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CES: Highlights from everywhere else!

CES: Highlights from everywhere else!

There are no right ways for reporters to divide up a show like CES. There are only variations on the theme of ‘wrong’. Everyone needs a specific ‘beat’, but whether you divide the show by product category (“your job is find all the new loudspeakers under $10,000”) or by geography (“bring us all the stories from the South Hall!”), a complete profile of all the things on show is both impossible and ultimately uncalled for. However much we try.

This year, we took the ‘geographical’ route. Hi-Fi+ newcomer Syd Schips was given something of an ordeal by fire, covering the hundred or so rooms of the 29th floor of the Venetian Tower, Publisher Chris Martens was given the 30th floor of the Venetian, and the headphone makers in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and I covered the 31st, 34th, and 35th floors of the Venetian, as well as off-show expos at the Mirage hotel opposite and at the Hard Rock hotel that was hosting a large Harman event some $20 worth of cab ride away.

In theory, I’d given myself the easiest beat of the three; the large suites at the top of the Venetian and Mirage hotels mean fewer exhibitors per floor. But, from experience, the super-high-end manufacturers, many of whom think their products demand more attention than the rest of the audio world, frequent these larger suites. So, where you can figure getting in and out of a room inside of a few minutes on the 29th floor, anything less than 15 minutes in the company of these companies is considered rude. In fairness, when discussing a $60,000 DAC or a $500,000 loudspeaker with the manufacturer, you would expect the manufacturer to have a tale to tell, and a roll-call of technology to discuss. But, such is the demand for weaving a tale around a product that, by the end of the first day, where my colleagues had covered perhaps 25 or 30 rooms, I had barely managed eight.

There were two interesting things that came out of these rooms, however. Where many of the brands on the 29th, 30th, and 31st floors were streaming Tidal, these upper floors with product prices to match were relying more on LP, CD, or SACD. Also, this year saw a coordinated move by a number of European and Asian high-end audio distributors to stay away from the Las Vegas, in the hope of moving business to local shows at Munich and Hong Kong. This left the show attended by the US agents, who brought a touch of much-needed pragmatism to the Venetian Towers.

So perhaps it was a good thing that the ‘million dollar system’ planned in the Lamm Industries room (featuring TechDAS and Graham vinyl and EMM Labs digital sources, Sanus racks, almost $140,000 worth of Kubala-Sosna Elation cables) topped out at a ‘mere’ $706,000. This was because the new Verity Audio Monsalvat loudspeakers had to be replaced with the previous Verity flagship, the Lohengrin IIS.

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that if you are reporting on a room with a $180,000 amplifier, you end up writing about a $180,000 amplifier. But where the reaction to such things has typically been ‘fawning’ from the industry, this year it seemed a little more ‘realistic’. However, low cost doesn’t tend to feature much in the upper suites of the Venetian, partly because they have big rooms to fill.

While this year the sound from most of the rooms wasn’t exactly ‘disappointing’, neither was it, er, ‘appointing’. I fully understand of the limitations of a demonstration in a hotel room; no matter how luxurious the hotel, it’s not a domestic environment, the ceilings are typically lower, and you are sharing the AC with hundreds of other rooms, many of which will also have audio systems playing. That can take the edge off many a good system. Nevertheless, if you have equipment that sprawls across the a large suite, which costs as much as a very desirable condo in the area, and comes with a relatively high degree of attitude from its attendants and acolytes, it should also sound something close to awesome. And this year, for the most part, ‘awesome’ was not on the map. There were a few notable exceptions of course…

Astell & Kern

Best known for its high-end portable players, Astell & Kern’s latest product is the AK500N ‘MQS’ (Master Quality Sound) network audio player is intended as a home audio hub. The distinctive looking box (it’s front is styled very much like a mountain) can be configured as the user chooses, thanks to a detailed menu system on the large pop-up LCD screen. You can rip, stream, store, access… the full works. There’s even a volume control for those wanting to use the AK500N as a source, and prototype amps were playing in the main system.

A prototype of this clever music player was shown in Munich, but the real deal seems a more sophisticated design as befits the A&K range. Price varies depending on configuration (specifically whether you opt for 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB of SSD storage on board), but “around $10,000” seems the typical figure.

