In sixth grade, I was given a Victorinox Swiss Army knife. I loved it. An avid camper and erstwhile Boy Scout, I was amazed at how many things I could do with this well-made, pocket-size wonder. I used its tweezers to remove splinters and ticks, its scissors to cut thread, its can opener to prize open tins of baked beans, and its knife blade to whittle, occasionally cut myself, and generally wreak teenage mayhem.
As I grew older, I discovered that using specialized tools for a given job was generally easier, faster, and more pleasurable than using my Swiss Army knife's utilities. Though I could cut a tent's ground cloth with my knife's scissors, a plain-Jane pair of Fiskars worked much better, an OXO can opener got me into those baked beans much faster than my Victorinox could, and even my Swiss Army knife blade didn't stay as sharp or fit in my hand as well as a simple Buck knife. Still, there was no doubt that my Swiss Army knife was a great tool and a good value, even if it was never the best tool for a specific task. To put it another way: The value of my Swiss Army knife was broad but shallow, while the value of something like my OXO can opener was narrow but deep.
Sonneteer, a UK audio company, was showing off its new Morpheus Music Center ($4000), an integrated amplifier, DAC, and control center for streaming audio. The amplifier section is rated at 50Wpc and will stream music via WiFi or Ethernet, play Internet radio, and USB input. The Morpheus also has three analog inputs and one analog output so it can send signal to an external power amplifier or subwoofer. Standing by his creation is Sonneteer’s Haider Bahrani.
The Stello Ai500 integrated amplifier was shown in the April Music room. A 150Wpc integrated with a built-in high resolution DAC, the Ai500 sells for $3500 and ably drove power-hungry Magnepan speakers.
Amplification in the Signature system in the Lamm room featured the ML3 Signature power amplifiers ($139,290/pair). Like the LL1 preamplifier, the ML3 isalso a four-chassis system. These 32W, single-ended, pure class-A amp is based on a direct-heated GM-70 triode.
Technical Audio Devices (TAD) was showing off new monoblock power amplifiers to attach to their well-known line of speakers. The M600 amplifiers ($26,500 each) feature a graphite cast iron monoque construction to help eliminate vibration. Though imposing in size (they weigh 198 lbs each!) the TAD amps feature only one stage of voltage gain. The M600 also features a 22lb transformer, custom-built 33,000µF capacitors, and can put out 600W into 4 ohms. They accept only balanced inputs and will be available in February 2010.
British Naim Audio showed an adorable new product in their room at this year’s CES. The appropriately named Unitiqute (pronounced Unitycute, $2500) is an all-in-one streamer, DAC, preamp, amp, FM tuner and headphone amp. The Unitiqute also has the ability to pull the datastream off an iPod and be controlled by an iPad or iPod. The amplifier section puts out 30Wpc into 8 ohms and has just one button on its front plate. I thought the Unitiqute struck the perfect balance of functionality, cuteness and elegance.
Simaudio also showed its newest preamplifier, the flagship Moon 850P ($25,000). The 850P is a two-chassis preamp that is designed to damp all vibrations through the use of an eight-point floating suspension for critical parts of the circuit. Like its predecessor, the Moon P-8, it separates the functions into a “clean” boxamplificationand a “dirty” boxdisplay, power supply, etc.
“Biggest. Tube. Ever.” I said, in my best Comicbook Guy voice. The Kronzilla DX Mk.II ($32,000/pair) from KR audio of the Czech Republic uses two T1610 output tubes in parallel to achieve 100Wpc of triode power. The amp also uses zero negative feedback.
Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand. The home of the Maori, Kiwi birds, an upcoming shoot for Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit, and Plinius Audio. On display in the Plinius room was the Hiato integrated amplifier ($9100). The Hiato is a 300Wpc integrated, able to kick out peaks of 50A of current. The amp is a high-biased class-A/B design that allows the first few important watts to benefit from class-A purity and then switch over A/B for greater efficiency and maximum power. The Hiato had me grooving to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on, Reggae Woman” and stopped me in my tracks playing a live duet version of Johnny Cash singing “Don’t Take You Guns to Town” with none other than Willy Nelson. The Hiato can also be installed with an optional phono preamp which brings the price up to $11,000.
Sometimes, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls. Other times, their words and ideas are made manifest through a lifetime of diligent and thoughtful work. As an audio prophet, the late Jim Thiel was one of the latter type. For decades he stood in his pulpit, quietly preaching to the audio world the importance of time and phase coherence in loudspeakers. His commitment to these ideas led to speaker designs that exclusively used first-order crossover networks, and driver designs and layouts that made possible time- and phase-coherent response. The speakers he created in turn built his company, Thiel Audio, into one of the more recognizable fixtures of high-end audio.