STEREOMOJO SPECIAL REPORT

CES &

T.H.E SHOW 2009

Part 5

How about some new hi-end music to go with all these systems?

One of our favorite artists is one of the greatest pianists that ever lived - Oscar Peterson. "We Get Requests" is one of his best albums.

What our publisher holds in his excited hands is the new HD2K remastered version of that recording. If you are not familiar with Winston Ma and FIM Recordings, you should be - they are among the very best in the world. Winston played this on the system below and we were blown away. As much as we love vinyl, Winston's CD's are as good as most vinyl on entry level tables and when played on quality digital playback gear, gets uncomfortably close to vinyl on some top level analog rigs. I asked Winston if I could hang onto this copy of the Peterson, but he smiled in his gentle, inscrutable way and murmured, "That is the master..".

However, as fate would have it, a few moments, a breathless courier arrived with a few small boxes. They were the first copies of Winston's newest releases fresh off the press. You will notice that at the top of the covers it says,"99.9995 silver".  I asked Winston what that meant, to which he replied, "All CD's come with a layer of tin foil. For years I've been listening not only to various CD stocks to determine which sounds best, but also the materials that go into them. I have found that replacing the tin foils with a layer of the purest silver greatly enhances the sound, so from now on, all FIM CD's will come with the silver layer".

Even though the Oscar was not in the incoming boxes, Winston did bestow upon us copies of the above three discs. Reviews will be in our new Music Reviews section.

You have read our music reviews, haven't you? See the link on our home page and let us know what you think.

Winston Ma could use any amp in the world, but he chooses to use the LSA Statement (on the floor in black) that is our Integrated Amp of the Year. He uses two of them in his system at home.

Recognize these? We didn't either, but when we spotted that SOFT DOME midrange, it made us think of the ATC powered speakers we reviewed recently.

Nay, these are by "Induction Dynamics", a company that makes all sorts of speakers for home and home theater including a large selection of in-wall models.

The large beast on the left is the is the 63" inch tall, 200 pounds per speaker ID1-15 model. It's a 4-way OR 3-way design. The dual 15 inch (!) subwoofers can be electronically isolated to be driven by a separate amp or amps. The crossover is an unusual 4th order design. These plumb the depths with a bottom end the bottoms out way down at 20Hz.

Dennis Had at Cary showed his new "Xciter" creations - a new integrated amp that doubles as a very high-end HEADPHONE amplifier. In fact, he designed it to be used primarily as a headphone amp since it only puts out 5 triode watts per side. "When the headphone selector is engaged, the user is listening to the entire amplifier, from the input section to the output transformer", he told us. It contains two 12AX7A input gain stage/driver stage tubes and four 6L6GC output tubes. The two 12AX7's have little blue LED's under them to enhance the look. Dennis told us that the circuitry is optimized to provide a good match for all high quality headphones from four to 600 ohms. However, it would easily drive a very efficient speaker such as those by Coincident rather well. What you might not read anywhere else is that this amp is autobias. Price is about $2,800.

The new Xciter compact desktop 192kHz/32 Bit DAC features a computer USB input along with optical input and two coaxial inputs, all selectable from the front panel.

Surprisingly from Cary, the DAC is tubeless.

$1,500.

 

We're excited that Chuck Kennedy of  2CHANNEL DISTIRUBUTION will be sending us this new Thorens table right after CES. Thorens has been around be decades, but like many old line companies, went through various trials and tribulations over the years. We are happy to report that they are back with a vengeance with new models that compete with the best on price and quality.

 

RBH Sound showed two new additions to their Signature Series speaker series. The 8300-SE and 8300-SE/R are 55-3/8” tall . The cabinet is constructed of.75-inch MDF and is internally-braced to eliminate standing waves and cabinet resonance. An acoustic suspension design, the 8300-SE and SE/R features a highly efficient, dimpled front-firing flared port which works in conjunction with the three 8-inch woofers to allow the frequency response to extend down to 22Hz. RBH cabinets are custom-finished in 30 uniquely different custom woodgrain veneers. Coincidentally, the finish of the speakers they brought exactly matched the furniture in the Venetian hotel room - an exotic rosewood.