Astell & Kern was also showing off its hook-up with legendary jazz label Blue Note. To mark its 75th anniversary, Blue Note Records released 75 of its best-loved albums in high-resolution ‘MQA’ format in a sumptuous package, alongside a special Blue Note edition AK240 player with all 75 albums pre-loaded. The collection – spanning Thelonious Monk’s first sessions with the label in 1947 to recent GRAMMY winning Liquid Spirit by Gregory Porter – is supplied in a unique display stand for the 75 SD cards in their slip-cases, and comes supplied with a collectable book by Richard Havers showcasing the label, the albums and the artwork. Albums, display stand, book, and player are sold as a complete, limited edition package, for $6,000.

Ayre Acoustics

As discussed by Chris Martens in his headphone blog, Ayre Acoustics was showing late prototypes of its new Codex headphone amplifier/DAC, with balanced and single-ended headphone and line outputs, and USB and Toslink digital inputs. With an ESS Sabre DAC, a discrete zero-feedback circuit, and an ability to support up to 32/384 and DSD128, the $1,500 Codex holds a great deal of promise. Lessons learned from the QB-9, Pono, or all of the above? Time will tell, however Ayre also suggested Codex is likely just the first product in a new, modular range, designed for the desktop generation.

Ayre has also taken the developments seen last year in its first ‘Twenty’ models, and applied them to the integrated, preamp, and power amplifiers in the company’s core 5-Series models. The $8,950 KX-5 Twenty preamplifier now sports the company’s ‘AyreLock’ power supply, the $9,950 VX-5 Twenty feature’s Ayre’s ‘Double Diamond’ output stage, and the $12,950 AX-5 integrated amplifier benefits from both developments.

As a reflection of the changes in the market, Ayre has also quietly dropped the C-5xe, leaving just the CX-7emp CD player as the only disc spinner in its portfolio. However, as Ayre is looking into the development of new devices across its ranges, a separate disc playing transport and DAC system is looking extremely likely.

Boulder Amplifiers Inc

As befits a brand with ‘Amplifiers’ in its title, this year Boulder showcased its new… high-end DAC. In fact, the words ‘high-end DAC’ seem a little dismissive of the 2120. This five-chassis in one, Ethernet interconnected, digital replay device bristles with state of the art technology in its digital and analogue sections. It will handle AES/EBU, Ethernet, HDMI, S/PDIF, and USB digital sources, and is fully UPnP, DLNA, and Open Home compliant, acting as media renderer and control point. It can process these sources at up to 32-bit, 384kHz and streaming to double DSD performance. Boulder has written its own DSP and control point software to work on its 1GHz ARM processor.

The company claims to have reduced jitter to femtosecond levels, includes differential clock distribution across its 10GHz comms systems (apparently; my chicken scratch notes at the time could be read as “different click diffraction for loggy cosmonauts”… there was a lot to take in), and the same gain stages taken from the company’s vast 3000 series amplifiers in its monoblock output stages. The large front panel display is both impressive, and indicative of Boulder amplifiers to come, as it’s a separately powered ‘engine’ connected to the 2120’s main control section via Ethernet… and the same idea could be ported to next-generation preamps with ease.

All of which means it doesn’t come cheap; a guide price of ‘around $60,000’ and a launch date expected around Spring this year were both discussed.

 

Burson Audio

Aussie Headphone DAC/Amp master Burson Audio has introduced the new higher-end Virtuoso range, alongside its standard models. The new Conductor Virtuoso headphone amp/DAC/preamplifier delivers up to 4W to a pair of headphones, and prices range from $1,495-$1,995 depending on choice of DAC.

It’s joined by the meaty Timekeeper Virtuoso, which pumps out a healthy 300W per channel, and is expected to cost around $3,000.

Following these models will be an integrated amp version of the Timekeeper Virtuoso, called the Virtuoso Integrated. This should arrive mid year and cost about as much as its power amp brother.

Cary Audio/Tannoy

Sharing two rooms at the top of the Venetian Tower, Cary Audio and Tannoy both showcased new and recent product launches. Cary Audio announced its new TL-300d tube preamplifier, a fully-balanced design that also incorporates fully separate PCM and DSD decoding chips in its built-in DAC. This should be available about April and is expected to cost around $8,000. Cary also showed its $5,995 DMC-600 and $7,995 DMC-600SE digital hub devices, that can also double as preamps, which were launched in late 2014, but shown for the first time at CES.

