Valve Amplification Company's Brent F. Meyer (head of technical services) was bullish in his praise of the company's Statement 450 iQ monoblock amp[lifiers ($116,000/pair), shown here on the floor flanking each side of the Critical Mass equipment. The company claims that each tube in this amplifier's output stage is "held precisely at the optimal bias point, regardless of how loudly or softly the music is playing." The VAC iQ circuit also alerts the owner when the tube is growing weak or has failed, making "tube drama a thing of the past." VAC also showed their Statement line preamplifier ($46,000) and Statement phono preamplifier ($50,000), in a system that included Magico S5 loudspeakers ($29,500/pair).
Vandersteen's $45,000/pair, time- and phase-correct, four-way, floorstanding, Model Seven loudspeaker made its debut at the 2009 CES but is now in production. I sat with Richard Vandersteen in his suite at the Venetian, and listened intently to his description of how he designed the Model Seven. He started by saying, "I didn't really understand the advantages of carbon-fiber as a material that could help speaker design until I built my own airplane." From there, he described how he developed a patent-pending sandwich of high-Young’s Modulus carbon-fiber skins bonded to a balsa-wood core for the mid-bass, midrange, and tweeter diaphragms, which combines very high stiffness for proper pistonic operation, with high self-damping. Carbon-fiber construction for the enclosure also allowed him to restrict the cabinet resonance to very high frequencies, where they will have no effect on sound quality. The drive-units use Vandersteen’s patented method of avoiding rear reflections from the magnet structure. The powered 12" subwoofer fires down at the floor. All this was evident when he played a vinyl recording of Holst's The Planets. The Model Seven, driven by Aesthetix amplification, played with unusual clarity and definition, and I could easily follow different motifs in this orchestral selection that I had not been aware of at home. From what I heard at the Show, I anticipate the Model Seven doing very well in the review scheduled to run in the March, 2010 issue of Stereophile.
It's common to read ads for new audio hardware that crow about "revolutionary" breakthroughs in sound performance, and that's how Velodyne crowed about their new Digital Drive DD-18, servo-controlled, powered 18" subwoofer. The ads suggested that the DD-18 can be digitally equalized to one's room with a resultant in-room frequency response of 20-200Hz, ±3dB.
Subwoofer technology is moving fast, with automated room equalization and system integration now a reality. A wave of new products has appeared in the past five years, all using different approaches to solving the problems of optimizing subwoofer response in listening rooms.
Velodyne introduced their series II subwoofer line in the fall of 1988, and it seems timely to review their largest, most powerful unit, the ULD-18. As the line's flagship, this Velodyne subwoofer represents the most sophisticated and expensive system offered by the company. It is sold as a system, complete with driver, enclosure, amplifier, control unit, electronic crossover, and servo cable and circuitry. Velodyne's unique servo circuitry, manufacturing techniques, and aggressive sales technique emanate from the company's designer, David Hall.
The Sumiko suite at CES provided a huge listening space to introduce the new Vienna Acoustics' full-range, four-way Die Musik loudspeaker ($25,000/pair). Designed by Peter Gansterer (see photo), a pair of Die Musiks produced some of the best sound I heard at the show. The speakers were positioned quite far apart against a side wall, and the listener sat on a couch closer to the plane between the speakers than the distance between the speakers. This created a very wide, coherent soundstage quite unlike any other than I heard at the show. Bass response, which was superb, actually could be credited, in part, to a huge REL Studio 3 subwoofer, which was parked and running in the nearest room corner.
John Atkinson introduced me to English engineer Laurence Dickie, who was sharing our ride up the elevators to the 34th floor of the Venetian Hotel. Mr. Dickie is a well-known loudspeaker designer, responsible for the original B&W 800 and B&W Nautilus loudspeaker designs, and as well as the cute little Blue Room Minipods, and is now creating new products for South African company Vivid from his design studio in Brighton, England. "Dick," as he is known to his friends, designed the G1 flagship for Vivid, which retails now for $65,000/pair and was being demonstrated in the Convergence Audio suite with, among other things, the piano recordings John Atkinson made and wrote about in the February issue’s “As We See It.” Laurence is shown here with the smaller G2, which was being demmed in the Halcro room and so impressed Erick Lichte.
Luke Manley and Bea Lam of VTL were on hand as host and hostess at the VTL exhibit suite at the Venetian Hotel to present their two new stereo tube amplifiers, the $33,500, 400Wpc S400 Series II amplifier, and the $10,000, 200Wpc S200 Stereo Signature amplifier shown in the photo. Although the S400 was configured into a floorstanding tower and the S200 in the rack-mounted chassis used for their MB-450 monoblock amplifier, both new products feature VTL's latest tube technology, including fully balanced, differential input stage, VTL's SmartTube technology with automatic bias and screen supply adjustments and fault sensing, and a new user-adjustable damping factor feedback control. The feedback loop amount can be precisely set to suite the listener's taste via three-position switches located between the input tubes on the top of the chassis.
I've long admired Vacuum Tube Logic's line of amplifiers and preamplifiers. Owners Luke Manley and his wife Bea Lam routinely appear at the Consumer Electronics and Home Entertainment shows with luxurious, microprocessor-controlled tube gear, soothing new music, good-sounding rooms, and a friendly, unhurried manner. Their show setups are dialed in so well that I often find myself taking refuge there, sitting and listening for hours with other Stereophile writers.
VTL introduced a new phono preamplifier at CES, the $6500 TP-6.5 Signature Phono Stage, as well as an upgraded MB-450 Signature monoblock amplifier. Using the single-chassis configuration of the TL-6.5 line preamplifier, VTL's phono preamplifier follows its hybrid design approach, using a low-noise J-FET to drive high-current 12AU7 tubes. It features switchable, five-corner, passive RIAA filtering. Gain, cartridge load impedance, phase, muting, rumble filter, and power on/off can be switched by remote.