Back in the city that never sleeps it's hard to sleep! That means more time to check out the incredible array of high end deluxe being demonstrated. 2013 appears to be the year of streaming, I've lost count of how many new examples were being demonstrated by brands big and small. As ever there is too much stuff and not enough decent coffee so without further ado...
Wilson Audio Alexia
One of the more entertaining experiences at CES this year was hearing Wilson Alexia speakers on the end of D'Agostino Momentum monoblocks with dCS Vivaldi source and preamplification. This is a very capable set-up indeed so when you put a top notch recording in at the front it produces a tangibly realistic sonic experience, the music was a recording by Wilson's Peter McGrath made in the St Mary Cathedral, Miami (yes, they have a cathedral in Florida!). This was of acoustic instruments that sounded totally natural in a soundstage that was as open and even as I've encountered and one in which the Alexia completely disappeared. To achieve this in a hotel room is very rare indeed, everything in that system was pulling in the right direction.
Alexia is Wilson Audio's latest creation, standing higher than the Sasha WP and it has many of the features found in the XLF including independent angle and fore/aft position adjustment of both the midrange and treble driver enclosures. It wasn't demonstrated but Wilson considers the adjustment in both respects to be critical to the results that this $48,500 speaker delivers. This is probably one reason why the next piece I heard imaged with such solidity and precision yet also timed superbly, the piece was a remarkable recording by Greg Brown called Fat Boy Blues (from Hymns to What is Left). This is that rare thing a good piece of contemporary music that sounds fantastic on the most revealing of systems, the fact that the lyrics are hilarious is quite a nice icing on the cake.
Vertere Reference Tonearm
Touraj Moghaddam has been concentrating on cable since he left Roksan but the new Reference Tonearm marks a return to his first love. The Reference is a no-holds barred design executed in titanium, one of the hardest and stiffest metals around and a very rare thing in the tonearm world. More radical is that lateral and horizontal bearings are placed in different positions, which means that the effective length is 240mm horizontally and 260mm vertically. The bearings themselves are not rotating types as found in every other arm but membranes that only allow the range of movement required, the idea being that all rotating bearings have an initial resistance to movement and you do not need an arm to move any further than the radius of a vinyl record.
The 0.4mm wall thickness armtube is welded to a machined titanium headshell and the counterweight continues the theme developed for Roksan's top arm where the weight can move on a pivot, in this arm that pivot is a roller bearing however. In order to aid groove selection the Reference has an LED in the headshell and another near the bearing so that you can set bias precisely. The need for power means that Vertere has also developed its own seven pin connector with high thickness gold plating. The Reference is clearly the arm that Touraj has been wanting to build for a long time, this means a high price of £22,000 ($35,000) but a totally no-compromise arm which will be personally installed by its maker and carries a lifetime guarantee. It sounded truly stonking playing an Infected Mushrooms remix through Viola power amps and Genesis line source speakers.
Krell has joined the streaming revolution that's sweeping high end audio at CES this year. Connect is an entry level ($2,500) streamer with UPnP/DLNA networking capabilty, onboard display and an optional 24/192 Sabre DAC ($3,500). It can be app controlled but also has an onboard display although this wasn't working on the pre-production unit being used at the show. It features gapless playback, V Tuner net radio and wired and wireless operation, it also has USB connections for full computer audio integration.
Rumours have been circulating about a Naim USB DAC and Vegas turned out to be the event where they became flesh. The DAC-V1 is a half width converter for £1,250 with fixed or variable output and five S/PDIF digital inputs alongside an asynchronous USB connection for the computer audio generation. It also has a dedicated headphone amp because this is the way that a lot of people are listening today. Naim realises that computer audio has brought a lot of newcomers to hi-fi fold and is hoping that once these people have discovered the upgrades available with headphones they might find out what a better DAC can do. The DAC-V1 has BurrBrown's 1791 chipset and can run at up to 384kHz
A matching power amp called NAP 100 for £650 that's also half width and produces 50 watts per channel has been created that lowers the entry price for Naim power amps and harks back to the olive and chrome bumper era of smaller amps from the brand.
