In the Audioville room, Chord Electronics of England demonstrated their Red Reference CD player ($26,000), now in Mk.III form. Refinements include a fully motorized transport door, plus a true asynchronous USB input. The player's D/A section, which offers up to 192kHz capability, eschews the use of DAC chips from other manufacturers, its pulse array being designed and constructed entirely by Chord. Styling is on a par with the underlying technologywhich is to say, a bit breathtaking.
The speaker of choice in the Audioville room was the brand new KEF Blade ($30,000/pair): a consumer-friendly version of something that started life as a KEF concept speaker. (In particular, in order to reduce costs, the latter's carbon-fiber enclosure has been replaced with one made of a composite resin.) Mid frequencies and treble are handled by the metal-diaphragm KEF UNI-Q array, while low frequencies are given over to two pairs of side-mounted 9" drivers, working in tandem so that bass energy is neither wasted nor allowed to travel through the enclosure structure to modulate the higher frequencies.
While change follows Stateside change for Naim Audio, enthusiasts for the venerable British brand on this side of the pond recently got a bit of good news: Chris West, the tech-savvy Englishman who managed Naim Audio North America for over 20 years, is back in the business of servicing Naim gear.
In a perfect world, all a serious record lover would need to enjoy music at home would be a single source component, one or two loudspeakers, and one good integrated amplifier. Speaker wire would be given by the dealer, free of charge, to any shopper who spent x number of dollars on new gear. Cable risers would come in cereal boxes.
German amplifier specialists AVM have been in business since 1986, but until now have served only the European market. The company's new owner, Udo Besser, who was with Burmester for many years, has decided to broaden their target and is now exporting their high-end electronics line to the US. Of the products on display at the New York Audio and AV show, I was especially intrigued by the AVM C8: an all-in one package that combines a 150Wpc stereo integrated amp with a phono stage, FM tuner, USB and SPDIF D/A converter, and a (hermetically sealed!) CD drive. The styling is elegant and spare, and the projected price is $4200.
The only thing better than a review that writes itself is a product with a compelling story. Although the latter asks a little more of us here, it's usually the more enduring pleasure.
So it goes with the new AX-5 amplifier ($9950) from Ayre Acoustics, in which designer Charles Hansen has both revived an overlooked technology from a half-century ago and brought to market a more affordable embodiment of one of his own most well-received products.
Dating was murder, especially in the months just before I met my wife. I knew some nice women back then, many of whom were good-hearted and others of whom were beautiful. One was both, and talented, too: She gave me presents for no reason and wrote tender things in cards with pictures of sweet meadows or the sea: My love goes on and on, they said. But for whatever reason, I just couldn't love her back, and Oh! how the shit hit the fan the day I told her so. I meant it as a respectful act of honesty and forthrightness; she took it as a cowardly act of rejection, and responded in a manner that would forever remind me of Maggie bouncing the rolling pin off Jiggs's head while calling him an insect. That day, I learned two things: 1) women are unlearnable; and, 2) honesty, while an unassailably good thing in and of itself, makes a poor tool, mostly because it lacks a safety handle.
Although LPs remain, for me, the high-end medium of choice, I'm not terribly interested in today's high-end record players. Most of them, from the 1980s through the present, have been soulless, uninspired, me-too products that utterly fail to communicate the presence, momentum, and punch of recorded music. And in certain waysexpense, complexity, size, cosmeticssome have been, quite simply, ridiculous.
Musicians and harmonica players of Montreal, take heed: You are all fair game for a painter named Patrick Larrivee, whose unambiguously available work filled one hall of the Hilton during SSI 2012. Unfortunately, it was the hall that led to my room.
Driving the distinctive Scaena "iso-linear array" loudspeakers in the Audio Doctor suite was a pair of Conrad-Johnson's limited-edition ART amplifiers ($37,000/pair): one of 125 pairs in existence. These ARTs used KT-120 output tubes (the amps are rated at 275Wpc when run with 6550 pentodes) and were operated without their strikingly pretty tube cages.