Pass Labs showed off two nice beer fridges, er, amplifiers at this year’s CES. Lacking any model numbers or nomenclature, the top monoblock amp (the top two units) is a single-ended 200W amp ($45,000/pair) and the bottom monoblock is a single-ended 300W amp ($75,000/pair). Nelson Pass is shooting to use no feedback on these circuits and maintain the Super Symmetry design made popular in far less extreme applications. The new part for these amps is a brand new silicon-carbide FET. These FETs were initially designed for the militaryway to turn swords into plow shares and space heaters, Nelson!and Pass Labs intends on exploring their use in future products.
When I walked into the Boulder room, I actually started to giggle. I was told Boulder was showing off some large new amps, but I was not ready for what I saw. Sitting atop plinths of solid granite were the new 3050 monoblock amplifiers. Unlike most monoblocks, the left and right amps, seen here with Boulder's genial Rich Maez, are designed as mirror images of one another for greater visual appeal. These class-A amps put out 1500W into 8 ohms, use 120 output devices, require a dedicated 240AV AC outlet, and weigh 400 lbs each. Oh yes, they cost $180,000/pair. They will begin shipping soon and I am told that orders are already in for these beasts.
Ayre showed off their new VX-R stereo amplifier, a stereo version of their lauded MX-R monoblocks. Rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms the VX-R is priced at $14,950. The amp is a zero-feedback design, featuring fully balanced discrete circuitry. As usual from Ayre, the chassis is beautifully made of milled aluminum. The sound of the VX-R, driving the TAD Compact Reference monitors was wonderful.
I met designer Hans-Ole Vitus in his room at the Venetian, where he was showing his new stereo amplifier, the Vitus SS 101 (pictured in the middle, $40,000). The SS101 puts out 50Wpc in class-A and 100Wpc in class-A/B. It also has a volume control, making it a single-source integrated amplifier that can be operated by remote control. The system really sounded great and Hans-Ole was a delightful chap.
At last year’s CES, many of my favorite rooms featured Sweden’s Marten speakers. The same held true this year. I expected good things when I stopped by Marten’s own room at the Venetian. Not only where they showing off the new version of their Coltrane 2 speaker ($95,000/pair) but also their first amplifier design, the M Amp ($45,000/pair). These monoblock amps have scary low distortion0.05% at 400W into 8 ohms and use a class-D stage that switches at 600kHz. The amp can output 550Wpc into 8 ohms, 1000Wpc into 4 ohms, and 1700Wpc into 2 ohms.
The folks in the Marten room seemed in dire need of some good music when I came in, having suffered through too much audiophile approved crap during the show. I handed them a CD of the XX, a band I love, and we all bobbed our heads to this sparse but funky Pop. I find this album doesn’t work at all if a system cannot get the interplay between the bass guitar and kick drum right. The Marten system did this very well, sounding rich and articulate. The M Amps never let on that they were class-D amps, sounding more like super powerful tubes or a richly voiced class-A amp. I was thanked for playing some sweet cuts off the XX’s album, and I thanked them for making it sound great.
Like the Marten room, the Engström & Engström room also played the new large Coltrane 2 speakers by Marten of Sweden. This year, the Coltrane 2 speakers met The Lars Type 2 monoblock amplifiers ($60,000/pair), which each use two 300B tubes and deliver 36Wpc.
“Biggest. Tube. Ever.” I said, in my best Comicbook Guy voice. The Kronzilla DX Mk.II ($32,000/pair) from KR audio of the Czech Republic uses two T1610 output tubes in parallel to achieve 100Wpc of triode power. The amp also uses zero negative feedback.
Conrad-Johnson introduced their new ET5 line stage preamplifier. According Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson, the ET5 is a scaled-down version of the GAT preamp (the silk-screening you see here labeling the ET5 as a GAT is an error). The ET5 shares all of the same parts as the GAT but is a stereo design instead of the GAT’s dual-mono layout. The ET5 uses Vishay resistors, CJD Teflon capacitors, gold plated OFC I/O connectors and vibration-isolated printed circuit boards for the gain circuit. The ET5 ships this month and will cost $9500.
New from E.A.R. USA is the V12 integrated amplifier ($9595), one of the prettier looking and sounding pieces I heard at CES. Many may remember E.A.R.’s V20 integrated, to which the V12 owes some inspiration. The V12’s visual design is also inspired by a Jaguar V12 engine, minus the motor oil stains. The V12 was designed by Tim de Paravicini and uses six EL84 tubes per channel. It puts our 50Wpc in triode mode. The sound, driving Marten speakers and using Jorma cables, was airy yet colorful.
Jason Victor Serinus elaborates on the Jorma cables: Jorma Koski, who owns Jorma Design of Sweden, designs all of his cables. When asked what makes them unique, he initially replied, “It’s the best cables in the world, except that everybody says that.”
The Stello Ai500 integrated amplifier was shown in the April Music room. A 150Wpc integrated with a built-in high resolution DAC, the Ai500 sells for $3500 and ably drove power-hungry Magnepan speakers.