Absolare of Turkey and New Hampshire unveiled its ne plus ultra Passion Signature line, which includes the Absolare Passion Signature 845 parallel 52W monoblock amplifier ($48,500/pair) and Passion Signature preamplifier ($22,500). While I heard these products in single-ended configuration, they are also available in balanced versions. Not only have their power sections undergone significant revision, but they have also been customized with costly Duelund cast capacitors from Denmark, NOS resistors, NOS tubes in the preamplifier, and NOS driver tubes in the amplifier.
Though they didn't have the product on hand, I convinced Accuphase representative Kohei Nishigawa to hold up the brochure. The new player will be here in February for $27,000 and features the company's obsessive build quality.
Inside, eight 32bit ESS "Hyperstream" DAC chips are run in parallel, which Accuphase calls "Multiple Double Speed DSD". In addition to playing discs, there are HS-Link (for DSD), coax, optical and USB inputs.
The German ADAM company has been developing the idea of the Air Motion Transformer HF unit, originally developed by Dr. Oskar Heil. The latest version of their tweeter, the X-ART tweeter, is featured in the Mk.II version of the Tensor Beta loudspeaker ($25,000/pair), which was being demmed with Cary electronics. The X-ART tweeter is married to a folded-ribbon upper-midrange unit, a new lower midrange unit and two woofers, all mounted on a solid aluminum baffle. The enclosure is made from 1” and 2” MDF panels, extensively crossbraced. Interestingly, waffle-shaped inner panels are loosely filled with steel shot, which absorbs vibrational energy. The speaker is also supported on fluid-filled feet to further absorb vibration.
When I reviewed the Romulus DAC/CD player last year, a reader quickly noted in the online comments "Can't play pure DSD files. That seems absurd for a player targeted at the audiophile market. Pity - I like the design."
Ask and ye shall receive. The Company's Jim White has updated the product with the ability to accept and process both DSD64 and 128 natively over USB. In fact, the entire DSP processing section has been updated with an Xilinx gate-array to allow for the pure DSD.
Customers with current Romulus or Pandora DACs can also upgrade their products at the factory starting mid January. In addition to DSD, the upgrade also adds a new analog board, Vishay Z-Foil resistors, and Dynamicaps.
Also new in the AMR (Abbingdon Music Research) room is the DP-777 DAC/Preamp SE (special edition) which features a "Quad Core Digital Engine", NOS GE 5670 Tubes and "Ultra Premium" coupling capacitors. The DAC handles PCM inputs up to 24/192 and pricing is still to be determined, but it will be somewhere north of $5k.
Loudspeaker manufacturer Angel Sound from Las Vegas was a new name to me, but I was drawn into their room at CES by this striking-looking speaker, which resembles a flame. Called, according to my notes, the S8, the speaker uses ScanSpeak drivers, can be supplied in custom colors, and costs $180,000/pair. The system in use featured Angel Sound DAC, amplifier, and cables, with a C.E.C transport, but the adverse room acoustics prevented me from forming any real opinion of the speakers' sound quality.
New for Antelope Audio this year is the Zodiac Platinum DAC at $5,500, which in addition to the normal PCM stuff, handles DSD 64, 128 and has the ability to upsample these to DSD256. The spec sheet also lists "64 bit precision 8x linear phase PCM upsampling" with the onboard FPGA, quad DAC architecture, and for extra precision there is an input for Antelope's 10M Rubidium atomic clock.
There are two headphone jacks on the front, volume control, and input switching for a wide variety of digital inputs. There are also 2 "de-jittered" SPDIF outputs for up to 24/192 PCM. The Zodiac Platinum is available now.
After last year's shipping mishap, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a shot of the actual product since it finally arrived in Vegas.
From last year's post: The $40k Rubicon features a built-in analog to digital converter that can be driven from an internal phono preamp, several sets of regular line level RCA jacks, or balanced XLRs. Digital inputs include 2 SPDIF, 2 Toslink and AES/EBU. Analog and digital outputs are also available. The Atomic part of the product's name refers to the 10MHz rubiduim atomic clock driving its 384kH converters.
