Jon Iverson already reported on MBL’s new Noble Line N31 DAC/CD player, and for me, one of the best sounds at the 2015 CES was listening to MBL’s system, based on this digital source feeding signal to the preamp section of the MBL N51 stereo integrated amplifier, with the amplifier section of the integrated and a N21 stereo amplifier (which have the same gain) to bi-amp the unique MBL 101E Mk.II omnidirectional speakers.
Brooklyn, NY-based Wes Bender Studio was demming the new leather-covered Hansen The Dragon Legend E speakers $60,000/pair), driven by EAR 509 monoblocks ($15,700/pair), an EAR 912 preamp ($13,000 with phono stage), and an EAR Disc Master turntable ($28,500) fitted with a Helius Silver Ruby tonearm ($5225) and Transfiguration Proteus ($6000) or SteinMusic Aventurin 6 Mk.2 ($6500) cartridges. Cabling was all Waveform Fidelity; racks were the impressively made Stillpoints.
Going into the Audio Arts room at CES was like going through a time portal into the 1986 CES, as Flim and the BB's classic album Tricycle was playing. The system was based on the top-line Zellaton speakers ($79,750/pair) driven by Swiss CH amplification connected with Schnerzinger cables. According to the meters on the Precision M1 monoblocks ($94,750/pair), while the average level was 45W, the peaks on the drums reached 360W and more! Yet the sound remained clean and uncompressed. An impressive if expensive sound.
Danish speaker manufacturer Gamut showed its new RS7 speaker at CES. Costing $39,900/pair, the RS7 is basically the smaller RS5 ($31,990/pair) that I favorably reported on in our 2014 RMAF report with an extra woofer mounted above the tweeter to give a full three-way design.
Rega introduced its first low-output moving-coil cartridge, the Apheta, in 2006, but it got mixed reviews, due to a high-frequency peak at the top of the audioband. Rega showed the Apheta 2 ($1895) at CES, mounted on the vestigial RP10 turntable. The Apheta 2 has benefited from some serious production engineering and has a lower moving mass, the latter moving the treble peak higher, to 18kHz or so.
As I was leaving the Venetian after closing up the Stereophile room on the last day of CES, I bumped into AudioQuest's Steve Silberman in the elevator. "I've got one left, take it," he said and handed me the little USB thingie in my photograph. "It's going to cost $49 and will be available in the spring."
A comment by "cgh" in an online reprint of a Stereophile review caught my attention: "The [1990s] were probably the last real decade that we could reasonably bend the truth. Everything since is verifiable electronically."
Meridian's Bob Stuart at the Manhattan launch, showing the law of diminishing returns regarding increasing the sample rate of PCM encoding.
In almost 40 years of attending audio press events, only rarely have I come away feeling that I was present at the birth of a new world. In March 1979, I visited the Philips Research Center in Eindhoven, Holland and heard a prototype of what was to be later called the Compact Disc. In the summer of 1982, I visited Ron Genereux and Bob Berkovitz at Acoustic Research's lab near Boston and heard a very early example of the application of DSP to the correction of room acoustic problems. And in early December, at Meridian's New York offices, I heard Bob Stuart describe the UK company's MQA technology, followed by a demonstration that blew my socks off.
The experience left me doubting my ears. After I'd performed all the measurements of Ayre Acoustics' KX-R preamplifier ($18,500) to accompany Wes Phillips's review in our November 2008 issue, I spent a weekend listening to it. To my astonishment, the sound of my system with a Transporter D/A processor feeding the preamplifier was better than when the DAC fed the power amplifier directly. Through the KX-R, images sounded more tangible, and the sound was better focused, despite the signal's having been passed through not just another set of interconnects but also through the preamp's input and output socketry, switches, a volume control, printed circuit-board traces, and active and passive parts. Logically, you'd think that having nothing in the signal path would have less of a degrading effect than so many somethings. But no, that was not what I heard, much as I would have preferred otherwise.
The founder and until recently the long-term editor of The Absolute Sound, Harry Pearson (left above), has passed away. His protege Michael Fremer (right above) offers an appreciation here and Robert J. Reina, a long-term friend, is writing his own rememberance of HP in the February 2015 issue of Stereophile. (The January issue has already gone to press.)