I should begin this review by confessing that I've never been a fan of subwoofers. Most subwoofer systems I've heard have been plagued by a familiar litany of sonic horrors: poor integration between subwoofer and main speakers, boom, bloat, tubbiness, slowness, excessive LF output, and an overall presentation that constantly reminds the listener he is hearing a big cone moving. To me, subwoofers often sound detached from the music, providing an accompanying thump that bears little relationship to the sound from the main speakers. Rather than revealing the music's harmonic underpinnings, subwoofers often obscure them in a thick morass of featureless boom. In addition, adding a subwoofer often destroys the qualities of the main speakers that made you buy them in the first placejust to name a few of my observations (footnote 1).
For the first time in many years, I walked into a room at CES and was immediately blown away. Pass Labs personnel had suggested I listen to the amplifiers driving Sony loudspeakers, so I went to the 30th floor of the Venetian to listen. I had no expectations, other than knowing that five Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) were powered by five Pass Labs Xs300 amplifiers ($85,000/pair), all connected by Kimber Kable. What I didn’t know was that Sony had given the two people running that demonstration, Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco and Super Audio Center’s Gus Skinas, carte blanche permission to play any one of the 150 Direct Streaming Digital (DSD) master titles from Sony’s library for the duration of the Show.
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines "myriad," derived from a Greek word meaning "ten thousand," as "a very great number of persons or things." British and unabashedly ambitious, Myryad Systems has set itself myriad design goals for its M-series stereo components: audiophile performance, real-world pricing, convenience, circuit simplicity, common remote-control function, and physical beauty.
When I visited Nagra's exhibit at the Venetian, Jean Paschal Panchard, Nagra's representative, was out for a meeting. I asked his colleague, Jorgen Olofsson of Marten loudspeakers (the $77,000/pair Marten Coltrane Tenors were being driven by Nagra electronics), what was the "newest" Nagra product being shown. He mentioned Nagra's new Melody high-end solid-state preamplifier. Like the all-tube Jazz preamplifier, the Melody features the traditional Nagra look with the modulometer on the front face to indicate output signal level. The Melody weighs 7 lbs, and has a rated bandwidth of 10Hz50kHz, +0/1dB. Like the Jazz, all five RCA inputs and the two switchable outputs (one RCA and one XLR) are all on the back panel. It can accept an external power supply, such as the Nagra ACPS II or the new multiple power supply name the Nagra MPS. The Melody’s suggested retail price in the USA will be $7500 and the optional phono stage will cost $1500.
I stumbled into the Naim Audio Exhibit and was faced with a wall of amplifiers and electronics. Chris Koster, of the Sound Organisation, Naim's US importer, guided me through the Naim amplification that was being used to drive the tri-amplified loudspeakers in the room. Starting from the left, the rack held three NAP-500 solid state amplifiers ($28,000 each).Sitting just above the three amplifier chassis at the extreme left was a Naim Snaxxo 362 ($3500) active crossover; its Naim Supercap power supply, sitting at the top of the center column, powered the Snaxxo. Each of the amplifier's individual NAP-500 PS power supplies occupied the three lower shelves at the center of the rack. The two top center shelves held the power supplies for the NAC552 preamplifier ($28,000) and the NDS Media Streamer ($11,000), whose control chassis could be found at the extreme right of the rack.
A tradition at HE SHows is the "bazaar: in one of the hotel's ballrooms, where record companies and accessory manufacturers do a brisk business. Here, Marcia Martin of Reference Recordings shows off their latest release Serenade, a recording of the same vocal group, the Turtle Creek Chorale, as in their best-selling Rutter's Requiem CD.
Day Sequerra presented its newest FM/AM/HD Radio tuner, the Model M1 HD Broadcast Reference tuner in the Alexis Park. The basic chassis includes the option to receive High Definition (HD) FM digital radio and HD/AM radio in a modular package ($4995) with single-ended analog, balanced analog, and digital outputs. "We have begun to refer to this model as 'tuners," said David Day, seen in the photo with his new baby, "because it can be configured to accommodate 10 different audio and video receive modules, including: FM HD, a class-M output option that features current-feedback amplifiers), cable TV, an ultra high-end FM Reference Module front-end option, or HD TV." Two common options will be the M1 configured with a 2.75" oscilloscope
($6995), or the price-not-determined "Panalyzer" option, which provides a 5–500MHz spectrum display.
Bryston's new product line-up for 2013 includes a replacement for its venerable 2B stereo amplifier, the 2.5B amplifier ($2995). Similar to the new BP-17 preamplifier ($3550, see below), the 2.5B amplifier is derived from the amplifier portion of its B-135 SST2 integrated amplifier (see related story). Bryston's James Tanner explained that the upgrade employs a much beefier power supply than its predecessor, allowing it to deliver 135Wpc into 8 ohm load impedances. Bryston's new BP-17 preamplifier ($3550) is derived from the preamplifier portion of its B-135 integrated amplifier, which features balanced outputs and advanced circuitry derived from the SP-3 surround processor. The B-17 closely resembles the B-135, differing externally only in not having heatsinks and speaker outputs on the rear panel. The BP17 utilizes a software controlled, motorized analog volume dial and integrated balance control.
Audio Research had live demonstrations of a number of new products, including its new CD transport, the vacuum tube Reference CD-9 player ($13,000) and the vacuum-tube Reference 10 line stage preamplifier ($30,000). These were included in a system with their vacuum tube Reference Phono2 SE phono preamplifier ($13,000), their Reference D/A converter ($16,000), Reference 250 monoblocks ($26,000/pair), and a pair of DSM450M solid-state power amplifiers ($11,000/pair). The Ref250s and DSM450s were used to bi-amp a pair of Sonus Faber Aida speakers.
Ron Sutherland had a rack of his components at CES to drive Vandersteen Quatro floorstanding loudspeakers. The rack consisted of the two monophonic Phono Block phono preamplifiers, recently reviewed by Brian Damkroger in Stereophile; the $15,000 Destination Line Stage (one non-audio signal carrying control unit with Nixie tubes, and one audio chassis for each channel); and the $10,000/pair, 200W monoblock power amplifiers. Except for the amplifier and control chassis, most of these units are configured into two side-by-side subunitsone for power supply and one for audio signalattached only by front and rear panels.