As I said in an earlier blog posting, I was sufficiently intrigued by B&O's single-cabinet stereo speaker at the CES Unveiled event that I made a note to myself to check it out later. The opportunity presented itself in the form of a B&O press conference. The press conference did not involve any demonstrations of sound, but when the press conference was concluded I managed to prevail on Henrik Taudorf Lorensen, CEO of B&O's PLAY division, to give me a demonstration of the A9. The setting was not ideal, with no attempt at optimal positioning of the speaker, but the speaker certainly had a smooth, room-filling sound. I continue to be intrigued by this product. The A9 looks more like a satellite dish than a speaker, and is sure to be a conversation piece. B&O also has some new wireless speakers that are more conventional-looking, such as the BeoLab 12-1 ($2950/pair), pictured here.
The Best of Innovations 2013 award for High Performance Audio went to the B&O Beoplay A9 digital loudspeaker ($2699), which offers wireless streaming via AirPlay and DLNA. The Beoplay A9 was on static display. It's an interesting-looking product, and I'd like to have a chance to listen to it. Maybe at the B&O press conference that's coming up on Tuesday. . .
In an age of rectangular components, adding a large round object to your product is a way to set it apart. Witness the Dan D'Agostino amplifier gracing this month's Stereophile cover for example, and add Germany's B.M.C. Audio to the list as evidenced by their new PureDAC Digital-to-Analog Converter. Speaking of round, the company is also known for its BDCD1.1 belt-drive CD player which has an acrylic "turntable" for your disc to rest on inside.
Retail price for the DAC will be somewhere under $1,600 (which is inexpensive by B.M.C. standards) and will feature all the usual inputs including asynch USB as well as volume and input switching. There is also a headphone jack with its own dedicated volume control.
Beneath the striking fascias of B.M.C. electronics lies some advanced engineering. As best I could gather from a rather zippy introduction that had me scrambling to write everything down coherently, the B.M.C. M2 monoblock amplifiers ($7790/each) contain LEF (load-effect-free) circuitry that delivers the signal, voltage, and necessary current independently. This purportedly allows them to handle complex speaker loads without need for global feedback. (There’s more to say, of course, but I don’t trust my scrawl.) The M2 outputs 200W into 8 ohms, and 380W into 4. Designed in Germany but manufactured in China, each monoblock weighs 88 lbs and includes a 2kVA transformer.
How nice to again make the acquaintance of the folks at Balanced Audio Technology, aka BAT, now owned by Music Direct, and discover their three handsome new preamplifiers. The VK-53SE ($15,000), which replaces the VK-52SE, incorporates the same transformer-coupled output stage as in the flagship REX II preamp, and uses a new amorphous-core output transformer, encapsulated in a Mu Metal case. "There are no caps in the signal path in our preamps," proclaimed Geoff Poor. "The best capacitor is no capacitor." Also new are the VK-33SE preamplifier ($9995), a replacement for the 32SE and a trickle-down beneficiary of the VK-53SE's technology; and the VK-33 preamplifier ($7000), which replaces the VK-32.
Bel Canto has three asynchronous USB link converters new to CES this year starting with the mLink at $375, the uLink at $675 and the REFLink at $1,500. All three units can handle 24/192 sample rates and will isolate the music signal, and clocks, from the "harsh, noisy electrical environments of computers and music servers."
Two of the products I most wanted to see in the flesh at the show didn't actually arrive due to the exhibitor's respective shipping services. The first was Antelope's Rubicon DAC, lost by DHL; this time it was the Mimer music server from Bladelius, lost courtesy of UPS.
Too bad, because the photo in the brochure is quite enticing. The Mimer is essentially a wall-hung touchscreen device about 7.5 inches wide by 13.5 inches tall. You can see by the photo of a photo how the touchscreen display is arranged for album cover art and control/navigation. The chassis looks about an inch thick and inside is an upgradable hard drive for storing music as well as support for NAS and USB drives, 32/348 files, 4 SPDIF inputs, Wi-Fi and ethernet, internet radio and Spotify, headphone amp, multi-room support and analog input (for the built-in analog preamp).
Though I'm sure many will differ, I've always been partial to music servers that have always-ready built-in navigation screens like Meridian's Sooloos as apposed to relying on iPad apps. I'm hoping to get my hands on the Mimer in the future and see if it lives up to the photo and spec sheet.
