The case and front panel nomenclature are not in final form, but if VAC's forthcoming two-piece Master Signature preamplifier ($26,500 as linestage, $40,000 with additional phono stage)ignore what the prototype unit's front panels saydue in early March, sounds anywhere near as good as the VAC equipment I heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, it will be worth waiting for.
VANA’s Kevin Wolff was showing off the new Liszt speaker, which is expected to sell for $15,000/pair when it becomes available at the end of the first quarter of 2014. This impressive sounding speaker has been in development for two years and combines a new version of VA’s distinctive flat coaxial HF/MF unit with three woofers operating below 150Hz, these mounted in different sub-enclosures and loaded with two vents.
Despite the upside down dissection, Viola's The Concerto stereo amplifier ($22,000), first introduced in October in Tokyo, produced very smooth fast and solid sounds with nice depth and fine warmth on Fourplay's plastic version of jazz. My scribble says that the amp has a choke input power supply and Motorola thermal track transistors, and outputs 100W into 8 ohms and 200W into 4. Not pictured are Viola's Crescendo preamplifier and Oceanway's Audio Montecito loudspeakers ($48,000/pair).
Laurence “Dic” Dickie (above) showed me his new G4 speaker design in the On A Higher Note suite at the Mirage, which will enter production in April. To be priced at $33,000/pair, the G4 features the same absorptive lines behind the tweeters and midrange drivers and the hybrid vented transmission line loading for the twin woofers first seen in the Giya G1. The upper and lower aluminum-dome HF units are the same as in all the Giya models, but because of the G4’s narrower width compared with the others, Dic had to design a new midrange unit. This again uses an aluminum cone and the same-sized radial magnet, but now there is an oversized dustcap to provide stiffening of the diaphragm midway between voice-coil and surround.
In all my years of evaluating audio systems, I have never heard a more mesmerizing, realistically air-filled soundstage than that created by pairing VTL electronics with the recently reviewed Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeaker ($48,500/pair). Wishing to start my CES adventures on a positive note, I thus headed to the VTL room on the Venetian's 30th floor, where VTL's TP-6.5 Signature phono preamplifier MC Step Up ($10,500), new TL-6.5 Series II Signature line preamplifier ($13,500), and S-400 Series II Reference stereo amplifier ($33,500) sang with the Alexias, Transparent Opus MM interconnects and speaker cables, and Nordost Odin power cables. With the sources the superb Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with Centroid tonearm ($31,000) outfitted with Lyra Etna cartridge ($6995), a MacBook Pro running Audirvana, and dCS Puccini and U-Clock ($24,498), I was greeted by beautiful, extremely liquid, transparent, and, yes, remarkably airy sound that drew me deep into the music.
Having heard a prototype of Zesto Audio's brand new BIA 120 class-A stereo power amp ($12,500), I was delighted to discover it looking and sounding extremely attractive in a system that included TAD Evolution One loudspeakers, a Zesto Andros PS1 phono stage, Merrill Williams audio REAL 101 turntable w. Tri-Planar U2 tonearm and Dynavector XV-1s cartridge, and a full complement of WyWires cabling. On Illinois Jacquet's album, God Bless My Solo, I noticed that the really nice, warm sound was a little bright on top, and that images seemed rather small for the speakers and room.
When WAVAC’s North American distributor, Covenant Audio Consulting, chose to stage the world debut of WAVAC’s eye-catching, directly heated single-ended triode HE-833v2 150W monoblock amplifiers ($79,900/presumably for the pair) with the massive SoundLab Majestic 845PX electrostatic loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), no one expected that high frequencies would project mostly from the top of the speaker, above the heads of seated listeners. Thus it was only when I stood that I was able to appreciate both the beautiful top and fine midrange transmitted by the HE-833v2s in conjunction with WAVAC’s PR-T1 transformer-coupled, three-chassis preamp ($30,900) and AC02 power conditioner ($22,900). Next time, I’ll bring my elevator shoes.
Erick Lichte loved the DAC202 when he reviewed it two years ago, and the company has now made a good thing even better. Daniel Weiss is one of the more soft-spoken men in audio, so I listened carefully as he explained that current owners can update their DACs to include a USB input for DSD for $1,800, while newbies can get one for $9,100 ready to DSD.
In addition to the DAC 202 DSD update, Weiss has also added the feature to its Man301 Network Player. Both DSD64 and 128 are supported and the update is free to current owners. New, the Man301 sells for $9,100 without DAC built in and $12,200 with.
Before you lies what I expect is the most comprehensive coverage of CES 2014 "high-performance audio" exhibits available on the Web. Combined with the online coverage at our sister web publications, AudioStream, InnerFidelity, and AnalogPlanet, it gives you far more than a snapshot of the vast array of new audio equipment on active and passive display at CES 2014 and T.H.E. Show. The implied optimism that motivates so much new equipment, and so many innovations, gives signs of strength and renewal in a world where listening habits and means of music distribution are ever-changing and, in the minds of many, evolving.
I can’t believe it was five years ago that I first heard the Wilson Sasha W/P speaker at a CES. Funnily enough, it was in the same suite at the Mirage so when I first entered this year I didn’t notice anything new. But then I realized that the speaker on the right in my photo was the same size as the Sashaokay, it’s ½” taller than the original Sasha, shown on the leftbut now resembles the larger Alexia that I reviewed in December, though the tweeter is now mounted in the same enclosure as the midrange unit. The Mk.2 Sasha costs $29,900/pair compared with the Mk.1's $27,900/pair.
Second up from the bottom in YG’s speaker line has been the Kipod ($38,800/pair), named after YG founder Yoav Geva’s daughter Hailey, whose nickname was “Kipod” or “Hedgehog” in Hebrew. But as Hailey is growing up fast (as daughters do), it was time to name a new speaker after her; CES saw the premier of the YG Hailey. Priced at $42,800/pair, the three-way, floorstanding Hailey uses technology trickled down from the top-of-the line Sonja that I reviewed last July. YG’s “Billet-core” drivers, where the cones are machined from solid aluminum stock, are combined with a 1" dome tweeter in a machined aluminum enclosure that eschews the Sonja’s double-cabinet construction.