Theta Digital, the pioneer of digital separates, announces the mighty Prometheus monoblocks ($12,000/pair). Heard in pre-production mode, with bass so strong and tight that it sent me into the hallway to discuss the product, the 200Wpc into 8 ohms monoblock is due out "within 90 days" (to quote a mantra oft-repeated at CES 2013).
I stumbled into the Naim Audio Exhibit and was faced with a wall of amplifiers and electronics. Chris Koster, of the Sound Organisation, Naim's US importer, guided me through the Naim amplification that was being used to drive the tri-amplified loudspeakers in the room. Starting from the left, the rack held three NAP-500 solid state amplifiers ($28,000 each).Sitting just above the three amplifier chassis at the extreme left was a Naim Snaxxo 362 ($3500) active crossover; its Naim Supercap power supply, sitting at the top of the center column, powered the Snaxxo. Each of the amplifier's individual NAP-500 PS power supplies occupied the three lower shelves at the center of the rack. The two top center shelves held the power supplies for the NAC552 preamplifier ($28,000) and the NDS Media Streamer ($11,000), whose control chassis could be found at the extreme right of the rack.
I ran into Dan D'Agostino, in the hallway of the Venetian. He was hurrying off to a meeting, but had a moment to mention that his amplifiers were being used in live exhibits in several rooms, including YG and Light Harmonic DaVinci, among others. I asked if there was anything new at the show, and he smiled and mentioned the new Momentum preamplifier. I found the D'Agostino room and his partner Petra, showed me the preamplifier, which was on passive display.
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.
When I visited Nagra's exhibit at the Venetian, Jean Paschal Panchard, Nagra's representative, was out for a meeting. I asked his colleague, Jorgen Olofsson of Marten loudspeakers (the $77,000/pair Marten Coltrane Tenors were being driven by Nagra electronics), what was the "newest" Nagra product being shown. He mentioned Nagra's new Melody high-end solid-state preamplifier. Like the all-tube Jazz preamplifier, the Melody features the traditional Nagra look with the modulometer on the front face to indicate output signal level. The Melody weighs 7 lbs, and has a rated bandwidth of 10Hz50kHz, +0/1dB. Like the Jazz, all five RCA inputs and the two switchable outputs (one RCA and one XLR) are all on the back panel. It can accept an external power supply, such as the Nagra ACPS II or the new multiple power supply name the Nagra MPS. The Melody’s suggested retail price in the USA will be $7500 and the optional phono stage will cost $1500.
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.