CES 2011

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Jon Iverson  |  Jan 06, 2011  |  0 comments
Constellation's Peter Madnick and Dr. Murali Murugasu return with a new digital source component which, at the moment I had walked in the room, had not yet received a name. But by the time I left was dubbed the Cygnus.

Projected price is somewhere between $15-20k with availability in May. Conceived as a do-everything stereo digital source, the Cygnus will play CDs and SACDs as well as files served from connected drives, computers, etc. and also function as a 24/384 DAC.

As always, case design is exquisite.

Erick Lichte  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
“Go check out the Constellation Audio room,” said Jon Iverson. So I did. As I entered the room filled with unworldly looking gear I spied Michael Fremer, engrossed in one of his famous mix CDs, burned from his vast vinyl collection. Michael, ever the gentleman, relinquished the sweet spot to me and both of us took in some big, clean, transparent sound. Driving a pair of $150,000 Tidal speakers was Constellation’s Hercules amplifiers ($70,000 each), which are each able to put out a kilowatt of juice into 8 ohms and runs its first 250W in class-A.

The visual design of the amps is both striking and understated, clad in an all aluminum chassis. Each side of the amp has a diffuser grid which hides the amp’s heatsinks and allows for a chimney action to help cool the amplifier. All that aluminum also serves the purpose of mass-loading the amps to control vibration. Internally the amps mechanically float the sensitive signal carrying parts. That attention to vibration damping could be heard as stillness and ease, particularly when I played a high-resolution file of Robert Silverman playing the final fugue from Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Handel. My time in the Constellation room was stellar.

Erick Lichte  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
I finally got to meet Roy Hall of Music Hall. I, along with many of you, have been recently delighting in his colorful and off-color manufacturer’s comments in the pages of Stereophile. New to the stable of products Roy distributes is Creek’s Wyndsor phono preamplifier ($2495). This is a fully adjustable phono preamp with all of the settings available as you scroll through the on-screen menus. The preamp is powered by an external power supply and has just started shipping.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 12, 2011  |  0 comments
Joe Lavrencik, owner of Critical Mass Systems, designs all Critical Mass Systems Precision Component Support Systems. All of the company’s products are built in the Chicago area.

The newest Critical Mass product is Maxxum ($5650 per shelf), a precision component-support system. The shelf and rack architecture operate together to mitigate vibration in the floor, the rack, the shelf, and the component at the same time.

“We do more than isolate,” the sleep-deprived designer offered by way of explanation. “We give energy in the air a pathway out of the component so that components are not saturated with vibration from the loudspeakers.”

Lest you think Critical Mass Systems only manufactures high-priced products, prices start at $195 for a set of four MXK spikes, and $195 for a basic shelf. “Even though we’re very expensive, we start very low,” says Lavrencik.

At CES 2011, Critical Mass Systems products were used in the Lamm, Hansen/Tenor, and BAT rooms. In the photo, Lavrencik kneels near his Maxxum amplifier/component stands ($5650/each) and the Lamm ML3 Signature monoblocks ($139,290/pair) being used to drive Wilson Alexandria II speakers.

Erick Lichte  |  Jan 15, 2011  |  1 comments
Dan D’Agostino is no newbie to high-end audio, but his namesake company is. In the new company’s first showing at a CES, Dan brought in his new Momentum monoblock amplifiers ($42,000/pair). The amps, visually inspired by Swiss watch design, are among the most distinctive and beautiful pieces of equipment I’ve seen. The sides of the amplifier are made of copper, which not only gives the amps a lustrous, glowing color, but also serve as very efficient heatsinks for the 28 output transistors.

The amplifier is completely made in-house, including such things that are usually handed off to subcontractors, like stuffing the printed-circuit boards. There are no surface-mount parts used, Dan feeling that traditional through-hole parts offer better long-term performance consistency.

A 1.2kVA power transformer is packed into the compact chassis and in the tradition of Krell, the company that he cofounded 30 years ago, the new amplifier puts out 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4 ohms, and 1200W into 2 ohms, all with class-A/B biasing. Yet, there was nothing about this system that sounded like class-A/B amplifiers. Driving Wilson Sashas, the sound was warm, fast, open and generous—tonally and spatially. Voices all sounded balanced, life-like and three-dimensional. Dan told me a matching preamplifier is on the way.

Jon Iverson  |  Jan 06, 2011  |  0 comments

Company Technical Director Andy McHarg shows off the dCS Debussy DAC with the new 24bit/192kHz asynchronous USB upgrade card, available in April. Current owners who'd like to upgrade can do so for $250 and folks who purchase the DAC from now until April will get the upgrade for the cost of shipping. The fully upgraded product will be available March or April for $11,499.

Erick Lichte  |  Jan 15, 2011  |  0 comments

Michael Fremer and I got up early Friday morning and headed to the Mirage hotel where Devialet, a new French audio company, and its new North American distributor, Audio Plus Services, hosted a breakfast gathering to unveil their new D-Premier ($15,995). Encased in a mirror-finished solid aluminum chassis, the D-Premier is an all-in-one DAC, streamer, preamp, power amp, and phono stage. Not only does the D-Premier combine all these features in one product, but it also has a new and novel amplifier section; a patented Analog Digital Hybrid.