Meanwhile, Tannoy chose CES to show off the new $39,999 Canterbury GR loudspeaker, which features a 15 inch ‘Gold Reference’ Dual Concentric driver, with it’s distinctive PepperPot waveguide, Alneco magnet, a new pulp cone, and Mylar surround, while the crossover has been redesigned. The more down to earth Revolution XT speakers were also on show, but were first seen in the US in 2014.

Constellation Audio

Constellation Audio is expanding its ranges with one product from the top Reference Series and one in the more affordable Inspiration Series. The $65,000 Orion phono stage builds on the qualities of the Perseus, but adds equalisation adjustment “at the hinge points” of the curve, greater accuracy to match cartridge loading from a remote control, and more. As with all products in the Reference series, it’s built without compromise, rolling new old stock of the finest sounding components ever made, many of which have long since been discontinued, which is claimed to make it 6dB quieter than the Perseus. However, the scarcity of these discontinued components means less than 40 Orion phono stages will ever be made.

The new $12,000 Integrated 1.0 from the Inspiration series also builds on the strengths of another product in the range, this time the outstanding Argo integrated amplifier, said to deliver close to 90% of the performance of the Argo for about half the price, this 120W line integrated amplifier offers great promise. This wasn’t being used in the main system, which was playing through Wilson Audio Sasha Series II loudspeakers, but if it comes within striking distance of the sound Constellation Audio was getting in the room, the new Integrated 1.0 will prove extremely popular.

Devialet

Devialet challenged the high-end status quo with its D-Premier. Now it’s intending to do the same thing again with the Phantom. Phantom is a network-connected active loudspeaker, designed like no other product out there. It’s a sealed box design with miniaturised versions of the ADH engine built into the enclosure, and uses side firing implosive (’pulsating’) bass radiators. It comes in two forms; the 750W Phantom ($1,990 per loudspeaker) for most rooms, and 3kW Silver Phantom ($2,390 per loudspeaker) with silver inserts and ‘imploders’ for big hitters.

The Phantom is claimed to deliver a ground-breaking 16Hz-25kHz ±2dB in room thanks to SAM, from a loudspeaker about the size of a crash-helmet. There’s even a matching Branch stand ($249), which looks extremely elegant, too. Phantom connects to the world through Ethernet, is ideally used with the $349 Dialog (basically an audio-dedicated streaming wireless router, allegedly with more computing horsepower than a Mac Mini), and represents a complete change in the way we think about audio in the home. Up to 24 Phantoms can be linked into the same network in a multiroom environment, all controlled from the upcoming Spark app.

The demonstration itself was as refined and sophisticated as the presentation at the Mirage hotel, although the musical repertoire was controlled, and limited to pieces of music designed to show off the Phantom (bangin’ techno played loud to show the loudspeakers can do deep bass, for example). From this demonstration, though, it was clear Devialet is on to something; bold claims that Phantom effectively obsoletes every other home audio system ever might be a little premature, but they do sound damn good, and not just ‘damn good for the money when you consider the technology involved’. But that technology underpinning the Phantom and the sound that technology creates is truly different and impressive, the pulsating side cheeks of each Phantom playing bass can be hypnotic, and the company has shown it can take on the sacred cows of the audiophile world, and win. From time to time, the audio world needs companies like Devialet that redraw the map, but can it redraw that map yet another time?

Electrocompaniet

We’ve been waiting some time for the EC Living system to finally hit home, but it was worth the wait. It’s a pithy and probably quite wrong description, but EC Living is like Sonos for audiophiles, comprising four boxes – a Model #1 server/powered loudspeaker, an active Model #2 loudspeaker, and a Model #3 that adds a top-mounted control panel to the Model #1. There are also an audio streamer, video hub, combined audio streamer and video hub, and an active subwoofer. The AirPlay equipped EC Living system streams Tidal and Spotify from the cloud, and USB stored media and UPnP streaming in the home. All of which can be run from a tablet, smartphone or PC. US prices were still being debated at the show, but expect the system to begin in the low hundreds of dollars.

