The Metrodome may have collapsed but Minneapolis-based Bel Canto sure hasn’t. Brand new at CES is the C5i, a DAC/integrated amp/headphone amp that sells for the feel-good price of $1895. The amplifier, said to be stable into 3 ohm loads, puts out 60Wpc into a 8 ohms. The amp also includes two S/PDIF digital inputs, a USB input capable of handling 24bits/96kHz data, a moving-magnet phono input, an RCA line input and a headphone amplifier. I marveled at this little gem’s price but also its sound as it played files from a nearby laptop driving a pair of Joseph Audio speakers. This was my first room of CES 2011 and it was a great start!
Last year I marveled at the visual design of Resolution Audio’s Cantata Music Server. This year, Resolution debuts a new matching integrated amp, the C50 ($4000). The C50 puts out 50Wpc. According to Resolution’s Jeffery Kalt, on paper the C50 doesn’t look much different than most integrated amplifiers. However C50 benefits from custom capacitors, a unique application of feedback above the audio band, and a circuit layout that minimizes eddy currents. The C50 must be doing something right as it made a modest pair of Epos speakers sing with clarity, focus and body, sounding great song after song.
Hi-Fi shows can be notorious for playing the same audiophile approved dreck over and over again. Not so in the VTL room. Luke and Bea Manley played one great tune after the next and introduced me to a bunch of albums I need to go get. Helping me enjoy this great music was VTL’s MB185 monoblock amplifiers ($14,500/pair). Using EL34 output tubes giving 185W in tetrode and 90W in triode, the MB185 offers a unique three-way setting that allows the user to dial in the amount of global negative feedback used in the amplifier. According to Luke Manley, this will allow users to fine-tune the sound of the MB185’s to best match the accompanying speakers and listeners’ tastes.
This system, the smaller of the two in the VTL room, was certainly to my taste. I preferred the MB185 in tetrode mode, finding that it offered the best balance between dynamic bass punch and smooth midrange and extended treble with the Avalon Indra speakers being used. VTL has always struck me as a serious company making serious products, but I had serious fun in their room at this year’s CES.
Simaudio also showed its newest preamplifier, the flagship Moon 850P ($25,000). The 850P is a two-chassis preamp that is designed to damp all vibrations through the use of an eight-point floating suspension for critical parts of the circuit. Like its predecessor, the Moon P-8, it separates the functions into a “clean” boxamplificationand a “dirty” boxdisplay, power supply, etc.
I finally got to meet Roy Hall of Music Hall. I, along with many of you, have been recently delighting in his colorful and off-color manufacturer’s comments in the pages of Stereophile. New to the stable of products Roy distributes is Creek’s Wyndsor phono preamplifier ($2495). This is a fully adjustable phono preamp with all of the settings available as you scroll through the on-screen menus. The preamp is powered by an external power supply and has just started shipping.
British Naim Audio showed an adorable new product in their room at this year’s CES. The appropriately named Unitiqute (pronounced Unitycute, $2500) is an all-in-one streamer, DAC, preamp, amp, FM tuner and headphone amp. The Unitiqute also has the ability to pull the datastream off an iPod and be controlled by an iPad or iPod. The amplifier section puts out 30Wpc into 8 ohms and has just one button on its front plate. I thought the Unitiqute struck the perfect balance of functionality, cuteness and elegance.
Constellation also showed a brand new line of products at a more “real-world” price point. The components of the new Performance line will each go for between $15,000 and $20,000 and feature (from left to right) a preamp, digital source, phono preamp, and power amp. I was told that the circuit designs of the Performance line are exactly the same as Constellation’s Reference line but use less expensive parts.
All of Bel Canto’s equipment was powered by their VBS-1 Virtual Battery Supply ($1495), which effectively takes their equipment off the electrical grid. The VBS technology was debuted at last year’s CES, but new this year are the VB-Ref power cables which connect the 12V output of the VBS-1 power supply to the component. Having tried these cables out in my own system at home during my audition of the Bel Canto DAC3.5 VBS, I can testify to their ability to bring out the best in this new Bel Canto gear.
I chilled with Lionel Goodfield of Simaudio in the Canadian manufacturer’s room around noon on Friday. We were both hitting our midday energy slump, so we sat on their comfy couch and chatted about two new products in Simaudio’s Evolution Series. The Moon 880M monoblock amplifiers ($38,000/pair) offer 800W into 8 ohms, 1600W into 4 ohms, and a staggering 2400W into 2 ohms. The amp utilizes bipolar output devices biased into class-A/B and uses zero global feedback. The amps sounded as relaxed as the Bob Marley tunes Lionel played near the end of our discussion. It was a great break from the CES frenzy.
Melody Valve HiFi of Australia was a new company to me. Pictured here is the Pure Black 101 Preamplifier ($4499) and PM815 monoblock power amplifiers ($7959/pair). The Pure Black 101 features an Alps remote attenuator, point-to-point wiring and Jensen copper foil paper in oil capacitors. The PM815 delivers 70W of pure class-A power using 845 output tubes.