How nice to again make the acquaintance of the folks at Balanced Audio Technology, aka BAT, now owned by Music Direct, and discover their three handsome new preamplifiers. The VK-53SE ($15,000), which replaces the VK-52SE, incorporates the same transformer-coupled output stage as in the flagship REX II preamp, and uses a new amorphous-core output transformer, encapsulated in a Mu Metal case. "There are no caps in the signal path in our preamps," proclaimed Geoff Poor. "The best capacitor is no capacitor." Also new are the VK-33SE preamplifier ($9995), a replacement for the 32SE and a trickle-down beneficiary of the VK-53SE's technology; and the VK-33 preamplifier ($7000), which replaces the VK-32.
Theta Digital, the pioneer of digital separates, announces the mighty Prometheus monoblocks ($12,000/pair). Heard in pre-production mode, with bass so strong and tight that it sent me into the hallway to discuss the product, the 200Wpc into 8 ohms monoblock is due out "within 90 days" (to quote a mantra oft-repeated at CES 2013).
Many, many moons ago, in the days when Stereophile was a small digest rather than a full-sized magazine and lively website, I owned an Aragon 4004 dual-monoblock amplifier. Oh how I wish I had never sold my 4004, with circuitry designed by Dan d'Agostino, and instead mated it with a front end, speakers, and cabling that could have revealed all that it had to offer.
You, thankfully, have an opportunity to find out just how good the circuitry is. The just-introduced Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc dual monoblock amplifier ($4999) with dual, symmetrical power supply and ethernet-based control and status monitoring, is now produced by Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009.
Importer Charles Harrison had arranged four distinct systems in an air-walled ballroom at THE Show. The room's boundaries were so porous that I was able to hear the sounds of a competing Mahler symphony playing so loudly in an adjacent room that I thought they were coming from one of the four systems in the room I was in. The system I was actually trying to listen to featured the new Ayon Audio Triton III integrated stereo amplifier ($12,500), which can output 125Wpc of pure class A power, as well as Ayon's Ortho II XS flagship preamplifier. Witht eh room
S sub-optimal acoustics, the chain produced a very bottom-heavy snippet of Mahler's Symphony No.2, capped by bright highs.
On January 10, the third day of CES, Michael Lavorgna, Jon Iverson, Stephen Mejias and I flocked to the Flamingo, home of the T.H.E. Show. There I made a first acquaintance with Coda Technologies, a company based 90 or so minutes from me in Sacramento, California. All Coda products are designed, manufactured, and assembled in the good ole USA, and come with a 10 year warranty, transferrable for 5 years.
Not yet released is Ayre’s 175Wpc VX-5 amplifier (price TBD, in the $8000 "neighborhood"), which uses the same circuit as in the AX-5, but with a larger power supply and higher voltage rails. The VX-5 was demmed with Vivid G2Giya speakers and the K-5xeMP preamplifier that John Atkinson reviewed in June 2011.
Opening the top of Ayre's new AX-5 integrated amplifier ($9950) revealed an impressive layout, with transformers so big that they extend down through the bottom of the chassis. Rated at 125Wpc into 8 ohms, or 250 into 4, the AX-5 uses the same volume control as in the KX-R, and a diamond buffer circuit in the output stage. The amp, driving TAD CR-1 stand-mounted monitors, sounded eminently smooth on a track by Ella Fitzgerald, and did a fine job communicating the smile in her voice.
We recently reviewed Dayton’s overachieving B652 loudspeaker ($39.80/pair), the least expensive loudspeaker ever to be covered in our pages. Dayton Audio also offers a line of amplifiers, made specifically to partner well with their drive units and complete speakers.
I ran into Dan D'Agostino, in the hallway of the Venetian. He was hurrying off to a meeting, but had a moment to mention that his amplifiers were being used in live exhibits in several rooms, including YG and Light Harmonic DaVinci, among others. I asked if there was anything new at the show, and he smiled and mentioned the new Momentum preamplifier. I found the D'Agostino room and his partner Petra, showed me the preamplifier, which was on passive display.
