One of my favorite things I experienced at CES this year was encountering new audio companies I'd never heard of, especially the ones that seem to be making high-quality components at real-world prices. One of these new surprises was Mystère Audio, distributed in the US by Kevin Deal. Made, like PrimaLuna, in China for Durob Audio, a Dutch company who has been making gear for over 30 years, Mystère showed a full line of amplification components but were playing their pa21 stereo power amplifier ($2995) and ca21 preamplifier ($2195).
I recently spent the past few months listening to and reviewing the new Manley Stingray iTube integrated amplifier (the review will appear the March issue of Stereophile). So when I stepped into the Manley room at CES, it felt a bit like I was back at my own listening room at home. The Stingray iTube is based on four EL84 tubes per channel and puts out 32Wpc in Ultralinear mode and 18Wpc in Triode mode. It features an Apple certified iPod dock in addition to its regular single-ended inputs.
One of the great things about coming to CES is getting the opportunity to hear gear that’s rarely near. I was really happy as I strolled down the 35th floor to walk into the Lamm room. I don’t have a Lamm dealer in Minneapolis so I haven’t ever had the chance to hear this lauded and expensive tube gear.
Amplification in the Signature system in the Lamm room featured the ML3 Signature power amplifiers ($139,290/pair). Like the LL1 preamplifier, the ML3 isalso a four-chassis system. These 32W, single-ended, pure class-A amp is based on a direct-heated GM-70 triode.
New to the Pass Labs product line is the XP-25 two-chassis, solid-state phono preamplifier ($10,600). Intended to be designer Nelson Pass’s statement phono stage the XP-25 allows the user to select gain, and resistive and capacitive loading to match any cartridge you might want to use. The XP-25 will accept two line inputs and offers both single-ended and balanced outputs.
I reviewed the Pass Labs XA 30.5 a few months back for Stereophile . I loved it. Now Nelson Pass, known for his impulsive but inspired ideas, has taken the same class-A solid-state power amplifier and transformed it into an integrated amp. Though the new INT-30A ($7150) was only on silent display (the unit seen here didn't even have any guts inside!) I hope to hear it in my own system soon.
Though the Stereophile Product of the Year award is more transparent than an Oscar or Golden Globe, it is no less coveted. In the Ayre room at the Venetian, the proud winners of the 2009 Amplification Component of the Year award show off their trophy next to a cut-away of their winning KX-R preamplifier. The preamp was featured in Ayre’s system at their suite high atop the Venetian.
Also showing in the Ayre room were their MX-R monoblocks ($9250 each) and also a Stereophile “Product of the Year” in 2007), connected to the actual samples of Vandersteen Model Seven speakers that Michael Fremer will be reviewing for Stereophile in March. The MX-R, like its KX-R brother, is carved out of a single block of aluminum and puts out 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. The amps were fed by Ayre’s CX-7eMP CD player and KX-R preamplifier and the sound of the MX-R amps driving the Vandersteen Sevens was detailed and pun fully intended airy.
Technical Audio Devices (TAD) was showing off new monoblock power amplifiers to attach to their well-known line of speakers. The M600 amplifiers ($26,500 each) feature a graphite cast iron monoque construction to help eliminate vibration. Though imposing in size (they weigh 198 lbs each!) the TAD amps feature only one stage of voltage gain. The M600 also features a 22lb transformer, custom-built 33,000µF capacitors, and can put out 600W into 4 ohms. They accept only balanced inputs and will be available in February 2010.
I had a great time listening to my own recordings in the Halcro room. Though the room lighting and the alien looking Vivid Audio G2 Giya speaker gave foreboding vibe in this photo, the sound was warm and detailed and the Halcro folks were really friendly. Featured in the Halcro system were the dm10 preamplifier($20,990) and the dm78 power amplifier ($41,990). The dm 10 is Halcro's top-of the line preamp and features its own phono stage. (It was reviewed in the April 2004 issue.) The dm78 is a mono amp that puts out 225W into 8 ohms and handled big dynamic swings in recordings of both Vivaldi and Eric Whitacre with ease and grace.