CES 2014

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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
It is said that good things come in small packages and this CES offered proof of this. Among the very smallest of these is the Audioengine D3 Premium 24bit DAC, priced at $189. This tiny all-metal USB DAC is no larger than the flash-drives with press kits distributed freely at CES. Still, it handles up to 24/96 and requires no special drivers. How can good sound stuff get any smaller?
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
When I entered the room with equipment from PBN Audio, EM from Japan, and Mark Johansen's ZenSati cabling, I encountered PBN President Peter Noerbaek playing an LP of one of the Bach solo cello suites. This he followed with cellist Aage Kvalbein's audiophile-quality CD of the Theme from Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, available on the KKV.no label's Mirakler far den nye Verdem (Miracles from the New World). (Click here and here for more information.] The sound was very detailed, clear, and warm, with great dynamics. New was PBN Audio's fully balanced, all-FET EB-SA2 power amplifier ($34,995), which outputs 650Wpc into 8 ohms and 1200Wpc into 4. "It's way overbuilt, as is everything we do," said Noerbaek of his 165 lb baby.
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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jan 14, 2014 1 comments
Over at T.H.E Show at the Flamingo, and surrounded by booths offering all sorts of discs and their supporting paraphernalia, I came upon Darin Fong's table of laptops and headphones but he was not selling any of those. His company, Darin Fong Audio, is offering a software program called "Out Of Your Head" which reprocesses stereo and multichannel sources so that you can hear them as you would over a loudspeaker-based system. This is similar, in intent, to the marvelous Smyth Realiser that I reviewed in November 2010, but, at just $149, is much more affordable. Like the Smyth, it supports multiple presets (acoustic environment files) although it is not personalized to the user's own HRTF. It was also quite effective. There is free trial version on the website.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
Lovely full-range sound, superb clarity on the bottom end, realistic bite on the trumpets, and blessed neutrality (as in natural timbres) distinguished the presentation of a bit of a 24/96 file of Ricardo Chailly?s performance of Mahler's Symphony 3 in Boulder?s room. Shoeboxed into far too small a space, Boulder's new 2150 mono amps ($98,000/pair), which weigh 240 lbs each, output a mere 1000W into 8 ohms, and replace the 2050 model that was in production for 17 years; the new 2110 preamp ($54,000), which includes a fully differentially balanced volume attenuator and new gain stages, and replaces the 2080 model that remained in service for 16 years; and the 1021 network disc player ($25,000) joined forces with Chario Serendipity loudspeakers (approx. $40,000/pair) and Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval cabling to wow me silly.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
Trickle-down theory may not work on the economic front, but it sure seems to apply to Constellation Audio's prestigious products. After a very high priced launch, the company has slowly introduced lower-priced products. Most exciting is the arrival of the Argo 125Wpc integrated amplifier ($20,000, above), whose price is one-third that of the Virgo preamp and Centaur amp. With four inputs (two balanced), a preamp output that can run headphones, and two slots in back for optional, not-yet-available phono and DAC cards, the Argo will ship by February.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 1 comments
The $12,000 price tag for Burmester's first "entry-level" foray into class-D amplification, the 101 integrated amplifier, may not be cheap, but the unit certainly produced smooth and eminently listenable sound on a certain track by Chris Jones that offers no sanctuary for reviewers who encounter it at least once on every show floor. The 101, which pairs nicely with Burmester's 102 CD player seated above it in the photo, boasts five inputs, remote control, a headphone output, the company's XM layout design, and a "special" low volume setting that offers richer sound (and, for all I know, is comparable to the "loudness" function on the receivers of my youth).
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
Nagra is not a company known to throw a few products together each year, and instead create their precision-machined wonders at a glacial pace befitting their Swiss heritage. As their press release states: "Introduction of new models follows a strict procedure at Nagra. A new product is considered worthy of appearing in the catalog once it brings a true improvement in sonic reproduction." More than one person asked if I had been up to the Nagra suite near the top of the Mirage hotel to see the new DAC.
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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
