HI-FI '99, Day Three: New Products, Technologies, and Companies

Plenty of noteworthy new audio products are making their debuts here at HI-FI '99. EveAnna Manley has unveiled her prototype DAC/preamp, the Wave, featuring an UltraAnalog-based 20-bit D/A converter and a tube line-stage. With four digital inputs, four analog inputs, a processor loop, and three variable outputs, the fully remote-controllable unit should appear at dealers in late summer at a suggested price of $7000. Manley says an optional 24/96 pop-in circuit board is in the works.

Nashville's Nearfield Acoustics has unveiled its Pipedreams Model 15 tower loudspeakers. The upper-frequency columns are well over 6' tall, with an imposing array of vertically aligned drivers and two cylindrical subwoofers with four 18" drivers apiece. The $25,000 system sounded seductive driven by Lamm ML2 single-ended tube amplifiers. Designed by Mark Porzilli, the system is claimed to move the same volume of air that might be moved by a 50"-diameter driver---were such a device even possible.

With a radically stylish industrial design, mbl is always a crowd-pleaser. This Show is no exception, where the mbl 101D Radialstrahler was producing unbelievably dynamic music, driven by a pair of 9006 power amps fed by a 6010C preamp. The 1621 CD transport and 1611 HR DAC make a complete system---minus cabling---for a price in the upper-mid five figures.

mbl also has a new affordable bookshelf speaker, the 311D, which retails at $3500/pair with stands. The small, beautifully finished silver boxes put out a big, punchy sound. But at only 84dB sensitivity, they do require some hefty amplification.

New technologies, as opposed to new products, are also making their presence felt at the Show. Paul McGowan's PS Audio has finally revealed to the public the P300, first in its line of PowerPlant devices (see previous story), which essentially generate very-low-distortion AC power for ultra-high-quality audio and video systems. Also innovative is the company's direct-to-the-public sales approach: no dealers involved.

Sharing the PS Audio suite was Mark Schifter's new startup, Perpetual Technologies (see previous story), also offering their debut product, the P-1A---a digital signal-processing system for loudspeaker/room correction. Looking like a modest-size book made of silver metal standing on end, this processor is intended to optimize the performance of any pair of loudspeakers in any room by exploiting 24-bit DSP technology.

Ray Kimber is conducting demonstrations of his about-to-be-patented DiAural loudspeaker technology in an unmarked room on the eighth floor of the Palmer House Hilton. He explains what the technique does---decode what he refers to as "Doppler distortion" induced by recording microphones---without explaining how. Despite some of the Stereophile staff's skepticism over the explanations offered, the DiAural system sounds extremely open, promising good things ahead.

Marantz is back in the High End in a big way. Nifty gear on display includes the DR-17 Reference Series Rewritable CD Recorder, with a $1995 price tag. The DR-17 is claimed to be the first consumer-grade disc recorder with HDCD record and copy capability. Marantz also seems to be making incursions into B&O's audio-for-small-offices territory---the cool little MR-2020 desktop system, for $1000, consists of two triangular satellite speakers, a powered subwoofer, and a beautiful CD player with a motorized top panel sporting aqua toggle switches.

Nordost has introduced a new line of affordable cables and interconnects, one step down from its Blue Heaven line. The Solar Wind is a silver-plated biwire flat cable retailing at $400 (factory terminated) per 3m pair. If the stuff sounds half as good as it looks, it ought to be an audiophile bargain. Company exec Vin Gardino says Nordost's business "has exploded." At the upper end of the scale is the Quattro Fil interconnect, a step up from Nordost's highly regarded SPM. The Quattro Fil is a shielded cable suitable for low-level signal applications such as phono leads, where the unshielded SPM might present noise problems.

Other rooms that caught our attention include those of KR Enterprise---whom we revisited after a preview Monday night---and Nagra, Meadowlark Audio, and Wilson Audio, whose WATT/Puppy 6 loudspeakers are powered by Wadia's new PowerDac digital amplifiers.