In a darker back section of the room, Electrocompaniet also showcased many of its products first seen at last year’s Munich show, including its long-awaited turntable and new flagship phono stage.

 

GamuT/Larsen/Pear Blue

Although Larsen loudspeakers was showing nothing new this year, the company was playing through Pear Blue’s new $4,495 Reference two-box phono stage, a fine match for Pear Blue’s Tom Fletcher-designed turntables. Elsewhere in the room, stablemate GamuT showed its new-to-the-US $39,000 per pair RS7 floorstander and distinctive leather-clad Wormhole Reference loudspeaker cables for $14,990 for five feet runs, all played through the company’s top electronics.

Harman

Away from the strip in the Hard Rock Café Hotel, Harman assembled a world-wide team across all its divisions to show everything from GPS-equipped Harley Davidsons, to USB boom bars. Amid this bewildering array of all things electronic and automotive, Harman built a room within a room to show its forthcoming audio and audio video electronics.

Some of Harman’s equipment has been seen before, but was new to the CES masses. The huge $75,000 per pair JBL Synthesis DD67000, for example, remains a staple of the line, but now adds a high-gloss piano finish with carbon-fibre accents for a more up to date look. Similarly, the $12,000 Mark Levinson 585 integrated amplifier/DAC was seen in 2014 by audiophile show-going regulars, but its success and its style looks set to presage a new dawn for the brand, with a $15,000 per channel 586 200W dual mono amp expected soon and the full revamp of the range following suit, to support Mark Levinson’s 5-series design and technology. Harman was demonstrating the 585 amplifier with the JBL Array 14 (also $12,000 per pair). Alongside this system (and a new lower priced JBL Synthesis home theatre package), Harman also launched the Concerta 2 series of loudspeakers, consisting of a $900 per pair M60 standmount two way, and $1,500 per pair F35 and $2,000 per pair F36 floorstanding 2.5 ways. These manage to combine some of the more sophisticated styling cues of the more expensive Performa 3 range, and come in a white or black high gloss finish. A $750 centre channel loudspeaker, a $900 satellite (basically a hang-on-the-wall M60) and a $1,500 B10 subwoofer complete the deal.

Lenbrook (Bluesound, NAD, and PSB)

Lenbrook has been busy, and it has been busy integrating its core technologies from its different brands. So NAD’s new Masters Series products use Bluesound streaming technology, Bluesound’s streamers use NAD amplifier technology, and PSB’s latest speaker is an Ethernet enabled active amp that utilises concepts from both other brands.

NAD’s $3,499 Masters M12 preamp is a break from the NAD norm with its modular design, allowing daughter cards to be swapped to configure the device or keep it up to date, seemingly whatever audio throws at it. It comes with line, phono, and USB digital in as standard, but includes the option for a Tidal-chummy, DLNA-ready streaming card, using the same Bluesound OS. Meanwhile the latest NAD 250W  $2,499 Masters M22 power amplifier uses a new Hypex nCore chip. Like most modern systems, the system is fully app-controlled. These were launched last year, but seen for the first time at CES. This was played through PSB’s $7,500 per pair flagship Imagine T3 loudspeaker, which was first seen at RMAF last year.

PSB was also showing its new outdoor PoE (Power over Ethernet) CS2000 loudspeaker ($699 ea), which has an amplifier and streamer built-in, which shows up as a separate zone on the app. Meanwhile, Bluesound also launched a 2TB player/ripper/NAS drive for $999, which can also attach to DLNA NAS drives.

 

Magico

Magico launched its new $36,000 QSub18 subwoofer. This 2×18” unit (which stands about as large – and weighs about as much – as the engine in a Ford F150) features proprietary DSP, runs 2x3kW amplifiers, and is claimed to be flat to 13Hz. Using two 20A cables it was dimming the lights of the room in the Mirage Hotel every time a deep bass note was played! Magico played this subwoofer to ‘augment’ the already deep bass of the company’s Q7 loudspeakers. The rest of the system comprised a Bathis media player, a Berkeley Audio Design DAC, Soulution 725 preamplifier, 701 mono amplifiers, and a complete run of Vovox cables.

