As they had at the 2011 Show, Magnepan's Mark Winey (left) and Wendell Diller (right) were demonstrating their system behind a curtain, so that listeners' preconceptions would not affect their opinions of the sound. It turned out that the speakers being demmed, driven by Bryston amplification, were a pair of the Minnesotan company's MMG planars ($599/pair), to which had been added a $5000 Tricenter center channel speaker. This seemed a bit odd to me, but Wendell explained that they were showing an unlikely combination that might be just what a specific customer needed.
In response to Mark Levinson Audio Systems' 40th Anniversary, the company has announced a new line of products for the two-channel audiophile, the 40th Anniversary Collection at CES 2012, which includes the $25,000 No.52 Reference dual-mono preamplifier, the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier, the $6000 No.519 SACD player and the $6000 No.560 digital processor. I was most intrigued by the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier shown in the photo, which is rated at 225Wpc into 8 ohms, and provides a dedicated subwoofer output.
Also due sometime near the end of the year is a new SACD player which can also function as a digital preamp and includes four digital inputs (two USB, two SPDIF) and volume control. The 519 also has HDMI, AES/EBU, optical, and SPDIF outputs.
The $25,000, 500W Mark Levinson No.53 digital-switching reference monoblock amplifier made its regular non-playing appearance at CES 2012 but this time with an illuminated cutaway display, allowing its lead design engineer, Mark Seiber, to walk me through its circuitry. The transparent panel, which the display used in place of heatsinks allowed me to easily see the No.53's four major subsections (analog input stage, modulation, amplifier output stage with its eight air-core inductors, and power supply section, which is at the bottom of the chassis.
Harman's Mark Levinson line is celebrating 40 years in business by announcing a completely new line of audio products, all in empty box prototype form at CES. Pictured here is the No.560 Digital Audio Processor with can function as both DAC and digital preamp. The 560 has 10(!) digital inputs on the back (though the prototype on display had only a blank panel) including two HDMI 1.3 inputs with "DSD-direct" input capability.
The No.560 is slated for release by the end of the year for a retail price of $6k.
mbl is now shipping the Corona Line of products that were shown as prototypes last year. The mbl C31 CD Player, shown here with Chief Engineer Jürgen Reis, retails for $9,200 and features the same gorgeous casework mbl is known for as well as USB, Toslink and SPDIF inputs. The C31 also networks with other mbl Corona products for simplified control and display options.
It was good to visit McIntosh Laboratory's 35th floor suite at the Venetian Hotel and spend a few minutes with Ron Cornelius, the product manager, discussing our shared experiences with the legendary McIntosh MR-78 FM tuner. Ron showed me the latest iteration of the company's MC-275 tube amplifier. Now released as version 6, 50th-Anniversary 275, priced at $6500, it reminded me that the amplifier was first shipped in 1961.
I know of speakers where, depending on the crossover, the same 5" or 6" driver is used as midrange or as woofer, but I've never encountered a speaker where a driver normally designated as a tweeter also functions as a midrange. This is the unusual design approach taken by McIntosh in some new speaker models, including the $10,000/pair XR100, and, judging by the sound, it certainly works for them. The driver is a 2" metal dome: eight of these are combined to serve as midrange, with two more as the tweeter flanking a supertweeter.
It's no secret that I love the Meridian Sooloos touchscreen interface for handling a large music collection. But the Sooloos iPad app and desktop application left a little to be desired in the ease-of-use department compared to the Control 15 17" touchscreen sold by the company. Neither app included the album cover art grid that is essential to the Sooloos' ease of use, and other features were hit and miss.
Not any more. The new iPad app includes the album cover grid as well as almost all of the Focus and navigation features from the Control 15 touchscreen software. So all you need now is a Sooloos core somewhere in the network and an iPad or computer if you want the grid without Meridian's touchscreen. I couldn't see not having a Control 15 in the house, even though I use the iPad as a controller too, but I'm sure some folks would disagree.
Hand model Bob Stuart demonstrated the new cover grid, and it flowed rather smoothly as he browsed the collection. Should be available in the next month or so and is free (though only of use to Sooloos system users). I can't wait to get my hands on it and hope to do a follow-up to my original Sooloos review in the next few months.
Other than the soft ring of blue light at the top, Meridian's new M6 powered loudspeaker ($9000/pair) looks unprepossessing but hides a wealth of high technology within its black enclosure. The entire range from 200Hz to 25kHztwo decades!is handled by a single front-firing 3" driver at the top of the cabinet. This is a development of the drive-unit Meridian designed for the F80 music system and is coupled to a downward-firing woofer, which can be seen in the exploded diagram next to the speaker. The M6 has a digital input and the use of DSP for its crossover and equalization means it can be placed near room boundaries, maximizing its Spouse-Acceptance Factor. I listened to the Sheffield Drum Record from Bob Stuart's Sooloos server, controlled with the new iPad app, followed by Dire Straits, the pizzicato movement from Ravel's String Quartet. and the 2L hi-rez recording of Britten's Simple Symphony, and the M6 demonstrated surprising dynamics and clarity, coupled with an overall ease to its presentation. Yes, the lows were a bit too rich, but this is a fit'n'forget speaker system that non-audiophile music lovers will go ga-ga over.
Unlike the mass-market consumer electronics exhibitors, which started their press conference onslaught over the weekend and Monday, the audiophile exhibitors like to maintain a sane CES schedule.
And so for us lucky enough to cover performance audio, the show starts today, Tuesday. And with a full moon setting over the desert no less. Posts should start dribbling in today, and kick into full gear by this weekend.
Last week, we learned that Gibson and Onkyo were negotiating a deal that would see the legendary guitar manufacturer purchase a stake in Onkyo Japan and acquire a majority interest in Onkyo USA to become the second largest shareholder in Onkyo Corporation. Near the end of show hours on a brisk Tuesday evening, a small group of reporters were invited aboard Gibson’s luxury bus for a bit of freedom from the Convention Center chaos and to learn more about the merger.
The Diamond DAC shown here has now been upgraded with MSB's Pro I2S Network capability which the company claims is a faster, lower jitter version of MSB’s original network and retails between approximately $20-35k depending on included options. The entire line is also now available in this luscious, but hard to photograph, black finish and it's likely I'll be reviewing an MSB system for Stereophile in the next few months.
Below the DAC is the MSB Diamond Power Base power supply running at $4,495 and below that is the very thin WiFi System Interface which brings iPad app control to the entire MSB line for $1,950 and should be available shortly.
Perhaps the most interesting MSB announcement is the $9,950 FemtoSecond Galaxy Clock that the company is making available as a plug in module for all DAC IVs. The claim for the clock upgrade is less than .077 picoseconds of jitter (77 femtoseconds)--let's see if JA can measure that.
MSB has upgraded their Data CD IV disc player to the new Signature model with a machined metal disc drawer and updated networking. The Pro I2S digital output connects directly to the master clock in the DAC so the Data CD drive is controlled by the same clock that is running the DAC modules and motherboard for "hyper accurate data clocking when playing discs".
This is an interesting transport in that it plays CDs and also DVD data discs (such as Reference Recordings HRx discs) with .wav files up to 32/384! The transport sells for $7,995 and in this photo is paired with the Signature Transport Power Base at $3495.