We were on another mission from God—in other words, a request from Editor John Atkinson, which is the same thing for working journalists. "You have to check out Hovland's new power amplifier," JA gushed.
McIntosh displayed the full-range, $80,000/pair XRT2K speaker in their two-channel room at the Alexis Park. It sets a record for number of
drivers per side—110—with
40 tweeters, 64 midrange units, and six woofers. Frequency response is claimed to be 16Hz–45kHz. The system driven to full volume by the 495lb McIntosh MC2KW monoblock ($30,000), which can deliver 2kW, demonstrated awesome dynamic range.
Amphion's Anssi Hyvönen was happy to demo his tiny Ions ($1350/pair). The diminutive two-ways sport a 1" titanium tweeter and a 4.5" midrange/woofer, and weigh an easy to lift 10.5 pounds. They sound pretty darn big, though. I enjoyed them in a system with a T+A 1535 surround sound receiver and T+A SADV 1245 R DVD player, finding them spacious and three-dimensional. Then HeadRoom's Tyll Hertsens walked into the room and asked, "How do they sound as desktop speakers?"
High-end amplifier guru John Curl, well-known for his early designs at Mark Levinson Audio Systems and for the Vendetta phono preamplifier—some regard this as the finest head amp ever made— was at the Alexis Park to discuss his latest design for Parasound, the JC-2 preamplifier. [The price of the JC-2 has not been determined yet, but will be somewhere in the vicinity of $3200.] John was particularly pleased to point out that he had worked with the same circuit-board designer from the Vendetta days. He also pointed out the preamp’s "D-core" power transformer, which has an oval core at right angles to the winding. John believes that this is much quieter than a conventional toroidal transformer. However, he had persuaded Parasound to omit a phono stage because even the D-core transformer wasn't quiet enough for him. That brought up an obvious question—would he reintroduce the Vendetta? Although nothing was definite, he noted, "I'll probably have to do something because everyone is bugging me to bring it back."
"What's new?" we asked Halcro's Philip O'Hanlon. He ushered us into a room with the brand new ("North American premiere") dm88 250W monoblocks ($40,000/pair). Also in the room were Hanlon's own pair of Classic Audio Reproductions T-3s ($16,500/pair and up, depending on finish)—updated reproductions of James B. Lansing's Hartsfields.
Chinese OEM manufacturer Dissun was sharing a room with Tetra, so when we stopped by to see what Adrian Butts had wrought, we were pleasantly surprised to see the suite filled with interesting components—all of them looking well built and beautifully turned out.
The Audio Refinement brand of affordable components from France's YBA is no more—problems with their Asian manufacturing partner, I understand. But there’s good news: Audio Refinement has been reborn as YBA Design, with a new Asian manufacturing facility that promises to be more reliable. The first two products in the line—designed by Yves-Bernard André, Mr. YBA himself—are the YA201 integrated amp and YC201 CD player, each priced at $1499. The industrial design is stunning in its elegance and simplicity, and, judging by the sound of a pair of Focal-JMlab 1007Be loudspeakers driven by the YBA Design combo, the performance is up to YBA's usual high standards.
Walking through the halls of T.H.E. Show, Jon Iverson and I were caught by John DeVore as we tried to cruise the halls quickly. "You've got to hear this," he gushed. "This is probably the worst sound and the best music you'll hear at the show."
Codenamed "ML-DVD" during its development, the Mark Levinson No.51 Media Player made its debut at CES. The $18,000, limited-edition player (only 150 will be offered for sale) is intended to get all there is to be gotten from CDs and DVD-Vs, but pointedly will not play SACDs or DVD-As (though it will, of course, play the video-zone Dolby Digital tracks of the latter). I listened to the No.51 in a system comprising the Mark Levinson No.40 controller, the new No.433 three-channel amplifier for the LCR speakers (a pair of Revel F52s and a C32) and a No.431 two-channel amp for the Revel M22 rears, along with two Revel F15 subs. Whether it was two-channel music—Greg Browne's "Who Killed Cock Robin?", which was everywhere at the Show—or film surround sound—Pleasantville—there was an addictive ease to the system's sound, coupled with extraordinary dynamic range.
Toward the end of the final day in Las Vegas, I found Kalman Rubinson entranced by the sound of Shirley Horn singing and playing piano in the Audio Research room at T.H.E. Show. A pair of the new Mk.2 version of the Wilson Sophia speakers was being driven by ARC's Reference 210 monoblocks, a Reference 3 line stage, the Minnesota company's new Ref CD7 player, with cables from Shunyata and Cardas and AC conditioning by Richard Gray. I was equally entranced.
Some think that the high-end audio business is a competitive, cut-throat endeavor, leading to animosities, but this picture of (l–r): EveAnna Manley (Manley Labs), Dennis Had (Cary Audio) and Kevin Deal (Prima Luna) shows that it isn't always that way, at least for purveyors of tube equipment.
Signals-SuperFi introduced Peak Consult's new floorstanding three-way The Zoltan ("as in Kodaly") ($36,699.99/pair). The Zoltan boasts Peak Consult's usual glorious woodwork and uses a 1.5" Scanspeak cloth dome tweeter, 4" AudioTech midrange driver, and two 7" AudioTech woofers. Fronted by The Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn Turntable ($89,999.99), Boulder 2008 phono preamp ($30,000), Boulder 2010 preamp ($30,000), and Wavac HE 883 v1.3 monoblocks, strung together with Stereovox's SEI-600II and LSP-600c cables, the system pretty much blew me away. This is vinyl? Dean Can Dance was dynamic and vivid, with tons and tons of depth. No wonder Mikey Fremer raved about the Caliburn. The Zoltans cry out for further listening.
Also stunning were Furutech's impeccably machined, silver over rhodium AC plugs, which incorporate solid brass ground jumpers. What does that do? "You have to hear it to believe it," said Furutech's PR guy, Jonathan Scull. Okay, we're willing to go that far.