So accustomed am I of associating Ed Meitner's EMM Labs with digital reproduction that I almost missed his first amps for the company. The MTRX class-A/B monoblocks ($130,000/pair), which output 1500W into 4 ohms and 3000W into 2, were designed as an homage to Meitner's previous Museatex MTR-101 monoblocks. Ten years in the making and first shown at last October's RMAF, they are claimed to "drive anything with ultra-low distortion."
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.
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!
In one of the last rooms I visited on the 30th floor of the Venetian hotel, Mark O'Brien, Rogue Audio founder, president and electrical engineer/designer, debuted the big brother of the Rogue Audio Sphinx, the Pharoah hybrid integrated amplifier ($3495). A tube/solid-state hybridtheir literature variously claims the power at 185Wpc and 175Wpc into 8 ohms, 350Wpc into 4 ohmsthe Pharoah includes an adjustable MM/MC phono preamp section, tube headphone amplifier, processor loop, and home-theater bypass. Paired with a Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable with Jelco tonearm and Arché headshell, Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge, Synergistic Research "Core" cabling and Quantum power strip, and Dynaudio Confidence C1 II loudspeakers, the system exhibited quite lovely, fairly neutral, and extremely listenable sound. "A good cozy-up system," I wrote in my notes.
When I entered the room with equipment from PBN Audio, EM from Japan, and Mark Johansen's ZenSati cabling, I encountered PBN President Peter Noerbaek playing an LP of one of the Bach solo cello suites. This he followed with cellist Aage Kvalbein's audiophile-quality CD of the Theme from Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, available on the KKV.no label's Mirakler far den nye Verdem (Miracles from the New World). (Click here and here for more information.] The sound was very detailed, clear, and warm, with great dynamics. New was PBN Audio's fully balanced, all-FET EB-SA2 power amplifier ($34,995), which outputs 650Wpc into 8 ohms and 1200Wpc into 4. "It's way overbuilt, as is everything we do," said Noerbaek of his 165 lb baby.
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.
Not yet distributed in the US, Rumee's two single-ended tube amplifiers, the HS-1 ($950) and, with different power tubes, the HS-2 ($950) are made from sweet-smelling solid cypress. I wish I could say more, but the language barrier was hard to surmount.
Clearaudio's Robert Suchy points to Clearaudio's Absolute Phono ($15,000), a unique moving-coil phono stage system, here installed in the headshell of the TT1i Tangential tonearm ($30,000), which includes its own amplification stage. I am told there are no loading issues, and that the arm can accommodate any cartridge and produce sound without the use of coupling capacitors in the signal path. A second version of Absolute Phono is on the way. Also distributed by Musical Surroundings, its active headshell stage will be outboard, allowing it to be used with other tonearms.
Absolare of Turkey and New Hampshire unveiled its ne plus ultra Passion Signature line, which includes the Absolare Passion Signature 845 parallel 52W monoblock amplifier ($48,500/pair) and Passion Signature preamplifier ($22,500). While I heard these products in single-ended configuration, they are also available in balanced versions. Not only have their power sections undergone significant revision, but they have also been customized with costly Duelund cast capacitors from Denmark, NOS resistors, NOS tubes in the preamplifier, and NOS driver tubes in the amplifier.
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.