In addition to issuing the rest of the Mirage with deep, sub-bass, Magico was also showing a sample of its new M-Project loudspeaker on passive display.

MBL

MBL provided a sneak preview of its upcoming Streaming Network Player that will support standard Red Book CD quality audio, as well as 24/192 and DSD 64 high-resolution audio. Currently in prototype form, the end product will also support Internet radio and potentially streaming music services such as Spotify and Tidal (depending on market acceptance of these services and their specific policies). An accompanying iPad app was developed to control the network streamer (as well the volume control for an MBL preamp), and will also backup your playlists and Internet radio/music services favourites. The product is slated to appear as part of MBL’s Noble Line of electronics, with as of yet undetermined pricing or projected release date. 

Pre-production units of the Noble Line stereo amplifier (380 Watts into 4 Ohms for $19,350), integrated amplifier (380 Watts into 4 Ohms for $20,700), and CD-DAC (Red Book CD, 24/192 and DSD 64 for $18,000) were also on show. These proved more than capable driving the Reference Line 101E Mk II loudspeakers ($70,500).  The sound was quintessential MBL with a huge 3D soundstage, startling dynamics, and the illusion that the performers are in the room with you. 

A Noble Line stereo preamplifier ($17,100) and mono block amplifiers (potentially 560 watts into 4 ohms at $52,000 per amplifier) are due later this year. 

 

Nagra

Nagra finalised its awesome HD DAC last year and is now in the process of revamping its power amplifiers. The first will be the MSA amplifier, which will be replaced by a Classic Line power amplifier; a minimalist, bridgeable MOSFET design capable of delivering 120W and is expected to cost around the $14,000-$15,000 mark. This system was also playing prototypes of its ultimate power amplifier, designed to match the HD DAC.

The system, resting on HRS stands, using Transparent Audio cable, and ending in Wilson Alexias was singing in the Mirage Hotel. It was sounding so sweet, Wilson Audio’s own staff members were directing people to the Nagra room to hear how good it sounded.

Naim Audio

A more subdued high-end launch for Naim Audio this year, although it was also showing its new Muso system on the 29th floor. The company was once again playing its Statement amplifier through a pair of Focal Utopia Grande EM loudspeakers, but this year it was showing off its forthcoming range of high-end cables.

Called Super Lumina, and with a logo that looks like most of the letters are missing, the range of line-level interconnects, dedicated pre-power interconnects, and loudspeaker cables feature where possible the decoupling Air-PLUG first seen in its Hi-Line cable, sport silver-plated copper conductors, and cost (in UK Pounds Sterling rather than US Dollars, because they see ‘Brit’ and think ‘Quid’) between £1,750 for a DIN to DIN interconnect up to £5,400 for a 9m pair of loudspeaker cables.

Ortofon/TW Acustic/Tron/Horning

Possibly the most analogue of all demonstrations at the show, and at the same time one of the most effortless sounding, High Water Sound assembled a fine system of tables and toobs. The news-worthy item at in the system was the new $6,500 Ortofon A95 moving coil cartridge. This was playing in a $40,000 TW Acustic Black Night turntable and $5,500 TW tonearm, through TW’s new $17,000 RPS-100 phono stage, via Tron’s take-no-prisoner’s $55,000 Syren GT preamp, $18,000 per pair TW Acustic SE Mono tube amps, and then to Hørning’s $30,000 per pair Eufrodite Ellipse loudspeakers.

OK, so this system weighed in at a very ‘frisky’ $172,000 (excluding SRA tables, Silver Circle power conditioner, Symposium stands and assorted cables, tricks, and tweaks), but was one of those few systems that didn’t sound like it could be bettered by something one-tenth the price.  

Pass Labs

Pass Labs had new products on show, but details were sketchy. The company had been so busy making the prototypes of its new Xs Series phono stage, there wasn’t time to work out prices or even silk-screen printing on the front panel. Given the XP25 phono stage is one of our reference products, we expect it to be good. But not cheap. Pass Labs also showed an early sample of an upcoming headphone amplifier, too, which is expected to be around $3,000.

