Subwoofer technology is moving fast, with automated room equalization and system integration now a reality. A wave of new products has appeared in the past five years, all using different approaches to solving the problems of optimizing subwoofer response in listening rooms.
I sought out Manley Labs, manufacturer of tube amplifiers and preamplifiers, at CES. The system in their room included a Music Hall mmf-2.2le turntable, the Chinook phono stage that impressed Michael Fremer last August ($2250), a Steelhead phono preamplifier ($8000), a pair of Snapper monoblock 100Wpc tube amplifiers ($7650/pair), which use four EL34 output tubes, driving Neat Acoustic Ultimatum XLS speakers. EveAnna Manley mentioned after the show that she was working on a secret, prototype1 DAC that promises "to beat all comers." I greatly enjoyed the audio I heard in the Manley Labs room at CES. I had to agree with the saying on the rug that appears at every Manley abs exhibit: "Tubes Rule!"
For the first time in many years, I walked into a room at CES and was immediately blown away. Pass Labs personnel had suggested I listen to the amplifiers driving Sony loudspeakers, so I went to the 30th floor of the Venetian to listen. I had no expectations, other than knowing that five Sony SS-AR1 loudspeakers ($27,000/pair) were powered by five Pass Labs Xs300 amplifiers ($85,000/pair), all connected by Kimber Kable. What I didn’t know was that Sony had given the two people running that demonstration, Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco and Super Audio Center’s Gus Skinas, carte blanche permission to play any one of the 150 Direct Streaming Digital (DSD) master titles from Sony’s library for the duration of the Show.
McIntosh's exhibit area in the Venetian Towers was busier than usual when I entered, and I soon found out why. Whereas most manufacturers in high performance audio were content to introduce one or two products, McIntosh seemed determined to introduce many, many new products. I could not mention them all, but Ron Cornelius, McIntosh's Product Manager, helped me focus on four products he felt of greatest interest to audiophiles. First, he showed me McIntosh's new Digital Preamplifier ($2500, above). This featured a new ESS DAC chip that operates its 8 channels in differential balanced mode for improved resolution. It includes a headphone amplifier, and four digital inputs: two optical, one coax, and one high-speed, asynchronous USB port.
At this year's CES, Sumiko's John-Paul Lizars introduced me to REL Acoustics’ new R528 SE sub-bass system. He described it as an "ultra-high output version of the R528" but also as a more compact version of the company's flagship Gibraltar 1 subwoofer. The R528 SE is half the weight (58 lbs instead of 108 lbs), 43% of the volume, and 61% of the cost of the G1 ($2750 instead of $4499). While the larger G1 has a 600W class-AB amplifier, the R528 SE has a 500W class-D amplifier. Both subwoofers utilize REL's aluminum-chassis, 12", carbon-fibercone woofer, but the R528 SE adds a downward-firing 12" passive radiator. Low-frequency response are not that different, with the R528 SE's 6dB point at 21Hz, and the Gibraltar 1's 15Hz. Many audiophiles and home-theater fans may end up favoring the more compact new subwoofer.
Enigmacoustics' Sopranino add-on electrostatic super-tweeter ($3900/pair) was innovative enough to garner a 2013 CES Design and Engineering Showcase Honors award. Mounted on a gray and white glass stand, the anodized aluminum cabinet and almost square speaker panel is small, measuring 7.2" x 7.7" x 8.3", and weighs 10.4 lbs each.
EgglestonWorks, who manufacture loudspeakers in Memphis, Tennesee, introduced a all-new version of their 150 lb, Nine Signature loudspeaker ($18,900/pair). This is a three-way speaker that uses a 1” dome tweeter, a sealed midrange section that incorporates two all-new carbon-fiber 6" midrange drivers, and a new dual-ported 8" bass driver, and is spec'd from 25Hz20kHz, 3dB. This floorstander was powered by a new Rogue Audio Sphinx hybrid class-D integrated stereo amplifier ($1295), which played digital music files sourced through a dCS Puccini DAC and CD player.
At the 2012 CES, Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hamer introduced me to the Swiss company's reference line of 700 monoblock amplifier ($130,000/pair) and the dual-mono, dual-differential 710 stereo (now $55,000) amplifier Michael Fremer reviewed and liked so much in August 2011. At this year's CES, Soulution presented its less-expensive 500 line. While keeping the same appearance as the Reference line, the 500 line features different internal designs, including the company's first integrated amplifier, the 530 integrated preamplifier/amplifier ($49,000).
Simaudio Moon's Lionel Goodfield, Vice President of Marketing, spent a relaxed half hour discussing amplifiers, cars, and various other topics of mutual interest. Along the way, he introduced the Moon Evolution 860A dual-mono amplifier ($14,000), shown sitting by itself in front of the other Simaudio products. The amplifier delivers 200Wpc into 8 ohms, 400Wpc into 4 ohms, 800Wpc into 2 ohms, the power doubling "all the way down to 1 ohm." It features special output devices made by Motorola for Simaudio. The sound from the Dynaudio C1 Signatures was clear, fast, smooth, and open.
Octave's new MRE 220 tube monoblock amplifiers ($67,500/pair), which use KT 120 tubes, and Jubilee tube preamplifier ($36,000), both imported by Dynaudio USA, were used to power the new Dynaudio Evidence Platinum floorstanding loudspeakers ($85,000/pair). Source equipment included a Octave's new MRE 220 tube monoblock amplifiers ($23,700/pair), which use KT 120 tubes, and Jubilee tube preamplifier ($36,000), both imported by Dynaudio USA, were used to power the new Dynaudio Evidence Platinum floorstanding loudspeakers ($85,000/pair). Source equipment included a dCS Scarlatti digital front-end, Clearaudio Ovation turntable with Universal 9" tonearm ($32,000) and Clearaudio Da Vinci cartridge ($5000). Dynaudio's Mike Manousselis played me Sibelius's Finlandia, which showed off the Evidence Platinum's ability to create a large deep soundstage and amazing ability to reproduce a smooth string sound.