Monoblock power amplifiers seem to be moving in and out of my listening room faster than green-onion salsa from Chi-Chi's. Over the past six months I've had the Parasound Halo JC-1, the Halcro dm68, the Pass XA-160, the Musical Fidelity kW, and now these 300W (into 8 ohms), $4500-each beauties from Theta Digital. All of these amps sounded as different as they looked, which was no surprise; too bad the "measures the same, sounds the same" dogmatists remain open for business.
The $3000 moving-coil (MC) PhD, available from Chad Kassem's Acoustic Sounds operation, is a monumental achievement that, for me, sets new standards for the cleanness and transparency possible in a phono preamp—and I've had a lot of experience with phono preamps.
Thoughts of power, domination, and audio road-rage enter one's mind when contemplating Musical Fidelity's SUV-like, limited-edition, 20th-anniversary offerings (footnote 1). (Only 75 sets of kWPs and kWs will be made.) The gleaming, brushed-aluminum, two-box, oversized, overweight Tri-Vista kWP preamp is fortress-like—the "kWP" looks as if chiseled into the faceplate by grimy, sweaty hands. Each of its boxes weighs almost 56 lbs. The unit's milled-aluminum remote control, the size of a Volkswagen Microbus and looking like something Fred Flintstone might wield, must weigh over 5 lbs. The kWP outputs more juice than many power amps: 55V, with 20 amps of peak-peak instantaneous current!
With the exception of dCS and Accuphase, you don't see anyone jumping on the bandwagon of $15,000-plus SACD players—and for good reason. Despite enthusiasm for the format within the relatively small audiophile community, high-resolution audio isn't exactly making waves on the front pages—or even the back pages—of the mainstream news media. And while ABKCO Records has sold millions of Rolling Stones hybrid SACD/CDs, and Sony is looking to repeat that phenomenon with the recent Dylan hybrids, what's being sold in both cases are CDs, not SACDs. The higher-resolution layer is simply going along for the ride.
Long before the Swedes at Ikea did it, the singular Scotsman Ivor Tiefenbrun began giving his products funny-sounding names. For some reason positively phobic about the letter c, he banned its use in any of those names. Someone once told me his real last name is Tiefencrun, but since it wouldn't sound any different with a k, he settled for a b. "I could have been Ivor Tiefendrun, or Tiefenfrun, or Tiefengrun, for that matter," he's quoted as having said once while krunching a krakker.
Before the advent of big-screen projection televisions, manhood was measured more conventionally: by the size of one's crate-sized, boat-anchor-heavy, brushed-aluminum-fronted power amplifiers. Those days are long gone.
"Everybody's gotta get into the act!" Jimmy Durante used to say. That's what's happening with phono preamplifiers—they just keep being built, and I keep getting them for review. Up for evaluation in next month's column are new models from Perreaux, Musical Fidelity, Graham Slee, and a Chinese one, Ming Da. You can bet there'll be more.
When I interviewed recording engineer Roy Halee (Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, etc.) at his home in Connecticut back in 1991, he pointed to his pair of monolithic Infinity IRS loudspeakers and said, "When I want to listen for pleasure, I listen to those." He then pointed to a pair of early-edition Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppys in a second system set up in the corner of his large listening room. "When I want to hear what's on a recording I've made, I listen to those." It was obvious: Halee respected the Wilsons, but he loved the Infinitys. Not surprising, since Dave Wilson designed the WATT section to be a highly accurate portable monitor, and monitors are designed for respect, not love.
There's nothing groundbreaking about the technology included in Naim's new $22,400, two-box, remote-controllable, top-of-the-line NAC 552 preamplifier. Still, the inclusion of two sets of RCA input jacks is a departure from Naim's tradition of DIN jacks, and the NAC 552's programmability is unusual for a high-end two-channel audio product. And you can order RCA output jacks at no extra cost, which is how my review sample was configured.
Does the modern audiophile want a sleek, compact, powerful, remote-controlled, microprocessor-driven, two-channel integrated amplifier? Perreaux Industries, based in New Zealand, thinks so. They've designed all that, plus good looks and impressive build quality, into the R200i. Despite its relatively small size—4.1" tall by 16.9" wide by 13.4" deep—the R200i packs a punch. It's rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms and 360Wpc into 4 ohms, yet it weighs just a fraction under 30 lbs.