Tri-Art Audio of Canada displayed its complete mid-level Bam Bam system, whose cost was under $35,000. Built to a very strict price point, the electronics, all stuffed with sheep's woolwhy didn't they name it the Bah Bah system?included the new Bam Bam passive preamplifier ($1295), which is housed in a solid wood cabinet and allows for passive bi-amping and tri-amping without an electronic crossover; Bam Bam 75Wpc class-D balanced amplifier #75-S ($1995); and Bam Bam 24V battery power supply ($900).
Swiss company Manufacture Le Son was one of many that attended CES in hopes of securing US distribution. In tow was their LS002 Le Son (approx. $35,000), a dual-mono class-B stereo amplifier that outputs a bit more than 100Wpc into 8 ohms, and 180Wpc into 4.
Audio Research's new SP20 tube stereo preamplifier ($9000) combines a full-function linestage and phono stage, and includes a hi-resolution tube-driven headphone output, touchscreen control, remote control, and both balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs. The front panel echoes the Minnesotan company's fabled SP3 preamps from the 1970s. Listening to the company's first preamp in 20 years to include both a linestage and phonostage via Sonus faber Olympica III loudspeakers, I heard both the classic Audio Research midrange and a fast response that served bebop extremely well. Bob Reina is working on an SP20 review for Stereophile.
The case and front panel nomenclature are not in final form, but if VAC's forthcoming two-piece Master Signature preamplifier ($26,500 as linestage, $40,000 with additional phono stage)ignore what the prototype unit's front panels saydue in early March, sounds anywhere near as good as the VAC equipment I heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, it will be worth waiting for.
I can never tell what's new in the McIntosh line, because everything retains the company's same classic look. In this case, attention turned to the new MA8000 integrated amplifier ($10,000), introduced at the 2013 CEDIA, that merges the MC302 power amp and C50 preamp ($14,000 total) into a single chassis and, I'm told, sounds "pretty much the same" as the separates.
If that title got your attention, so may loudspeaker manufacturer Westlake Audio's novel use of the bed that every other exhibit in the Venetian's sleeping rooms had dispensed with in one fashion or another. Instead, Westlake Audio used it as a fashion statement, of sorts.
So new it's not yet priced, MBL's revamped Noble Line will be available mid-year. Heard in prototype form, and demmed by their designer, Jürgen Reis (above), the E31 CD/DAC, E51 integrated amplifier, and E21 stereo amplifier are intended to deliver "fuller, richer, and more refined sound" than the entry-level Corona line. "It is still the Noble family sound, but it is improved, with higher resolution and greater transparency that make it more modern," says Reis.
When I entered the room with equipment from PBN Audio, EM from Japan, and Mark Johansen's ZenSati cabling, I encountered PBN President Peter Noerbaek playing an LP of one of the Bach solo cello suites. This he followed with cellist Aage Kvalbein's audiophile-quality CD of the Theme from Charlie Chaplin's Limelight, available on the KKV.no label's Mirakler far den nye Verdem (Miracles from the New World). (Click here and here for more information.] The sound was very detailed, clear, and warm, with great dynamics. New was PBN Audio's fully balanced, all-FET EB-SA2 power amplifier ($34,995), which outputs 650Wpc into 8 ohms and 1200Wpc into 4. "It's way overbuilt, as is everything we do," said Noerbaek of his 165 lb baby.
In one of the last rooms I visited on the 30th floor of the Venetian hotel, Mark O'Brien, Rogue Audio founder, president and electrical engineer/designer, debuted the big brother of the Rogue Audio Sphinx, the Pharoah hybrid integrated amplifier ($3495). A tube/solid-state hybridtheir literature variously claims the power at 185Wpc and 175Wpc into 8 ohms, 350Wpc into 4 ohmsthe Pharoah includes an adjustable MM/MC phono preamp section, tube headphone amplifier, processor loop, and home-theater bypass. Paired with a Dr. Feickert Analogue Woodpecker turntable with Jelco tonearm and Arché headshell, Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge, Synergistic Research "Core" cabling and Quantum power strip, and Dynaudio Confidence C1 II loudspeakers, the system exhibited quite lovely, fairly neutral, and extremely listenable sound. "A good cozy-up system," I wrote in my notes.