Newport 2011: Tri 845SE Amplification
A star is born. The new Tri Audio 845SE integrated with 20 watts, hot looks and beautiful sound defines what's right about tube audio. At $6k, the Tri will, I'm sure, be appearing as the cornerstone in many a fine system.
At the show, the 845SE was only doing amp duty while the pre-amp was Tri's TRX-I ($3k, pic next page). Tri + Acoustic Zen is a match made in hi-fi heaven.
RMAF 07: Joseph & Manley $4550 and $11k Systems
Joseph of perennial favorite Joseph Audio is one guy who knows what's up. When talking about the SonicFlare hi-fi 2.0 mission, he was instantly hip to the idea of complete system packages. Since he's always showing with Manley Labs equipment, he said these Joseph + Manley rigs were no-brainer choices for anyone looking for instant system synergy.
Joseph's sensation were the Joseph $2300 RM7XL monitors with the Manley's $2250 Stingray. The RM7s are now in "XL" status which adds more of the good Joseph sound. At $4550, this is one wicked system for anyone new to super-fi -- synergy, warmth, power, bass, everything you could ask for. Quintessential Vivd-type sonics.
On display in the big room were the new RM25XL speakers running Manley monoblocks and a Bel Canto preamp. Roughly $11k for the system, this had all the same sonic flavor as the little rig but just more -- more bass, more warmth, more intensity. After running through my entire demo CD, we listened to vinyl on the world's only production strain gauge cartridge. Wild tech and amazing sound. $6k gets you the cartridge and custom phono preamp.
SonicFlare Reviews the Gemme Audio Tanto Loudspeakers and Monarchy Audio SE-250 Mono Block Amplifiers
Don’t stress me out. I’m spoiled. I get to audition really cool new and pricey audio gear at no cost. But if that gear even thinks of getting in my way of enjoying the music, I can be the biggest baby. If I don’t get my therapeutic time in front of my music system listening to the highest quality audio, I can get quite cranky. It’s my escape from work and if it’s work just to get good sound then it just doesn’t work for me.
Digital, Exodus and Chilean Sea Bass
God-bless digital. When ICEpower came on the scene a few years ago, the entire audio world was, in a way, flipped upside down. For the first time ever, you saw companies like Jeff Rowland, PS Audio, Bel Canto, Rotel, Canton, Samsung, B&W and others dumping their own amp technologies for the likes of the cool running digital plug-and-play modules from Europe. Not only that, but new companies like Red Dragon Audio and many others were suddenly players because of ICEpower's drop-in simplicity.
But the big question was always this: why is one amp far more expensive than another when they both use identical ICEpower modules? Is there major frankensteining going on or is it simply expensive chassis, cabling and so-forth?
Whatever the case may be, the great hope was we'd see bare bones modules priced far lower than their fancy audiophile counterparts with something like 98% of the performance. As far as I know, ICEpower remains absent of a low-cost sleeper.
But Hypex is another story. Another digital amp company out of northern Europe, Hypex rocks modules for the DIY scene ala ICEpower with small kits, hyper efficiency and mondo wattages up to 700 (4ohms). The difference is that ICEpower uses switching power supplies while Hypex uses donut transformers (for mow).
And then there's the sound. Channel Island Audio is using Hypex modules (with modifications) for their $1599 D100 and $2299 D200 amps that have gotten everyone across the review scene all hot and bothered, saying (as they do) the Hypex juice is just as good, if not better, than the ICEpower, NuForce and other digital/switching offerings out there. Designer Bruno Putzeys is Hypex's heavy hitter, recently doing a custom job for mega-buck speaker company Kharma. Positive Feedback's Marshall Nack went gaga over the Kharma Matrix 150s, calling them absolute bargains. Priced at $6600 a pair, they're some of the most expensive digital amps around.
On the flip, we have DIYcable.com's new Exodus UCD-400 MCH line of amplifiers. Available with 2-5 channels in a single chassis, the amps all rock the UCD-400 module (the foundation of the CIA D200) for 200 watts into 8 ohms and 400 into 4 ohms. Price for the 2 channel kit unassembled is $795. Add $300 for Exodus to solder the sucker together for you.
So we're looking at $1095 for 200 watts of Hypex power. If power were Chilean Sea Bass, Exodus's market price is roughly $5.48 a watt. CIA starts at $11.50, NuForce at $15.63 and the cheapest ICEpower amp I can find (the PS Audio Trio A-100) at $6.63, most expensive (Jeff Rowland 201) at $19.60. The Kharma beasts are $66.00 a watt. Does this actually mean anything? Not really, considering the subjective differences in sound, different technologies and the voodoo territory of module tweaking.
What's interesting, however, is Exodus's new roadsters may be an indicator the digital revolution in hi-fi is finally moving the cost of entry into territory where mortals can participate. Hopefully this is the first of many companies making products with the latest digital technology at entry-level prices instead of replacing old school tech in much more expensive amps.
