Astell & Kern AK500
A&K’s first venture beyond portable players is the stealthily styled AK500, a high resolution streamer/server/ripper/preamp that runs on a battery power supply, with a mains connection to keep it topped up. It can be supplied with 1TB to 4TB SSDs but the smallest version costs £8,999. All you have to do is feel the knurled knob on the side to see why. A mains conditioner and power amp are to follow.
Headphone specialist Audeze showed a pre-production sample of its forthcoming Deckard headphone amplifier (£599). It has USB and analogue inputs alongside preamp and headphone outputs and was surely named after Harrison Ford’s character in Blade Runner. They also showed the EL-8 headphones (£599, below), an easier to drive model with BMW design input and both open and closed variants.
Audio Note Tomei
As appearances might suggest this 211 powered single ended triode amplifier is based on the legendary Ongaku. This is a “cheap” Ongaku at a mere £30,000, cheaper because its output transformers are only 50% silver wired. It’s specced to produce 18 Watts/channel.
Exposure has a new preamplifier in its 3010 range, the 3010S2D (£1,080), the D stands for DAC and the digital inputs to go with it. This same approach has been taken on the 3010D integrated (£1,700) that produces 110 Watts per channel from a bi-polar output stage and looks almost identical to the preamp.
Rega Apheta 2
Never ones to shout from the rooftops Rega has sneaked out a new version of the remarkable Apheta moving coil. Apheta 2 looks different thanks to a much clearer cover on a now single piece aluminium body. It’s functionally different because the iron cross that supports the coils is half the weight of its predecessor. A reduction in moving mass is, as any petrol head knows, a good thing. Price is £998.
Spendor has not actually changed its classic models but now offers them with vintage style Tygan grille cloths and a rather nice enamel badge. Spendor showed the SP2/3R2 (£2,995) and SP100R2 (£7,995) in this guise and played the latter with a Devialet streamer/amplifier to great effect against a retro style brown and orange backdrop. It get’s The Ear’s best presented room of the show award.
This impressive bit of casework is the forthcoming Stack Audio Onset from Exeter. It is a streamer with digital outputs that uses an asynchronous low-skew clock to eliminate jitter, and claims to make noise a thing of the past. It has app control and will stream DSD over DOP (DSD64 at present), it also has clock in and outputs and is clearly aiming high.
Technics R1 Series
Technics’ most ambitious foray into high resolution audio to date is now in production. The system consists of SU-R1 network player/preamplifier (left), now with Airplay, SE-R1 class D power amplifier (right) and SB-R1 floorstanding loudspeakers. These components can only be purchased as a system for a rather keen £37.5k, still the VU meters are lovely. The company has also launched Technics Tracks, its own high res download store with 24-bit albums starting at an unusually competitive £7.49.
Trichord Dino Mk3
Graham Fowler has revised his much admired Dino phono stage, essentially it's a refinement of the Mk2 but has a new circuit board and output stage so will undoubtedly be an upgrade. Available with three levels of power supply the Dino Mk3 starts at £499. The same casework has been put to use in a headphone amplifier with a similar but not yet set price point. A high end model in very chunky metalwork is also in the works.
Melco is a new player in the server game, a rather different one because it builds its high resolution storage devices from the ground up with sound quality rather than speed in mind. There are two models, the N1A at £1,600 with spinning discs and the N1Z with custom built solid state ‘drive’. At £6,200 for a 500GB example this seems pricey but if Nigel at Chord Co’s impression of the cheaper model is anything to go by, “it’s a game changer”, there might be good reason.