John Atkinson and Cantus are at it again. Last June, John and Cantus, the Minnesota-based male vocal ensemble, traveled to Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, to record an adventurous two-volume Christmas CD. Comfort and Joy: Volume One is being released this week.
For a few weeks each year in the high summer of Minnesota, the corn sold from rickety roadside stands is so sweet and tender it is best eaten unadorned. For the wise and lucky nibbler willing to forgo condiments, the rewards of eating these naked kernels are the pure taste of Midwestern soil and sun transformed into a juicy, golden confection. I've begun to wonder if the yearly encounter with this magnificent and ephemeral sweet corn reminds Midwesterners of the joys of simplicity and plainness. Though my hypothesis is a stretch, it sure would explain a great deal about the Midwestern mentality. Perhaps Midwesterners subtly learn from this corn that if we get too fancy or try too hard, we can often screw up what nature has already made perfect. Conversely, we learn that no amount of fancy accoutrements will make a bad ear of bland, mealy corn come alive in the mouth.
I met designer Hans-Ole Vitus in his room at the Venetian, where he was showing his new stereo amplifier, the Vitus SS 101 (pictured in the middle, $40,000). The SS101 puts out 50Wpc in class-A and 100Wpc in class-A/B. It also has a volume control, making it a single-source integrated amplifier that can be operated by remote control. The system really sounded great and Hans-Ole was a delightful chap.
John Atkinson nudged my ribs with an elbow. "Did you bring your Cornelius CD with you?" he whispered.
It was the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, and JA and I were nearing the end of a dog-and-pony act expertly presented by Atlantic Technology's president, Peter Tribeman, touting a prototype of his company's new loudspeaker, the AT-1. JA and I had just heard about the finer points of the AT-1's new bass-venting technology, the Hybrid-Pressure Acceleration System (H-PAS), which was supposed to combine all the benefits and qualities of a transmission-line enclosure, horn loading, and sealed and ported designs. At the time, I didn't care if it combined all of the qualities of Kim Kardashian, Sacagawea, Joan of Arc, and Marie CurieI was just thrilled that the AT-1s were sounding so good in a partitioned ballroom.
Audio Power Labs was a new name to me, and not without reason. The company was recently started up by a number of audio enthusiasts, including a number of ham radio operators and this was their first showing at a CES. The 833TNT monoblock amplifiers (price not set) use an interesting compliment of tubes, including two 833C tubes that are often used in small AM transmitters and a switching power supply.
It's always good to have a reference. No matter the endeavor, references help guide us and set standards for all we do. For many hours of every day, I'm lucky to enjoy the reference of live, unamplified music. Right now, I average over 20 hours a week of rehearsals and performances of various ensembles, and four to five hours of listening to recorded music on my hi-fi. Clearly, for me, my musical reference is not the sound of my audio system, but the sound of live music created in various venues and acoustics.
Audio Research of Minnesota is located only a mile from my home, yet my visit to their room at this year’s CES was the first time I’d really met any of their staff. Getting pride-of-place in their CES system this year was the Reference Anniversary Preamplifier ($24,995), a two-chassis preamp celebrating the company’s 40th anniversary. According to the folks at Audio Research, this preamplifier has been a huge hit and has, to their own surprise, exceeded their sales expectations. Orders for the preamplifier will be taken through April 2011 and, unlike Brett Favre, will not come out of retirement.
Melody Valve HiFi of Australia was a new company to me. Pictured here is the Pure Black 101 Preamplifier ($4499) and PM815 monoblock power amplifiers ($7959/pair). The Pure Black 101 features an Alps remote attenuator, point-to-point wiring and Jensen copper foil paper in oil capacitors. The PM815 delivers 70W of pure class-A power using 845 output tubes.
Also showing in the Ayre room were their MX-R monoblocks ($9250 each) and also a Stereophile “Product of the Year” in 2007), connected to the actual samples of Vandersteen Model Seven speakers that Michael Fremer will be reviewing for Stereophile in March. The MX-R, like its KX-R brother, is carved out of a single block of aluminum and puts out 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. The amps were fed by Ayre’s CX-7eMP CD player and KX-R preamplifier and the sound of the MX-R amps driving the Vandersteen Sevens was detailed and pun fully intended airy.