Pro-Ject Expression Carbon
Pro-Ject has been updating its turntable range as well, apparently the US has seen an explosion of interest in the format over the last year with a lot of mainstream coverage. In response to this the entry level Essential turntable no longer has a unipivot arm but takes the arm from the old Debut and comes in at €230-50. Further up the range the Expression Carbon (€650 - 700) has a carbon fibre arm with gimbal bearing and three sizes of sorbothane damped counterweights, it also has an aluminium platter with peripheral damping and looks very classy for the price.
Pro-Ject's Box electronics range continues to expand at an exponential rate. Latest additions include the DAC Box DS with Burr Brown's range topping 1792 converter chip and selectable digital filtering for €400. For the same price the analogue enthusiast can get a Phono Box DS+ has adjustable gain, impedance and capacitance via relays and a front panel display.
Pre Box RS is a fully balanced tube preamplifier for under a thousand Euros and comes in compact but very high quality all aluminium casework, a matching Amp Box RS with a hybrid output stage is available for the same price. Tubes are also used on the Stream Box RS which is a fully balanced streamer with remote control by app. Stream Box DSA is a complete streamer/amp with analogue and digital inputs, 60 watts per channel and ethernet and wi-fi plus USB operation for €1,300.
In the warren like corridors at the Flamingo hotel there were hundreds of exotic components in action, many of them making rather entertaiing sounds. But the room that consistently makes for the most enjoyable listen is NFS or not for sale, a room run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts and anyone that enjoys a margarita and a bit of company. This year they had two speaker systems to use a pair of Yamaha NA1000s, the original beryllium dome speaker, and a beast I've not previously encountered from Infinity called WTLC which I'm told were produced in 1975. Most of the system was pre 80s, the amp being a massive Yamaha receiver and the turntable a big Sony parallel tracker, in case you'd not noticed these guys are not hi-fi snobs which makes a refreshing change, and they don't play hi-fi music, even better. The image is a reflection of the room, I couldn't pollute the atmosphere with flash.
Transparent Audio Digital
Transparent has given its digital cable range its first major overhaul in fifteen years, that's how long ago the Reference S/PDIF cable was launched. There is now a Reference XL coaxial cable that uses an expanded Teflon foam dielectric around the central conductor that Transparent's Brad O'Toole has used because it's quieter and cleaner sounding than the spiral PTFE on the Reference model. The conductor itself is now larger and made with OFHC, Reference XL is available with in either 75 ohm (RCA phono) or AES/EBU (XLR) variants.
The sole USB cable in the Transparent range is now joined by two more; a High Performance model with three layers of screening and a Premium USB with four layers, both have large conductors and a new technique for separating the signal conductors from the voltage conductor in order to improve signal to noise.
The Harman Luxury Audio group has now finished the No.52 Reference preamplifier (above), a component that has been long awaited by many afficionados of the marque since the demise of the No.32 some years ago. The newcomer is totally dual monon, two chassis design that keeps all the noisy elements like the power supply, effectively an AC regenerator, and control electronics in the box with the buttons and stashes the audio circuitry in the larger but less conspicuous chassis. Two power connectors and one control cable join the two chassis. This is a totally analogue preamp with three sets of outputs including one that can be fixed or variable for inclusion in a 2.1 system. Also onboard is an MM/MC phono stage with variable gain, impedance and capacitance via a menu system or if you're really picky by substituting internal resistors. Price in the US will be $30,000.
Also in display was the No.585 integrated (below) which has a new style of casework that will be replicated in other components at this level. This amp is not yet finished but has both analogue and digital inputs including HDMI and USB and a 32/192 converter, power is quoted as 200 watts into eight ohms and doubling into four using something called interleaved power technology. This amp also has a facility for 2.1 output so Harman is clearly hoping to start selling subs to more audiophiles.
Mark Levinson's sister company Revel unveiled the third generation of its entry level Performa series, this two and multichannel range has new drivers with more linear motor systems and ribbed alumium cones, presumably for extra pleasure! The tweeters have been furnished with waveguides that bring the dispersion characteristics of the treble closer to that of the midrange or woofer. The high gloss or real walnut cabinets have magnetic grilles and the floorstanders in the range have curved cabinets similar to the Ultima2 models. There are two stand mounts; M105 with a 5.25inch woofer ($1,500) and M106 with six inch main driver($2,000), and two floorstanders; the F206 with two 6.5 inch woofers ($3,500) and the F208 with a pair of eight inch bass units, both the F models are three-way designs.
