Although the business buzz in the Esoteric room made deep sonic evaluation impossible, I was impressed with the very nice midrange warmth and sweetness of the Esoteric system. I didn't hear any overtones from the new Grandioso M-1 mono power amplifier ($23,000/each), but I expect they were drowned out. A new companion preamp may be out by summertime. Also due from the company known for its excellent transport mechanisms is a new top-of-the-line transport, to replace the P-01, and a new mono DAC, to replace the D-01.
Rogers High Fidelity's New York-manufactured, aerospace engineering-based system, which included the just-launched PA-1A six-tube phono preamplifier ($7100) (pictured on the right) and EHF-200MK2 KT150-based, 112Wpc integrated amplifier ($15,000), delivered extremely quiet, beautifully warm and lovely sound with Shunyata power conditioning, Kimber Kable, and Davone Grande loudspeakers. The two Rogers pieces also looked fabulous.
Due late February, the cute Monitor Audio Airstream A100 50Wpc, class-A/B, integrated amplifier ($500) is a pure analog design that can work on its own, or as part of an audio/TV-based system. It is compatible with Airplay and Airplay Direct as well as the Monitor Audio Airstream App-based controller, can navigate music collections and stream music, supports DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) streaming, has a front-panel USB input, built-in hi-res DAC, stereo RCA pre/sub outputs, and offers control via front panel or slender remote. The sound was clean, crisp, and fast through Monitor Audio's GX50 loudspeakers ($1800/pair).
Gideon Schwartz of AudioArts NYC assembled an extremely fast system that delivered maximum color without any of the harsh, irritating edge that I encountered on many systems, both tube and solid-state, at CES. On Salvatore Accardo's well-worn Diabolicus in Musica LP of Paganini's solo violin music, as well as on a CD by the Musicians of the Nile, I was deeply impressed by the upward extension of the tone and the system's willingness to bathe music with the light it deserves. If the system wanted for the last iota of bass impact and clear delineation of low-lying lines, it nonetheless handled bass with a finesse that few hotel room set-ups offered, especially in the case of large loudspeakers sandwiched into small spaces.
There's a big change in the Bel Canto line, folks. It even comes with a new logo and website, belcantoblack.com. As for the sound, listening to an Elvis Presley outtake of "Peace in the Valley" on a 45rpm pressing from, I believe, Direct Grace, I loved the wonderfully clear and uncolored sound, as well as the natural "you are there" detail. To be honest, I drank it up.
Resolution Audio has yet to name or price its new 100W monoblock amplifiers, due in May, but they may come in around $9000/pair. Their push-pull design is licensed from English engineer Denis Morecroft. Build is distinguished by custom T-network caps and, in the company's words, "crazy careful attention to detail."
Crystal Cable's Gabi Rijnveld assured me that her years of ballet training had prepared her for prolonged kneeling while yours truly struggled to snap the optimal photo. The Dutch company introduced Crystal Cable's 10th Anniversary The Cube compact stereo integrated amplifier (around $15,000). Due out around Munich show time in May, this little baby attempts to incorporate all the advanced technology of Siltech's innovative three-box SAGA amplifier ($75,000) into a single box that is more financially available, designer lifestyle-friendly, and outputs 200Wpc into 4 ohms.
"I'm a full-time music lover and a part-time audiophile," Gary Koh declared while demming his new Genesis GRA1440, class-D, truly differentially balanced monoblock amplifiers ($22,000/pair). "Music is inherently balanced," he said, as he played the stereo LP version of Al Grey and The Basie Wing's The Last of the Big Plungers, and proved that modified Hypex class-D modules, when incorporated into amplifiers that output 1440Wpc into 4 ohms and include a full Genesis power supply, can yield totally welcoming, alive and colorful sound. There was absolutely no hard edge to be heard on this system.
Soul Of the Music had their sMS-1000 media server on hand featuring the Vortexbox OS and the ability to handle PCM files up to 32/384 as well as DSD. The front panel has a slot for ripping both CDs or DVDs and pricing is dependent on type of output selected: $3,000 for both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, $2,700 for coax, toslink, AES/EBU, and $2,500 for just USB 2.0
Beijing's QAT Audio had their new fanless MS6i music server on display in the Venetian. NAS drives are supported via both WiFi and ethernet to supplement the user-replaceable 2.5 inch or SSD internal drives. Digital outputs include toslink, coax, BNC and AES/EBU and there are four USB ports.
All PCM formats up to 24/192 are supported and the company features a nice looking app for iOS and Android. Available mid-year for $2,990 in the US, currently available in China.
Though I was in the Avatar room asking about new digital products, somehow this one was missed, so thanks to Jason Serinus for coming up with a photo for me. There was also a little confusion about the name of the product, but we're going with Scaena Mainframe for now.
The company info says that the new server plays all formats of audio and video and features an aluminum enclosure with liquid cooling, Xenon processor, "error correcting" RAM, and a custom 7" touch tablet to run everything. The Mainframe also runs off of a lithium battery power supply that can go for up to 12 hours on a charge.
First seen last year at CES, the PureDAC has now been released and the company claims to have sold more than 1,000 units since August of 2013. Price is $1,690 and it handles up to 32/384 PCM, both DSD 64&128 and has a separate volume control for room and headphone listening. Designed in Germany, built in China.
Given that, for the first time since the dawn of the stereo era, cables were not part of my assignment, I never expected to find anything on my beat in the MIT room. But there, virtually dwarfed between MIT's top-of-the-line Oracle MA-X cabling and Magico Q3 loudspeakers, sang one of only two Spectral DMA-300 RS stereo amplifiers ($TBD) yet in existence. The sound through this stereo version of Spectral's monoblocks and Spectral's DMC-30 SS preamp and FDR-4000 CD player was spectacular.
Krell used CES to launch no fewer than seven iBias high-efficiency class-A amplifiers. Called, by the company, "the most revolutionary design change in its 33-year history," the amps consume far less energy than traditional class-A amplifiers. iBias technology also reputedly eliminates crossover distortion, allowing low-level details, subtleties and spatiality to emerge without restricting dynamics. It does so by operating output transistors constantly at full power, so they never shut off, and adjusts power going to them according to demands.
When WAVAC’s North American distributor, Covenant Audio Consulting, chose to stage the world debut of WAVAC’s eye-catching, directly heated single-ended triode HE-833v2 150W monoblock amplifiers ($79,900/presumably for the pair) with the massive SoundLab Majestic 845PX electrostatic loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), no one expected that high frequencies would project mostly from the top of the speaker, above the heads of seated listeners. Thus it was only when I stood that I was able to appreciate both the beautiful top and fine midrange transmitted by the HE-833v2s in conjunction with WAVAC’s PR-T1 transformer-coupled, three-chassis preamp ($30,900) and AC02 power conditioner ($22,900). Next time, I’ll bring my elevator shoes.