When I asked for something new and under $2000 at the Dali room, I was shown their new Kubik Free speaker ($1295/pair). This active compact single-stereo speaker with Bluetooth, USB, optical (up to 24/96) and analog was not exactly what I was looking for even though it did sound pleasant by itself. However, I was won over when it was demonstrated with its optional Kubik Xtra ($695) passive mate to produce some really spacious and open stereo sounds. Sure, adding the matching Sub 1 ($695) puts it over $2000 but the contribution to the sound was substantial. The Kubik system looks like and has the features of a life-style system but it is definitely a Dali.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
So new it's not yet priced, MBL's revamped Noble Line will be available mid-year. Heard in prototype form, and demmed by their designer, Jürgen Reis (above), the E31 CD/DAC, E51 integrated amplifier, and E21 stereo amplifier are intended to deliver "fuller, richer, and more refined sound" than the entry-level Corona line. "It is still the Noble family sound, but it is improved, with higher resolution and greater transparency that make it more modern," says Reis.
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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
At the Furutech room, the news was about the latest ADL device, the GT40 Mk.II of which they said "The master of all trades just mastered another. . .DSD." That's right, their all-singing, all-dancing, multitasking GT40, reviewed by Art Dudley in September 2011, now adds DSD file playback to its playbook. That, of course, includes up to 24/192 PCM DAC and ADC, MM/MC phono input and a potent headphone amp. At $729, a small box to rule them all.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 1 comments
Before I learned a thing about Pass Labs' new .8 Series of amplifiers, which is designed as the new bridge between the company's current .5 and XS Series, Pass's Kent English welcomed me to listen to the Impex Records LP transfer of an RCA Red Seal 1958 mono recording of Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.8 with Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Bey. (Only 2000 LPs were pressed, and this was number 1244.) Wow! The clarity and believability of the presentation were phenomenal. Bey's piano was recorded far too distant, but the layered complexity of the sound of Heifetz's violin was mesmerizing. All that audiophile talk about hearing the sound of the rosin on the bow had never before seemed as real as when I auditioned this recording. And the presentation was musical to boot!
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John Atkinson Posted: Jan 14, 2014 7 comments
Jon Iverson reports elsewhere on Light Harmonic's cost-no-object Sire DAC. But the bigger buzz at the 2014 CES was the LH Labs Geek Pulse, a desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. Except that this product does not yet exist!
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments
"This is a pretty major change for us," says Balanced Audio Technology's Steve Bednarski of the change from capacitor-coupled outputs to custom output transformers in their three new VK-P12 phono stages—the VK-P12 ($7995), VK-P12SE ($9995), and new flagship VK-P12SE SuperPak ($12,495). Unfortunately, none had arrived at the time I visited the room. Instead I encountered a display of the new VK-3000SE ($7995) 150Wpc into 8 ohms hybrid integrated amplifier, whose preamp stage is outfitted with the same 6H30 SuperTube used in the Rex II preamplifier. Also new are the VK-P6SE phono stage ($5995) and VK-P6 ($3495) phono stage.
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Jason Victor Serinus Posted: Jan 13, 2014 0 comments
Clearaudio's Robert Suchy points to Clearaudio's Absolute Phono ($15,000), a unique moving-coil phono stage system, here installed in the headshell of the TT1i Tangential tonearm ($30,000), which includes its own amplification stage. I am told there are no loading issues, and that the arm can accommodate any cartridge and produce sound without the use of coupling capacitors in the signal path. A second version of Absolute Phono is on the way. Also distributed by Musical Surroundings, its active headshell stage will be outboard, allowing it to be used with other tonearms.
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Jon Iverson Posted: Jan 13, 2014 0 comments
In addition to the integrated amps that Jason has covered below, Gato introduced their GORGEOUS looking new preamp with built-in DAC. This thing looks like an audio Ferrari just sitting there. Cost is $2,990 and is based on the front end of the DIA-250 and 400 integrateds which means up to 24/192 processing. Available at the end of January.

Also worth mentioning is how the volume control display works: as you turn the knob, the numbers on the display slide up and down instead of just changing. Probably has to be seen to be understood, but way cool.

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