The company did have some more details on its new $9,000 INT-60 integrated amplifier, however. As the name suggests, it’s a fully-balanced 60W design, in full Class A, with only two gain stages per channel. This should be ready by Spring, and will be followed by the $12,000 INT-250 integrated, which delivers 250W of Class AB muscle.

 

PS Audio

Arguably the find of the show, PS Audio announced its upcoming $7,500 BHK-250 power amplifier, which is expected to be available mid-year. The hybrid design used tubes on the input stage, is a true differential amplifier capable of delivering 250W into eight ohms and 400W into four, it has no feedback, no phase shifts, is built in the old school manner with through-hole PCBs and discrete components, and is the brain child of power amp design legend Bascom H King.

Given that you could buy more than 10 BHK-250s for the price of one of Bascom King’s other designs, we think this could be something special.

Qualia/Stenheim/Spiral Groove

Qualia and Company introduced the first in what could be a lower cost range called Dogma at CES. Of course, this is Qualia & Company we are discussing, so ‘lower cost’ means $78,000 instead of $108,000, but it’s the thought that counts! The new Dogma 600 monoblocks sport a 500-micron copper foil PSU circuit board that runs the entire length of the large cube amplifier. The amp uses a sextet of MOSFETS in parallel to deliver its 600W power output. It was joined by the $225,000 per pair Stenheim Reference loudspeaker, a 66” tall, 529lb eight-driver, four-way sealed box design, with a motorised central mid-treble-mid (and supertweeter) section. The aluminium cabinet is divided into six independent closed chambers, is a passive design, but with a separate bass filter system that sits between pre and power amps. The Reference needs at least two and up to six amps to drive it, delivers bass down to 15Hz and can pump out up to 120dB sound pressure levels. Factoring the complete Qualia & Company line-up and the rest of the system, this was one of the most expensive rooms at the show.

In the adjacent room, Spiral Groove was demonstrating its new Revolution turntable. Expected to cost $15,000, the new deck draws on much of the technology seen in its SG1.1 flagship, including sharing the same bearing, motor, and drive system. With a smaller footprint, but a larger platter, the new Revolution looks good, and sounded exceptionally pitch stable at the show.

Revox

Audio legend Revox is back with its $1,599 Symphony table top system, and its new Joy Mk II range, comprising, integrated streamers, loudspeakers, and more, all in deceptively elegant and minimalist boxes. This is a bold and radical departure for a company fondly remembered for its open-reel tape machines, but Revox reborn is very much a brand to watch again.

Prices of the Joy streamers range from $1399 for the S118, $2,799 for the 60W S119, and $3,499 for the 120W S120, with a $220 surcharge for ‘almost any colour you like’ custom finishes

 

Synergistic Research

Never one afraid of being ‘out there’, Synergistic Research’s latest Atmosphere runs completely independently to the system itself, and can be controlled from an iPad. Synergistic’s Ted Denney suggests we live in an increasingly thick RF ‘soup’ and any attempts to block this form of interference are therefore doomed to failure, so instead Atmosphere ‘tweaks’ the RF spectrum in the listening room to make it more beneficial to audiophiles. The iPad app allows the listener to adjust the local RF to taste. To demonstrate this concept, Synergistic was using McIntosh electronics with Magico loudspeakers, and – whatever you might think of the concept – made one of the best sounds at the show in the process.

Synergistic’s Atmosphere costs $2,250, and there’s an additional tuning module that sits atop the Atmosphere device for $495.

TAD

Pioneer’s Technical Audio Devices division launched the $26,500 per pair TAD-CE1 (short for Compact Evolution) standmount at CES. This two-way standmount, featuring TAD’s Coherent Source Transducer (CST) mid-treble drive unit with a one-piece composite shell bass driver, in a cabinet made from birch ply, MDF, and 10mm thick aluminium panels. TAD wins the award for Best Acronym, with its Structurally Inert Laminated ENclosure Technology, or SILENT; using that birch ply and MDF as a laminate, TAD’s director and chief designer Andrew Jones hopes to limit resonance. The clever bi-directional, slit shaped ports along the sides of the enclosure help increase bass without port chuffing, but ADS (Aero-Dynamic Slot) Port doesn’t have anything like the same acronym pulling power.

