JA caught up with me at the Blue Light Audio room and suggested we saunter down to hear the 25Wpc Audio Note Ongaku integrated amplifier ($95,000) featured in his photograph above. Yes that's a jaw-dropping price, even after four days of CES. The Ongaku has five line level inputs. It employs two NOS VT4-C (211) tubes, an original NOS Telefunken 6463, and two NOS 5R4WGB rectifiers. Audio Note builds it own silver-wired driver transformer on a double AN-Perma nickel C-core. AN tantalum resistors, Black Gate electrolytics, and another silver wired transformer (output this time) complete the innards.
I walked into Balanced Audio Technology's room and almost couldn't leave. Geoff Poor was driving a pair of WATT/Puppy 8s wth an all BAT system consisting of a VK-D5SE/Superpack CD player ($9500), VK-32SE preamplifier ($8000), and the new 55Wpc VK-55SE amplifier ($5995).
While I was basking in the sound of Richard Vandersteen's stunning new Model 7s ($45,000/pair), I asked about the tube amps he was using. "Those are Jim White's Atlasesand I think they're damn good." Richard never minces words, so a "damn good" from him is almost as high praise as a "doesn't suck too bad" from JA.
At the end of every CES, we struggle to find the underlying themes that bind the show to the industry and the world at large. The overwhelming theme this year was the economy. Attendance was downthe official estimate was 10% off of last year's, but everyone I spoke with snorted in derision at that figure.
I once spoke to a blacksmith (named Smith, actually) about the wonderfully patterned bowie knives he made of Damascus steel. Struck by the contrast between the massive brutality of the knives themselves and the delicate beauty of the steel from which they were wrought, I asked Smith why he worked in Damascus, expecting him to extol its legendary temper or its aggressive cutting edge. After all, he was a pretty macho guy with a physique like, well, the village blacksmith's (Google it, young 'uns). He thought for a minute before responding, quietly, "Beauty is its own reward."
George Kaye had his 120Wpc Moscode 402Au Stereo power amplifier ($6495) on display. Like the 401HR before it, the 402AU accepts a variety of tubes in its front end. The 402 adds low negative feedback, optically coupled floating bias circuit, and dual mono power supplies.
Rives Audio's Richard Bird introduced me to Navison, a brand I was aware of but not familiar with. Navison products are aesthetic knock outsgorgeous wood (or black lacquer), etched gold faceplates (or chrome), and deep black transformer pots. They are audio confections.
I was not previously aware of Vexo, a Milan-based manufacturer of tube amps, but I was very impressed by the 15Wpc VXSE-KT88/C ($3900). I asked Koetsu USA's Hiram Toro if that price meant the amps were designed in Milan but built in Asia. "Oh no," he said. "Vexo is designed and built in Italy and it is stuffed with European components.