ViV Lab Evanui Signature III
There was no shortage of unusual loudspeakers at THE but my award for most extreme goes to Japanese company ViV Laboratory's extraordinary Evanui Signature III. This is a single full range driver driven horn loaded speaker that stands 1.35m high and uses a driver built in house. ViV calls this an FDM-V or floating diaphragm mechanism version V and it's made with a flat corrugated magnesium diaphragm that's four inches in diameter and supported by magnetic oil with no surround or spider as seen in all other dynamic drivers. Apparently it has an extra strong magnetic circuit produced by a "square magnet wire voice coil". The horn is made from 61 rings of plywood and allows the system to produce rather nice bass judging from I heard on the day. Price is a not insignificant $60,000 but it's a beautiful speaker and that sphere that holds the drive unit is a 20 kilo, 260mm diameter lump of aluminium so it seems like rather good value to me.
Audio Research CD9
While the rest of the industry is launching streamers Audio Research already has one in its range and has bucked the trend by bringing out a new CD player. Replacing the CD8 the new player takes onboard contemporary trends by providing digital inputs in the shape of three S/PDIFs and asynchronous USB, it also has switchable upsampling and as you'd expect from Audio Research a tube output stage, in this case four 6H30s. It also has tube regulation which is luxury in a preamp let alone a CD player but this is a serious player and one which the company is confident that its customers want. As the picture reveals CD9 is a top loader like the player it replaces, apparently the reliability of the approach and the ease of servicing were key factors in this decision.
The dramatic appearance of Wadia's latest creation is thanks to the influence of sister company Sonus Faber which not only styled the exterior but 'voiced' its sound. Intuition 01 is the first of what is planned to be a series of products, its clamshell case contains a DAC, an ADC and a class D amplifier. At its heart it has a Wadia Digimaster processor but the actual DAC is an ESS 9018 SabreDAC that can run at up to 32-bit/384kHz with a USB signal and also offers native DSD playback. The ADC is for analogue inputs and has a 1.5MHz sampling frequency. Power is quoted as 350 watts into four ohms and it has seven digital inputs including HDMI and two analogue inputs, price in the US will be $7,500 and there are four finishes including the polished nickel shown.
Arcam is continuing to expand its range of compact components, first to feel the heat is the popular rDAC which now has an i in its name to indicate that it now has an IR or infra-red remote control, this makes it easier to select between six inputs including USB (switchable for class I and II), it runs a BurrBrown 1796 converter and has a direct input for iPod. The irDAC will retail for £400. For those of you that already have a decent system but want to add the convenience of Apple Airplay the airDAC is to my knowledge the only add on device available for the purpose. It also has optical and coax inputs and also runs a BurrBrown DAC albeit not the same one as irDAC. The final addition to the range is rBlink a Bluetooth DAC with wireless operation that according to Arcam's Charlie Brennan does remarkable things with a Bluetooth signal. It is powered by a chip from CSR (Cambridge Silicon Radio) and uses aptX streaming which works at up to 384kbps. The rBlink is a very compact unit in an aluminium case that will cost £160 when it's launched in the coming months.
Arcam has built a version of its rLink DAC specifically for Sonos called SonLink. Designed to sit underneath a Sonos Connect streamer and has the same shape and white finish plus a built in coaxial digital connector for discreet hook-up. The price for adding high quality conversion to your lifestyle streamer is £185.
Audio Note Japan doesn't like to let a CES go by without showing an apparently finished product that's nine months away from production and 2013 was no different. Kagura will be the firm's ultimate monoblock when it goes into production and at 48 kilos sets itself apart on physical grounds too. The unusually high chassis contains three enormous oil capacitors which power the 211 output tubes, these are run parallel single ended to produce 55 watts like the current Gakuon II monoblocks. Kagura has three independent mains transformers and a different circuit to Gakuon, it also runs four choke coils and if the sound being produced in the room is any indication Kagura will raise the bar for not just glass audio but amplification as a whole. Price has not been indicated but will likely be at the high end of the spectrum.
