RMAF: Luxman SQ-38
Another winning integrated from the house of Luxman is their SQ-38 tube amp, complete with a great sounding built-in headphone amp. Beautiful old world charm and craftsmanship (I sound like the guy from the HGTV channel!), this amp will be at home in a great variety of systems… Sweetness!
RMAF 07: RL Acoustic + Opera $19k Super System
RL Acoustique partnered with Opera Consonance for an absolutely fantastic Emotional-style room. So good, in fact, their $19,200 system gets my vote for the top Emotional system at the show. The sound was warm and smooth like a world-class Emotional system should be. But the RL Lamhorns ($9500/pair) were also amazingly fast without a lot of the bizarre frequency anomalies that typically turn people away from single driver speakers.
The new Consonance Mini Droplet CD Player ($2500) includes integrated volume and remote while their monoblock amps are the Consonance Cyber 300B ($7200/pair). If you've never seen any of the Cyber series amps up close, just know they're absolutely gorgeous. For the style conscious, the Droplet/Cyber combo is an instant conversation starter (the good kind of conversation).
The RL Acoustique Lamhorns champion the AER MK-1 driver. German AER has made a name for itself in DIY circles as the better-than-Lowther alternative, offering multiple magnet configurations and, interestingly, a field-coil driver. The Opera Cyber amps feature 300B tubes in Single Ended Parallel configuration. The entire Cyber line offers different amps for many flavors of the best tubes out there: 845/211, 300B (in SET, parallel and push/pull configs), and EL34.
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.
Boulder 800 Series
Boulder has released the new 810 preamplifer ($6900) and the 850 mono amps ($10,000/pair). The new 800 series is Boulder's "entry" level product line. Yeah, entry level like a Ferrari 430 is entry level. Boulder is known for their very expensive amps honed out of massive slabs of aluminum mined from the aluminum quarries in Boulder, Colorado. Check out their web site for their titanic 1000 and 2000 series products.
The 850 amps put out 200 watts of solid state power. It's said to have microprocessor control to prevent clipping and subsequent thermal disasters. Boulder's amps have all analog power supply and output section which, in their product lit, Boulder goes to great lengths to differentiate from the flavor-of-the-month switching class-D amp modules. In the future, the 800 line will expand to include HT, players and other entry level products.
HE2006: Studio Electric
What do you think they look like? Everyone who came into the room offered an opinion. Diving helmet, Buck Rogers helmet, Teutonic war helmet and, last but not least, hood ornament. We've covered these Type One speakers from Studio Electric before, and here they are with the full package of equipment, from helmet speakers and the subs they're sitting on to the amps and preamps providing retro power.
Price for the Type One speaker (just the shiny part) is $8500 a pair. Add $4000 if is you want the external subs/stands as well. That amp in the middle is the Electrodyne putting out 275 watts of hybrid power, using solid state for the juice and classic NOS tubes for the gain stage. Price is $6950. Also, those big blackboards their "flat panel" speakers (to the sides of the helmets) using traditional drivers in a pancake cabinet. No prices yet, but said to be tailored for 2.0 home theater listening. Very cool stuff. Check 'em out.
Opera's Wild Stylings
Opera of China [US importer] is on a roll with their Consonance series of stylish products, getting rave reviews of their Droplet CD and wax players (pic below). However, the new Droplet Amp 5.0 priced at $9,990 reminds me of a modern baby stroller from Ikea. I'm big on style to help get neophytes beyond the typical big black boxes, but I look at the Droplet and foresee a horrific event where a little girl thinks she's going to roll dolly around the living room and ends up soldering her hands to mesh covering the six tubes.
In any case, these monos pump out 100 watts from 211 tubes. Overall, I do like the styling and hopes this inspires more manufacturers to go the extra mile to put a little flair in their packaging (sans wheels and handle at top). Under the Droplet CD player below is Opera's Hi-Vision CD player (soon to be released) and the Forbidden City Calif integrated. [news via 6Moons]
Studio Electric's Vintage Type One and Electrodyne
Yes, that's a loudspeaker. The new Type One from Studio Electric, to be precise. If you're confused, you'll looking at the side of the speaker with the tweeter is in the Roman crest part up top and the 6.5" woofer is in the diving bell dome. Pretty wild and pretty expensive - $7950. Total range is 80-18k Hz but a bass module with room correction can be added if you so desire. The guys at Stereophile seemed to like the sound but, come on people, you buy this to impress chicks at house parties.
Studio Electric also debuted their Electrodyne hybrid tube amp to go with their new ornaments. $6950 gets you 275 watts per channel, funky retro fab design and vintage NOS or Telefunken tubes for, you know, impressing geeks at house parties.
NAT, high-end tube gear from Yugoslavia!
It's truly a testament of the human spirit that we have a genuine, high-end tube manufacturer from the former Yugoslavia - Serbia, to be precise. Serbia's NAT Audio is quickly becoming recognized as a superb manufacturer of tube high-end gear, with quality and sonics right up there with the best, if not THE top! The amp pictured is of the SET monoblock (single ended) variety, basically heavenly tube sound that no solid state amplifier could ever hope to achieve. At 35w of SET power (careful now, don't think of these being measly solid state watt's; typically, an SET amp has more guts and glory than an equivalent solid state amp), you can run just about any decently sensitive speaker to gobs of volume and sonic bliss. Soon to be seen and heard in the US, price for 1 pair - $7000
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.
Blue Circle BC202 and BC204 Amplifiers
No, that picture isn't photoshopped. Blue Circle will paint your amp in any color under the sun - periwinkle, mauve, teal - you name it. Of course, who would care if their amps sounded like buzzing flies. SoundStage reviews both the stereo $5295 BC202 and the $7795 BC204. Two different reviewers with their own opinions take a stab and conclude, overall, both amps are solid contenders in their price categories. Power rates at 125 watts for the BC202 and 150 for the BC204 along with a unique hybrid design (tube and solid state - read the review for what this means for you). Power may be low for some, but how many amps do you know look like Optimus Prime?
Chapter Audio Preface and Couplet
Now that is one fly pre-amp. Little is known about these sexy beasts from British company Chapter, but expect to see more of these guys if their gear sounds anything like it looks. The Preface (shown) and Couplet (amp) were introduced at CES this year while a CD player with similar stunning looks is in the pipe for Q4. The Couplet amp puts out 215 watts into 8 ohms. I remember hearing these guys were using highly modified ICEPower amps but their site states power comes from a slew of proprietary technologies (class-D technologies, that is...) If someone has prices on these beauties, let us know.
Check out the next page for a picture of the amp.
UPDATE: Reader Bai informs us the Preface pre-amp goes for $9500 and is one excellent piece of work. Check out the comments section for more details and sonic characteristics from Bai.
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.