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.
It was midday at the Venetian and show traffic was intense when I squeezed into the Hansen Audio suite. Despite noise from the outer hall and chatter in the back of the room, the several listeners seemed swept away by Natalie Merchant's voice. Her warm wishes were followed by Aaron Neville's "Goodnight," a blanket of voices with impressive clarity seeming to wrap around the entire room.
Daniel J. Hodgson, Polk Audio's Senior Vice President, was very enthusiastic about the $3000/pair LSi25, a floor-standing, 3-way loudspeaker."It has a 1" VIFA ring-radiator, dual-pivot tweeter to increase dispersion," said Daniel. There are two midranges that surround the tweeter in D'Appolito configuration, and a powered 10" sidefiring subwoofer. The drivers have cast speaker baskets with aerated-polypropylene cones. He went on to point out the two small ports on the front baffle next to the midrange. "These two small ports are designed to eliminate resonance, which our company calls Acoustic Resonance Control," added Michael Cooper, Florida Regional Sales Manager for Polk.
If one were to judge by the new product introductions from Ayre and Jeff Rowland Design, $18k seems to be the price point for high-end solid-state preamplifiers. Rowland's new Criterion preamp uses NiMH batteries in the power supply; these are more easily available than the lead-zinc ones that were used in Rowland's previous top preamp—and, of course, the design of the Criterion features a number of improvements from its predecessor. Rowland also introduced the new Continuum integrated amp, available in two version: 350Wpc ($7200) or 500Wpc
($8800), the latter featuring power-factor correction.
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.
Naim has created a separate line of music server products that will be marketed independently of its component distribution system. On display at CES2008 was the DigiLinX compatible six-stream NaimNet NS01 Music Server ($6200), which has an internal ripping drive, a 400GB RAID 1 array, so data is secure.
In what has become a tradition, Anton Dotson (aka Buddha on the Stereophile forum) and Michael Alazard set up a room at T.H.E. Show as NFS Audio (Not For Sale), which they describe as "a chill out zone for people tired of the show's relentless grinding down of the human spirit."
Carat Audio's products are sufficiently new to North America that the only prices available are still in Euros. (They do have distribution.) Designed in France and made in China, the A57 integrated amp (80Wpc, 899 Euros), C57 CD player (649 Euros), and T57 tuner (349 Euros) look like anything but budget products, resembling products from Primare or YBA. An indication of the quality of the design is that the power output of the A57 nearly doubles into 4 ohms (80 into 8 ohms, 150 into 4 ohms)—very unusual at this price level.