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CES Scene: A Baker’s Dozen of new Amplification Components

CES Scene: A Baker’s Dozen of new Amplification Components

The last of my CES show coverage topics involved high-end amplification components, which category proved to be a veritable hotbed of product development activity for the show. For this reason, I’ve expanded by coverage to highlight a baker’s dozen of new models (rather than my usual ten models), but even so I’m afraid I’m only scratching the surface of important new entries seen in Las Vegas.

Once again, my apologies to worthy manufacturers whose products I did not have space to cover. No slights are intended. Instead, we are simply trying to catch a good representative sampling of great products from what proved to be a very exciting show. Enjoy.

Aesthetix Saturn Atlas ECLIPSE monoblock amplifiers, $25,000/pair

At CES, Aesthetix introduced the latest and greatest iteration of its Saturn Atlas 350 Wpc hybrid valve/solid-state monoblock​ amplifiers, known as the Saturn Atlas ECLIPSE (because its performance eclipses all prior versions of the Saturn-series amplifiers). What make an ECLIPSE an Eclipse? Aesthetix adds exotics StealthCap capacitors, ultra precisely matched output devices, a chassis featuring a superior mechanical isolation system, and a very sophisticated power supply grounding system. The result should be very special indeed.

 

Audio Research Corporation Reference 6 preamplifier, $14,000

ARC is famous for its preamplifiers and the firm’s Reference 5SE was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed models to date, until it was surpassed by the superb but also expensive and elaborate two-channel Reference 10 model. To help bridge the gap, a new single chassis model was needed—one that channelled much of the sonic goodness of the Reference 10, which is precisely where the new Reference 6 model comes in. The Reference 6 uses a complement of six 6H30 valves and an all-new chassis said to help dissipate “electrical and mechanical interferences”. According to ARC, sonic benefits include “better bass control, relaxed purity and more dimensionality”, while further “improvements include a more grainless presentation, greater transparency, better speed, and more continuity across the musical spectrum.”

 

Bryston 7B3 monoblock amplifiers, $10,400/pair

Cynics will tell you there’s nothing new under the sun, but according to the US Patent Office, sometimes there is. A case in point would be the newly patented front-end circuitry used in Bryston’s ‘cubed-series’ power amplifiers, some of the most popular of which are the mighty 600 Wpc model 7B3 monoblock amplifiers. According to Bryston, the cubed-series amplifiers afford “dramatically less distortion at (the) input stage, improved common mode noise rejection, and a major reduction in EMI/RFI noise rejection.” In honour of these improvements, cubed-series models are also treated to “updated dress panel aesthetics with clean lines and a new finish.”

 

 

Cary Audio AiOS streaming integrated amplifiers, $2,500

Versatility is the name of the game for Cary Audio’s new all-in-one streaming integrated amp/DAC, called the AiOS. The AiOS provides analogue inputs, a broad range of digital inputs, a Bluetooth input, network/streaming connectivity, an upsampling DAC capable of handling up to DSD512 files, and a power amplifier section capable of 60 Wpc output. Moreover, the amp is available with various colours of anodized side cheeks and is configured so that its impressive backlit front panel controls (which typically remain blacked-out most of the time) can be set to illuminate in any of the AiOS’ available chassis colours. The concept is that, for many listeners, the AiOS might either serve as a great and highly versatile entry level Cary amplification product, but might also be all the Cary componentry one would ever need or want.

Constellation Inspiration Integrated 1.0, $13,500

Have you found the occasional Hi-Fi+ reviews of Constellation products at once inspiring but also a little bit frustrating inasmuch as Constellation products are often priced beyond the means of many of us? Well, Constellation may have an answer in the form of its gorgeous new Inspiration Integrated 1.0, which will sell for $13,500. Now that sum is certain not cheap, but for the level of build and sound quality invariably on offer from Constellation, it seems downright accessible. The Inspiration Integrated 1.0 puts out 100Wpc and is said to incorporate a superb and powerful headphone amplifier section, which gives the component an added dimension.

Crystal Cable CSI (Cube System Integrated) amplifier, €12,000 (ex. VAT)

Crystal showed a prototype version of its CSI (Cube System Integrated) integrated amplifier at last year’s CES event and most of us assumed the final production version would be quite similar, but not so. Instead, designer Edwin Rijnveld went back to the drawing board to create an all-new CSI amp that is differently dimensioned, comes with a very cool looking and fun-to-use remote control, and the puts out a very substantial 200 Wpc at 8 Ohms, 400 Wpc at 4 Ohms, and 800 Wpc at 2 Ohms. The CSI is intended as the logical companion to Crystal’s Minissimo and Minissimo Diamond speakers, although we think it might sound great in other systems as well. Interestingly, the entire amplifier is internally configured as a cooling ‘chimney’ of sorts, which perhaps explains how it is able to deliver so much power into low impedance loads.