Transparent Audio

Transparent Audio had a busy year in 2014, revamping its Generation 5 Reference and Reference XL cables, and then releasing the cost-no-object Magnum Opus flagship designs. But not everyone can afford a pair of loudspeaker cables where the prices start at $65,000 per pair! So the company’s latest venture is the back-to-basics Hardwired range of budget cables. These are high-performance, low-cost, no-nonsense designs with colour-coded terminations, in the ‘round of beers’ price ball-park. The range includes interconnects, digital audio, video, and Ethernet cables, loudspeaker cables, and power cords, starting from about $30.

 

VAC

The Valve Amplification company announced a new Master Preamplifier, featured in a system also sporting the Brinkmann Balance turntable and 12.1 arm, with an Ortofon MC Anna cartridge, three of the four dCS Vivaldi boxes (no upsampler) a lot of Shunyata Research cables, VAC’s Statement amplification and Dynaudio’s Evidence Platinum loudspeakers. Total cost of the system? A shade under $600,000!

The new Master Preamplifier takes most of the elements of the Statement Line Stage, such as decoupled, mass-loaded plates for the circuit boards, ‘naked’ z-foil resistors, and – as in the case of the preamp in the system – completely dedicated power transformer and DC cable for the balanced MC phono stage. Given the combined Statement Line and Phono preamplifiers from VAC cost a hefty $155,000 in their own right, it makes the $40,000 needed to buy the new Master almost seem like loose change! Have your butler tell his butler to buy one, now!

Wilson Audio

Wilson Audio is a popular demonstrator’s choice at CES. The brand’s loudspeakers appear in many rooms around the show, because enthusiasts who use Wilson loudspeakers for product development and personal listening run many of those rooms. However, Wilson Audio itself chooses to showcase its new products in static demonstrations at the nearby Mirage hotel. This is in part because the rooms are more hospitable (and often better sounding – the Nagra demonstration played through Alexias sounded fantastic), and allows more refined contemplation.

The new product for the show was the Sabrina, a new $15,900 ‘entry point’ three-way design for the brand. Sabrina builds on the lessons learned in developing many of Wilson’s top products, including the mighty XLF, delivering true trickle-down performance in a floorstanders that will suit smaller systems and budgets. The final versions of the Sabrina will be expected soon.

Wilson also announced a new super loudspeaker, marking a potential return to the WAMM. No photos and no recording techniques were allowed, just a simple discussion of how Wilson Audio came about (from early days of a young Dave Wilson tinkering around with loudspeakers in a garage in the 1960s to building the foremost high-end loudspeaker brand today), and how that development process speaks to the new WAMM. A prototype was shown – with five modular upper sections held in XLF-style side-braces sitting on a larger bass block – and challenges our powers of description. It’s a very deep, tall, large loudspeaker (it needs to be, it is expected to outperform the current XLF/Thor’s Hammer combination, and WAMM is claimed to reach to 16Hz or lower in room). However, its front aspect is surprisingly narrow. Unlike the previous WAMM, there will be no electrostatic panels. Not even a sneak photo allowed sadly. Similarly, when the WAMM will happen and how much it will cost were very definitely not topics for discussion, but don’t expect it to be cheap, and don’t expect it the day after tomorrow.

YG Acoustics

YG Acoustics is one of the regulars at the 21st Century high-end top table. The company’s loudspeakers are highly prized and well received around the world. The Carmel is the brand’s least expensive loudspeaker, and the new Carmel 2, priced at $24,300 per pair, continues that tradition.

A floorstanding two-way passive loudspeaker, the Carmel 2 uses the company’s proprietary BilletCore mid-woofer, and ForgeCore tweeter, with a outstanding brushed, machined aluminium finish. As with recent events, YG Acoustics used a dCS Vivaldi digital front end. A Kronos Limited Edition Pro turntable with Black Beauty tonearm, and Air-Tight cartridge was spinning the black stuff through an Audionet PAM G2 phono stage. Amplification was D’Agostino’s Momentum preamp and mono power amps, cables were by Kubala-Sosna, and the rack was by TAOC. It wouldn’t be the last time that day I got to say ‘nice rack’, but it was the only time I got to say it without it ending very badly!

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Munich High-End 2022: The Highlights Part Two

Concluding our round-up of Munich High-End 2022

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