The input signal goes directly to a class-A amplifier. Though the output of this connected to the speaker terminals, it can’t deliver enough current to do so without help. The necessary high current is sourced from a class-D amp. The analogy of this amplifier is like power steering on a car where the driver is assisted by a powerful engine to turn the wheels; the driver turns the wheel but the power steering does the heavy lifting. In the same way, the class-A section of the amplifier controls the class-D section. The idea is that the amp retains the sonics of class-A yet maintains 85% efficiency in a 240Wpc amp.

The Devialet design team— Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel and Matthias Moronvalle (the latter shown in JA’s photo holding a demonstration version of the amp housed in acrylic)—was insistent during the presentation the D-Premier is not a class-D amp.

The sound with Focal speakers was clear, balanced, open, and grain-free, with no hint of the hash sometimes associated with class-D amplification. (The eggs at the breakfast were also excellent.)

John Atkinson  |  Jan 15, 2011  |  0 comments

The Devialet D-Premier directly converts the wall current to DC, then uses a high-efficiency switch-mode power supply running at a very high frequency to power the audio circuitry. I asked Matthias Moronvalle if this meant that the power transformer could be much smaller than usual? His response was to show me the two small wafers sitting on his laptop. "That's the transformer," he told me, "with a continuous rating of 600VA." Ulp!

Jon Iverson  |  Jan 15, 2011  |  3 comments
So many music servers and related products appeared at the 2011 CES, that we can now sort them into various sub-categories depending on what is included in the box. I was looking for new or upgraded digital products, but likely missed a few. Feel free to add what I missed in the comments.

Click through to see the complete list of what I found with links and an informal taxonomy.

Stephen Mejias  |  Jan 07, 2011  |  0 comments
Dynaudio’s DM2/6 ($800/pair) is a bass-reflex design with a 5.5” mid-woofer and a coated soft-dome tweeter. Said to be easy to drive for any amplifier, the DM2/6 has a rated sensitivity of 86dB with a 6 ohm impedance. The DM2/6 is available in very attractive black ash and rosewood vinyl veneers, and is engineered and built in Denmark.
Erick Lichte  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  2 comments
New from E.A.R. USA is the V12 integrated amplifier ($9595), one of the prettier looking and sounding pieces I heard at CES. Many may remember E.A.R.’s V20 integrated, to which the V12 owes some inspiration. The V12’s visual design is also inspired by a Jaguar V12 engine, minus the motor oil stains. The V12 was designed by Tim de Paravicini and uses six EL84 tubes per channel. It puts our 50Wpc in triode mode. The sound, driving Marten speakers and using Jorma cables, was airy yet colorful.

Jason Victor Serinus elaborates on the Jorma cables: Jorma Koski, who owns Jorma Design of Sweden, designs all of his cables. When asked what makes them unique, he initially replied, “It’s the best cables in the world, except that everybody says that.”

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  0 comments
Kerem Kücükaslan, whose surname means “Little Lion,” was born in Istanbul, where he resides for at least part of the year. Fluent in English, he received his BS in industrial engineering at WPI and a minor degree at MIT.

Kücükaslan founded Echole four years ago in New Hampshire. On display at T.H.E. Show was the complete line of Obsession Signature: speaker cable ($11,000/6ft pair), interconnects ($7500/3ft pair), and power cords ($6850/6ft).

Parts for Echole’s two cable lines, Echole Obsession and Echole Obsession Signature, are manufactured in both the US and Turkey. The wire, which is manufactured in Japan, consists of a proprietary ratio of silver, gold, and palladium. (The Obsession line has less gold and palladium that the Obsession Signature).

Jon Iverson  |  Jan 08, 2011  |  0 comments
Norwegian company Electrocompaniet is releasing their new PD 1 DAC in about 3 months, which will include optional wireless streaming at 16bits/48kHz. The DAC will sell for approximately $3,500 and features USB, Coax, Toslink and a RF link. The SPDIF inputs support up to 24/192 while the USB tops out at 16/48. The PD 1 also features balanced audio outputs.

The Accompanying EMS 1 Streamer (shown in the photo above) allows you to stream from any remote computer without any cables, and the company claims there will be no loss in quality compared to a hardwired USB connection. The EMS 1 will retail for $300 and also be available in about 3 months.

John Atkinson  |  Jan 13, 2011  |  0 comments
The electrostatic Kingsound speakers were hits at 2010 Shows, so I was anticipating good sound in the room where VAC was demming their tubed electronics with the King II speakers ($11,500/pair) and a Spiral Groove SG2 turntable and arm fitted with a Lyra Kleos cartridge. Stands were all-Symposium.)

The bugbears of electrostatic panels have been limited treble dispersion and a lack of low-frequency definition, but listening to Hans Theesink's and Terry Evans' rendition of "You Can't Tell a Book," from the LP Vision, where the guitarist and singer were accompanying themselves with footstomps, the bass remained in control and the top-octave sounded airy and spacious.

Stephen Mejias  |  Jan 09, 2011  |  1 comments
The Epic 1 ($599/pair) is the smallest model of Epos’ new Epic series. A simple, handsome appearance is enhanced by a fine vinyl veneer (available in cherry and black ash), and the front baffle can be altered as the owner sees fit—listen to the speaker with its stock “audiophile” baffle, which is said to provide reflection-free properties and forgoes any fixing screws, grille holes or cloth, or remove the stock baffle to reveal the underlying veneer; a cloth-covered grille is also included.

The Epic 1 uses a 1” soft-dome tweeter—the first soft-dome tweeter employed by Epos—and a port-loaded, 5.25” polypropylene mid-woofer. It has a rated sensitivity of 88dB with a 4 ohm nominal impedance.