I stumbled into the Naim Audio Exhibit and was faced with a wall of amplifiers and electronics. Chris Koster, of the Sound Organisation, Naim's US importer, guided me through the Naim amplification that was being used to drive the tri-amplified loudspeakers in the room. Starting from the left, the rack held three NAP-500 solid state amplifiers ($28,000 each).Sitting just above the three amplifier chassis at the extreme left was a Naim Snaxxo 362 ($3500) active crossover; its Naim Supercap power supply, sitting at the top of the center column, powered the Snaxxo. Each of the amplifier's individual NAP-500 PS power supplies occupied the three lower shelves at the center of the rack. The two top center shelves held the power supplies for the NAC552 preamplifier ($28,000) and the NDS Media Streamer ($11,000), whose control chassis could be found at the extreme right of the rack.
Bryston's new product line-up for 2013 includes a replacement for its venerable 2B stereo amplifier, the 2.5B amplifier ($2995). Similar to the new BP-17 preamplifier ($3550, see below), the 2.5B amplifier is derived from the amplifier portion of its B-135 SST2 integrated amplifier (see related story). Bryston's James Tanner explained that the upgrade employs a much beefier power supply than its predecessor, allowing it to deliver 135Wpc into 8 ohm load impedances. Bryston's new BP-17 preamplifier ($3550) is derived from the preamplifier portion of its B-135 integrated amplifier, which features balanced outputs and advanced circuitry derived from the SP-3 surround processor. The B-17 closely resembles the B-135, differing externally only in not having heatsinks and speaker outputs on the rear panel. The BP17 utilizes a software controlled, motorized analog volume dial and integrated balance control.
Mystère hosted a sneak preview of its forthcoming ma21 power amplifier ($TBD). Available in March, this mono version of the pa21 ($2995) boasts automatic bias, and can work with EL-34, KT-88, or KT-120 power tubes.
At a show in which far too many of the rooms on my beatrooms showing new amps or preamps in the $2500$15,000 range, new cables, or new power products or accessoriessounded hard, harsh, and hi-fi, VTL's new S-200 Stereo Signature amplifier ($10,000) and TL6.5 Series II Signature line preamplifier ($13,000) stood out for their welcoming warmth, relaxed flow, and unfailing musicality. The S-200 is a fully balanced stereo amp with a class-A/B output stage that is said to remain in class-A up to 70 watts. In development for close to six years, it arrives equipped with VTL's familiar auto-biasing and fault sensor.
Audio Research had live demonstrations of a number of new products, including its new CD transport, the vacuum tube Reference CD-9 player ($13,000) and the vacuum-tube Reference 10 line stage preamplifier ($30,000). These were included in a system with their vacuum tube Reference Phono2 SE phono preamplifier ($13,000), their Reference D/A converter ($16,000), Reference 250 monoblocks ($26,000/pair), and a pair of DSM450M solid-state power amplifiers ($11,000/pair). The Ref250s and DSM450s were used to bi-amp a pair of Sonus Faber Aida speakers.
Among Cardas' new goodies at CES was the 3455R IEC plug ($49.95), with pins of solid ultra-pure copper with silver/rhodium plating, and the 3455R-US wall plug ($49.95), whose pins are made of the same material. Cardas is now substituting these for Furutech terminations on their power cables. National Sales Director Brian Von Bork reports that they're also re-launching the Cardas Ear Speaker 5813 ($425), aka ear buds with bloom.
Harman’s Jeremy Brenner introduced me to AKG’s new K619 on-ear headphone ($149), designed to provide exceptional comfort and portability, while maintaining the level of performance one would expect from AKG. “We want people to know that they can look good without sacrificing quality,” said Brenner.
It doesn’t do DSD, it isn’t WiFi or Bluetooth-capable, and it certainly isn’t portable. It’s big, ugly, and, for most people, it’s almost entirely useless. But the TEAC W-890R ($299) plays cassettes! Why cassettes?!
Lew Johnson of Conrad-Johnson announced a new stereo amplifier, which he considers priced in "the sweet spot for sound per dollar." The CP125sa ($8250 in base version, $10,000 upgraded) outputs "roughly" 125Wpc, and uses the same circuit as the top-of-the-line ART, albeit with less expensive parts in all but the most critical places.
"Head Monster" Noel Lee is known as a shrewd, successful businessman, but I think that if he had taken a different career path he could have made a great evangelist. His CES press conferences have very much feeling of revival meetings, and, like an evangelist, he works hard at whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Given the largely skeptical audience of media representatives, Lee is not always successful in this, but you certainly can't fault his enthusiasm. (Consumer electronics journalists are a tough crowd.)
I had a quick look in Nola's room, and as soon as I saw their giant speakers, I knew that these were not going to be in my designated "Under $15k" price range. Indeed, the speakers (whose name escapes me, but it has something to do with boxing) were just under $200k/pair. They sounded great, with tremendous dynamics, but I have trouble relating to speakers in that price range. "Do you have anything new and relatively affordable?" Yes, said Nola's Marilyn Marchisotto. The $9998/pair KO (another boxing reference) was being used in another room in demos by Nordost.
The evening before the show officially opened, I snuck into the Nola room at the Venetian. There I found the Long Island company's new Concert Grand Reference speakers ($197,000/pair), driven by an Audio Research CD8 CD player, Reference 10 preamplifier, and Reference 75 amplifier, hooked up with Nordost Odin cabling. A Quantum QX4 provided the system conditioning.
Octave's new MRE 220 tube monoblock amplifiers ($67,500/pair), which use KT 120 tubes, and Jubilee tube preamplifier ($36,000), both imported by Dynaudio USA, were used to power the new Dynaudio Evidence Platinum floorstanding loudspeakers ($85,000/pair). Source equipment included a Octave's new MRE 220 tube monoblock amplifiers ($23,700/pair), which use KT 120 tubes, and Jubilee tube preamplifier ($36,000), both imported by Dynaudio USA, were used to power the new Dynaudio Evidence Platinum floorstanding loudspeakers ($85,000/pair). Source equipment included a dCS Scarlatti digital front-end, Clearaudio Ovation turntable with Universal 9" tonearm ($32,000) and Clearaudio Da Vinci cartridge ($5000). Dynaudio's Mike Manousselis played me Sibelius's Finlandia, which showed off the Evidence Platinum's ability to create a large deep soundstage and amazing ability to reproduce a smooth string sound.
Named for the Italian word for "wave," three-year old Onda Cables of Calgary, Alberta, Canada has announced its top-of-the-line Onda Riptide ($5800/1m pair). The cables have their own proprietary solid-core silver pin in their RCA terminations, and a combination of 13, 14, 16, and 10-gauge wire. Their Riptide power cord ($5800/5 ft) combines 8 and 16 gauge wires for maximum speed, rhythm, and pace. Onda's Riptide speaker cable ($8900/8 ft pair) uses 9-gauge conductors, augmented with 13 and 16. Owner and designer Greg Kozokowsky learned a lot of his technology from his work as an engineer in Canada's oil sands.