Lovely full-range sound, superb clarity on the bottom end, realistic bite on the trumpets, and blessed neutrality (as in natural timbres) distinguished the presentation of a bit of a 24/96 file of Ricardo Chailly?s performance of Mahler's Symphony 3 in Boulder?s room. Shoeboxed into far too small a space, Boulder's new 2150 mono amps ($98,000/pair), which weigh 240 lbs each, output a mere 1000W into 8 ohms, and replace the 2050 model that was in production for 17 years; the new 2110 preamp ($54,000), which includes a fully differentially balanced volume attenuator and new gain stages, and replaces the 2080 model that remained in service for 16 years; and the 1021 network disc player ($25,000) joined forces with Chario Serendipity loudspeakers (approx. $40,000/pair) and Analysis Plus Big Silver Oval cabling to wow me silly.
Trickle-down theory may not work on the economic front, but it sure seems to apply to Constellation Audio's prestigious products. After a very high priced launch, the company has slowly introduced lower-priced products. Most exciting is the arrival of the Argo 125Wpc integrated amplifier ($20,000, above), whose price is one-third that of the Virgo preamp and Centaur amp. With four inputs (two balanced), a preamp output that can run headphones, and two slots in back for optional, not-yet-available phono and DAC cards, the Argo will ship by February.
The $12,000 price tag for Burmester's first "entry-level" foray into class-D amplification, the 101 integrated amplifier, may not be cheap, but the unit certainly produced smooth and eminently listenable sound on a certain track by Chris Jones that offers no sanctuary for reviewers who encounter it at least once on every show floor. The 101, which pairs nicely with Burmester's 102 CD player seated above it in the photo, boasts five inputs, remote control, a headphone output, the company's XM layout design, and a "special" low volume setting that offers richer sound (and, for all I know, is comparable to the "loudness" function on the receivers of my youth).
So new it's not yet priced, MBL's revamped Noble Line will be available mid-year. Heard in prototype form, and demmed by their designer, Jürgen Reis (above), the E31 CD/DAC, E51 integrated amplifier, and E21 stereo amplifier are intended to deliver "fuller, richer, and more refined sound" than the entry-level Corona line. "It is still the Noble family sound, but it is improved, with higher resolution and greater transparency that make it more modern," says Reis.
Before I learned a thing about Pass Labs' new .8 Series of amplifiers, which is designed as the new bridge between the company's current .5 and XS Series, Pass's Kent English welcomed me to listen to the Impex Records LP transfer of an RCA Red Seal 1958 mono recording of Beethoven's Violin Sonata No.8 with Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Bey. (Only 2000 LPs were pressed, and this was number 1244.) Wow! The clarity and believability of the presentation were phenomenal. Bey's piano was recorded far too distant, but the layered complexity of the sound of Heifetz's violin was mesmerizing. All that audiophile talk about hearing the sound of the rosin on the bow had never before seemed as real as when I auditioned this recording. And the presentation was musical to boot!
"This is a pretty major change for us," says Balanced Audio Technology's Steve Bednarski of the change from capacitor-coupled outputs to custom output transformers in their three new VK-P12 phono stagesthe VK-P12 ($7995), VK-P12SE ($9995), and new flagship VK-P12SE SuperPak ($12,495). Unfortunately, none had arrived at the time I visited the room. Instead I encountered a display of the new VK-3000SE ($7995) 150Wpc into 8 ohms hybrid integrated amplifier, whose preamp stage is outfitted with the same 6H30 SuperTube used in the Rex II preamplifier. Also new are the VK-P6SE phono stage ($5995) and VK-P6 ($3495) phono stage.
NAD has refreshed its top-of-the-line Master Series. Due out the end of the second quarter is the NAD Master Series M12 ($3499), a 2-channel audio hub that contains both preamp and DAC. Below it in the photo sits the M22 ($2499), a 2-channel class-D, dual-mono hybrid digital amplifier with an analog input stage and Encore Hypex digital module output stage. In a system that included Dynaudio's excellent C4 Signature and AudioQuest Rock series cabling, Esperanza Spalding's voice on her recording of "Little Fly" was flattered by the system's warm sweet sound. I wouldn't be surprised if Stephen Mejias, who speaks often of NAD's reliability and good sound, has his eyes on these babies.
Primare may be known for "affordable products," but the wonderful inner warmth and superb, large images the new Primare PRE60 fully differential network preamplifier/streaming DAC ($10,000) and Primare A60, 300Wpc, fully balanced, class-D stereo amplifier ($10,000) produced on a 24/96 HDTracks download of the third movement of Mahler's Symphony 2 convinced the company to issue its first products at this price point. Of the brief time I had for auditioning, I loved every second of what I heard.
Despite the upside down dissection, Viola's The Concerto stereo amplifier ($22,000), first introduced in October in Tokyo, produced very smooth fast and solid sounds with nice depth and fine warmth on Fourplay's plastic version of jazz. My scribble says that the amp has a choke input power supply and Motorola thermal track transistors, and outputs 100W into 8 ohms and 200W into 4. Not pictured are Viola's Crescendo preamplifier and Oceanway's Audio Montecito loudspeakers ($48,000/pair).
The good news about Gato is that it sounds as good as it looks (IMHO, of course). Sounding great on Reference Recordings' much-heralded disc of Copland's Symphony 3, with fabulous bass, the Danish company's new DIA-250 ($4500250Wpc into 8 ohms) and DIA-400 ($600045Wpc into 8 ohms) class-D integrated amplifiers produced fabulous bass, with 0.33 dB adjustments. Included are Burr-Brown PCM1794 dual chipsets that automatically upsample to 24/192, an asynchronous USB input, and a home-theater pass through.