Once US distribution is secured, Bladelius' Thomas Rosander (left) and Michael Bladelius (right) are set to hit the market running with the new Ymer Mk.II power amplifier ($12,000). This handsome baby delivers 300Wpc, and is said to maintain class-A operation for the first 45 watts. "It has a fuller, richer, more musical sound than its predecessor, and better control on the bottom," Bladelius told me. Don't we all wish we had better control of our bottom ends, especially as we age?
Specializing in user-friendly, wireless and desktop audio systems, Blue Aura is a UK-based company with manufacturing facilities in China. Though founded in 2010, the company gained presence in the US market just seven months ago. Here we see Blue Aura’s v30 Blackline system ($549), comprising 20Wpc hybrid vacuum tube amplifier and passive WS30 desktop speakers.
Boulder Amplifiers, Inc., introduced its new Model 3060 Stereo balanced, class-A amplifier ($114,000), a huge, 900Wpc, solid-state amplifier that weighs 450 lbs! Sitting nearby was the company's flagship monoblock, the silver 3060 ($205,000/pair), a class-A 1500W power amplifier shown in my photograph. A large cylindrical tube, containing 4 large mineral-potted toroidal power transformers, runs down the inside middle of the chassis. This is said to dampen any transformer-induced vibration. The mono amplifier uses 120 high-temperature rated bipolar transistors and 48, 160V, high-temperature rated, 4700µuF electrolytic capacitors for energy storage. Large circuit boards slide into frames at the top of the chassis, each board containing hundreds of discrete parts. With a pair of these amplifiers weighing 440 lbs, Boulder does not want this amplifier to require service, and its build quality signifies that.
Bryston showed a static model of its new loudspeaker system, the Model T Signature ($7495/pair), that is specified to handle 501100 watts into its 8 ohm impedance, with a frequency response from 25Hz22kHz, ±3dB. In active form, the Model T uses the AX1 external DSP crossover ($2995), but the passive version’s crossover features large, expensive air-coil inductors, as well as something brand new: Bryston capacitors. Working with Clarity, Bryston's James Tanner specified the exact requirements for these capacitors, which have both company's names featured on their blue exteriors. The Model T benefited from Bryston's close relationship with with Axiom, a speaker design company that has its own large anechoic chamber. The Model T is available in Black Ash, Boston Cherry, or Natural Cherry veneers.
Why is Bryston CEO Christopher Russell smiling? Because the company's new B135 integrated amplifier ($4695), which replaces the B100, offers improved quality without raising the price. "We learned a lot from designing the SP3 surround processor, and have managed reduce distortion by a level of 10 while also reducing noise," says Russell. "Our goal was musicality, and to promote music as a source of relaxation." (It sounds as though Russell favors Mozart over Mahler.) Part of the relaxation comes in the form of a full-function remote control.
The fourth floor of the Flamingo offered my second opportunity to experience Bully Sound Company electronics and my first to hear Bricasti Design's MI dual-mono DAC. Paired with Vivid B-1 loudspeakers, the system produced an absolutely astounding sense of air on John Atkinson's recording of male vocal ensemble Cantus' performance of Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque. The acoustic was so much more air-filled than I'd ever heard it before that I realized that either the DAC added air to recordings, or I had never heard this recording as JA intended it to be heard. The timbre of individual voices, and the clarity of presentation were also spot on. Wow!
Bret d'Agostino's Bully Sound Company has introduced the BSC 60s power amplifier ($7950), a pure class-A design that promises 60Wpc into 8 ohms, with output doubling down to 1 ohm. Neal Van Berg of Colorado's Sound Science claims that it gets deeper bass out of his Harbeths than any other amplifier he's used. One novel feature of the design is its internal heatsinks, which add to its handsome looks.
The Burmester music server was one of my favorite products of last year's CES. Pricey at $50,000, it nonetheless has that feel of a product where the designers have though of everything you would want in a music server. Since last year there have been some refinements and I had a chance to play with the iPad app (there is an iPad in the box with the app loaded) which allows complete and instant control of the system including music selection and volume control. Everything worked quite smoothly and Burmester's Robert Hagemann picked out some cool music for the demo too!