad that John Atkinson suggested I spend no more than a half-day at the LVCC. That’s how long it took to navigate through tens of thousands of people (or so it seemed) in the South and Central Halls to reach the displays of Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, and Monster.
First stop was Audio-Technica, where I encountered former audiophile critic turned publicist Frank Doris. Together we examined three new over-ear “Audiophile headphones” and one set of in-ear noise-canceling headphones.
I sampled the most expensive of the audiophile bunch, the Audio-Technica ATH-W1000x Grandioso ($699.95) that Tyll Hertsens writes about elsewhere in this report. I also briefly checked out their new in-ear QuietPoint active noise-canceling (ANC) ATH-ANC23 headphones ($99.95). Complete with an in-line volume control, the phones will first reach the market in February 2011. I found them a pleasure to use. Unfortunately, Unfortunately, all that was available to audition were MP3s of highly compressed, noisy pop and rock.
For a decade or more, I’ve begged Japanese company Audio-Technica to bring more of their domestic models into the US. Woot! Seems like they’re doing it. The recent addition of the ATH-A900 (closed back; $249), ATH-AD900 (open back; $299), and the beautifully finished Black Cherry wood of the ATH-W1000x Grandioso (closed back; $699) will broaden choices for the strong following among headphone enthusiast who prefer a tastefully done fast and airy sound.
I know you guys have more stuff over there . . . if you’re listening, bring it on.
Audioquest formally released their current top-of-the-line reference USB cable at CES, the Diamond USB ($650/1.5m). The cable’s conductor is solid-core, perfect-surface silver (100% silver).
A key feature of the Diamond USB, which is held in the photo by Audioquest’s Andrew Kissinger, is the Audioquest DBS (dielectric bias system). Invented and patented by Richard Vandersteen, with the cable version co-patented by Vandersteen and Audioquest’s Bill Low, the DBS creates an electrostatic field that saturates and polarizes the molecules of the insulation to minimize energy storage in the dielectric. The result is claimed to be much greater dynamic range, lower background noise, and reduced phase distortion.
Steve Silberman, VP of Marketing, explained that all insulators have capacitance. Energy from the conductor enters the insulation and needs to discharge. The DBS’ electrostatic field lowers the discharge, which in turn lowers the amount of phase distortion and makes for a cleaner signal.
In a very short demo, Silberman compared music through a stock USB cable that came with his printer to music through the Diamond. Using the new Arcam R asynchronous USB DAC, Arcam AVR 600 receiver, AQ Niagra interconnects ($1600/1m pair), AQ Redwood speaker cables ($2300/3ft pair), and Vandersteen 2Ce 30th anniversary edition speakers, the difference in transparency and color was striking.
Famed audio designer/engineer Demian Martin, known for his work with Spectral Audio, Constellation and others, is also part of Auraliti, who were displaying their wares at T.H.E Show in the Flamingo.
Shown above is the heart of their new product line, the L1000 File Player, which is controlled by either a wireless iPhone/iPad type device or networked web browser and runs Linux. The company says there are no moving parts in the L1000 which boots from a Solid State Drive and has an AES/EBU output for connecting to your DAC. The L1000 Outputs up to 24 bit/192kHz and can handle FLAC, WAF and AIFF files. Price is around $3,000.
Melody Valve HiFi of Australia was a new company to me. Pictured here is the Pure Black 101 Preamplifier ($4499) and PM815 monoblock power amplifiers ($7959/pair). The Pure Black 101 features an Alps remote attenuator, point-to-point wiring and Jensen copper foil paper in oil capacitors. The PM815 delivers 70W of pure class-A power using 845 output tubes.
Ayre showed off their new VX-R stereo amplifier, a stereo version of their lauded MX-R monoblocks. Rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms the VX-R is priced at $14,950. The amp is a zero-feedback design, featuring fully balanced discrete circuitry. As usual from Ayre, the chassis is beautifully made of milled aluminum. The sound of the VX-R, driving the TAD Compact Reference monitors was wonderful.
All of Bel Canto’s equipment was powered by their VBS-1 Virtual Battery Supply ($1495), which effectively takes their equipment off the electrical grid. The VBS technology was debuted at last year’s CES, but new this year are the VB-Ref power cables which connect the 12V output of the VBS-1 power supply to the component. Having tried these cables out in my own system at home during my audition of the Bel Canto DAC3.5 VBS, I can testify to their ability to bring out the best in this new Bel Canto gear.
Distributed for the first time in the US by Robert Kelly of Kelly Audio Technologies in San Diego, the unusually designed Bertram cable comes in copper, silver, and gold configurations. Pictured is Proxima 2 balanced silver interconnect ($8000/1.5m pair).
Designed by Soren Bertram of Denmark, Proxima 2’s silver ribbon wire is flattened and twisted into what looks like a braid. Boasting an air dielectric and laser-welded terminations, it is third down from Bertram’s top-of-the-line. Also available are the Proxima 2 silver speaker cable ($25,000/2m pair), signal cables, and power cords.
Some readers may recognize Kelly as the former speaker designer for EgglestonWorks and Cello. Out of the business for a number of years, he has returned with an intriguing portfolio of Scandinavian-sourced products.
Bladelius has created a gorgeous product that includes a touch screen on the front and can play discs, stream media and store music. Hand made in Sweden and retailing for around $9,000, the Embla features internal flash memory for storing music (upgradable to 2TB!!), USB and Ethernet on the back, and built-in analog preamplifier.
When I walked into the Boulder room, I actually started to giggle. I was told Boulder was showing off some large new amps, but I was not ready for what I saw. Sitting atop plinths of solid granite were the new 3050 monoblock amplifiers. Unlike most monoblocks, the left and right amps, seen here with Boulder's genial Rich Maez, are designed as mirror images of one another for greater visual appeal. These class-A amps put out 1500W into 8 ohms, use 120 output devices, require a dedicated 240AV AC outlet, and weigh 400 lbs each. Oh yes, they cost $180,000/pair. They will begin shipping soon and I am told that orders are already in for these beasts.