Constellation Audio Virgo II
Constellation Audio is a high brand that I have been waiting to see and hear in the UK for far too long. With metalwork that makes most everything else look shabby this California based company has cornered the market in high end designers for hire and created electronics that sound as good as they look if experiences this year and inthe past are anything to go by. Absolute Sounds is now distributing Constellation but prices have not yet been released, take it as read that the range comes in above nearly everything else in that distributors luxurious range.
This year Constellation was using it's new Virgo 2 preamplifier which is now fully balanced with four Centaur monoblocks and the highly desirable Cygnus Digital file player/DAC as a source into Magico Q7 floorstanding beasts.
To say that this system has authority is a serious understatement, rarely have I heard this degree of control, gravitas and effortless power. Stevie Ray Vaughn is oft heard at shows but never with the grounding and complete absence of colouration encountered with this system, the dynamics and imaging take your breath away because both are achieved with so little effort.
Resolution Audio Cantata 2.0
The Cantata Music Centre is a CD player, DAC and preamp that I have been using since its launch two years ago. In the last year it received an upgrade to 192kHz operation and at CES Jeff Kalt played its latest feature UPnP streaming. The Cantata has always had an RJ45 socket on its back for this purpose but prior to this upgrade it could only be used with the Cantata Bridge USB to Ethernet converter. If you already have the 192 upgrade which requires a new DAC board the UPnP feature can be activated with a software upgrade.
Sonus faber Venere
Sonus faber’s new entry level range Venere has a “younger more aggressive feel and a sound that is vivid, instant and ready to impress any music enthusiast”. A description that anyone familiar with the brand will know would not have applied to Sf speakers of yore. But the company has changed direction since it became part of the Fine Sounds Group and is looking for a younger audience.
Venere means venus in Italian and the range is indeed very lovely to gaze upon. It consists of two floorstanders; Venere 1.5 ($1200) with a 6inch woofer and 2.0 ($1700) with a 7inch (shown), plus two floorstanders; 2.5 ($2500) with 7inch mid and bass drivers and 3.0 ($3500) with a 6inch mid and a pair of 7inch bass units. There are also a Venere Wall and Center for surround systems. Finish is gloss black or white with walnut as a premium alternative.
Following last year’s introduction of a stereo version of the ART power amp Conrad-Johnson unveiled a stereo variation on the LP125m monoblock. The LP125sa is an evolution of its brother with an improved driver stage. The amp will be available in standard form for $8,500 and as the LP125sa+ with Teflon caps and Vishay resistors for $10,000. Engineer and company founder Lew Johnson is pictured with the amp is.
Music Hall Ikura
Roy Hall’s latest turntable is the rather stylish Ikura, this comes in at around $900 and features a silk screen dot design that sets it apart from the norm. Both plinth and platter are made in MDF but there is rubber isolation in the split plinth which supports the motor on its lower half with arm and main bearing in the top section. There is also a dust cover that is completely removable but keeps the lacquered finish clean when you’ve finished spinning the wax.
Creek Evolution 50A
Creek’s latest integrated is distinguished by a real upgrade in the front panel machining department. The use of laser cut lettering and illuminated source buttons on this £700 amp really set it apart from the crowd. Under the skin it’s a 55 watt per channel design with a Sequel phono stage and the option to add an AMBIT FM/AM tuner, Creek also plans to offer a plug in DAC board in the future.
Creek has another interesting product in the pipeline, the Evolution 50D will be a CD player/DAC/tuner that Mike Creek describes as “completely no compromise”.
NAD D series
NAD has taken a new approach to casework design in its latest range of digital electronics. The look and feel of the D series was designed by David Farrage who has worked for the company on its Vito products in the past. The range consists of three components, the D 1050 USB DAC ($499) which is similar to the M51 DAC and uses delta/sigma conversion, D 3020 amplifier ($399) which has digital and analogue inputs as well as asynchronous USB and the D 7050 network receiver which connects to UPnP networks, receives Airplay, offers net radio and has a 50 watt amp onboard.
NAD Viso HP50
NAD has taken advantage of sister company PSB’s expertise in headphone engineering by getting the man behind the name, Paul Barton, to design the VISO HP50. This $279 closed back design incorporates PSB’s Roomfeel technology to give bass levels similar to those produced by speakers in a room. VISO HP50 has a detachable lead which can be attached to either side and in-lead volume control.
