Listening to the big MartinLogan CLX full-range electrostatics ($25,495/pair) at the June 2012 Newport Beach Show had been a high point for me, though they were being demmed in too large a room. At CES, the CLXes were in a smaller room, and were being supported by a pair of MartinLogan's Balanced Force 210 subwoofers. Amplification was by Cello and the source included Berkeley's Alpha DAC. I sat down to listen to a 176.4kHz file of Respighi orchestral music from Referenece Recordings, but sadly it was not possible to form much of an impression, due to the conversations competing with the music.
Wednesday evening after the CES closed, Luke Manley (left) and Bea Lam (second left) of VTL held a reception to honor the memory of Luke's father and VTL founder David Manley, who passed away in December. Everyone present offered their memories of David, including Stereophile's Larry Greenhill (right) and Jason Serinus (second right).
The big news from UK-based Naim is the arrival of the company’s first asynchronous USB DAC, the DAC-VI ($2395). Its companion in size is the new NAP 100 discrete-transistor, compact power amplifier ($1295). Production on both begins in February. To focus first on the amp, which is in my CES blogging territory of amps and preamps in the $2500$15,000 price range, the NAP 100 is a dual-mono design that outputs 50Wpc into 8 ohms and 100 into 4, and is said to incorporate a linear power supply with a “large toroidal transformer and audiophile grade selected components” into a non-magnetic, low resonance, compact chassis and sleeve.
McIntosh's exhibit area in the Venetian Towers was busier than usual when I entered, and I soon found out why. Whereas most manufacturers in high performance audio were content to introduce one or two products, McIntosh seemed determined to introduce many, many new products. I could not mention them all, but Ron Cornelius, McIntosh's Product Manager, helped me focus on four products he felt of greatest interest to audiophiles. First, he showed me McIntosh's new Digital Preamplifier ($2500, above). This featured a new ESS DAC chip that operates its 8 channels in differential balanced mode for improved resolution. It includes a headphone amplifier, and four digital inputs: two optical, one coax, and one high-speed, asynchronous USB port.
Following the sale of Thiel and the departure of the Kentucky company's cofounder Kathy Gornik at the end of November 2012, the Thiel display at the Sands Convention Center was packed. It was also reassuring to see many of the company's long-term employees on hand, confirming the new CEO Bill Thomas's commitment to preserving the brand's ethos.
LA Audio was but one of many companies who journeyed to Las Vegas in hopes of securing U.S. distribution. New to their line is the P-845 II monoblock ($12,000), a push-pull design that outputs 60Wpc and has a frequency response of 20Hz100kHz. This is the most expensive product from a company with a 20-year history in Taiwan.
Musical Fidelity had a large multi-room suite atop the Mirage, with multiple systems set up and optimized. One system was set up around the new M1SDAC which retails for $1,499 and should be here by April.
Inputs include all the usual digital suspects including USB that can handle 24/192. Since the M1SDAC also functions as a preamp, it has analog inputs which are sampled at 24/96. Outputs included unbalanced analog and digital.
But what caught my ear was the Bluetooth capability that allows you to wirelessly connect your Bluetooth device if it has audio files on it. Once received wirelessly, the Bluetooth stream is upsampled to 24/192 by the M1SDAC. Tempo Marketing's John Quick asked me to pull out my iPhone to see if there was some music I'd like to hear. Sure enough I had an uncompressed CD rip of Roxy Music's first album and within seconds it was playing over the system, tracks being controlled from my seat. Maybe not CD quality, but it sounded pretty good with a bit of crunch on the top end.
Even though Simaudio’s Costa Koulisakis once explained in near exhaustive detail the relationship between Moon products and Simaudio, all I can remember is how good the components sound. You too may go over the moon about the three new products in my blog price range. In numerical order, the Moon Evolution Series 610 LP phono preamplifier ($7000), based on the reference Moon 810LP that Michael Fremer reviewed in December 2012, is a dual-mono, fully balanced differential design with isolated oversized power supply with a pi-type filter; adjustable impedance loading, capacitance loading, and gain settings; and selectable equalization curves. It will even wash your windows.
Priced at $3,250 and available now, the compact and sturdy DAC 8 features 4 coax SPDIF inputs, BNC, AES/EBU and USB all capable of handling 24/192 data. Both balanced and unbalanced outputs are available along with a small remote that can control input selection and volume.
T+A employs aggressive jitter management, multiple filter options, and runs eight 32 bit Burr Brown converters. All analog stages are fully discrete and I'm going to guess it sounds pretty good too.
I expect there’s a movie industry connection to the name of this cable company, whose new Kraken flagship power cable goes for $8400/1.5m. With internal wiring a silver-palladium alloy, the housing is a combination of carbon-fiber and epoxy resin. Even the ceramic plug is a composite, complete with pins that are a silver-copper alloy with palladium coating. They also look as good as you’d expect for cable that is 100% handmade in Pasadena.
Morel had two setups at CES: one featuring a pair of Soundspot SP 3 satellites and 8” bass unit ($1799/pair) and, in another room, a pair of Sopran floorstanders, the latter winner of the 2013 CES Design and Engineering Innovations award. The Sopran ($12,000/pair} is one-down from the $34,000/pairand, in my opinion, unfortunately-namedFat Lady. The Sopran is a three-way, five-driver speaker, proprietary drivers and a molded carbon-fiber composite cabinet that I find a refreshing change from the usual wooden box.
In a large, acoustically untreated basement room at the Flamingo, KEF's "Brand Ambassador" Johann Coorg, was getting superb sound from the same orange pair of Blade speakers ($30,000/pair) that he had demmed at last October's RMAF. Again using Parasound Halo preamp and monoblock power amps, Johann was playing files from J River Media Center running in a Windows environment on his MacBook Pro, courtesy of Parallels, to feed a Parasound ZDAC. (That way, he could use the Mac's native USB2.0 driver.) Cabling was all WireWorld and AC was conditioned with a Torus transformer.
Enigmacoustics' Sopranino add-on electrostatic super-tweeter ($3900/pair) was innovative enough to garner a 2013 CES Design and Engineering Showcase Honors award. Mounted on a gray and white glass stand, the anodized aluminum cabinet and almost square speaker panel is small, measuring 7.2" x 7.7" x 8.3", and weighs 10.4 lbs each.
At this year's CES, Sumiko's John-Paul Lizars introduced me to REL Acoustics’ new R528 SE sub-bass system. He described it as an "ultra-high output version of the R528" but also as a more compact version of the company's flagship Gibraltar 1 subwoofer. The R528 SE is half the weight (58 lbs instead of 108 lbs), 43% of the volume, and 61% of the cost of the G1 ($2750 instead of $4499). While the larger G1 has a 600W class-AB amplifier, the R528 SE has a 500W class-D amplifier. Both subwoofers utilize REL's aluminum-chassis, 12", carbon-fibercone woofer, but the R528 SE adds a downward-firing 12" passive radiator. Low-frequency response are not that different, with the R528 SE's 6dB point at 21Hz, and the Gibraltar 1's 15Hz. Many audiophiles and home-theater fans may end up favoring the more compact new subwoofer.
Parasound still thinks we can get more out of our CDs and worked with Holm Acoustics of Denmark to implement a CD ROM drive based player that is shipping now for $4,500.
Inside the CD 1 is a Linux-based computer that analyzes the data coming off of the 4x speed drive. Parasound says that the computer keeps checking the data until it is satisfied it has a bit prefect stream. Balanced and unbalanced outputs are included as well as SPDIF for those looking to employ their own DAC.