The case and front panel nomenclature are not in final form, but if VAC's forthcoming two-piece Master Signature preamplifier ($26,500 as linestage, $40,000 with additional phono stage)ignore what the prototype unit's front panels saydue in early March, sounds anywhere near as good as the VAC equipment I heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, it will be worth waiting for.
Audio Research's new SP20 tube stereo preamplifier ($9000) combines a full-function linestage and phono stage, and includes a hi-resolution tube-driven headphone output, touchscreen control, remote control, and both balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs. The front panel echoes the Minnesotan company's fabled SP3 preamps from the 1970s. Listening to the company's first preamp in 20 years to include both a linestage and phonostage via Sonus faber Olympica III loudspeakers, I heard both the classic Audio Research midrange and a fast response that served bebop extremely well. Bob Reina is working on an SP20 review for Stereophile.
Swiss company Manufacture Le Son was one of many that attended CES in hopes of securing US distribution. In tow was their LS002 Le Son (approx. $35,000), a dual-mono class-B stereo amplifier that outputs a bit more than 100Wpc into 8 ohms, and 180Wpc into 4.
Tri-Art Audio of Canada displayed its complete mid-level Bam Bam system, whose cost was under $35,000. Built to a very strict price point, the electronics, all stuffed with sheep's woolwhy didn't they name it the Bah Bah system?included the new Bam Bam passive preamplifier ($1295), which is housed in a solid wood cabinet and allows for passive bi-amping and tri-amping without an electronic crossover; Bam Bam 75Wpc class-D balanced amplifier #75-S ($1995); and Bam Bam 24V battery power supply ($900).
The complete Lamm system on the 35th floor, whose total retail cost, including $216,070 for the Lamm components, $120,000 for the Verity Audio Lohengrin II S speakers, and $100,000 for the Tech DAS Airforce 1 turntable, along with Kubala-Sosna cabling, was a mere $670,071. But my brief was to cover amplification and shown only in passive display was Lamm Industries' new LP2.1 class-A, dual-monophonic tube phono preamp ($8590 regular, $8890 deluxe.)
Shipping by the end of January, Ayre's new KX-R Twenty preamplifier ($27,500) is a complete redesign of the KX-R that was introduced in 2008. Among the new baby's features: a completely new "Ayrelock power supply" with twice the capacitance as of old, an optimized Equilock gain stage and Diamond output stage, significant part upgrades in all critical areas of the audio circuit, and, of course, "proprietary tweaks." Also playing in the system, which featured Vivid Giya G1 speakers, were the forthcoming MX-R 20 20th Anniversary monoblock amplifiers. There is as yet no retail price, as the parts are being finalized over the next two weeks.
Astell&Kern, whose audiophile-grade portable music player won over John Atkinson, and whose AK120 model won a 2014 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, offered a sneak peak at their prototype Cube One, class-A, 20Wpc, 300B, push-pull integrated amplifier (no price set). Due in the second half of 2014, the Cube One delivered very liquid and illumined sound through Astell&Kern’s prototype loudspeakers. Expect a complete Astell&Kern system before too long, and check out Jon Iverson's report on A&K’s new AK240 media player.
After years of thoroughly enjoying the sound of lower-priced electronics from Tri (Triode Corporation LtdJapan), always in pairings with Acoustic Zen loudspeakers, I was surprised to encounter the price of Tri's prototype Junone Ultinate [sic] reference preamplifier ($15,000). Due the first week of March, the Junone boasts outboard dual-mono power supplies, one for each channel, with separate volume controls for each channel that are connected to a center knob.
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).