EINSTEIN The PowerampThe Preamp's cousin is of course none other than EINSTEIN's The Poweramp. A hybrid design, ie. featuring a tube input stage and solid state power modules, it is destined to be used within any system, especially EINSTEIN's own of course. Packing about 100W per channel, this hybrid puppy will make your system sing. Full of Volker Bohlmeier's (principal at EINSTEIN) views on dynamic realism and exceptional build quality that is truly otherworldly, this amplifier is simply exemplary in all ways. As with all other EINSTEIN components, its hand built in Bochum, Germany. $25000. Incredibly addictive.
Newport 2011: Audio Salon Magico + Spectral
Maier Shadi is the man behind the exclusive appointment only Audio Salon in Los Angeles. He's not a hi-fi dealer per se, more audio sommelier, connecting his clients with the best hi-fi has to offer.
At the show Maier was running Magico Q5 speakers with Spectral amplification (roughly a $110k system not including cables). Pitch black speakers in a pitch black room -- while taking photos was close to impossible, the sound was impressive and turned many a jaded hi-fi fan the Magico direction. And unlike many of the demos suffering from Big Speaker in a Tiny Room complex, Maier's room was both the right size for the speakers and featured custom acoustic treatment behind those curtains. GIving such attention to the room is the mark of a true audio expert.
Update: Maier wanted to express that his Audio Salon, while exclusive, doesn't exclude all but hardened audiophiles. Even if you're new to the game and looking for an entry-level system, Maier is happy to give you the time of day (and a killer demo). We discussed the typical jaded dealer experience and, in fact, when Maier was in his 20's, the frosty reception he received when visiting dealers inspired Maier to launch the Audio Salon. I've met my share of terrible dealers and, let me say, Maier is a man who gets it. Either make an appointment to visit his showroom in Santa Monica or have him come to your own abode for a personal demo.
Additionally, Maier wanted to shout out Art Noxon and Chris Klein of ASC for their acoustic design and use of their Tube traps. Cabling by MIT. Maier's team built a staggered wall hidden behind the curtains with over 120 lengths of 8ft 2x4's made up the 16 huge 6ft x 8ft shrouded walls. Word is this acoustic room-in-a-room now resides at Maier's demo space.
Newport 2011: Veloce
Veloce is going to be huge. With hybrid tube battery powered pre-amps and amps, Veloce steps up the tech game and the results are lust-worthy. The pre-amp is around $15k and the amps are TBA. Definitely a show highlight, can't wait to hear their gear again.
Zu Druids, NAT and the quest for synergy
Danny Kaey tackles the Zu Druids, NAT amplification and the biggest questions in audio.
Swiss Nagra embraces your fantasizes of owning audio equipment styled like the cockpit of a Russian MiG fighter jet. Feminine tastes be damned, this stuff is rad. And it sounds great as well, or so was the opinion of everyone who heard the Nagra/Verity room.
Nagra is making a resurgence with a handful of components coming out of the ultra-expensive pro scene. That CD-C transport was the star of the room. The entire CD drive mechanism ejects from the transport and can, I'm told, support hundreds of pounds of pressure (but don't test it). The player also has a solid state line stage built in, as can be seen in the larger pics next page. Price for the Nagra CD-C is expected to be between $10k and $16k. On the very top is the Nagra V professional recorder.
Below, those barefoot-in-a-dark-room-nightmares on the floor are the $19,295 Nagra VPA monoblock amps using 845 tubes for 50 watts of juice. On the bottom of the rack is the $15,995 Nagra MPA solid state amp pumping out 250 watts which was playing when I was there. An integrated version of the MPA with remote is also available for $18, 995. In the middle of the rack is Audion's Quattro double box preamp which was used for most of the show.
All cabling was solid palladium wire by Silversmith. Prices are as follows:
Six foot speaker cables: $9800
Three foot interconnects: $4000
Dixie cup cable elevators: Priceless
Keep reading for some of the coolest photos from the show.
HE2006: Brooks Berdan, Vandersteen, Ayre
The second Brooks Berdan room rocked Vandersteen's first semi-attractive speaker, the $10k Quatro. If you're not familiar with Vandersteen, the one thing you'd probably say when walking into the room would be "sweet jeezy, the bass!" What you don't know is each Vandersteen Quatro tower has double 8" subwoofers squirreled inside. Check out the pic on the next page to see the 250 watt amplifier panel on the back.
And as anyone who has subs knows, the temptation to crank them up to 11 is just too tempting. Brian Berdan, son of Brooks, took great pleasure in turning people's insides into cranberry sauce with the Vanderstreen Quatros. Room limitations be damned, he was gonna show the speaker's limits. And a funny thing happens when you crank the bass, the masses pour in from the halls. This room, as far as I recall, was the most consistently packed at the show. And if the other publications are any indication, one of the most loved.
Those amps on the ground are the new half-chassis MX-R from Ayre. $16,500 gets you 300 watts of linear power. Big pic next page.
HE2006: Brooks Berdan, Wilson, VTL
Los Angeles area retailer Brooks Berdan put together two rooms at the show. The first room paired the new $13,500 VTL MB-450 amplifiers with $12,000 WIlson Sofias for a raging Wilson demo. Being the savvy journalist I am, I decided to ask people what Wilson room sounded the best. Wilson had about a half dozen speakers in various rooms, all either Sofias or WATT/Puppies. So what did the masses proclaim? "Brooks, Brooks, Brooks Berdan!" Give the man a hand.
We previously wrote about Brooks Berdan and his retail adventures here.
Vegas - Von Schweikert, darTZeel, VAC
Von Schweikert was in full force at CES/THE with a big room at THE showing the newish VR-7 SE ($36k) with VAC equipment. Over at CES, big '05 sensation darTZeel rocked his new preamp with the bigger VR-9 SE ($60k) speakers (pictures next page).
