Some of the most innovative thinking on hybrid circuit design these days seems to come from Russian designers. As a group, they are technically very well educated, pragmatic, and unfettered by American high-end didacticism.
The Boulder 1012's is a line-level preamplifier and DAC in one box. Its design and build qualities are icons to elegant engineering know-how. No screws show on the rectangular box of large but not massive proportions, for example, which is all done up in matte aluminum and set off with a few highly polished stainless-steel buttons. The chassis construction uses tongue-and-groove techniques. The sides of the 1012 benefit from styling cues found on Boulder's newer amplifiers. As you can see from the photograph, the look is both elegant and hi-tech in a way very few other manufacturers manage.
Fantasy review time. I first heard about the C.E.C. TL 0 in the May '94 Stereophile (Vol.17 No.5), in Audio Mogul Richard Schram's Manufacturer's Comment to my review of the C.E.C. TL 1. I wasn't sure if he was kidding when he threatened the world with a cost-no-object $17,500 CD transport. Just what we all need!
At the last few audio shows, whenever I heard a pair of the big Cary CAD-1610-SEs, I fair licked my chops. The two-tiered monoblock looked positively stunning in black and polished aluminum, exotic tubes bristling from the top "floor" of its two-story edifice. The Cary always induced pelvic tilt in me—you know, when your lizard brain takes over and tube lust is in the air.
According to Cary Audio designer Dennis Had in this amplifier's documentation, "Countless hours were spent designing and voicing the CAD-280SA V12 stereo amplifier...It delivers high performance in a combination of class-A single-ended triode and true balanced push-pull technology."
One room at the 1999 CES in Las Vegas that knocked me for a loop was the Avalon/Classé installation mentioned in my April show report. Classé had just debuted the Omega preamp, the companion piece to the Omega amplifier I reviewed in March. It proved a very suave, musical, and high-performance marriage.
What fascinates me about the High End are the electric personalities behind it. Manufacturers typically invest so much of themselves in the products they make. It's a divine madness—they do it because they have to. They're driven to it with a real sense of mission and excellence. But God forbid you criticize any of their offspring...ooo-la-la!
Classé's Mike Viglas watched the audiophile skies, scratched his chin, and thought about his business. As he gazed, it occurred to him that if everyone in audio was moving downmarket to invade his territory, why not take his company and head upmarket? Thus was born Classé's much-lauded Omega series.