 

 

 

Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Progression monoblock amplifiers, $45,000/pair, and Master Power Classic Stereo amplifier, $13,000

Dan D’Agostino Master audio systems has been on quite a roll ever since launching its top-tier range of Momentum-series amplification components. However, recognising that not all enthusiasts can afford Momentum grade components, D’Agostino took the opportunity at CES to at once expand his Momementum range (via a new Momentum-series phono stage), while at the same time launching not one but two new ranges of (somewhat) cost-reduced amplifiers.

Specifically, D’Agostino showed his new 800 Wpc Progression monoblocks ($45,000 pair) as well as his 300 Wpc Master Power Classic Stereo power amp ($13,000). For those who can’t quite manage the price of the Momentums, the less costly Progression amplifier leverage similar design concepts and aesthetic motifs without trading away significant levels of performance, while the Master Power Classic Stereo addresses an even broader range of potential customers at a substantially lower price point.

EMM Labs MTRX2 monoblock amplifiers, $80,000-$90,000/pair

In the world of ultra high-end solid-state power amplifiers there are block busters and then there are BLOCKBUSTERS, and EMM Labs’ Ed Meitner designer MTRX2 definitely falls in the latter camp. It’s one of those amps where, if you need to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it and if you ask how heavy it is, you probably forgot to bring along an audio ‘pit crew’ of he-man amp lifters and/or an engine hoist to help lift these massive beauties into place in your listening room. The MTRX2 promises all the expected detail and finesse associated with the EMM Labs/Meitner name, while also delivering a full kilowatt of Class A/B power sufficient to drive most any loudspeaker on the planet.

McIntosh Laboratories C1100 two-chassis preamplifier, $11,000

McIntosh doesn’t release entirely new preamplifiers all that often, so that when it does it’s considered a fairly momentous occasion. So it is with the two-chassis C1100 preamplifier. In conversations with McIntosh spokesperson Ron Cornelius, we learned that a big key to the new preamplifier’s delicate, subtle, detailed, and highly nuanced sound is its remarkably low noise floor, which in practice seems lower even than McIntosh’s extremely conservative specifications might lead listeners to expect. As is often the case, one has less of sense of the absence of noise, per se, but more a sense of low-level textures and details suddenly becoming more readily apparent to the listener, with beneficial musical results.

 

Moon by Simaudio Neo ACE all-in-one streaming integrated amplifier, $3,500

Moon’s new Neo ACE (A Complete Experience) is a do-all integrated amplifier offering extraordinary versatility. To this end, the ACE provides three analogue inputs, eight digital inputs (one USB, two SPDIF, two optical, aptX Bluetooth inputs, and WiFi and Ethernet inputs), a moving magnet-type phonostage, a 50Wpc power amplifier section, plus full integration with Moon’s well thought out MiND app. In short, the ACE supports virtually any and every musical input source imaginable, and comes with a 32/384 and DSD256-capable DAC section to offer a good measure of future proofing.

Nagra HD Amps, $80,000/pair

If you have read Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom’s very enthusiastic review of the Nagra HD DAC you might have wondered exactly what sort of power amplifiers Nagra might propose that you use in conjunction with its world-class DAC. Now we know the answers and they are the exquisite Nagra HD monoblock amplifiers, priced at $80000/pair. The Nagra HD amp arrives in a tall, slender chassis inspired by the Nagra VPA. The amp puts out 30Wpc of pure Class A power, then up to 270 Wpc in Class A/B mode, and finally can deliver a stonking 1kW of power into a 2 Ohm load. We can’t wait to hear the big beauties in action.

Questyle R200i wireless (or wired) monoblock amplifiers, price TBD

Questyle had a slew of new product offerings at CES (honestly, too many to mention here), but one of the most fascinating was the firm’s new R200i next-gen ICEpower-driven, 200Wpc monoblock amplifier, which can be configured as either a 5GHz wireless amplifier or as a direct wired amp with XLR inputs.

If used wirelessly, the amp can be fed either via Questyle’s existing two-channel T2 wireless transmitter ($999) or the firm’s new eight-channel, surround sound-minded T8 transmitter.  The point is that listeners can enjoy high quality power amplification without having to worry about stringing lengthy analogue interconnects or speaker cables all over their listening rooms.

VTL TL-2.5i linestage preamplifier with optional phono stage, $5,000

Enthusiasts accustomed to reading about VTL components carrying dauntingly high price tags will be delighted to learn that the firm’s new TL-2.5i valve-powered linestage preamplifier starts at just $3000, or $5000 with VTL’s hybrid valve/JFET powered phonostage installed. In other words, for not much more money than a garden-variety preamp would cost, you could have a real VTL with what the firm terms’ “stiff power supplies for each gain stage”, high quality parts throughout, a remote control, precision volume and balance controls, user selectable gain and mono function switches and an analogue circuit based on dual 12AU7 and dual 12AT7 valves.

The optional phonostage section is no less interesting, in that it supports MM cartridges via a circuit based on dual 12AX7 valves and then supports MC cartridges, either via a gain stage based on a single 12AU7 valve or via an optional low-noise step-up transformer. 

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