When I visited Nagra's exhibit at the Venetian, Jean Paschal Panchard, Nagra's representative, was out for a meeting. I asked his colleague, Jorgen Olofsson of Marten loudspeakers (the $77,000/pair Marten Coltrane Tenors were being driven by Nagra electronics), what was the "newest" Nagra product being shown. He mentioned Nagra's new Melody high-end solid-state preamplifier. Like the all-tube Jazz preamplifier, the Melody features the traditional Nagra look with the modulometer on the front face to indicate output signal level. The Melody weighs 7 lbs, and has a rated bandwidth of 10Hz50kHz, +0/1dB. Like the Jazz, all five RCA inputs and the two switchable outputs (one RCA and one XLR) are all on the back panel. It can accept an external power supply, such as the Nagra ACPS II or the new multiple power supply name the Nagra MPS. The Melody’s suggested retail price in the USA will be $7500 and the optional phono stage will cost $1500.
Perfect8 Techologies' exhibit suite at the Venetian proved to be one of the most crowded I entered. Perfect's CEO, Jonas Rantila, was introducing his new floorstanding speaker, the Point Mark II Evolution ($115,000/pair). This three-way, speaker features an Air-Motion Transformer tweeter and two midrange drivers mounted on a glass baffle (there's no enclosure for the tweeter or midrange drivers), sitting on a single glass-enclosure housing a pair of 10" subwoofers powered by a 400W, DSP-controlled amplifier hidden within the enclosure. Power for the midrange and tweeter was supplied by a 165 lb, 500Wpc, solid-state Bridge Audio Laboratory (BAlabo) BP-1 Mk.II stereo power amplifier ($88,500). The BP-1's importer, Fred Nadel, told me that the amplifier's output stage runs in class-A for the first 40 watts.
I stumbled into the Naim Audio Exhibit and was faced with a wall of amplifiers and electronics. Chris Koster, of the Sound Organisation, Naim's US importer, guided me through the Naim amplification that was being used to drive the tri-amplified loudspeakers in the room. Starting from the left, the rack held three NAP-500 solid state amplifiers ($28,000 each).Sitting just above the three amplifier chassis at the extreme left was a Naim Snaxxo 362 ($3500) active crossover; its Naim Supercap power supply, sitting at the top of the center column, powered the Snaxxo. Each of the amplifier's individual NAP-500 PS power supplies occupied the three lower shelves at the center of the rack. The two top center shelves held the power supplies for the NAC552 preamplifier ($28,000) and the NDS Media Streamer ($11,000), whose control chassis could be found at the extreme right of the rack.
Partnered with ADL’s Esprit preamp/headphone amp/USB DAC-ADC and playing FLAC files via Foobar from a Sony Vaio laptop, the handsome, lightweight, and comfortable Alpha Design Labs’ ADL-H118 headphone ($299) produced very fine sound.
English manufacturer Chord Electronics is known for its sophisticated CD players, which use sophisticated DACs. Indeed there was a huge picture denoting Chord's latest-generation DAC, the QBD 76, at the center of the back wall. As my beat was amplifiers, Chord's designer, John Franks (pictured above), spent the next 30 minutes walking me through the design of Chord's latest amplifier, the SPM 1200 Mk.II ($14,000), a solid-state, 350Wpc stereo mode. The amplifier sits at the bottom of the short stack of audio equipment John is leaning on. He explained that the amplifier has a high-frequency, 2kW, switch-mode power supply, and uses an output stage based on dual-die, lateral-structure MOSFETs with a soft turn/on-turn/off characteristic. This allowed John to use a sliding class-AB design.
One of my favorite products to review over the last couple years was the Cantata Music Center from Resolution Audio. What's not to like: solid engineering, forward thinking and gorgeous styling.
The company claims the product is designed to be future proofed for at least the next 10 years, and is now offering a new $500 24/192 hardware upgrade (software upgrades are free) to existing owners that is also featured in current versions. The Cantata Music Center is now also UpNP capable for FLAC and AIFF file decoding.