Prima Luna, Dutch maker of affordable tube electronics, had two new monoblock amplifiers: the EL34-equipped Model 6 and the KT88'd Model 7. What's particularly interesting is that the Model 7 can also be used with EL34s, so the indecisive audiophile can get a Model 7 with an extra set of EL34s, and, voilà! For the tube cost of $160 you effectively have a different amplifier.
Final Sound, the Dutch maker of electrostatic speakers, has been revamping their entire line, with increased sensitivity and reliability being among the claimed results. I was quite taken with sound of the top-of-the-line Model 1000i ($10,000/pair).
Sony's pre-Show press conference made little reference to sound quality, and SACD did not get even a mention. However, Sony's display did show their latest SACD player and the new MDR-V900HD headphones ($249), which have claimed frequency response extending to 80kHz. These 'phones sounded exceptionally smooth and well-balanced. Comfortable, too.
It's been 10 years since Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) introduced their first products: the VK-5 line-stage preamplifier and the VK-60 power amplifier. (I reviewed both in the December 1995 Stereophile, Vol.18 No.12.) The success of these and other BAT products has allowed designer Victor Khomenko (the "VK" of the model designations) and partner Steve Bednarski to quit their day jobs at Hewlett-Packard; they were joined by Geoff Poor as a partner to handle the sales end of the enterprise. BAT's current lineup includes several preamps, phono stages, a CD player, and tube as well as solid-state amplifiers. The top of BAT's preamp range is the VK-51SE, which costs $9000; their top tube power amp is the VK-150SE monoblock ($17,000/pair); if you want their best phono stage, the VK-P10 will set you back $8000.
For those who frequent the audio discussion groups on the Internet, the method by which Stereophile selects products for review seems to be a continuing source of fascination and conjecture. Supporters of fledgling manufacturers—whose products these Webcrawlers just happen to own—rail against the rule that products to be reviewed in the magazine must have at least five US dealers. Some suggest that Stereophile's selection of review products is all about catering to advertisers and friends in the industry, a process that seems intended to exclude their favorite products from consideration.
Ah, Brazil...land of coffee, the samba, Pelé, Rio-by-the-sea-o, and tube amplifiers. All right, so perhaps the amplifier connection isn't quite as well-established. But one Brazilian amplifier designer, Eduardo de Lima, has published articles in Glass Audio magazine that are viewed by many as groundbreaking, and his evolving products have been seen at various specialist tube equipment shows. De Lima—president, founder, product designer, and principal owner of Audiopax Sistemas Eletroacusticos—is an electrical engineer who started out designing equipment for a telecommunications company, but since 1995 he's devoted his talents to designing a wide range of audio products, including speakers as well as preamps and power amps.
Single-ended triode amplifiers (SETs) have a considerable following, but even their most devoted fans admit that its maximum power output is not among an SET's strengths. You'd be lucky to get an SET that puts out 7Wpc, and some (like those using the 45 tube) are closer to 2Wpc. Highly sensitive speakers (eg, horns) will tend to offset the power limitation, and SETs usually sound more powerful than their measurements indicate, but the laws of physics still apply: 2W is 2W, regardless of the kind of amplifier that produces it, and an amplifier's manner of clipping and recovery from overload take us only part of the way toward achieving greater volume.
Single-ended triode (SET) amplifiers are typically paired with horn loudspeakers, for good reason: most SETs produce very low power, so to get acceptable loudness you need a highly sensitive speaker, which means horns. Similarly, horn owners are often advised that the best amplifier for their speakers is a SET. Certainly, the horn-SET combination can be magical, but, in my experience, SETs are not the only type of amplifier that can sound good with horns.
Is it the low exhibitor rates? The excuse to visit Montreal, perhaps North America's most cosmopolitan city? The efficiency and charm of organizer Marie-Christine Prin and her assistants? Whatever the reason(s), Montreal's Festival Son & Image has become a real success story, attracting an ever-increasing array of exhibitors and audiophiles from far and wide. Last year, the Festival spilled over from the downtown Delta Hotel to the Four Points Sheraton across the street; this year, there were exhibits in the Holiday Inn next door as well.