English manufacturer Chord Electronics is known for its sophisticated CD players, which use sophisticated DACs. Indeed there was a huge picture denoting Chord's latest-generation DAC, the QBD 76, at the center of the back wall. As my beat was amplifiers, Chord's designer, John Franks (pictured above), spent the next 30 minutes walking me through the design of Chord's latest amplifier, the SPM 1200 Mk.II ($14,000), a solid-state, 350Wpc stereo mode. The amplifier sits at the bottom of the short stack of audio equipment John is leaning on. He explained that the amplifier has a high-frequency, 2kW, switch-mode power supply, and uses an output stage based on dual-die, lateral-structure MOSFETs with a soft turn/on-turn/off characteristic. This allowed John to use a sliding class-AB design.
Cary Audio demonstrated its CAD-211 ($20,000/pair) 150W tube amplifiers, two-chassis piece SLP-05 tube preamplifier ($8500), and CD-303T SACD player ($6500), with Tannoy's flagship floorstander, the Kingdom Royal ($55,000/pair). All cabling was by WyWires. The Tannoy is a four-way speaker design, with a 15" woofer handling music below 150Hz, the midrange handling up to 700Hz, the tweeter up to 17kHz, and the super-tweeter up to 65kHz. The Kingdom Royal is very sensitive at 94dB/W/m the resulting sonics were clear, delicate, and musically involving. And as John Atkinson said when he listened to this system, “there’s no substitute for horsepower.”
Pass Laboratories, who introduced the Xs line of flagship 150W and 300W amplifiers at last year's CES, brought out a new preamplifier, the Pass Labs Xs preamplifier (price to be determined). It features a single control chassis that carries the line level audio signal and an external power supply. The Xs preamplifier was used to drive a pair of Pass Labs Xs300 ($85,000/pair) power amps connected to a pair of Sony SS-ARI ($27,000/pair) loudspeakers. The Pass Lab team obliged me by playing a fresh vinyl pressing from Japan of the Proprius Cantate Domino recording. The dynamic range and control of the pipe organ pedal notes was remarkable, making the Pass Labs one of the best-sounding setups I heard at the show the first day.
Boulder Amplifiers, Inc., introduced its new Model 3060 Stereo balanced, class-A amplifier ($114,000), a huge, 900Wpc, solid-state amplifier that weighs 450 lbs! Sitting nearby was the company's flagship monoblock, the silver 3060 ($205,000/pair), a class-A 1500W power amplifier shown in my photograph. A large cylindrical tube, containing 4 large mineral-potted toroidal power transformers, runs down the inside middle of the chassis. This is said to dampen any transformer-induced vibration. The mono amplifier uses 120 high-temperature rated bipolar transistors and 48, 160V, high-temperature rated, 4700µuF electrolytic capacitors for energy storage. Large circuit boards slide into frames at the top of the chassis, each board containing hundreds of discrete parts. With a pair of these amplifiers weighing 440 lbs, Boulder does not want this amplifier to require service, and its build quality signifies that.
Axiss Audio’s attractive setup at the Venetian highlighted AirTight's huge ATM-3011 monoblock amplifiers ($50,000/pair). The amps were part of a system that included the Focal Scala loudspeakers ($30,000), Transrotor Rondino turntable ($14,000), SME V tonearm ($5,000), AirTight PC-1 moving-coil cartridge ($11,000), AirTight ATC-2 line preamplifier ($11,000), AirTight ATE-2 phono stage ($15,000), and ATH02 step-up transformer ($5,000). The sound was involving and dynamic.
MBL’s Corona Line C-15 class-D monoblock amplifiers ($12,500 each) are rated at 500W into 4 ohms with low distortion, and none of the rising distortion with frequency found in other class-D designs. In addition, the distortion is load independent. This is a result of the circuit design MBL calls a "Linear Analog Switching Amplifier Design” (LASA). MBL designer Jurgen Reis was proud that the amplifier had been designed to meet the stringent South Korean "KT" consumer standard regulations, and "was on the way" to meeting the even more stringent "CCC" Chinese consumer requirements. Although the switching occurs at 300kHz, the amplifier is free of RF emissions up through several MHz because of extensive mu-metal shielding. The amplifier and preamplifier are available in several different cosmetics including a white or black chassis with center section in gold or chassis color. Matching C-11 preamplifier and C31 CD player, with price points are also available.
At 95 lbs, Dan D'Agostino’s 300W into 8 ohms, Momentum monoblock amplifier ($50,000/pair) doesn’t even come close to the weight of the big Boulders. Featured on the cover of Stereophile’s CES issue, the Momentum could be heard in many rooms at CES. This compact, energy-efficient design was driving the new YG Electronics Sonja 1.3 speakers ($106,800/pair). The resulting sound was dynamic, effortless, open, and had a wide, deep soundstage.
Bryston showed a static model of its new loudspeaker system, the Model T Signature ($7495/pair), that is specified to handle 501100 watts into its 8 ohm impedance, with a frequency response from 25Hz22kHz, ±3dB. In active form, the Model T uses the AX1 external DSP crossover ($2995), but the passive version’s crossover features large, expensive air-coil inductors, as well as something brand new: Bryston capacitors. Working with Clarity, Bryston's James Tanner specified the exact requirements for these capacitors, which have both company's names featured on their blue exteriors. The Model T benefited from Bryston's close relationship with with Axiom, a speaker design company that has its own large anechoic chamber. The Model T is available in Black Ash, Boston Cherry, or Natural Cherry veneers.
Revel’s new Rhythm 2 subwoofer ($10,000) contains a pair of 2000W class-D amplifiers (said to offer 4kW on peaks); an 18" driver with a 4” voice-coil; over 114dB maximum acoustic output; high-resolution DSP room equalization; fully configurable electronic crossover; and PC or Mac setup via USB. Kevin Voecks, its designer, described how the subwoofer's highly sophisticated DSP engine can equalize both the subwoofer and the satellite speakers. The DSP-driven room equalization generates adjustments from one set of room measurements, correcting for as many as 10 modes in the frequency range of 20400Hz.
Lamm Industries introduced the new LP-1 Signature dual-mono phono preamplifier ($32,790), with two separate chassis power supplies. Each channel uses two high-transconductance triodes without feedback. The new phono preamplifier was used in a system with Lamm ML-3 amplifers ($159,490), an LL-1 preamplifier ($42,790), connected to a pair of Wilson Audio MAXX3 speakers ($69,500/pair) with Kubala-Sosna cables throughout. Music was played on a Kronos turntable ($32,000) fitted with a Graham Phantom II Supreme tonearm ($6000) and a ZYX Universal II cartridge ($8,495). Vladimir Lamm was also using two pairs of his ML2.2 monoblocks ($37,290/pair) to drive a pair of Verity Audio Lohengrin loudspeakers ($120,000/pair) in an adjoining room. The sound in both rooms was spacious, smooth, dynamic, and full.