Both speakers employ RBH’s proprietary aluminum cone technology. They feature three (lordy!) 8-inch aluminum cone subwoofers, two 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofers and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter. The reference version, the 8300-SE/R, features upgraded 6.5-inch fixed phase plug aluminum cone woofers, a liquid-cooled Scanspeak silk dome tweeter, and a modified crossover network to manage the upgraded drivers. Other than the modified Scanspeak, RBH makes their other drivers in house. The 8300-SE is priced at $7,999 per pair, the 8300-SE/R at $8,449 per pair.  We usually don't care much for aluminum coned speakers, but these had no trace of the hardness often heard. If anything, they were a bit on the warm side, at least in that room. Very fast and very dynamic. They were playing a familiar cut from a Brian Bromberg (bass player) CD when we entered. There was no lack of low bass for sure, surely aided by the big Boulder amp and music server.

We are all familiar with Usher speakers, but did you know they also make electronics? They do - and have for decades! They just have never pushed them in the US.

Now maybe they are. The Usher Audio P307A pre amplifier features both passive as well as two pairs of active outputs. THere are also offering 8 sets of inputs as well as a tape monitor and phono inputs. To protect those fragile audio signals from the vagaries of a AC supply the P-307A pre amp comes as standard with a regulated separate DC power supply (not shown). Yep, all that for less than $2,300.

Check out this new tone arm. Look familiar? Looks like a Schroeder, doesn't it?

That's because it is, but with a big difference. The problem with Frank Schroeder's arms is that they are always on backorder to the tune of around 18 months. That's because Frank has always hand built every one by himself because, as he told us a couple of years ago, he can't find anyone he trusts enough to do what only he can do.

Now he has.

Apparently Artemis Labs has done such a good job with the table he designed (seen here) that he has confidence that they can build this new arm he designed that is a bit simpler but in the same class as his other arms, which many think are the world's best. So the new arm will cost less and will presumably be built in such quantities that we won't have to wait a couple of years to get one.

The mood at CES was not rainbows and unicorns, but we did find one Unicorn in the German Physics speaker room.  While German Physiks makes several models that incorporate their DDD driver with conventional cone speakers such as their top model "Gaudi" at $365,000, Holger Mueller explained to us that the Unicorn model was made to prove a point, that being that the omnidirectional DDD driver they use can function as a full range driver since this model is "a single DDD driver in a box" as Holger summarized.

The DDD driver, despite its apparently simple appearance is rather more complex. It has 4 modes of operation and in essence works as a mechanical 4-way system. The lower frequency end of its operating range can be described with Small/Thiele resonant parameters. In the next frequency band up to the Coincidence Frequency, it works like a pistonic driver. Next an overlapping band follows where pistonic movement is progressively replaced by bending waves until all the radiation is generated purely by bending movement in the cone. Due to dispersion and the cone’s special shape, the Coincidence Frequency is spread over an extended frequency range, rather than occurring at a single frequency like the Dipole Frequency.

From the upper edge of the Coincidence Frequency band, it works like a pure bending wave converter where the velocity of the traveling waves in the cone increases with frequency. The last mode of operation commences above the bending wave band at the Dipole Frequency, when the first standing wave occurs and where modal break-up begins. By optimizing the key properties of the cone material, namely thickness, elasticity and specific weight, together with the cone’s bending stiffness, which is achieved by selecting the correct cone-angle, all four frequency bands may be very closely balanced.

The Unicorn MKII model retails at about $21,000.

 

 

The highly regarded (and soon to be reviewed by us) Bryston CD-1 was not changed for the show, but they did show their new BDA-1 external Stereo D to A converter using fully discrete analog Class-A proprietary Bryston analog circuits, two independent analog and digital linear power supplies and dual Crystal CS-4398 DACs. Like the Music Hall mentioned previously, the Bryston has the ability to disengage the upsampling feature. You can compare an upsampled signal with a non-upsampled signal simply by engaging a switch on the front panel. This feature is available on 44.1K, 88.2K, 48K, and 96K.

