Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand. The home of the Maori, Kiwi birds, an upcoming shoot for Peter Jackson’s film The Hobbit, and Plinius Audio. On display in the Plinius room was the Hiato integrated amplifier ($9100). The Hiato is a 300Wpc integrated, able to kick out peaks of 50A of current. The amp is a high-biased class-A/B design that allows the first few important watts to benefit from class-A purity and then switch over A/B for greater efficiency and maximum power. The Hiato had me grooving to Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on, Reggae Woman” and stopped me in my tracks playing a live duet version of Johnny Cash singing “Don’t Take You Guns to Town” with none other than Willy Nelson. The Hiato can also be installed with an optional phono preamp which brings the price up to $11,000.
In sixth grade, I was given a Victorinox Swiss Army knife. I loved it. An avid camper and erstwhile Boy Scout, I was amazed at how many things I could do with this well-made, pocket-size wonder. I used its tweezers to remove splinters and ticks, its scissors to cut thread, its can opener to prize open tins of baked beans, and its knife blade to whittle, occasionally cut myself, and generally wreak teenage mayhem.
As I grew older, I discovered that using specialized tools for a given job was generally easier, faster, and more pleasurable than using my Swiss Army knife's utilities. Though I could cut a tent's ground cloth with my knife's scissors, a plain-Jane pair of Fiskars worked much better, an OXO can opener got me into those baked beans much faster than my Victorinox could, and even my Swiss Army knife blade didn't stay as sharp or fit in my hand as well as a simple Buck knife. Still, there was no doubt that my Swiss Army knife was a great tool and a good value, even if it was never the best tool for a specific task. To put it another way: The value of my Swiss Army knife was broad but shallow, while the value of something like my OXO can opener was narrow but deep.
Every audiophile is born sometime, somewhere. My audio birth happened on a family visit to my Uncle John's house, when he played Information Society's "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)" through his brand-new Klipsch Heresy IIs. Uncle John did three things at this listening session that turned 12-year-old me into the audiophile I am today: he played music I liked, he played it really loud, and afterward, he took the time to explain how his system worked and why it sounded so good. His Klipsches were powered by Nelson Passinfluenced Nakamichi gearI'd never before heard speakers play music with such ease or such startling dynamics. I was immediately hooked. In many ways, nothing I've heard since that day has impressed me as much, or been as revelatory of what home audio can do. That single experience set me on a path of caring about re-creating musical performances in my own home.
Years ago, when I taught high school choirs, I had many types of kids in my ensembles. Though none exclusively fit the overly stereotypical lineup of kids on Fox TV's Glee, I always managed to have a nice assortment of jocks, preps, goths, motorheads, geeks, wastoids, and dweebs. One of the things that always fascinated me was how the big, tough jocks would turn out to be the most sensitive, emotional singers. It was always a touching moment when an otherwise stoic football star or wrestler would get all misty while singing the final song of the year-end concert. It showed me that the toughest exteriors often hide the creamiest creampuffs.
Two audiophile buddies of mine both own Rogue Audio M-150 monoblocks. I'd always been impressed with not only the sound quality of the M-150, but also its price. For $4495/pair, I thought my friends got a whole lotta amp for notta lotta dough. In this day and age, it's a rare and wonderful thing to get a pair of monoblocks, made in the US by a real audio company, that give you 150Wpc of tube power for under $5000. When Rogue came out with an update of the M-150, the M-180 ($5495), I thought it might be a good subject for my first full review in Stereophile. John Atkinson thought so too. I also thought it would be interesting to compare the M-180 with the very tube-like and almost identically priced Pass Labs XA30.5 two-channel amplifier ($5500), a sample of which I had on hand. (see my Follow-Up in August 2009).
I spent much of my time at CES roaming around with Stereophile's self-proclaimed Web Monkey, Jon Iverson. I'd never met Jon before I came to the 2010 CES but he was a wonderful guide both to Las Vegas and to CES, as well as a smart and kind person to get to know. On Saturday morning he suggested we head on over the THE Show located at the Flamingo Hotel, right on the strip. One of the first rooms we happened upon was the Edge Electronics room. Jon said, "We've got to go in here."
There were a few companies showing products on the 2nd floor of the Venetian, adjacent to the Sands Convention Center, where the Adult Show was being held. After John Atkinson and I grabbed a well-needed afternoon cup of coffee we checked out a few of the spaces on these lower floors. JA and I quickly found the Parasound/Atlantic Technology rooma pairing of companies I would not have come up with myself. On silent display was the brand new JC3 phono preamplifier ($2000). Those who know about Parasound equipment will already know that the JC moniker for this phono stage indicates that it was designed by John Curl, an engineer that many audiophiles (and reviewers) speak of only in hushed tones. As you can see from JA's photo, the preamp is divided up into shielded sections within the chassis to keep the dirty signals dirty and the clean signals clean. Each channel's circuitry is encased in a metal sub-enclosure, that also shields the input and output jacks, and is supplied super-regulated DC from the power supply.
Because of the Stereophile writers' need to share a cab (and keep costs down) I visited the Nagra suite at the Mirage hotel with JA, JI, KR, and LG. As we walked through the Mirage I felt like we weren't a group of audio writers, we were a posse. I kept humming the music Quintin Tarantino used in Kill Bill for the Crazy 88's whenever we walked around. All right, we weren't that bad ass.
Every time I see a Nagra piece I get lust in my heart, Jimmy Swaggart style. I think it all goes back to the old days when I produced CDs with JA and he used his Nagra D digital tape recorder. It was a great -sounding and awesome-looking recorder. Of course these days when we record, that old Nagra has, for better or worse, been replaced with a laptop or Mac mini or something else nowhere near as sexy.
Musical Fidelity, now distributed in the US by Tempo, had a room at the Mirage and were displaying lots of new equipment. As part of their newly released M series, Antony Michaelson's company showed off the M6i dual-mono integrated amplifier. The amps' circuitry design trickles down from the Musical Fidelity Titan amp reviewed last June by Michael Fremer. The amp puts out 200Wpc, retails for $3000, and, surprisingly, features a USB input.