Convergent Audio Technologies' SL-1, in its various iterations, has been my reference preamp for some time. When the SL-1 Ultimate came out, I kidded designer Ken Stevens about the fact this designation implied that there was simply no way to improve it, so what was he going to do when—inevitably, in my view—he found ways to tweak the design? Well, sure enough, the SL-1 Ultimate is now the SL-1 Ultimate Mk.II, and Ken has a new preamp called the Legend, which is said to be even better. Improvements over the Ultimate Mk.II include a Teflon circuit board, Black Gate electrolytic capacitors, separate left and right volume controls, and a constrained-layer aluminum/steel bottom plate. An interesting feature is that the AV bypass works even without the preamp being turned on, saving tube life. The price is $15,995, which makes the $7995 for the Ultimate Mk.II seem like a positive bargain.
More than once, I've teased Convergent Audio Technology's Ken Stevens about calling his preamp SL-1 Ultimate. I mean, once you've got something that's the Ultimate, where can you go if it's improved—and there is no audio product that can't be improved, even if only to a minor degree. He subsequently introduced a preamp called the SL-1 Legend, but it was about double the price of the SL-1 Ultimate, and Ken said that it was sufficiently different from the SL-1 Ultimate that it could be considered a new preamp, deserving of a new name.
The Tréo ($5995/pair), shown in prototype form at the 2011 CES, is the latest speaker from Vandersteen. Indications are that it offers the same sort of musical accuracy that characterizes all of Richard Vandersteen's designs. It's a three-way design, with a 1" ceramic-coated alloy-dome tweeter, 4.5" tri-woven composite-cone midrange, 6.5" woven fiber-cone woofer, and an 8" subwoofer. Like other Vandersteen speakers, the Treo is time and phase correct. Through the years, Vandersteen has moved away from the strictly functional appearance of the original model 2 and model 3, and the Treo is perhaps a culmination of this trend: the slim, truncated pyramid is stylish as well as functional. My notes on the makeup of the system playing are somewhat difficult to decipher (I need to take a course in remedial handwriting or start to carry an iPad with me), but I can tell you that it used Aesthetix electronics and a turntable source. The LP of Mary Black singing "Babes in the Wood" sounded smooth and engaging.
The folks at the Montreal Emile Berliner museum always bring to SSI some fascinating vintage audio equipment. The item in the picture is a "Personal Disco" component, Velo Model DK-990 (R), circa 1986, and it has everything you might want for your next disco party: two cassette players, radio, equalizers, four speakers, and a claimed output of 100W. Stephen, here's the subject for your next "Entry Level" column!
WLM stands for Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur, and their product literature states that the company’s ambition is "to keep the Viennese heritage of music alive." While this might appear to give short shrift to institutions like the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera, the system featuring WLM Lyra speakers, Audio Aero SACD player and electronics sounded was exceedingly musical in its presentation.
"Have you heard the Woo headphone amps?" Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings pulled me over. I told him that I hadn'tbut then I have not kept up with the market in headphone amps. "Have a listen." So I did, over Sennheiser HD800 headphones. The MA Recordings Seeing Unknown Colors (MO 15A) sounded great through the Woo Audio WA6 ($650), without the touch of extra brightness that these 'phones are prone to.
I know that Zu is a manufacturer of loudspeakers, but what does "Omen Def" mean. I have no idea, but a pair of these speakers was producing a lively sound at TAVES. At $3400/pair ($2900/pair show special), the price seemed eminently reasonable. They were playing vinyl, courtesy of a KLM 15 turntable and Denon 103 Grade 2 (yes, it's still being made) cartridge.
In the same room as the large KEF system, there was a nifty mini-system for iPod users. The heart of the system is the new Fatman iTube iPod tube hybrid integrated amp ($649, including special stand for an iPod, and a second set of inputs for a CD player). Although rated at only 13Wpc, it had no trouble driving a pair of KEF IQ1s ($350). It's pictured here with Jay Rein of Bluebird Music, the North American importer.