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.
Opening the top of Ayre's new AX-5 integrated amplifier ($9950) revealed an impressive layout, with transformers so big that they extend down through the bottom of the chassis. Rated at 125Wpc into 8 ohms, or 250 into 4, the AX-5 uses the same volume control as in the KX-R, and a diamond buffer circuit in the output stage. The amp, driving TAD CR-1 stand-mounted monitors, sounded eminently smooth on a track by Ella Fitzgerald, and did a fine job communicating the smile in her voice.
Not yet released is Ayre’s 175Wpc VX-5 amplifier (price TBD, in the $8000 "neighborhood"), which uses the same circuit as in the AX-5, but with a larger power supply and higher voltage rails. The VX-5 was demmed with Vivid G2Giya speakers and the K-5xeMP preamplifier that John Atkinson reviewed in June 2011.
On January 10, the third day of CES, Michael Lavorgna, Jon Iverson, Stephen Mejias and I flocked to the Flamingo, home of the T.H.E. Show. There I made a first acquaintance with Coda Technologies, a company based 90 or so minutes from me in Sacramento, California. All Coda products are designed, manufactured, and assembled in the good ole USA, and come with a 10 year warranty, transferrable for 5 years.
Importer Charles Harrison had arranged four distinct systems in an air-walled ballroom at THE Show. The room's boundaries were so porous that I was able to hear the sounds of a competing Mahler symphony playing so loudly in an adjacent room that I thought they were coming from one of the four systems in the room I was in. The system I was actually trying to listen to featured the new Ayon Audio Triton III integrated stereo amplifier ($12,500), which can output 125Wpc of pure class A power, as well as Ayon's Ortho II XS flagship preamplifier. Witht eh room
S sub-optimal acoustics, the chain produced a very bottom-heavy snippet of Mahler's Symphony No.2, capped by bright highs.
Many, many moons ago, in the days when Stereophile was a small digest rather than a full-sized magazine and lively website, I owned an Aragon 4004 dual-monoblock amplifier. Oh how I wish I had never sold my 4004, with circuitry designed by Dan d'Agostino, and instead mated it with a front end, speakers, and cabling that could have revealed all that it had to offer.
You, thankfully, have an opportunity to find out just how good the circuitry is. The just-introduced Aragon 8008, a software-upgradable, 200Wpc dual monoblock amplifier ($4999) with dual, symmetrical power supply and ethernet-based control and status monitoring, is now produced by Indy Audio Labs, who bought the brand from Klipsch in 2009.
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).
How nice to again make the acquaintance of the folks at Balanced Audio Technology, aka BAT, now owned by Music Direct, and discover their three handsome new preamplifiers. The VK-53SE ($15,000), which replaces the VK-52SE, incorporates the same transformer-coupled output stage as in the flagship REX II preamp, and uses a new amorphous-core output transformer, encapsulated in a Mu Metal case. "There are no caps in the signal path in our preamps," proclaimed Geoff Poor. "The best capacitor is no capacitor." Also new are the VK-33SE preamplifier ($9995), a replacement for the 32SE and a trickle-down beneficiary of the VK-53SE's technology; and the VK-33 preamplifier ($7000), which replaces the VK-32.
Vincent's new SV-800 integrated amplifier ($4999.95) outputs 100Wpc into 8 ohms, the first 50 of which are class-A. A tube hybrid design, it uses four 12AX7s, four 12AV7s, and six output transistors. Most of its inputs are RCA, but there is one pair of XLRs.
The earth's ecology may be upside down, but Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio displayed PrimaLuna's new DiaLogue Premium integrated amplifier ($3299) that way for a positive reason. "It has a laundry list of the best parts," he declared, handing me a sheet that touts oxygen-free continuous-crystal copper, silver-plated, Teflon-dielectric point-to-point wiring; Takman audiophile grade resistors, and SRC tinfoil capacitors in critical signal paths; and an Alps potentiometer. The DiaLogue Premium is claimed to have such a good auto-biasing mechanism that you can mix and match 6L6GC/KT66, EL-34/KT77, 6550/KT88, and KT120 power tubes in any combination or permutation you so choose, and a bad tube indicator in case your sonic Devil's Brew won't cut it on the particular day that you hope to impress your mother-in-law. "Call it 40Wpc," said Kevin, "but it's not underpowered; it's huge power." There's only one way to find out what that means.