NAD VISO 1 AP
A new Viso sound ‘dock’ has been added to the range in the form of the VISO 1 AP, those initials stand for Airplay but this unit will also stream Bluetooth but unlike the existing VISO 1 it has no dock, price will be £499.
Monitor Audio Airstream S300
Monitor Audio’s latest foray into mobile audio is the Airstream 300 Airplay streaming device. This is bi-amped with class AB amplification and has a 19mm tweeter alongside a 75mm C-CAM woofer. The latter is one of Monitor Audio’s ceramic coated aluminium drivers and thus a significant cut above what you find in most of the competition. A wired connection can be made to USB and minijack inputs.
There is also a two ‘box’ version dubbed Airstream WS100. This employs MA’s SKAA wireless transmission system with receivers integrated into the DAC in each speaker fed by a USB transmitter. Each speaker is a five inch die-cast cube with a C-CAM metal driver and 30 watt amp. The system is remote controllable and can also be connected via minijack.
SGR MT 3.2
Stuart Graeme Ralston is an Australian engineer on a mission. He has been making loudspeakers for 12 years and brought the brand to CES in order to expand his potential market. The MT 3.2 is a no-holds barred active loudspeaker in a sealed cabinet, it’s made out of marine ply with constrained layer damping and a Corian exterior. Power is courtesy of an 800 watt class AB amplifier with an electronic crossover that offers an enormous range of adjustability via switches on the back panel. Among the many features are high frequency roll-off options, two stage parametric EQ and a room equalisation feature to counteract boundary variations. The drive units include a Scan-Speak Revelator tweeter and 10inch bass drivers that are made in-house and have 4mm thick, constrained layer damped, pulp cones. Price is a respectable $60,000
SGR is also the Australian distributor for MSB and has used their technology for the digital output in the MusicKube media server. The Kube is based on a Linux OS but runs on custom designed software with a 240GB SSD. It runs at up to 32/384 and is DSD capable, the digital transport version costs $5,000 while one with an MSB converter onboard is twice as much. You think that’s extreme? SGR is providing its own database for the system. Who needs Gracenote!
MSB DAC IV Plus
MSB has added DSD playback to all of its converters and is incorporating its Femto 140 clock upgrade into all three versions of its DAC IV. This change adds a Plus suffix to the name but more importantly offers what is a listed as a $4995 upgrade for an extra $1500 on the price of the DAC. This is not the top FemtoSecond Galaxy clock ($9950) but reduces jitter to under 140 femtoseconds (0.140 picoseconds). The price for the Platinum DAC IV Plus entry level model is now $8995.
MSB has also been revising its S201 stereo and 203 monoblock amplifiers by adding extra heatsinking in order that they run cooler and thus offer greater reliability if even less ease of grappling!
Moon’s new 610LP phono stage is essentially a more affordable version of the 810LP range topper. It’s a dual mono, fully balanced design with an enormous range of settings to accommodate pretty much any cartridge on the planet. There are 64 impedance loadings plus 16 for capacitance and 16 for gain. You can also select between RIAA and IEC equalization. The 610LP will be available in March for $7000.
The Moon 740P preamplifier is also fully balanced and dual mono but comes in a case that’s lower than the 850P reference. It has a new gain stage and incorporates a new DC regulation circuit that reduces noise as well as independent inductive DC filtering.
Tri-Planar has joined the long arm revolution with its first 12inch design the appropriately named Ultimate 12. This has a coaxially damped carbon fibre wand rather than the aluminium of the 9inch version, a larger damping trough and a new tonearm rest that is also damped to reduce vibration. It has silver wiring and rounded structural components that are also designed to minimise vibration. It maintains the same mass as the standard model as well as its user friendly VTA adjustment system. Price is $9,800.
Bryston Model T
Bryston is an established manufacturer of well regarded electronics so it was surprising to see two loudspeakers with their name on at CES. The Model T and Mini T display the same no-nonsense approach found in Bryston amps and, in the case of the Model T, the ability to endure pro audio levels of punishment. The floorstander has metal dome tweeters, two metal cone mids and three bass drivers, all in aid of delivering maximum dynamic range. The cones are ceramic coated magnesium alloy and have oversize motor assemblies, the dome is a titanium type which can sustain high SPLs without compression. The Mini T has one each of the same drivers and is nearly as bomb proof. Model T will cost $6495 in standard passive guise but a Signature is also available with outboard crossover, for maximum control there is also an active version. Mini T will be available soon for $2550.
