McIntosh Laboratory MA-7000 Integrated Amp Review
Karen KA I-180 Integrated Amp Review by Sean Fowler
RMAF 07: Vivid/Luxman Super System
If you've ever heard or read about Vivid speakers, know that the sound at RMAF was completely different. At past shows, Vivid has demoed with a variety of gear (Pathos is the one I can recall), but this time, Vivid was matched up with Luxman equipment, both companies now under the wing of On a Higher Note by Philip O'Hanlon (whose past projects saw the launch of Halcro into the big time).
Talk about synergy. The Vivid K1 speakers ($20k/pair) with the Luxman L-590A II integrated ($9000) were simply out of this world good. Flushed out with a Weiss Jason CD player, the total system cost comes out to roughly $40k.
Philip is one man who loves the system-centric approach. He picked up these two brands simply because of the amazing synergy. Philip is packaging the smaller Vivid speakers and a Luxman integrated for a package price of $15k and marketing it to doctors, lawyers and rockstars everywhere.
MusicGiants, of lossless downloading fame, was a joint exhibitor in this room. After I played my demo track, Philip smiled and said, "You have to hear this." The sample tracks he put on simply blew my mind. What was the deal? Hi-rez tracks downloaded from MusicGiants and burned onto a DVD-A. Philip wanted to have a direct computer connection to play these hi-rez tracks, but the rig didn't arrive. While SACD and DVD-A may be dying a quick death, computer-based hi-rez playback could very well be the glorious future we've all hoped for.
As for the system sound, everyone I talked to said this system was unlike anything they've heard from Vivid before and, while past Vivid rooms weren't anything to talk about, most everyone I talked to raved about the new Vivid/Luxman super system. Interestingly, Vivid/Luxman is placed in the Vivid group on the Sonic Circle. I didn't name the categories with Vivid in mind and the speakers could very well be in another group. But the Vivid/Luxman system together provided one of the absolutely best Vivid-type demos at the show.
Vivid, if you know anything about this South African company, has its roots in famed Brit company Bowers & Wilkins. While some of the Vivid tech is derived from the B&W Matrix/Nautilus stable, to me, the Vivid speakers, both at this show and shows past, sound nothing like the B&W 800 series. B&W has a very distinct sound, and Vivid exhibits none of these characteristics.
Luxman is a classic Japanese company, recently revamped with new lines of solid state and tube components. I've heard the new Luxman MQ-88 amp (KT88 tubes) outside of the show and the sound is, upon first blush, a really great and unique Vivid-style sound. It's unlike any other tube gear I've heard before and, to play Nostradamus for a second, will really appeal to a lot of the new school American hi-fi fans who are gravitating towards this kind of rich and powerful sound.
Vivid has some very interesting tech behind it. First, the driver compliment. The Vivid K1 is a 3.5-way speaker with all custom aluminum drivers. What you can't see is the two additional woofers on the back side, putting out frequencies below 100Hz. The front woofers mirror the back woofers, but run all the way up to 900Hz to mate with the midrange dome (which, in turn, runs up to 4kHz).
As for construction, the "cabinets" are "carbon fiber loaded polyester compound." While I'm a little rusty on my polyester compounds, this method creates a cabinet with walls that vary in thicknesses to kill cabinet resonances. Additionally, like a sports car shaped in a wind tunnel, the Vivids are shaped to virtually disappear from driver reflections that would otherwise be bouncing off of the hard edges of a traditional box cabinet.
Interestingly, the Vivid K1 speakers are rated at 89dB sensitivity (6 ohms) while the Luxman pure class-A L-590A II integrated amp puts out all of 30 watts into 8 ohms. The system had no right to sound as powerful and full as it did. I hung out in the Vivid/Luxman room on two occasions and people would come in and say, "Wow! So how many watts is that amp?" And Philip O'Hanlon would tell them, and then smile as their faces contorted in confusion. There's something funky going on inside the Luxman amp. Check out the website for all the tech talk you can handle and expect to see the L-590A II winning all kinds of awards from around the interwebs.
HE2006: MBL's Babies
This little MBL system uses mere mortal speaker drivers instead of their omnis. Alas, this was a non playing demo. With the big 101s casting their spell, it's really no surprise. Shown above are the $3250 MBL 311 E speakers, $7480 7008 integrated and $8400 1531 CD player.
Pictured below is the new line of entry-level components: $4700 model 7006 integrated, $3600 4006 preamplifier, $3500 8006 B power amp and the 1431 CD player (no list price). Thoroughly confused by the numbering system yet? Me too.
HE2006: Music Hall Audio, Shanling and Epos
Music Hall Audio, manufacturers of killer turntables and importers of numbers of popular lines, put on this little demo with their Epos ELS303 speakers and Shanling Star Trek worthy components. The big integrated is the Shanling A500 amp at $6499. The CD player is the $5999 CD500. Read the rest of room pics and shots of the entry level Music Hall MMF 2.1 turntable and its big siblings.
Update: Speakers are actually the similar but lower higher priced Epos M22.
Krell's Unique Model -- A Stereo Integrated Amp
It's clear someone hasn't switched to "digital" technologies. Solid state giant Krell brought out a virtual army of new gear at CES this year, one of which is the $16500 FBI -- Full Balanced Integrated. 300 watts per side, the Krell FBI doesn't seem to fit into any of their other product lines so it's thrown into a new category called "Unique Model Series." In person, this product looks like a shiny sherman tank...and probably sounds like one. Oh! Drama?
Really, a new integrated from Krell isn't anything terribly interesting other than the fact that, well, it's not from Mark Levinson and, more importantly, what it means for the industry. Really, Krell is a survivor and one of the few companies (along with speaker giant Martin Logan) to actually have real world sales in home theater stores. While their sound is up for debate, their marketing is not -- non-audiophiles are the target. Mark Levinson, one of the vanguards of SS amps and Krell's logical rival (if there is such a thing), has, as some may know, fallen into a world of trouble. So despite being one of the old school, Krell is blazing trails into HT territory and doing big business.
But what the heck does it mean when their new 2-channel int-amp is thrown into the "Unique Model Series" category? Sure Krell has a whole slew of 2-channel high end gear, but their business is in their HEAT series of HT packaged products. Has it become the absolute rule that, to survive, one must embrace big box home theater?
Emille Sound KM-300SE Integrated Amp
Korean company with a very western name Emille Sound has brought out their KM-300SE stereo integrated. It looks a lot like a VAC amp, doesn't it? That's a good thing, as making tube amps look good is a hard thing to do, but may hurt their sales as American buyers are notoriously protective of their home-grown companies. No word on the sound, but price runs $8899 for 10 watts a channel. If fellow Korean company April Music is any indication, expect excellent sound for lower than normal prices.
KR Audio VA340 Review
I always think it's funny when manufactures put tubes in cages like, what, the tubes will escape? Maybe they will, what do I know. The amp pictured is the KR Audio VA340 SET integrated. KR Audio hails from the Czech Republic and is known for making the Kronzilla, a 13 inch tall tube that really does need a cage lest the monster gets out and eats children. Anyway, the VA340 gets Audiophilia's Star Component Award and costs $6800 for 20 watts a channel.