So check out the rest of the Exodus goods and if you're down with burning some lead, DIYCable stocks the raw parts for building your own Hypex amp. Hell, stick your home brew Hypex amp in a platinum and calf skin chassis and sell it for $100 a watt. As they say, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
HE2006: Sonics, Lyra, Spiral Groove
So you have Eames lounge chairs, lamps with spindly lights and a Design Within Reach membership card, but your high-performance speakers look like soccer shin guards. What's a mid century audiophile to do? Joachim Gerhard to the rescue. Under the Sonics brand name, Joachim does modern design justice with sharp angles and trendy wood for his new Allegria speakers. He also does modern design justice with a $15,000 price tag for the pair.
Vanity shot of the Sonics Allegria next page. Below is the $25,000 Lyra 4-2LSE preamplifier, another product that does equipment design justice. And on the next page, the Spiral Groove SGI, the world's most modest $20,000 turntable. A Lyra phono stage and $4500 Ayre V5XE amp rounded out the package.
With a system like this, a bachelor has a chance of actually talking about his audio rig and coming off as a cultured music patron instead of Dr. Evil. Of course, you have to be Dr. Evil to actually afford this system, unless, of course, you're in the employment of Her Majesty's secret service.
HE2006: Music Direct, E.A.R., Valve, Legacy
Online retailer Music Direct demoed an assortment of their equipment, from the giant Legacy 20/20 speakers to a bevy of new components. The new CD player from E.A.R. won big praise at CES and is shaping up to be a killer product. The amplification is by Valve, an import from South Africa. Their Black Widow preamps and amps go for $3500 and $4000 respectively.
The first day of the show, the room sounded just bizarre. With those massive 12" woofers, three total (1 down-firing), the room was just bass crazy. More is not better. But Music Direct quickly threw up some curtains on the back wall, adjusted the speakers and, damn, if it didn't sound awesome. The bass was still huge, but now it worked. Goes to show what window treatments and speaker wiggling can do.
Next page, their Mobile Fidelity rig. Speaks go for $2000.
HE2006: Acoustic Zen Adagio, Red Dragon and Modwright
Acoustic Zen teamed with Red Dragon Audio and Modwright for a banging demo. Those $3700 Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers have been getting buckets of love and the $2200 Modwright SWL 9.0SE preamp rocked the audio underground last year. So many people requested the new blue faceplate for the Modwright, he's decided to put it into production. Those amps on the ground are the $5995 Leviathan ICEpower beasts, rocking 1000 watts of digital power.
Lots of love in the halls for this system. Expect to see more of these guys as they slay the review circles and expand their product lines.
HE2006: Nola, ASL and Kuzma
Nola's big-ol' $45,000 Pagasus speakers with Antique Sound Labs $5000/pr Hurricane tubed monoblock amps. Below, Kuzma, the crazy turntable guys out of Slovenia, spun wax with their $18k Stabi XL and the $2400 Stabi S.
6Moons Esoteric Tube Avalanche
You know, 6Moons wouldn't be the same if it stopped reviewing exotic tube equipment from manufacturers with names you can never pronounce correctly. Is it Jas or J. A. S.? Is it Cay-in or Kai-een? Is it AudioTropic or...
As you guessed, the creatures on display are the JAS 2.1 (pictured), Cayin A-88t and the AudioTropic Music Machine. Prices are CDN$3599, US$1895 and $3000 respectively. JAS hails from Hong Kong, Cayin is a German brand made in the PRC and AudioTropic is all about Hawaiian hi-fi.
The bizarre banana of the bunch is not the Hawaiian piece, actually, but the Cayin. Cayin has a whole line of components is beautiful packages (pictured immediately below) but with sonics imitating classic amps. The A-88t is designed to mimmic the McIntosh MC-275 tube amps of yore. They can also impersonate classic Harmon/Kardon and Marantz amps if you're into that stuff. Not sure how I feel about all this "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" business. On the one hand, I feel defensive for the old school gramps. Then again, it's putting classic sound out there for the new gen. And yet, if I'm buying an amp, I don't want it to sound decades old. Then again, the gleaming chassis has a greater chance of impressing the chicks and, truthfully, that's the single most important factor whenever I consider a new piece of equipment...and you're a filthy liar if you're single and say you are any different.
Bel Canto and the 6Moons Taste
It's no secret that the 6Moons crew loves the new Bel Canto slim line components. Before getting into the details, it's worth mentioning 6Moons Srajan's defense of the 6Moons reviewing practices. Any frequenter of these pages is aware that 6Moons has favorites, namely Bel Canto, Zu, Gallo, Eastern Electric and a handful of others. Should they cover other equipment or only the gear they like?
Srajan says they should only cover the gear that gets their blood pumping, and I agree. For those with similar tastes to the 6Moonies, they have a home. It's interesting how in the last five or so years the industry has really broken apart along certain lines, like tubes and high-eff versus multi-drivers and SS power. We know audiophiles have different tastes, so why not embrace them in different publications?
