It's always fun to drop in to the Burmester Suite. When Dieter Burmester, the firm's founder (left), and Udo Besser, the CEO (right), are not working on the latest sound system updates to the 1.2 million Euro Bugatti Veryon 16.4 supercar, they build massive loudspeakers and amplifiers for home consumers and audiophiles.
The roadster's throbbing rumble became a roar as the tachometer soared above 4 grand. Like a giant hand, its thrust jammed me back into the seat. Racing along low to the ground, feeling every curve and bump, I began to understand: the automotive virtues of smoothness and insulation had been swapped for firm road grip and the ability to transmit to the driver each jolt and curve in the surface below. Long before I'd climbed into the driver's seat of Porsche's Boxster S, I had known about its low-end snort and speedthe main reasons I was considering a leasebut I had not known about its ability to join sensation and purpose in such an intense bond.
Street buzz is a force to reckon with. When an audiophile whispers to me that a piece of new equipment sounds unusually good, I'm interested. When two manufacturers of other equipment independently tell me "You've got to listen to this speaker," I get excited.
Patrick Chu, creator and designer of the $80,000/pair, two-way, Mandarin Supreme loudspeaker, explained that the products’ name is a synthesis of two words: Loimin means "delightful understanding" and Chay means "ateliar or studio." The frequencies from 750Hz upwards are handled by a 1" tweeter loaded with a 19" horn comprised of alternating layers of cherry and oak wood. The bass, which is rated down to 22Hz, is handled by 10" and 12" woofers. This composite was by far the least active speaker material I've come across. Rapping it with my knuckles was like tapping on granite. The woofer enclosure was made of concrete with a cloth covering. I didn't ask about the loudspeaker's weight because I didn't want to know. The nominal impedance is 8 ohms, and the voltage sensitive a very high 92dB. Although I didn't audition any familiar reference recordings, the speaker had a dynamic sonic texture with a midrange emphasis.
I sought out Manley Labs, manufacturer of tube amplifiers and preamplifiers, at CES. The system in their room included a Music Hall mmf-2.2le turntable, the Chinook phono stage that impressed Michael Fremer last August ($2250), a Steelhead phono preamplifier ($8000), a pair of Snapper monoblock 100Wpc tube amplifiers ($7650/pair), which use four EL34 output tubes, driving Neat Acoustic Ultimatum XLS speakers. EveAnna Manley mentioned after the show that she was working on a secret, prototype1 DAC that promises "to beat all comers." I greatly enjoyed the audio I heard in the Manley Labs room at CES. I had to agree with the saying on the rug that appears at every Manley abs exhibit: "Tubes Rule!"
McIntosh's exhibit area in the Venetian Towers was busier than usual when I entered, and I soon found out why. Whereas most manufacturers in high performance audio were content to introduce one or two products, McIntosh seemed determined to introduce many, many new products. I could not mention them all, but Ron Cornelius, McIntosh's Product Manager, helped me focus on four products he felt of greatest interest to audiophiles. First, he showed me McIntosh's new Digital Preamplifier ($2500, above). This featured a new ESS DAC chip that operates its 8 channels in differential balanced mode for improved resolution. It includes a headphone amplifier, and four digital inputs: two optical, one coax, and one high-speed, asynchronous USB port.
"Our Asian and Pacific clients were strongly requesting it," said Mark Levinson's Walter Schofield, VP of Sales and Marketing, "so we designed an amplifier in the older Mark Levinson tradition with external heats."
In response to Mark Levinson Audio Systems' 40th Anniversary, the company has announced a new line of products for the two-channel audiophile, the 40th Anniversary Collection at CES 2012, which includes the $25,000 No.52 Reference dual-mono preamplifier, the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier, the $6000 No.519 SACD player and the $6000 No.560 digital processor. I was most intrigued by the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier shown in the photo, which is rated at 225Wpc into 8 ohms, and provides a dedicated subwoofer output.
The No.331 is the latest iteration in a series of Mark Levinson 100Wpc, solid-state, stereo power amplifiers. Extensive cosmetic alterations, internal structural changes, and new circuit designs make it quite different from the No.27 and No.27.5 models that preceded it. These design refinements emanate from Madrigal Audio Laboratories' latest flagship amplifier, the $32,000/pair, 300W RMS Mark Levinson No.33 Reference.
My father could not resist buying electronic and photographic gear. As soon as he heard about a new Polaroid camera, or a new weather radio, tape recorder, or color television, he'd go shopping. He'd be even more eager to buy an updated version of what he already had, particularly if this meant there was a story to tell. He'd buy one for himself, and sometimes he'd give me and my three brothers one of our own for a birthday or Christmas gift. (I often thought he took more pleasure from giving to us than he did from getting his own.)