Bryston's new product line-up for 2013 includes a replacement for its venerable 2B stereo amplifier, the 2.5B amplifier ($2995). Similar to the new BP-17 preamplifier ($3550, see below), the 2.5B amplifier is derived from the amplifier portion of its B-135 SST2 integrated amplifier (see related story). Bryston's James Tanner explained that the upgrade employs a much beefier power supply than its predecessor, allowing it to deliver 135Wpc into 8 ohm load impedances. Bryston's new BP-17 preamplifier ($3550) is derived from the preamplifier portion of its B-135 integrated amplifier, which features balanced outputs and advanced circuitry derived from the SP-3 surround processor. The B-17 closely resembles the B-135, differing externally only in not having heatsinks and speaker outputs on the rear panel. The BP17 utilizes a software controlled, motorized analog volume dial and integrated balance control.
Bryston showed a static model of its new loudspeaker system, the Model T Signature ($7495/pair), that is specified to handle 501100 watts into its 8 ohm impedance, with a frequency response from 25Hz22kHz, ±3dB. In active form, the Model T uses the AX1 external DSP crossover ($2995), but the passive version’s crossover features large, expensive air-coil inductors, as well as something brand new: Bryston capacitors. Working with Clarity, Bryston's James Tanner specified the exact requirements for these capacitors, which have both company's names featured on their blue exteriors. The Model T benefited from Bryston's close relationship with with Axiom, a speaker design company that has its own large anechoic chamber. The Model T is available in Black Ash, Boston Cherry, or Natural Cherry veneers.
Although many high-end audio products are described as revolutionary and as breakthroughs in design when new, most audiophile components now on the market have not changed our way of relating to such products in the way the iPad has done. Once in a while, a new audio product does move in that direction by enabling the audiophile to do install a product and optimize its performance in a different way.
Thiel and Bryston always share an exhibit area in the Sands Convention Center’s Bassano Ballroom, and this year's CES was no exception. James Tanner, Bryston's upbeat product manager, had gathered a terrific playlist of musical selections on a thumb-drive, which drove the company's $2195 BDP-1 digital file transport, $2195 BDA-1 DAC. Livingston Taylor's whistling on "Isn't She Lovely" opened the playlist, just as it did at the Joseph Audio suite, and many othersit was a common selection at the Venetian exhibits. Sound from the $9500 Bryston SP-3 preamp/processor ($7900), three-channel Bryston 6BSST2 amplifier, Thiel CS1.7 speaker prototype and Thiel USS SmartSub Subwoofer produced soundstage depth and imaging that was among the best, almost as good I heard at the much more expensive system in the VTL suite. Tanner walked me through Bryston's newly announced BHA-1 headphone amplifier featured in the photo ($1295), which is highly versatile, including twin XLR outputs for balanced headphones, and both XLR and ¼ jacks for conventional headphones.
Ron Sutherland had a rack of his components at CES to drive Vandersteen Quatro floorstanding loudspeakers. The rack consisted of the two monophonic Phono Block phono preamplifiers, recently reviewed by Brian Damkroger in Stereophile; the $15,000 Destination Line Stage (one non-audio signal carrying control unit with Nixie tubes, and one audio chassis for each channel); and the $10,000/pair, 200W monoblock power amplifiers. Except for the amplifier and control chassis, most of these units are configured into two side-by-side subunitsone for power supply and one for audio signalattached only by front and rear panels.
Ron Sutherland of Sutherland Engineering taught me all I need to know about Nixie tubes at CES. Used as the main visual display device used in his Reference N-1 preamplifier and in his Destination Line-Stage preamplifier's control unit shown in the photo, the Nixie tube was invented in 1955 as the first electronic display tool for reading out the numbers 09. The Nixie's designers fashioned a wire mesh into 9 layers, each layer in the shape of a number, resulting in a tidy small stack. This tiny wire stack was inserted into a small glass envelope, filled with neon gas, and then sealed. When any of the separate metal layers was charged with 175 volts, the neon gas around the wire ionized, and lit up. When plugged into a circuit board, the tube would read out the numbers, with each number appearing at a different depth. Paul was fascinated with the retro look of this type of readout, so he has installed it in his $15,000, three-chassis Destination line stage, and into his new $10,000 reference N-1 preamplifier.
The Audio Power Labs exhibit took my breath away, Imagine, a huge, beautiful $175,000 per pair, 200Wpc monoblock tube amplifier using 833C, graphite-plate, radio-frequency transmitter tubes that have a bandwidth of 30MHz and run with 1500V on the plates! These tubes were used in the output stage of BCF-1 radio transmitters. Now imagine that the amplifier's designers are named Squeek Rieker (right) and Peeya Iwagoshi (left), and you know why I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
The $25,000, 500W Mark Levinson No.53 digital-switching reference monoblock amplifier made its regular non-playing appearance at CES 2012 but this time with an illuminated cutaway display, allowing its lead design engineer, Mark Seiber, to walk me through its circuitry. The transparent panel, which the display used in place of heatsinks allowed me to easily see the No.53's four major subsections (analog input stage, modulation, amplifier output stage with its eight air-core inductors, and power supply section, which is at the bottom of the chassis.
In response to Mark Levinson Audio Systems' 40th Anniversary, the company has announced a new line of products for the two-channel audiophile, the 40th Anniversary Collection at CES 2012, which includes the $25,000 No.52 Reference dual-mono preamplifier, the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier, the $6000 No.519 SACD player and the $6000 No.560 digital processor. I was most intrigued by the $10,000 No.585 integrated amplifier shown in the photo, which is rated at 225Wpc into 8 ohms, and provides a dedicated subwoofer output.
Soulution Audio's Cyrill Hammer was on hand to discuss the company's "small" Soulution 501 mono Amplifier ($55,000/pair). Similar in design to the Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that had so impressed Michael Fremer in the August 2012 issue of Stereophile, the more diminutive 501 monoblock amplifier is rated at 125W into 8 ohms, utilizes six switching-mode power supplies, and features a high-bandwidth, zero-feedback voltage-amplification input stage. Unlike the 176 lb Soulution 710 stereo amplifier that required three good men to move into Mikey's listening room, the 501 weighs in at a "mere" 80 lbs per chassis.