In any case, it should come as no surprise the new Bel Canto gear wins accolades left and right from the 6Moons guys. First up are the Reference 1000 monoblocks rocking, you guessed it, 1000 watts of power (4ohms) from ICEpower digital amps. $1990 each.
Then we have the PRe3 preamp and S-300 stereo amp at $1695 and $1395 respectively. The S-300 brings 300 stereo watts (4ohms) to the game and the PRe3 builds off Bel Canto's very popular previous generation preamps. Nice and svelte, it's nice to see a move away from big 17" black boxes.
Audio Space 6M-KT88 Review
Review of Audio Space 6M-KT88 amps over at Positive Feedback. Audio Space, if you're not aware, is a Hong Kong brand already huge in Asia and Europe. Like Japan's Accuphase, Shindo and others, Audio Space's goal is to be known as the best China's tech heads can offer. Priced at $3290 a pair, Dave Clark says this of the monoblocks:
While they are not the last word in detail, they will let the music across with very little editing―that is, they are more forgiving than analytical; which in my world is always preferable. Hey, they are lowish-powered tube amps for chrissakes!
If you look closely, you'll see a volume knob. Monoblock integrateds? Bizarre, but I guess there are some hard core audiophiles in Asia who hook their CD players directly to the amps...and run back and forth adjusting the volume. Whatever floats your boat.
Power is switchable between triode and ultra-linear from KT88 tubes for 25 or 50 watts respectively. The big dog in the Audio Space line is the $20,000 Reference One monoblocks (pic below) rocking a bizarre assortment of tubes for 75 watts of power. I don't understand the tech talk but the Japanese audio scene has gone nuts over the amps for the last two years.
6Moons Tube Torrent
Here's 6Moons blazing trails in the tiny-powered tube underground. Of course, being 6Moons, the reviews are encyclopedic in depth and length. So here's the Cliffs Notes. First up, the $800 Almarro A205A with all of 5 watts (but they're big watts!):
As others are finding out, the little EL84-equipped Almarro A205A MkII is one heck of a good little amplifier and one that I highly recommend to low-powered valve lovers everywhere.
Next up is the $1995 Music Reference RM-10 with 35 watts of EL84 tube goodness:
No flash, no glitz, no wonky liberties, no silly excess. This is an amp backed by a designer with a test bench who knows how to use it. He wouldn't spring something on an unsuspecting public whose every measurable performance aspect couldn't be justified.
Finally, the $4200 SilverTone Audio Model 3.2 rocking micro-powered 300B tubes:
Based on what I believe attracts most prospective 300B enthusiasts to this tube in the first place, the SilverTone Model 3.2 is a very welcome addition to the genre and one that doesn't suffer the usual excuses made for bass weight or extension.
Read the reviews for all the goods.
Underground Tube Amps From PFO
Positive Feedback is all over unusual tube gear and here are two reviews of amps from companies deep in the audio underground. First up is the $2k Piano integrated from Jasmine Audio. 34 watts per side, two reviewers at PFO like what this amp dishes out and offer lots of reviews in comparison. Nothing terribly out-of-this-world great but "audition worthy," as they say.
Also up is a tube hybrid amp from Germany's AcousticPlan. Recently gaining in popularity, these hybrid integrated amps normally use tubes for the preamp section and solid state for the actual juice. Here, AcousticPlan's Santos is a pure amp with both tube and SS circuitry in an unusual design that the reviewer breaks down in an informative article complete with heaps of praise. Nothing is ever cheap, of course: 5200 euros for the amp. AcousticPlan also has companion preamps and integrateds as well as a couple speakers.
Vegas - Devore, Tone Imports, PlayStation
Yes, that's a PlayStation sitting among certified high-end gear. Rumor has it the first gen PS ain't that bad a source and, playing through the $1950 DeVore Gibbon 3Rs and the $5495 Leben CS-6000 integrated (on the left) from Tone Imports, I'd have to agree. Definitely cool and definitely fun bucking the mega-buck transport trend.
DeVore also showed their larger $4000 Super Gibbon 8s and the statement $12k Silverback Reference speakers in two other rooms. As usual, the green lovelies from Shindo provided the perfect companion to the DeVores, albeit not at a Playstation price. Tone Import's Auditorium 23 speaker cables at $900/pr brought out cotton-wrapped coolness that got one of the 6Moonies to proclaim: "you must buy this speaker cable now!"
Vegas - Eventus and Audia
Two Italian companies Eventus and Audia showed their pricey goods at CES. Eventus makes loudspeakers with a unique layered construction and, like any self-respecting Italian company, uses drop-dead gorgeous finishes.
The speakers shown are the Metis bookshelves with a price of $5000 to $7000. The 3-way floor model Phobos goes for $12k and the Nebula statement speaker is $50k (shown on the next page). Audia's components are between $4000 and $7000 per component.