Being able to stream from your mobile phone, tablet and laptop is a popular new option these days, so Arcam has created a another way to add this capability to an existing audio system.
The miniBlink is based on the technology from Arcam’s previous Bluetooth DAC, the $300 rBlink, which has been re-engineered to lower the price by 50%. The $149 miniBlink has a USB input for power only, and mini audio output for wiring into your system. When you are in range, you pair your device via Bluetooth and can then start streaming audio.
Inside is a Burr-Brown PCM5102 24bit DAC chip and aptX streaming technology and the company is claiming 30dB more headroom and improved distortion specs compared to normal Bluetooth. The miniBlink should show up around March.
Arcam used to CES to launch a “statement” integrated amplifier, the FMJ A49. Priced at $5000, the A49 offers 200Wpc into 8 ohms (with the first 50W in class-A), 400Wpc into 4 and features a class-G output stage, fully balanced topology, MM/MC phono stages, and a onboard power supply for Arcam’s rSeries of wired and wireless DACs. While Arcam’s lower-priced products are made in China, the new amplifier is the first products to be manufactured in the USA, at the parent company’s facility in Rochester, New York.
Why have both a music server at a home and a portable one in your pocket when one machine can do both? At least that is the pitch I was given in the Astell&Kern room in the Venetian. The story is that the AK240 is good enough to compete with many larger systems and function as a high performance USB DAC as well (via the Micro-B USB input). Pricing hasn't been set yet, but I was told would be under $3k when it is available in March.
Highlights for the new AK240 include 384GB total memory for music storage (internal and additional microSD card slot), which would translate to around 800 albums (CD quality FLAC) and ability to connect directly to HD download sites via WiFi for music purchase (vendors TBD). On the front is a 800x480 resolution color touch screen set into a body made of "Duralumin", described as an aircraft grade aluminum alloy. The unit indeed feels quite solid in the hand.
Astell&Kern, whose audiophile-grade portable music player won over John Atkinson, and whose AK120 model won a 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, offered a sneak peak at their prototype Cube One, class-A, 20Wpc, 300B, push-pull integrated amplifier (no price set). Due in the second half of 2014, the Cube One delivered very liquid and illumined sound through Astell&Kern’s prototype loudspeakers. Expect a complete Astell&Kern system before too long, and check out Jon Iverson's report on A&K’s new AK240 media player.
Jon Iverson already reported on the Antelope DAC, but as I have just favorably reviewed their SCM 7 v.3 minimonitor for the forthcoming April issue of Stereophile, I was more interested in the active ATC SCM100SL Towers in the room. This speaker combines ATC's proprietary soft-dome midrange driver with a 1" tweeter and 12" woofer, tri-amped by ATC's Anniversary amplification. With a laptop running JRiver Media Center feeding data to the Antelope Zodiac-Platinum DAC with its Voltikus power supply, the 24/96 transfer of Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters" was reproduced with tight, well-controlled low frequencies.
ATI (Amplifier Technologies, Inc.) of Montebello, CA, who also owns Theta Digital, were blowing minds with the nine channels of bass produced by the combination of their American Muscle AT6002 Morris Kessler Signature Limited Edition Stereo Signature Amplifier ($3995), which outputs 300Wpc into 8 ohms and is available in 2- through 7-channel versions; the finally released and revised Theta Prometheus monoblock amplifiers ($12,000/pair); the well-known, upgraded Theta Casablanca IV; and California Audio Technology loudspeakers.
Like Stephen Mejias at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I have been impressed by the German Zellaton speakers when I have heard them, both at shows, and at a dealer event I attended in 2012 at Fidelis Audio in New Hampshire. With foil-covered drive-units, a crossover from Duelund Coherent Audio, and driven by Trinity balanced phono and line preamps and 200Wpc CH M1 amplification from Switzerland, the three-way Reference speakers sounded forceful and detailed.