The two independent DAC chip’s used in the BDA-1 are the Crystal CS-4398, which operates in one of three oversampling modes based on the input sample rate. Single-speed mode supports input sample rates up to 50 kHz and uses a 128x oversampling ratio. Double-speed mode supports input sample rates up to 100 kHz and uses an oversampling ratio of 64x. Quad-speed mode supports input sample rates up to 200 kHz and uses an oversampling ratio of 32x. This allows for filters, which are out of the audible range. $1,995

 

Bryston HAS updated ALL their amp, newly dubbed the SST²   (SST squared) series amplifiers. Even though there  are substantial upgrades, pricing remains unchanged throughout the lineup. Bryston’s SST amplifier line begins with the 2B SST (100 watts per channel 8-ohms, 180 per channel 4-ohms at $2650 US) to the 28B SST (1000 watts mono into 8-ohms at $8000 US). Depending on the specific model, advances include:


• Balanced Input Stage: The redesigned input stage on all Bryston SST² amplifiers is fully balanced, providing superior EMI (electromagnetic interference) and RF (radio frequency) noise rejection resulting in improved signal to noise performance.
• Power Supply Circuit Board: The power supply boards in the new SST² design incorporate zero point-to-point wiring—all components plug directly into the power supply circuit board, also delivering improved signal to noise performance
• Output Chokes: The new output chokes designed specifically for the new SST² amplifier topology extend the high frequency bandwidth of the product at 20 kHz.
• Soft-Start Circuitry: Bryston amplifiers require an enormous supply of AC power when activated—the new soft-start circuitry in the SST² amplifiers ramp up power demand gradually, presenting less strain on the AC supply utilizing a micro-controller.

 

New from WAVAC is the PR-Z1 linestage preamp. Very pretty. But at $15,500, Stereomojo will not be reviewing it.

We like to stick to products that are more "affordable" or at least obtainable without having to mortgage your house or be eligible for a Wall Street bailout.

 

Upgraded (already) two-box CD player from Ayon. They have also upgraded their Spirit integrated amp that our Marvin Bolden has been waiting on since RMAF. Now we know why they did not ship it to him yet - he'll get the new model. And you'll get his review. Ayon will also be sending us their mighty Typhoon amps soon.

 

Can you guess who makes these speakers? Nope, not VAC. Not MBL, either.

Hardly. The speakers you see here are $1,800 for the panels and about $5,000 for the omni's.

Definitely not MBL!

 

They also make these electrostats. For $5,600/pr.

 

And these with the separate bass cabinets. GIve up?

It's King Sound from Hong Kong. The 4-box model is $12,000.

As best as we could determine, the sound was pretty amazing. Since these appear to be rather high value speakers, we'll try to get a pair for review.

 

This is Kim Neeper Rasmussen and his only speaker model (so far), the Perfection One, designed and built in Denmark. Kim used to work for Gamut but left to start his own company and design his own speaker. "I'm a crazy perfectionist", he told us. "I can find flaws in anything, but I think I've gotten pretty close (to perfection) with this speaker." He told us when he left Gamut he sold everything to start his new company in quest of his perfect speaker. It took him almost three years to design it, a year just on the crossover.

Earlier in our report, we told you that resonance is more and more being recognized as a chief culprit in achieving good sound. Kim agrees. That's why his speaker biggest achievement is the cabinet which has no parallel surfaces inside or out. "It's totally asymmetrical", he stated. In addition, the front baffle is machined out of solid aluminum as are the bases and rear ports. "There are 60 aluminum parts", Kim added.

The cone's magnets are oversize. He uses the magnet from the larger Scanspeak woofer on his 5 1/2 inchers which he heavily modified. The unique pattern in the cabinet's finish is pressed into the wood when it's damp under high pressure.

Is the Perfection One "perfect"? The clarity, speed, soundstage and musical timbres were outstanding, even in the less than friendly room. The speaker retails for $20,000 and is one of the better sounds we heard. Hard work pays off sometimes.

 

Here's some real eye candy - the Sovereign Glory power amp. Sovereign is the ultra high end line from Aaron, yet another German/Danish company that has been around for decades but has little exposure in the US market. The "Glory" makes 250 wpc and sells for $17,000.

