The recently-released Audirvana Plus 3 has become the first desktop music player for MacOS to include an integrated MQA Core decoder. To quote the press release, issued jointly by London-based MQA and Paris-based Audirvana, Audirvana's MQA Core decoder "enables the first origami 'unfold' and also authenticates the file using a blue or green light to confirm that the sound is identical to that of the source material."
Needing a shot of the real thing after a particularly disappointing dem from another manufacturer, I headed down the hall to hear Aurum Acoustics' total package. ($48,000 gets you the Integris CDP CD player, Integris Active 300B amplifier and speakers, Integris two-shelf Isolation Rack in matching veneers, 2m power cable, Aluminum Base kit, and Loudspeaker Grille Kit. As I said, the whole package.
Until I encountered the world premiere of the imposing Wharfedale Airedale Neo loudspeaker ($20,000/pair), I hadn't run into speakers from the 70-year old company in many a year. The wait was worth it. This wonderful-sounding speaker, which weighs over 125 lbs and can handle up to 400W power, boasts point-to-point wiring, frequency response of 25Hz45kHz, and 88dB senstivity.
Over in the Tech Center Hyatt, Mark Schifter's AV123 corralled a huge room in which to showcase their soon-to-be-shipped flagship LS9 Focus Line Source speaker ($5999/pair). Powered by gorgeous Dodd Audio KT-88 monoblocks (approx. $40,000/pairthere was no literature on hand), the brand new Ultra Fi Music Stream USB-connectable DAC ($3499) with a proprietary analogue output stage designed by Larry Moore, a Ridge Street Audio USB cable that he waxes ecstatic about, and a laptop equipped with every kind of classical music (except what I wanted to hear), the system was creating astoundingly large-scale, believable images and enveloping sound. While designer Danny Richie's proprietary woofer array was issuing tremendous bass, a touch of brittleness on the highs gave evidence of the fact that the planar-magnetic tweeters had hardly broken in. You can bet that I'll be back again on Sunday to hear how they sound with some more hours on them. What this speaker does for the price is astounding.
Beckoning like the mythical paradise for which the Coloradon company is named, the Avalon Acoustics Time loudspeakers ($47,995/pair) stood in a large suite on the 34th floor. Surrounded by a large complement of room-tuning devices that only partially controlled their low end, the beauty and clarity of the Time's diamond tweeter transmitted the beauty of Renaud Capuüon's violin as few other speakers I have heard.
You can usually count on former airline pilot Darren Censullo of Fayetteville, GA to put together an exhibit that sounds as good as it looks. Impeccably displayed, although in light that barely revealed their true Tuscan leather exteriors and aluminum front baffles, the beautiful Rosso Fiorentino Sienna loudspeakers from Italy ($24,995/pair) shared the ambience with the Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird turntable ($12,995) and Analogue DFA 12.0 tonearm ($1495 with table); AMR (Abbingdon Music Research) CD-77.1 CD player ($10,995), PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995) AM-77.1 integrated amp in mono vertical biamp mode ($9995), and DP-777 DAC ($4995); AMI-HIFI HDR Mini Server Version music player ($2995), Monk Audio phono preamp ($3495), a host of Acoustic System International Resonators ($250$2850 each) and LiveLine cabling ($995$2100), as well as the company's 3-shelf equipment rack ($3500) and Top Line feet ($750/set); and Avatar Acoustics' own Mach 4 Power Distributor w/captive ASI power cord ($1995) and Afterburner 8 wall outlet ($80).
I never thought that yet another listen to Rebecca Pidgeon's "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem" would hold my attention, but, on the set-up from Avatar Acoustics' Darren Censullo, the recording sounded irresistible. I was especially seduced by the system's compelling warmth in the midrange and correctly proportioned bass. But really, everything in this room sounded really good.
Darren Censullo of Avatar Acoustics always puts on a good show, but with his wife, Bonnie, was eager at CES to introduce Canadian company Tri-Art Audio, whose founder, Steve Ginsberg, has returned to his audio roots after a detour in the artistic acrylic paints industry. Tri-Art's "The Block" 50W monoblock amplifiers (price TBD, probably around $2500$2600), "The Bam Bam" turntable and tonearm (again probably around $2600), and "The Block" 24V DC battery power supply (price TBD) include new digital chips, are voiced with natural materials, and boast a very simple single-ended signal path.
"Reference Audio on a Budget" was the tagline for the exhibit from Darren and Bonnie Censullo's Avatar Acoustics of Fayetteville, GA. Most important, the room featured two world premieres. First was a product you're sure to hear more about, the Axis Voicebox S loudspeaker ($3000/pair). A 5 ohm, 83dB sensitive model with a frequency response of 45Hz20kHz ±3dB, this little baby was paired with Abbingdon Music Research's AMR AM 777 60Wpc hybrid integrated amplifier ($4500), AMR CD-777 player ($4500), Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable ($4995) with DFA 10.5 tonearm ($1000), AMR PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995, and soon to be reviewed by Michael Fremer)), and DFA premium tonearm cable ($600). Throw in $11,265 worth of cabling and power distribution from Acoustic System International and Avatar Acoustics, including the world premier of the Avatar Acoustics Mach 4 Power Distributor ($1800 with power cable), and $10,240 worth of Acoustic System International Resonators, and your hypothetical budget would top $50,000.