Strangely, the smaller VR-7s were in the larger room while the monstrously huge VR-9s were in a smaller abode. The VR-9s sport levels for bass as well as ambience tweeter so room size becomes less of an issue. And boy do they work - pretty impressive demos all around.
Vegas - Audiopax
Brazilian dynamo Audiopax showed off a bevy of new gear this year. Audiopax, for those who don't know, won oodles of awards for their Model 88 monoblock amps. This year, Audio Pax shows off their new Ref 150 speaker (fully replaces the Ref 100) with an adjustable tweeter section (next page for close up). Range is 30-40k Hz, 92dB into 8 ohms. Price is $12,490.
On the next page you'll see something akin to heresy - solid state monoblocks from AudioPax. The Model 55s pump out 30 watts and go for $11,990 a pair. Also shown are the updated Model 98 mkII in an easier to manage chassis going for $14990 as well as the Model 5 limited edition preamp priced at $5,990.
Air Tight ATM-211 Monoblock Amplifiers
What's up with Japan? They're gunning to take over the ultra-expensive esoteric tube amplification market. Shindo, Zanden and Wavac have gotten a lot of press recently and here's Air Tight getting some love from PFO:
Don't be fooled by the 22-watt power rating. Dynamics were excellent into moderately sensitive speakers. If you're used to high-powered tube amps, you'll probably find the ATM-211s are up to the mark. And they'll sweeten the ante with a taste of the magic only SET devices afford.
$13k a pair, the Air Tight ATM-211 monobocks also receive a lot of praise for their looks. Zanden is all about mirrored chrome, Wavac is into industrial gold, Shindo is all about, um, forest green and Air Tight goes with industrial black on black worthy of Darth himself. Check out the PFO review for a lot more details and pics. Also check out Marshall Nack's great comparison of four expensive micro-powered tube amps.
KR Audio Kronzilla and VA340 Reviews
Can anyone say overcompensation? At 13" tall, the Kronzilla T1610 tubes are some of the biggest single ended tubes in production and some of the most powerful -- they pound out a massive 50 watts per monoblock amplifier. Audiophilia says this of KR Audio's beasts:
The sound had the fullness and depth that is evident in the best single ended's, it also had that essential power reserve that one feels with really good solid state designs. It seemed a little naughty to be able to get the best of the single ended topology in addition to the one attribute that I admire in solid state. An embarrassment of riches.
The best of both worlds ain't cheap at $20k. More reasonably priced is the $5999 KR Audio VA340 20 watt stereo integrated amp reviewed by Superior Audio:
While I never felt it was the most dynamic amplifier that I've heard, neither did I think it lacked dynamics to any significant degree. And it certainly is among the most transparent windows I've had the pleasure to hear. For overall enjoyment of the music, it is hard to imagine it getting any better than this.
Go read Superior Audio's excellent article for all the goods on this Czech company that's taking the tube world by storm. We covered the VA340 earlier.
Music Fidelity kW 750 and Tube Line Review
The Robb "too rich for your own good" Report covers the Musical Fidelity kW 750 power amp and Tube Line pre-amp priced at $10k and $4.5k respectively. You know, I love the Robb Report. Their reviews are tastefully dumbed-down to appeal to the yachting sweater/shoulder crowd yet sexed-up like a cheap Vegas escort:
"The styling echoes the recent Chrysler 300; the kWs and Detroit’s hemi-powered beast are both overtly muscular and resoundingly solid-looking. This tactile element is part and parcel of the high-end experience, and I regularly succumb to the urge to fondle the kW preamplifier’s super-sized machined-metal volume control."
Succumb, man, succumb.
"Antony Michaelson warns me that the only real obstacle of living with the kWs is the inevitable letdown that occurs when you return to everyday components. “Once you get used to the sound of the kW, you cannot unknow it,” he says...The kW Series components are offered as limited editions, so interested parties should not mull over the possibilities too long. Get ’em while they’re hot!"
With nary a comparison, let alone mention, of competing equipment, one is left to wonder just what kind of knob-fondling went down at the RR.
Wavac's Monster Tube Amps
Wavac has been blowing up the review channels the last few months and, judging from the responses, for good reason. For those that don't know, SET (Single End Triode) is the filet mignon of the tube amplification but only makes 10 watts of power or less, too little for most speakers. Enter Wavac, a Japanese company known for their obscenely powerful SET amps. Here's Positive Feeback glowing about the 150/watt monoblock HE-833 amplifier (pictured):
"Once more Wavac triumphs, and a new "King of SET" reigns in my experience: the Wavac HE-833 v1.3."
For $69k/pair, they should be good. Amazingly, this is only the middle of their price range, with products ranging from $7000 to $350k. Go to the next page for a number of reviews and a picture of the biggest damn tube you've ever seen in your life.
Audio Research Reference 210 Amplifiers
Audio Research comes out slugging with their new Reference 210 mono amps. Unlike their less expensive T-amp amplifiers, the 210 is a fully balanced tube monster pumping out, surprise surprise, 210 watts.
Price runs $19,900 a pair and includes a vacuum-fluorescent display for adjusting the power output and showing the remain hours left on your little tubes' lives.
Spotlight: Pass Labs Amplifiers
Our first Spotlight will focus on Pass Labs and their glorious amps. Pass Labs is one of the keystone solid state amplifier manufactures along with Krell and Mark Levinson and, unlike the other two, goes against the grain of what to expect from solid-state amp design by championing lusciousness, warmth and other tube-like qualities. And, as you can see, Pass Labs sports some of the finest industrial design around.
Keep reading for the rest on Pass Labs and a roundup of past reviews.