Power Output: 240W into 8 Ohms
750W into 2 Ohms
Size: 19"w x 9"h x 16.5"d
Weight: 77LB


All Aluminum construction without any visible screws. Fully balanced design with XLR and RCA connections. All the best parts with gold back and WBT connections throughout. Can be customized with many different finishes just like the Aaron products.

 

There were no reps from Aaron when we were there, but they do make gorgeous looking components such as this integrated amp below.

The Aaron integrated makes 95 wpc and lists at $4,900.

 

Can you guess what this is? Hint: it again has to do with anti-resonance, this time at the circuit board level. Paul Wakeen of Stillpoints (it's his hand)

has been at the forefront of the anti-resonance battle for years with his industry leading Stillpoints products. Our publisher uses and loves his Stillpoints equipment rack and amplifier platforms. They work wonders.

This little device is to be used inside amps and any other product that uses circuit boards or any other device that can be mounted inside a box. What you see in Paul's palm is a mounting device that provides anti-vibration and isolation for electronic circuitry. Paul is a genius.We know of at least a couple of amp/preamp makers that took home a bag full of these things. We will undoubtedly be seeing them featured in better components everywhere.

 

Stillpoints also introduced their new doublewide rack, seen here behind David Berning who was sharing space with Wakeen. You can use the shelves or "platforms" to coddle your components or one of Stillpoint's other devices such as amp platforms to further isolate your gems. Paul's systems can provide as many as 12 layers of protection against air and floor borne vibrations.

 

Speaking of David Berning, it was nice to finally see him in person after all the shows we've been to, seen and covered his products. We joked that we were beginning to think that he was like Betty Crocker - a person created out of thin air to be a corporate symbol. The real David Berning was showing a rough, unfinished prototype of a new preamp pictured above.It, of course, features his exclusive ZOTL network which many people believe is the most ingenious tube system on the planet. "ZOTL" stands for "Zero-Hysteresis Output Transformerless". It is an advance in the familiar "OTL" or transformerless tube circuitry. His technology is better than traditional OTL because it properly matches the tube impedance to that of the speaker, eliminating the big number of hot power tubes to supply enough CURRENT to drive speakers. If you've been reading us for long, you know there is a huge difference between amplifiers rated in just WATTS versus their ability to output CURRENT. Another industry "dirty little secret".

That and the fact that transformers are largely responsible for tube amps rolling off at the frequency extremes resulting in what many erroneously claim to be "tube sound".There must be something to it. Have you ever seen a Berning product for sale on Ebay or Agon?

So back to the preamp. To illustrate how pricing in the audio industry is all over the place, when we asked David how much his preamp would be when finished, we heard him say $70,000. We record most interviews on our Iphones, so we checked it before we published this. It sounds like he clearly says $70,000. We even repeated the number on the recording - "Seventy thousand? Ok...". The funny yet sad thing is that nobody blinked at the price. Nobody gasped. Nobody questioned a seventy thousand dollar preamp! After all, we've seen a $55,000 linestage in the BAlabo BC-1 MKII. Even when he said there was no remote. Why? "I didn't want to do it", he said. "It costs too much and is too hard to do without degrading the sound". Then he said that a phono circuit would probably be an extra cost option. Extra cost at 70 large? Well...ok. We just shrugged our shoulders. Many times it seems there is no relation between prices and actual costs, much less perceived value. But recall what we said earlier about customers who tell reasonably priced manufacturers that their products "doesn't cost enough" for their egos, even though they sound better than their other uber priced gear. Can you then blame some of them for inflating their prices?

Still, that $70,000 did not sound right. Berning's big power amps don't cost near that much, so it didn't make sense that his pre would cost so much. So, just before we clicked the "publish" button, we called David to make absolutely sure. We have to be accurate. On the phone he said the targeted price is about seven thousand, not seventy thousand. When we told him what we had on tape, he broke into loud laughter. "No, that's crazy", he guffawed. Whew. Maybe there is a shred of common sense out there, you think?

 

CONTINUE TO
PART 6

BACK TO STEREOMOJO HOME