Harman Specialty Audio introduced the new Revel Performa 3 series of loudspeakers at the 2012 CES. Kevin Voecks, lead audio engineer in the design, was delighted at the increased performance of Performa 3 series, including the $4500/pair, three-way, F208 full-range floorstander and the $1750/pair M106 two-way bookshelf. The F208 replaces the more expensive, $7500 F32 Performa in the previous series.
Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hammer was on hand to discuss the company's "small" Soulution 501 mono Amplifier ($55,000/pair). Similar in design to the Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that had so impressed Michael Fremer in the August 2012 issue of Stereophile, the more diminutive 501 monoblock amplifier is rated at 125W into 8 ohms, utilizes six switching-mode power supplies, and features a high-bandwidth, zero-feedback voltage-amplification input stage. Unlike the 176 lb Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that required three good men to move into Mikey's listening room, the 501 weighs in at a "mere" 80 lbs per chassis.
In response to Mark Levinson Audio Systems' 40th Anniversary, the company has announced a new line of products for the two-channel audiophile, the 40th Anniversary Collection at CES 2012, which includes the $25,000 No.52 Reference dual-mono preamplifier, the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier, the $6000 No.519 SACD player and the $6000 No.560 digital processor. I was most intrigued by the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier shown in the photo, which is rated at 225Wpc into 8 ohms, and provides a dedicated subwoofer output.
The $25,000, 500W Mark Levinson No.53 digital-switching reference monoblock amplifier made its regular non-playing appearance at CES 2012 but this time with an illuminated cutaway display, allowing its lead design engineer, Mark Seiber, to walk me through its circuitry. The transparent panel, which the display used in place of heatsinks allowed me to easily see the No.53's four major subsections (analog input stage, modulation, amplifier output stage with its eight air-core inductors, and power supply section, which is at the bottom of the chassis.
The Audio Power Labs exhibit took my breath away, Imagine, a huge, beautiful $175,000 per pair, 200Wpc monoblock tube amplifier using 833C, graphite-plate, radio-frequency transmitter tubes that have a bandwidth of 30MHz and run with 1500V on the plates! These tubes were used in the output stage of BCF-1 radio transmitters. Now imagine that the amplifier's designers are named Squeek Rieker (right) and Peeya Iwagoshi (left), and you know why I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering taught me all I need to know about Nixie tubes at CES. Used as the main visual display device used in his Reference N-1 preamplifier and in his Destination Line-Stage preamplifier's control unit shown in the photo, the Nixie tube was invented in 1955 as the first electronic display tool for reading out the numbers 09. The Nixie's designers fashioned a wire mesh into 9 layers, each layer in the shape of a number, resulting in a tidy small stack. This tiny wire stack was inserted into a small glass envelope, filled with neon gas, and then sealed. When any of the separate metal layers was charged with 175 volts, the neon gas around the wire ionized, and lit up. When plugged into a circuit board, the tube would read out the numbers, with each number appearing at a different depth. Paul was fascinated with the retro look of this type of readout, so he has installed it in his $15,000, three-chassis Destination line stage, and into his new $10,000 reference N-1 preamplifier.
Ron Sutherland had a rack of his components at CES to drive Vandersteen Quatro floorstanding loudspeakers. The rack consisted of the two monophonic Phono Block phono preamplifiers, recently reviewed by Brian Damkroger in Stereophile; the $15,000 Destination Line Stage (one non-audio signal carrying control unit with Nixie tubes, and one audio chassis for each channel); and the $10,000/pair, 200W monoblock power amplifiers. Except for the amplifier and control chassis, most of these units are configured into two side-by-side subunitsone for power supply and one for audio signalattached only by front and rear panels.
UrbanEar's Andrea Miles models their new mustard-colored Platten headphones, which list at $65. This was part of the great upsurge in headphone exhibits found in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, or the "Zoo."
JL Audio's home high-end audio subwoofer engineer, Brett Hanes, proudly shows off the company's new $1700 ES-112 subwoofer (wood finish) that uses clever engineering principles to coax better performance and value from a less-expensive product. The ES-112's woofer features the company's only dual-spider driver construction, a smaller voice-coil, though the cone is designed for the same 3" peakpeak excursions found in the company's flagship f212 and Gotham models. Other construction simplificationsyou change line input voltage by changing fuses in external fuse holdermake the product more adaptable for international sales. It also has a high-pass output with variable frequency crossover, which will be appreciated by those of us using subwoofers in a two-channel home audio system.
Audio Research's Chris Ossanna proudly shows off the company's new $25,000/pair, two-chassis Reference 250 monoblocks, which employ the new KT-120 output tube. This amplifier has 50% more power-supply capacitance than their previous flagship, the Reference Anniversary 110, and uses the same type of Teflon coupling capacitors they sourced for their Reference Anniversary preamplifier. The front panel metering allows the consumer to check the bias and to adjust the speed of their response to either fast or slow.
Ypsilon's Demetrius Baklavas (right in photo) and Ypsilon's US distributor, Brian Ackerman of AAImports, demonstrated the Aelius amplifier to John Atkinson (left) and myselfthe amplifiers were doing a fine job of producing dynamics and superb open highs from the plasma tweeters of the new, floorstanding Lansche 7 loudspeakers.
Ypsilon Electronics’ Demetrius Baklavas designed the new $36,000/pair Aelius monoblock amplifier. The Aelius is rated at 220W into 8 ohms, 308W into 4 ohms, and 500W into 2 ohms. It is a hybrid design that features tube inputs, hand-wound interstage coupling transformers, and MOSFET output devices wired in the same type of push-pull Circlotron output configuration that was found in some Output-Transformer-Less tube (OTL) designs. The Circlotron configuration was developed years ago by Electro-Voice, and while the Aelius's output devices are all N-channel MOSFETs, the Circlotron approach is very different from conventional quasi-complementary approaches.
Each Xs channel has two chassis, one for the power supply and the other for signal amplification. The amplifier acts as a voltage source, and is rated at 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4 ohms, and 1200W into 2 ohms. It is biased to ensure make certain that the amplifier remains in class-A mode into all loads. Each channel has 122 output devices with a total rating of 10kW, and the extensive heatsinking allows the Xs 300 to deliver 2kW into a load "all day long." Though the Xs 300 stack was a silent exhibit, the company was using the more modest $65,000/pair Xs 150s to drive the Pass Lab RM2 loudspeakers, which showed a wide dynamic range and outstanding detailing.
Pass Labs’ engineer Wayne Colburn insisted that the name of their latest amplifier, the Xs, was not a pun. He spent over an hour detailing the 3-year design project that culminated in the company's $85,000/pair, solid-state, two-chassis-per-channel, class-A amplifier. Leaning on the 4.5-foot stack of the amplifier's stereo configuration, Wayne spoke about how the design was based on the results of an examination of transfer characteristics of a diverse set of gain devices, including tubes and SITs (silicon-carbide devices that are exclusive, we believe, to Pass Labs for use in audio). The output stage was designed to reproduce the transfer characteristics preferred by a panel of listeners, who lived with a variety of different output stages for a lengthy period of time.