The case and front panel nomenclature are not in final form, but if VAC's forthcoming two-piece Master Signature preamplifier ($26,500 as linestage, $40,000 with additional phono stage)ignore what the prototype unit's front panels saydue in early March, sounds anywhere near as good as the VAC equipment I heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, it will be worth waiting for.
Audio Research's new SP20 tube stereo preamplifier ($9000) combines a full-function linestage and phono stage, and includes a hi-resolution tube-driven headphone output, touchscreen control, remote control, and both balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs. The front panel echoes the Minnesotan company's fabled SP3 preamps from the 1970s. Listening to the company's first preamp in 20 years to include both a linestage and phonostage via Sonus faber Olympica III loudspeakers, I heard both the classic Audio Research midrange and a fast response that served bebop extremely well. Bob Reina is working on an SP20 review for Stereophile.
Swiss company Manufacture Le Son was one of many that attended CES in hopes of securing US distribution. In tow was their LS002 Le Son (approx. $35,000), a dual-mono class-B stereo amplifier that outputs a bit more than 100Wpc into 8 ohms, and 180Wpc into 4.
Tri-Art Audio of Canada displayed its complete mid-level Bam Bam system, whose cost was under $35,000. Built to a very strict price point, the electronics, all stuffed with sheep's woolwhy didn't they name it the Bah Bah system?included the new Bam Bam passive preamplifier ($1295), which is housed in a solid wood cabinet and allows for passive bi-amping and tri-amping without an electronic crossover; Bam Bam 75Wpc class-D balanced amplifier #75-S ($1995); and Bam Bam 24V battery power supply ($900).
The complete Lamm system on the 35th floor, whose total retail cost, including $216,070 for the Lamm components, $120,000 for the Verity Audio Lohengrin II S speakers, and $100,000 for the Tech DAS Airforce 1 turntable, along with Kubala-Sosna cabling, was a mere $670,071. But my brief was to cover amplification and shown only in passive display was Lamm Industries' new LP2.1 class-A, dual-monophonic tube phono preamp ($8590 regular, $8890 deluxe.)
Shipping by the end of January, Ayre's new KX-R Twenty preamplifier ($27,500) is a complete redesign of the KX-R that was introduced in 2008. Among the new baby's features: a completely new "Ayrelock power supply" with twice the capacitance as of old, an optimized Equilock gain stage and Diamond output stage, significant part upgrades in all critical areas of the audio circuit, and, of course, "proprietary tweaks." Also playing in the system, which featured Vivid Giya G1 speakers, were the forthcoming MX-R 20 20th Anniversary monoblock amplifiers. There is as yet no retail price, as the parts are being finalized over the next two weeks.
Astell&Kern, whose audiophile-grade portable music player won over John Atkinson, and whose AK120 model won a 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, offered a sneak peak at their prototype Cube One, class-A, 20Wpc, 300B, push-pull integrated amplifier (no price set). Due in the second half of 2014, the Cube One delivered very liquid and illumined sound through Astell&Kern’s prototype loudspeakers. Expect a complete Astell&Kern system before too long, and check out Jon Iverson's report on A&K’s new AK240 media player.
"One touch," that’s all it takes for you to enjoy your music, said B&O CEO Teo Mantoni, introducing the Danish company’s BeoSound Essence music-streaming system to the press at CES, and compared that one-touch solution to the current compendium of 10 swipes and presses that you need to playback a Spotify playlist from your smartphone. Mr. Mantoni is holding the elegant Essence Remote in his hand; a ring around the small aluminum puck controls volume and play/pause, forward and backward buttons are embedded on the top. The circular puck is available as wall-mount and desktop versions, and a remote box both connects to the playback system and is the center for AirPlay streaming, DLNA streaming, Spotify Connect, QPlay and Internet radio stations.
Jon Iverson already reported on the Antelope DAC, but as I have just favorably reviewed their SCM 7 v.3 minimonitor for the forthcoming April issue of Stereophile, I was more interested in the active ATC SCM100SL Towers in the room. This speaker combines ATC's proprietary soft-dome midrange driver with a 1" tweeter and 12" woofer, tri-amped by ATC's Anniversary amplification. With a laptop running JRiver Media Center feeding data to the Antelope Zodiac-Platinum DAC with its Voltikus power supply, the 24/96 transfer of Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters" was reproduced with tight, well-controlled low frequencies.
Like Stephen Mejias at the 2013 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I have been impressed by the German Zellaton speakers when I have heard them, both at shows, and at a dealer event I attended in 2012 at Fidelis Audio in New Hampshire. With foil-covered drive-units, a crossover from Duelund Coherent Audio, and driven by Trinity balanced phono and line preamps and 200Wpc CH M1 amplification from Switzerland, the three-way Reference speakers sounded forceful and detailed.
I’ve had a couple of conversations the past couple of years with mastering engineer Dave Collins about the D/A processor he was designing for Manley Labs, the company run by his wife EveAnna Manley. The 2014 CES saw the consumer debut of the Heart Monitor Controller 24/192 DSP ΔΣ [Delta-Sigma] DAC, which was being demmed in a system featuring Manley’s 25th Anniversary monoblocks, which use KT120 tubes. There are four digital inputs and Dave has kept the fully differential signal path as short as possible. Silicon includes a SHARC DSP and AD1955 DAC chips and harmonic distortion has been kept to a superbly low 120dB, and even that is the subjectively benign second. Price has yet to be decided.
Jason mentions the new NAD Master Series below, but it's worth fleshing out the M12 DAC/Pre. Inside is basically the same DAC as the M51 which has been updated it a bit. The M12 also features NAD's MDC or Modular Design Construction chassis, meaning there are several card slots on the back for a variety of inputs including their new BluOS on a card to tie it in with the new Bluesound products from parent company Lenbrook Industries
The M12 (which NAD calls a Host component) will be available in May for $3,499.
This year has seen Ayre add DSD capability to both the QB-9 DAC ($3250) and QA-9 ADC ($3950). Older QB-9s can be upgraded for $500 (makes everything sound better they say), and the QA-9 gets a free firmware update.
Sim Audio's Lionel Goodfield notes that CDs are still major parts of most audiophile music collections, so he wanted to develop a player to maximize the format's potential while keeping costs under control. The result is the Neo 2600 for $2,000 that features a floating transport and borrows much of its technology from the company's more expensive 650D from the Evolution Series.
The 2600 also has SPDIF and AES/EBU inputs and can be upgraded for $1,000 with an internal 32 bit DAC that also adds a USB input. Available in black, silver and 2-tone.