Bryston also showed the BDP-2 digital player/server ($3995) which is essentially a more heavily featured version of the BDP-1 except for the option to add a hard drive of your choice. This is quite a significant change and turns what was effectively a renderer into a full server with UPnP functionality it also has USB inputs and digital outputs. Headphone enthusiasts will be interested in BHA-1 headphone amp ($1295), this has balanced and quarter inch jack outputs and is a balanced component in its own right. Apparently Bryston will provide modifications to some headphone models so that they can take advantage of the balanced outputs.
Primare PRE60 & A60
Primare is moving to higher ground with its forthcoming Pre60/A60 pre/power pairing. Price is expected to be around $10,000 apiece so the company will not be holding anything back when it comes to build and features. The PRE60 will have an onboard DAC and be a fully featured streamer while the amplification will have an über version of the UFPD class D technology seen elsewhere in the range. Power is 300 watts into eight ohms with a near doubling into half the load.
The new NP30 network player (below) is placed at the somewhat more accessible level of €2000 or thereabouts, this has an onboard DAC and volume controlled output.
DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X
One of the most enjoyable rooms at CES is that run by DeVore Fidelity, this is because John DeVore plays great music and makes a good sound. This year he unveiled updates on two Gibbons and introduced a new Orangutan to the troop. The latter is a floorstander called Orangutan 93 (below) that is slightly smaller in volume to the 96 (numbers indicate sensitivity) but carries the same array of a big 8inch paper woofer alongside a horn loaded soft dome tweeter, price is $8400 but the lovely veneer shown comes at a premium.
The Gibbon 88 ($5800) replaces the previous Super 8 and the model 9 has become Gibbon X (10) which is now a three-way with twin bass drivers, a new tweeter and hybrid transmission line loading for the midrange. DeVore was demonstrating the X with a Well Tempered Versalex running a Van den Hul Frog Gold MC into an Acoustic Plan Phono Master phono stage, driving the system was a Naim Nait XS and FlatCap XS power supply. Not a particularly powerful nor expensive amplifier but one that worked a treat with these speakers, for those who enjoy pace, rhythm and timing there was not a better system at the show. For those who enjoy ZZ Top there was really no need to visit any other room, unfortunately I had a report to compile!
Zanden introduced a more affordable phono stage at CES but one that retains the alternative EQ curves that sets the company’s 1200 Mk3 apart from the crowd. The Model 120 which is Zanden’s first solid state stage will cost an estimated £7500 and offers five EQ curves to suit the majority of stereo recordings. The Japanese company also showed a prototype preamplifier called Model 3100 which is a downscaled version of the two box 3000 and has tube rectification, zero negative feedback and output transformers, conveniently it also comes with that rarity in the tube world a remote control. Price is expected to be $12,500.
This was the first opportunity that I’ve had to talk to someone at Rega about the new RP8 which made its US debut at the show. Paul Darwin told me that the plinth is a two part construction with a square outer section that takes the lid hinges and a skeletal frame section to which the key elements are attached. This frame has a foam core which makes it extremely stiff yet very light and thus not very good at storing energy which has always been Rega’s goal in plinth design. It has a magnesium alloy top brace clamped to a phenolic resin bottom brace with threaded aluminium inserts at either end. One end provides the fixing for the aluminium base of the RB808 arm that’s been made for this deck and the other is below the bearing.
The RB808 has finer tolerance bearings than the old RB1000 and the smooth casting of the RB303 found on RP3 and RP6, it also has a new cable. The platter is a three part bonded glass design with peripheral weighting that’s driven by two belts via an aluminium subplatter. Paul mentioned that there is a ‘bigger’ ceramic platter RP10 turntable coming which is likely to be closer to the prototype I saw in Southend in late 2011, but that may be some time yet.
The masters of aluminium loudspeaker creation at Magico have come up with a way of making their highly desirable designs at a price point that more of us can approach. The S1 brings the entry level down to $12,600 yet maintains solid aluminium construction and a Magico main driver. This has been achieved by substituting a monocoque extrusion for machined casework in the main body of the cabinet, the top and base caps are machined as is the outrigger spiked base.
