Skullcandy, a manufacturer of trendy headphones, put up a huge multi-level exhibit in CES's Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall. In general, I was surprised at the large amount of exhibit area purchased at the Las Vegas Convention Center South Hall by headphone manufacturers this year at the CES. It dwarfed the spaced occupied by audio manufacturers of home quality equipment, taking many times the space occupied by home audio amplifiers and loudspeakers.
The Audio Power Labs exhibit took my breath away, Imagine, a huge, beautiful $175,000 per pair, 200Wpc monoblock tube amplifier using 833C, graphite-plate, radio-frequency transmitter tubes that have a bandwidth of 30MHz and run with 1500V on the plates! These tubes were used in the output stage of BCF-1 radio transmitters. Now imagine that the amplifier's designers are named Squeek Rieker (right) and Peeya Iwagoshi (left), and you know why I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hammer was on hand to discuss the company's "small" Soulution 501 mono Amplifier ($55,000/pair). Similar in design to the Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that had so impressed Michael Fremer in the August 2012 issue of Stereophile, the more diminutive 501 monoblock amplifier is rated at 125W into 8 ohms, utilizes six switching-mode power supplies, and features a high-bandwidth, zero-feedback voltage-amplification input stage. Unlike the 176 lb Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that required three good men to move into Mikey's listening room, the 501 weighs in at a "mere" 80 lbs per chassis.
Luke Manley and Bea Lam of VTL were on hand as host and hostess at the VTL exhibit suite at the Venetian Hotel to present their two new stereo tube amplifiers, the $33,500, 400Wpc S400 Series II amplifier, and the $10,000, 200Wpc S200 Stereo Signature amplifier shown in the photo. Although the S400 was configured into a floorstanding tower and the S200 in the rack-mounted chassis used for their MB-450 monoblock amplifier, both new products feature VTL's latest tube technology, including fully balanced, differential input stage, VTL's SmartTube technology with automatic bias and screen supply adjustments and fault sensing, and a new user-adjustable damping factor feedback control. The feedback loop amount can be precisely set to suite the listener's taste via three-position switches located between the input tubes on the top of the chassis.
I visited Burmester's President, Dieter Burmester, in the German company's Venetian Hotel Suite. As well as high-end audio products Burmester also manufactures high-perfomance music systems for the Bugatti Veyron and Porsche sports cars. I mentioned that I saw Dieter's likeness in a sketch for an interview with him and Richard Chailly that appears in the latest Christophorus, the Porsche's owner's magazine. That led to chat about our favorite automobiles, and from there to high-end audio. Dieter hopes putting high-end audio in the Porsche Panamera and 911 automobiles will introduce high-end audio to a younger but affluent generation now focused on limited-fidelity MP3 on their iPods.
Paul Stookey, now 74 years young, sounded optimistic, vibrant, and sweet, delivering a solo performance to the audiophile crowd at the Flamingo, as hosted by T.H.E. Show, Cary Audio, and PBN Audio. Somehow Paul has retained all the youthful energy and optimism that characterized his role when was a member of the Peter, Paul and Mary trio. Although I associate him more with the flower child, utopian, flower-child world of the 1960s, celebrating love, sex, freedom and occasionally drugs ("Puff the Magic Dragon"), he easily slipped into the role of audiophile troubador. Although his vocal range had narrowed with the years, his guitar accompaniment was superb.
Pass Labs’ engineer Wayne Colburn insisted that the name of their latest amplifier, the Xs, was not a pun. He spent over an hour detailing the 3-year design project that culminated in the company's $85,000/pair, solid-state, two-chassis-per-channel, class-A amplifier. Leaning on the 4.5-foot stack of the amplifier's stereo configuration, Wayne spoke about how the design was based on the results of an examination of transfer characteristics of a diverse set of gain devices, including tubes and SITs (silicon-carbide devices that are exclusive, we believe, to Pass Labs for use in audio). The output stage was designed to reproduce the transfer characteristics preferred by a panel of listeners, who lived with a variety of different output stages for a lengthy period of time.
Ypsilon's Demetrius Baklavas (right in photo) and Ypsilon's US distributor, Brian Ackerman of AAImports, demonstrated the Aelius amplifier to John Atkinson (left) and myselfthe amplifiers were doing a fine job of producing dynamics and superb open highs from the plasma tweeters of the new, floorstanding Lansche 7 loudspeakers.
UrbanEar's Andrea Miles models their new mustard-colored Platten headphones, which list at $65. This was part of the great upsurge in headphone exhibits found in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, or the "Zoo."
Ypsilon Electronics’ Demetrius Baklavas designed the new $36,000/pair Aelius monoblock amplifier. The Aelius is rated at 220W into 8 ohms, 308W into 4 ohms, and 500W into 2 ohms. It is a hybrid design that features tube inputs, hand-wound interstage coupling transformers, and MOSFET output devices wired in the same type of push-pull Circlotron output configuration that was found in some Output-Transformer-Less tube (OTL) designs. The Circlotron configuration was developed years ago by Electro-Voice, and while the Aelius's output devices are all N-channel MOSFETs, the Circlotron approach is very different from conventional quasi-complementary approaches.