Britain's Cambridge Audio is known for its modestly-priced integrated amps and such, but now they've decided to move upmarket by introducing separate preamps and power amps. The Azur 840E ($1499) preamp and Azur 840 power amp (200Wpc,
$2199) are based on top-of-the-line Cambridge Azur 840A integrated amp, with upgraded power supplies and other improvements. Here they are, pictured with Ian McArthur of Audio Plus, the North American importer.
Carat Audio's products are sufficiently new to North America that the only prices available are still in Euros. (They do have distribution.) Designed in France and made in China, the A57 integrated amp (80Wpc, 899 Euros), C57 CD player (649 Euros), and T57 tuner (349 Euros) look like anything but budget products, resembling products from Primare or YBA. An indication of the quality of the design is that the power output of the A57 nearly doubles into 4 ohms (80 into 8 ohms, 150 into 4 ohms)—very unusual at this price level.
VTL's room is always an oasis at shows, playing music at levels that actually match rather than trying to impress the listener with mere volume, the system
meticulously set up. The same was true at CES 2008, a pair of Wilson WATT/Puppy 8s being driven by the new MB450 Series II tubed monoblocks ($9500/pair), the
"budget-priced" (a mere $50k) Continuum Criterion turntable, and VTL's new TP6.5 phono section ($8500) as the source. The MB450 and other VTL components are
pictured here with the company's co-owner, the ever-gracious Bea Lam.
The Sony booth had a lot of interesting products on display, but hardly anything specifically dealing with audio. Last year, the only product I found I could find in the Sony booth that I could mention in my CES blog was a pair of headphones. This year, the product that I spotted that I thought would be interesting to Stereophile readers was "a pair of headphones!"
"Onkyo Returns to its Stereo Roots to Debut New Digital Amplifier Technology." This heading of the press release for Onkyo's A-9555 digital integrated amplifier was surely intended to warm the cockles of the two-channel audiophile's heart. Some of us remember the Onkyo Grand Integra amplifiers of the 1980s, which were considered competitive with the big Krells and Mark Levinsons of the day. To refresh my memory, I looked through my Stereophile archives and found the December 1985 issue (Vol.8 No.8), which included Larry Greenhill's review of the Grand Integra M-510, a 300Wpc power amplifier covered in lacquered persimmon wood, weighing 139 lbs, and costing $4200 (about $8000 in 2007 dollars). Larry was most impressed with the M-510, describing it as "a very powerful amplifier with outstanding sonics across the board—power with delicacy."
Tweaks come and go. When a new one creates a buzz in audiophile circles, I generally prefer to wait and see if it's still around after the initial excitement has subsided. I'd heard about "audiophile" fuses some time ago, and although the likelihood of them making a significant difference didn't seem as farfetched as such tweaks as the "intelligent chip" or the "clever little clock," I didn't feel inclined to try them. I was persuaded otherwise by the confluence of two separate influences: a report by Michael Fremer, in the February 2007 Stereophile, that the HiFi-Tuning fuses produced a "subtle but noticeable" improvement in the sound of his Musical Fidelity kWP preamplifier; and an encounter at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show with Robert Stein of importer Ultra Systems (the HiFi-Tuning fuses are made in Germany), who said that they produced a big improvement and offered to send me some samples.
The naming of audio companies is a tricky business. Ideally, the name should be distinctive, so that people will remember it, and descriptive of the products. However, given the proliferation of audio manufacturers, it's getting more and more difficult to come up with a name that fulfills these criteria, and some names are similar enough to lead to confusion. In one of my show-report blog entries from the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, instead of correctly listing a company name as Divergent Technologies, I called it Definitive Technologies, which is the name of an another audio company—and was rightly chastised for it in a comment by a reader. I'll bet that no such confusion will occur in the case of Flying Mole Electronics. (As far as I know, there is no Flying Groundhog Electronics.)
At CES, the Vandersteen/Audio Research room always strikes me as being like an oasis—and not just because of the potted plants they have in the room. And so it was in the room sponsored by New Jersey dealer Audio Connection at HE 2007: music presented without hype or bombast, and simply relaxing to listen to. The speakers were the Vandersteen 5As ($16,900/pair +$5000 for carbon fiber cabinets), with Audio Research PH7 phono stage ($5995), CD7 CD player ($8995), Reference 3 line-stage preamp ($9995), and Reference 110 amplifier ($9995). The analog front end was the Clearaudio Anniversary TT and Stradivari cartridge, with a Graham Phantom tonearm. Cables were Audioquest William E. Low Signature interconnect and Everest speaker cable.
I never know what to expect at the "Ask the Editors" sessions, traditionally moderated by Stereophile editor John Atkinson (above). Sometimes we get a lot of people looking for advice on potential purchases of equipment, questions about arcane aspects of amplifier design, questions about cables, about double-blind testing, where the future of audio lies, and, of course, questions about what we thought of the sound in specific rooms at the Show. This time, many of the questions dealt with, of all things, music! There were opinions expressed about the major symphony orchestras of today vs those of the past, and great performances available on LPs. Don't these people know that we're all supposed to be a bunch of equipment-loving geeks?
Remember the name: Salagar Sonics. It's the name of a new American speaker company, whose first product, the Salagar S210 ($7500/pair), still in prototype form, made a strong impression at HE 2007. It's an active two-way—digital crossover; the amp uses the latest B&O ICE module—with a Scanspeak AirCirc tweeter and a 10" Peerless VIFA mid-bass driver, in an unusually-shaped (and highly inert) enclosure. I thought these speakers sounded terrific: lively, low in coloration, and with excellent imaging.