"Lightning strikes twice," says the blurb on Ayre Acoustics' new KX-R preamp, referring to the 1996 introduction of the Colorado company's original K-1 preamp, considered to be among the best preamps. The KX-R ($18,500 in aluminum finish) retains the zero-feedback, fully-balanced configuration of the K-1, but has a Variable Gain Transimpedance (VGT) circuit, with something called "equilock circuitry" for the gain devices. This was explained to me as a circuit design that does not attenuate the inputs at the front end, and thus improves the S/N ratio. The KX-R is a slim but heavy unit (41 lbs), and as you can see, it looks stunning.
Anglo-Chinese brand Quad is not one of your consumer electronics companies that revamps their entire line every year (whether it needs to or not). Some might even consider their approach a bit stodgy, resisting change. So when they come out with not just one new product but a completely new series, that has to be considered news.
Attendance was light at the Alexis Park on Wednesday, with the rooms closest to the front getting the most attention. That was certainly the case for Evolution Acoustics, whose imposing MM3 modular speaker commands respect. After seven years of development, this huge baby, designed by Kevin Malmgren (left, formerly of Von Schweikert) made its initial debut at RMAF 2006. Then, the company went low-key while Malmgren and his wife were busy raising their first child (who, after almost one year of development, has just made a most auspicious debut in his stroller at T.H.E. Show 2008). Well, not really. The speaker was back-ordered even before it was launched, and has kept Malmgren and its distributor so busy that they haven’t had the time or need to yet establish a dealer network.
Instead of using conventional CD playback technology, the Rockport room featured the DC-powered Black Box Audiophile PC from Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems of Chicago. (Preliminary pricing, expected to lower before the unit reaches the market, is $7999.) With no moving parts in the box into which one inserts a CD, the DSP-based system reclocks the data after reading the CD, basically eliminating jitter. It copies the audio data from a CD onto a hard drive, reading the CD multiple times if necessary to eliminate data-reading errors. It is said to be far more accurate my own conventional stick it in the iMac and burn it in iTunes setup. The unit can process data up to 24/192. Lordie did it sound good.
While Day 1 at the Venetian was all hustle and bustle, the atmosphere at the Las Vegas Hilton was something different, was almost contemplative. Navigating the Venetian halls was an exercise in agility. I found myself weaving in and out of massive traffic with a skill perhaps common only to a weary New Yorker, making quick and random stops to chat friends and colleagues. But when I arrived at the Hilton, the silenceas we like to saywas palpable.
Meridian has completely redone its Signature Reference 808 CD player, now the 808.2 ($14,995). "We've changed its drive, drive navigation software, power supply, DSP, and clocking and buffering. I'd like to say that the only thing we've retained is the case, but we've improved that, too," said Bob Stuart.
KEF would begin their multi-room demo with their small, but surprisingly room-filling, KHT home theater range and work their way up from there. The stunning KEF Muons would be the great and final attraction of the KEF event, and they were all I was looking forward to, really. However, the highlight of the show turned out to be the brilliant sound of the Reference 201/2 stand-mounted speakers ($6000/pair). I was instantly reminded of the remarkable performance of the much larger Reference 207/2s, which I recently experienced in JA's listening room and which are now gracing our February cover. The music brought forth was captivating, seductive, gorgeous.
I was so impressed by the 9" Feastrex drivers designed by Haruhiko "Hal" Teramoto of Japan that I was excited to hear how the 5" Feastrex DF Monster alnico driver sounds in MaxxHorn's new Lumination loudspeaker. The speaker, which also incorporates the Tractrix horn technology developed by Johan van Zyl, is so new—the pair at THE Show had been finished a mere 12 days before—that only the dealer price ($18,500/pair) has been set. All speakers are hand constructed, with 3–5 pairs produced a month.
"It's the finest two-way loudspeaker we've built to date, "said B&W's Chris Smith," as he stood next to the short white tubular Signature Diamond. "We've decided to make it a special edition of just 500 pairs, each pair numbered." I was very interested because the previous two-way model, the John Bowers Silver Signature, was very well-reviewed by Stereophile back in 1994 and became John Atkinson’s reference for many years.
Britain's Cambridge Audio is known for its modestly-priced integrated amps and such, but now they've decided to move upmarket by introducing separate preamps and power amps. The Azur 840E ($1499) preamp and Azur 840 power amp (200Wpc,
$2199) are based on top-of-the-line Cambridge Azur 840A integrated amp, with upgraded power supplies and other improvements. Here they are, pictured with Ian McArthur of Audio Plus, the North American importer.