The two-way design has a sealed box with the beryllium dome tweeter from the S5 and a new 7inch woofer. This driver has the nano-tec woven cone seen on all Magico speakers and is backed by a dual-neodymium motor and titanium voice coils. It sounded a bit more lively than the big Q7s in the Constellation Audio room but no less detailed and musically fluent. Now that there’s a Magico I can almost lift (a mere 55kg) I will be looking for a chance to review them.
Micromega showed the second model in its compact My range the Myzic headphone amplifier. Priced at $299/€199 this neat white cased unit has a logarithmic volume control, Neutrik quarter inch headphone jack and a 1MOhm input impedance and should work with just about any source and headphone. It goes into standby when you remove the jack plug and uses very little power when in that state, which should please the polar bears.
Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
Cambridge has revised its range of AV amplifiers and they are undoubtedly remarkable value for money but I get by on a 2.0 system with my movies so it’s hard to get excited. The new 752BD (£799)universal Blu-ray player is however quite an interesting beast, I have heard very positive things about its predecessor the 751BD from people who would not normally been seen near an AV source so there must be something going on. It plays SACD for a start and has three USB ports, two HDMI inputs and as many outputs. It can access video and images on a NAS drive and has the digital converting capabilities and inputs of a DACMagic. The specs naturally go on and on but if you want a serious ‘video’ it’s hard to see why you need to spend more.
Cambridge Audio Minx
Some of you may have noticed the rise and rise of Sonos out there in the real world, so has Cambridge, and hidden in the bathroom they had pre-production samples from the forthcoming Minx streaming range. These are essentially table top amp/speaker units that you can stream to from your mobile device via Bluetooth or Airplay. They are feature rich but so far the company is not telling precisely what they will cost nor when they are coming but it can’t be long. They even had a third smaller unit in the room that they wouldn’t let me shoot so something is clearly afoot. Watch this space.
Brinkmann four phase motor
Brinkmann Audio has taken the motor technology it developed for the Bardo direct turntable and used it to build a smoother and more powerful motor for its belt drive Balance and La Grange models. The new motor is a four phase type with driving coils and magnets arranged so that they produce 16 pulses per revolution, this combined with a 500g motor body that gives a flywheel effect makes for a smooth and even drive force. The four phase motor is stronger than the PAPST capstan one it replaces and brings the high mass platters up to speed more quickly.
Vivid & Nola Mola
Mola Mola is a new Dutch company founded by the guys behind Hypex class D amplifier modules, designer Bruno Putzeys takes a rigorously scientific approach to electronics engineering, analysing circuitry in order to remove errors that can distort the signal. This has resulted in a preamplifier that can have a DAC board for digital inputs with balanced and single ended in and outputs, and monoblock power amps that produce 400 watts into eight ohms, 700 watts into four and 1200 watts into two from a case that’s remarkably compact.
These were sounding rather good in combination with the Vivid G3 Giya speakers in the Higher Note room at the Mirage. We listened to a number of pieces and in every case it was pretty much impossible to hear the equipment itself because the character of the music was so absolute. Sources included a Mac Mini and a Brinkmann Bardo with Tri-Planar U12 arm which was particularly sweet. The Vivids remain as revealing and musical as ever, especially when you put some of Bugge Wesseltoft’s subtle grooves through them.
Clearaudio Ebony V2
Clearaudio launched a revised Ebony range of moving magnet cartridges with prices from $400 to $1200, these feature more powerful magnets and higher outputs. However when it comes to what they look like I’m afraid my attention was grabbed by the turntable that had a Spinal Tap picture disc topping it off, who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour?
Light Harmonic Da Vinci Source
Light Harmonic has upgraded its Da Vinci Dual DAC with the ability to playback DSD files, a facility that is fast becoming a base requirement for high end converters. The company also has two new products at the pre-production stage, the Da Vinci Source (above) is a music server with a 10TB RAID array HDD for storage and a 250GB SSD drive for final playback. Control is via a supplied iPad with Light Harmonic’s software ready to run. Partnering this is the Da Vinci Streamer, this has Airplay and Bluetooth streaming capability as well as the potential to take up to a 32-bit/384kHz signal via USB. Output is digital only. Both components are due to come on line in the middle of the year, no prices have been announced.