Erick Lichte mentioned Totem Acoustic's Beak, which costs $125/pair, in his follow-up review of the Totem Forest loudspeaker in January 2010. The Beak is a bullet-shaped device, about 2" high by 1.5" in diameter, that's intended to be placed atop a speaker to control "parasitic resonances." I was given a pair of these more than 10 years ago, and have tried them with various speakers. While Erick didn't find the Beaks to make any difference to the sound of the Forests or any of the other speakers he had to hand, my experience was different.
Though the Stereophile Product of the Year award is more transparent than an Oscar or Golden Globe, it is no less coveted. In the Ayre room at the Venetian, the proud winners of the 2009 Amplification Component of the Year award show off their trophy next to a cut-away of their winning KX-R preamplifier. The preamp was featured in Ayre’s system at their suite high atop the Venetian.
New to the Pass Labs product line is the XP-25 two-chassis, solid-state phono preamplifier ($10,600). Intended to be designer Nelson Pass’s statement phono stage the XP-25 allows the user to select gain, and resistive and capacitive loading to match any cartridge you might want to use. The XP-25 will accept two line inputs and offers both single-ended and balanced outputs.
Hi-Fi shows can be notorious for playing the same audiophile approved dreck over and over again. Not so in the VTL room. Luke and Bea Manley played one great tune after the next and introduced me to a bunch of albums I need to go get. Helping me enjoy this great music was VTL’s MB185 monoblock amplifiers ($14,500/pair). Using EL34 output tubes giving 185W in tetrode and 90W in triode, the MB185 offers a unique three-way setting that allows the user to dial in the amount of global negative feedback used in the amplifier. According to Luke Manley, this will allow users to fine-tune the sound of the MB185’s to best match the accompanying speakers and listeners’ tastes.
This system, the smaller of the two in the VTL room, was certainly to my taste. I preferred the MB185 in tetrode mode, finding that it offered the best balance between dynamic bass punch and smooth midrange and extended treble with the Avalon Indra speakers being used. VTL has always struck me as a serious company making serious products, but I had serious fun in their room at this year’s CES.
One of the better digital front-ends I've ever heard was demonstrated for me a number of years ago at the house of an audiophile friend: a Weiss Engineering combo of Jason CD transport and Medea digital-to-analog converter. That front-end remains in my mind as one of the only digital systems I've heard that could compete with the very best that vinyl has to offer while still doing what digital does best. In other words, there were warmth and musicality, staggering dynamics, and real silent backgrounds. When, recently, I saw that the Swiss company had come out with a DAC featuring onboard volume control, a headphone amp, and a FireWire input, I knew I had to give it a listen.