Many, many moons ago, in the days when Stereophile was a small digest rather than a full-sized magazine and lively website, I owned an Aragon 4004 dual-monoblock amplifier. Oh how I wish I had never sold my 4004, with circuitry designed by Dan d'Agostino, and instead mated it with a front end, speakers, and cabling that could have revealed all that it had to offer.
You, thankfully, have an opportunity to find out just how good the circuitry is. The just-introduced Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc dual monoblock amplifier ($4999) with dual, symmetrical power supply and ethernet-based control and status monitoring, is now produced by Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009.
It's a simple idea really. Make it easy for anyone at your home to pull out an iDevice and play what's on it over your audio system without having to fiddle with cables and the proper connectors and then a compatible USB port. Some products, such as the Musical Fidelity M1SDAC have this already built in, but if you don't have it, here's an easy way to add it.
The $249 rBlink gives you the ability to connect any Bluetooth device like an iPhone wirelessly to the system. Plug the rBlink into an extra input on your stereo, and then have the Bluetooth enabled iDevice add it from their menu. Maybe not the best sound in the world (though better than it used to be with Bluetooth), but easy for your pals and great fun at parties.
Aimed straight at the Sonos owner, Arcam's new DAC has a form factor similar to a Sonos ZP90 and plugs right in. It forms a base for the Sonos to sit on and is similar to the company's rLink DAC with TI PCM5102 chip, supporting streams up to 24/192. Retail price is $299 and it is available now.
The Solo Neo now has networking capabilities and uses an upgraded disc transport. At $2000, it might seem a little pricey to a young or beginning audiophile, but considering that it combines tuner, preamp, power amp, and disc player in a clean, stylish enclosure, the Solo Neo represents great value.
Manhattan retailer/distributor Audio Arts was showing the Zellaton Grand loudspeaker ($39,750/pair). This combines a tweeter and two 7" mid-woofers using aluminum foil-faced rigid-foam diaphragms first developed in 1935 by Emil Podszuswhich I had first seen and heard in the Pawel Ensemble minimonitors from 20 years agowith a downward-firing woofer in a cabinet that is open to the rear.
It’s difficult to tell from my poorly shot photograph, but Audio Electronics’ range of affordable products seem to offer the same high level of fit and finish one would expect from their more ambitious parent, Cary Audio.
Audio Research is replacing the CD8 with a new player this year that will use similar proprietary filters and upsampling to that of the company's Reference DAC. There are also additional digital inputs on the back to accept USB, SPDIF, Toslink and AES/EBU 24/192 connections. The new player is shipping later this month and will retail for $13,000.
I hadn't seen Audionet before, but apparently they have been operating for several years in Germany and had a complete range of products in one of the larger rooms at T.H.E. Show. Of particular interest to me is their DNC DAC, which is available now and retails in the US for $8990. DNC stands for Digital Network Client and the product can access music from the standard 24/192 digital sources as well has NAS drives and iDevices.
So far so good, but what really caught my eye was watching the company's head engineer, Volker Wischniowski, pull up a laptop and start to manipulate frequency response curves which could then be uploaded to the DNC.
The VEGA is another DAC employing a femto clock for extremely low jitter and retails for $3,500 (a low price point for the femto feature) . It handles PCM streams up to 32/384 as well as DSD, DXD and 2xDSD. The VEGA can also function as a digital preamp and includes a remote that can control the output level. Inputs include AES/EBU, 2xSPDIF, Toslink and "ActiveUSB". Analog outputs are both balanced and unbalanced and the front panel sports a very easy to read display.
Darren Censullo of Avatar Acoustics always puts on a good show, but with his wife, Bonnie, was eager at CES to introduce Canadian company Tri-Art Audio, whose founder, Steve Ginsberg, has returned to his audio roots after a detour in the artistic acrylic paints industry. Tri-Art's "The Block" 50W monoblock amplifiers (price TBD, probably around $2500$2600), "The Bam Bam" turntable and tonearm (again probably around $2600), and "The Block" 24V DC battery power supply (price TBD) include new digital chips, are voiced with natural materials, and boast a very simple single-ended signal path.
AVM Audio of Germany introduced its 425Wpc MA 3.2 monoblock amplifiers ($5500/pair) and PA5.2 analog tube preamp ($6600). The latter is an extremely versatile, fully balanced design with tube output stage, home theater bypass, and the ability to add additional DAC, phono preamplifier, tuner, and streamer modules.
Axiss Audio’s attractive setup at the Venetian highlighted AirTight's huge ATM-3011 monoblock amplifiers ($50,000/pair). The amps were part of a system that included the Focal Scala loudspeakers ($30,000), Transrotor Rondino turntable ($14,000), SME V tonearm ($5,000), AirTight PC-1 moving-coil cartridge ($11,000), AirTight ATC-2 line preamplifier ($11,000), AirTight ATE-2 phono stage ($15,000), and ATH02 step-up transformer ($5,000). The sound was involving and dynamic.
Importer Charles Harrison had arranged four distinct systems in an air-walled ballroom at THE Show. The room's boundaries were so porous that I was able to hear the sounds of a competing Mahler symphony playing so loudly in an adjacent room that I thought they were coming from one of the four systems in the room I was in. The system I was actually trying to listen to featured the new Ayon Audio Triton III integrated stereo amplifier ($12,500), which can output 125Wpc of pure class A power, as well as Ayon's Ortho II XS flagship preamplifier. Witht eh room
S sub-optimal acoustics, the chain produced a very bottom-heavy snippet of Mahler's Symphony No.2, capped by bright highs.
Opening the top of Ayre's new AX-5 integrated amplifier ($9950) revealed an impressive layout, with transformers so big that they extend down through the bottom of the chassis. Rated at 125Wpc into 8 ohms, or 250 into 4, the AX-5 uses the same volume control as in the KX-R, and a diamond buffer circuit in the output stage. The amp, driving TAD CR-1 stand-mounted monitors, sounded eminently smooth on a track by Ella Fitzgerald, and did a fine job communicating the smile in her voice.