Meridian Audio's hotly anticipated firmware update for its MQA-ready electronics has arrived. Starting February 4, owners of Meridian's Explorer2 DAC (above), Prime headphone amplifier, 808v6 Reference CD player, 818v3 Reference Audio Core, Special Edition loudspeakers and 40th Anniversary systems will be able to upgrade their products and hear the full benefits that MQA-encoded files can deliver.
See that huge line? It's a small indication of the huge, multi-national, multi-industry group of CES attendees whose numbers170,000, if the former CEA (Consumer Electronics Association), now CTA (Consumer Technology Association) counts accuratelyset new attendance records.
There's just one thing. That line was not at the Venetian Hotel, where all but a few of what CES dubs the "high-performance audio" exhibits were staged. Instead, it was at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Just about everyone you see had no idea that the High End of the audio industry was holding forth on floors 29, 30, 34, and 35 of the Venetian, because virtually all PR, including the multipage "CES 2016 Attendee Guide" that they received in the mail, failed to mention our existence. . .
Digging MQA (from LR): Peter McGrath, Jason Victor Serinus, and Michael Fremer, with Bob Stuart anxiously looking on and Winai Pawitwatana behind. (Photo: John Atkinson)
CES 2016 marked the first time that three writers for StereophileEditor-in-Chief, John Atkinson; AnalogPlanet analog guru, Michael Fremer; and this Contributing Editorcould sit down in the same room with Bob Stuart of MQA/Meridian and spend a concentrated amount of time comparing before- and after-MQA encoded (Master Quality Authenticated) tracks.
Aesthetix's Jim White (above right), along with the company's distributor, Garth Leerer of Musical Surroundings, showed off the new, Aesthetix Saturn Atlas Eclipse monoblock amplifier ($25,000/pair). An evolution of a product first launched 10 years ago, the Saturn Atlas Eclipse sports super-matched output devices that effectively lower noise by 40%.
Boldly proclaiming that its new the Renaissance ESL 15 A ($24,995/pair) combines a 45" x 15" electrostatic transducer with dual 12" aluminum-cone woofers, dual 500W woofer amplifiers, bass and mid-bass level controls, and Anthem room correction, MartinLogan proceeded to mate it with excellent Constellation Audio amplifiers and MIT cabling.
"It's the only loudspeaker under 6 figures with a beryllium midrange diaphragm," Paradigm's Erin Phillips told me about the Paradigm Concept 4F (price not set, but expected to be under $40,000/pair), a speaker that has been forthcoming since last May's Munich High End, and probably won't arrive until late summer/fall 2016. The Canadian-crafted, full-range loudspeaker combines four powered 8.5" wooferstwo front-firing and two rear-firing in "vibration-cancelling configuration"with passive TruExtent® 1" beryllium-dome tweeters and 7" midrange drivers.
Now this is an interesting one. Using the same Dan D'Agostino Momentum monoblocks ($65,000/pair) as in the Wilson Alexia/dCS suite in the Mirage, albeit with the new case work; the same dCS Rossini player ($28,499) and Rossini Clock ($7499) as in that room, and whose sound I know quite well because I've spent considerable time with the player in my own listening room; an even higher Opus level of Transparent Cabling than in the Wilson/dCS suite; and the not too shabby Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum preamplifier ($32,000), EgglestonWorks' Ivy Signature SE Reference Series loudspeakers ($155,250/pair) made an entirely different impression.
I've been variously enamored and critical of the sound of Acapella loudspeakers and electronics on previous occasions, but here, in a space I would have considered too narrow to be optimal, the German-handmade Acapella Cellini ($55,000/pair) sounded excellent. Never before shown at a US show, the Cellini stands out due to its hyper-spherical midrange horn. (The Acapella Violin, for example, has a spherical horn.) It also has Acappella's TW1 ion tweeter, and claims an overall frequency range of 28Hz40kHz , and a sensitivity of approx. 91dB/W/m.
Shipping in the second quarter of 2016, Meitner's extremely powerful MTRX2 1kW monoblock amplifiers (price around $80,000/pair), which output 600W into 8 ohms and 1000W into 4 ohms, may be the weaker siblings of their flagship MTRX predecessors, but they have their own proprietary topology to make them feel their equal.
The picture shows the inside of Nagra's new HD Amp, whose 6 output devices are specified as driving 270W into 8 ohms, 1kW into 2 ohms. The HD Amp was on passive display, but Nagra's all-Nagra component chain, feeding Wilson Audio Sabrina loudspeakers, made quite a favorable impression.