The latest version of the VK-655SE monoblock amplifiers ($33,000/pair) from BAT (Balanced Audio Technology) may have been out for awhile, but CES marked their first appearance at any show. A dual-mono design available in both stereo and monoblock configurations, the amp exuded beautiful tube-like warmth (without the use of tubes) on a recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony 6, with TAD loudspeakers.
Pass Labs may laugh a bit at its excess, as in the XS series, but Vladimir Lamm saves his smiles for the sounds of his brand-new, four-box LL 1.1 Signature line level preamplifier ($45,390/pair). That "pair" in the price is not a typo. This baby consists of two mono preamps plus two separate power supplies!
Far more sonically successful was the larger Lamm room. There, $266,950 worth of Lamm components, including the new LL 1.1 Signature line level preamplifier ($45,390/pair) and ML3 Signature SET mono power amplifiers ($139,490/pair), joined the big Kharma Exquisite Midi Grand speakers with F-drivers ($225,000/pair), a mostly not-in-production EMT/SME/ZYX turntable set-up, inexpensive Sanus racks ($840 total), and Kubala-Sosna Elation series cabling ($130,600 total) to draw sweeter, warmer, and more accurate sound from the same LP tracks.
As with Wilson Audio, Magico presented its latest S5 Mk.II loudspeaker ($38,000/pair in M-Cast finish, $42,750/pair in M-Coat finish) in static display. The only element of the original S5 design retained in the Mk.II is the identical extruded aluminum cabinet. All drivers, distilled from the research that culminated in the S7 loudspeaker, are new. The tweeter is a 1" MB7 beryllium dome, and the midrange unit a 6" Graphene NanoTec carbon. This midrange is claimed to have a stronger molecular structure than standard carbon, but is 20% lighter and 30% stiffer than its predecessor.
Even though Robert Deutsch has blogged about Magico's new S1, Alon Wolf (right) prevailed upon me to take a (brief) listen. Paired with Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) monoblock amplifiers, the sound was lovely and warm. I did catch a bit of distortion on the right channel at one point, cause unknown, but Joni Mitchell's aging, low voice was maximally evocative, with an extra kiss of tube warmth.
For a select group of invitees, Philip O'Hanlon hosted two performances in On a Higher Note's Mirage suite with fabled singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman ("Killing Me Softly with His Song.") Lori entered the suite to rehearse while I was listening to recorded music, and began singing unamplified while Philip and I were in the next room discussing the products on display. I had to stop talking. It is rare that I find myself in the presence of a singer whose every sound expresses the depth of her soul. What an artist. To say that I was transfixed is an understatement.
I'm familiar with how opening or closing a side entrance to a music room can affect bass loading, But when Philip O'Hanlon of A Higher Note demonstrated how opening the sliding doors behind the new Vivid B1 Decade loudspeakers ($28,000/pair) increased air and spaciousness, I was duly impressed.
Luxman's L-590 integrated amplifier features amplifier circuitry with Darlington-connected devices and the company's proprietary distortion-reducing ODNF (Only Distortion Negative Feedback), which isolates noise and distortion at the output of the music signal, and uses only a touch of negative feedback to suppress them.
It's unfair to judge the scale of Wilson Audio's forthcoming Alexx loudspeaker ($109,000/pair) from the height of the two gentlemen flanking it, because main designer Daryl Wilson and inspiration/father Dave Wilson are ridiculously tall. But despite the fact that Alexx is 4" shorter than the older MAXX3, his 65" height means he's a foot taller than his not-so-little sister Alexia...
Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' newly upgraded Momentum monoblocks, now called the Momentum M400 monoblocks ($65,000/pair, and shipping now), sounded fantastic in the dCS Suite in the Mirage. The photo is slightly deceptive, because this early-issue pair is housed in the slightly different, original Momentum chassis, but who cares? The mating of D'Agostino Momentum400 monoblocks with Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers, Transparent Audio Generation V cabling, HRS SXR isolation system with new Vortex isolators, Meletzsky Stromtank power supply system, and the newly upgraded dCS Vivaldi DAC system delivered the most color-saturated, full-range, impactful, emotionally satisfying and frankly wondrous sound of any room I visited at CES.