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Pre-CES Coolness

One of the most delightful things about signing up for a CES press badge is all the delightful email that will inundate that account. Ahh, the bliss. Over the last month, I have received 514,238 announcements promising awesome shit for my iPhone. Anti-glare this, indestructible that, and all of them will let me shoot lasers out of my butt, which will be cool. Personally, I'm thrilled that Onkyo will have a pair of giant earphones on display, I mean, what could be more awesome than a 2-story pair of Beats? I know, right? Oh, well, how about 750 new in-ear Apple earbud replacements! On the other hand, the number of companies displaying micro-dot sized "lifestyle" loudspeakers promising "the highest fidelity" has me bringing an extra suitcase to stuff them all in, so I can scatter them around the house for the cat to play with. I don't actually have a cat, but if I did, I'm sure it would love to bat these around. Did you know that Danny DeVito will be giving a keynote? True! And in other news, I've been offered 15 minute interview slots with C-level execs at Philips, Casio, Intel and a company that makes brackets. It's all terrifically exciting.

In the exuberant over-abundance, I almost missed a couple of interesting tidbits.

First, Pass Labs has a yet-to-be-priced Xs Preamp. From the announcement:

The Xs Preamp applies lessons learned designing Pass Labs’ breakthrough XP-30 3-Chassis Reference Preamplifier, and the two Xs Series Amplifiers for which it is custom designed to deliver music. The Xs Preamp is quieter than the XP-30 and has an even more improved power supply. In appearance, it resembles the Xs Amplifiers and features two large chassis built with a true dual-monaural topology. Internally, it has been innovatively designed, especially in its use of high-quality materials….

Each of the Xs Preamp’s two channels has its own power supply board, each with a refined circuit design and layout. Their 100,000-microfarad (uF) capacitors are optimized for low noise and high performance through the use of a variety of materials, from highly reliable electrolytics to a custom polypropylene. Newly available silicon carbide semiconductors further heighten performance by dropping noise below the level of Pass Lab’s XP-30 Preamp….

The Xs Preamp comes supplied with a remote control. Its rear panel includes 6 inputs, a tape loop, dual-power input connections, dual balanced outputs, and variable outputs for bi-amping and use with multi-room systems.

In other news, B.M.C. Audio has released a monoblock amp, the $7,990 (each) AMP M2.

The AMP M2 possesses a surprisingly powerful dynamic vitality for its relatively compact size, a very affordable price given its high performance and top grade materials, an 88-pound weight that only begins to suggest its exceptional build quality, an elegant design, and three of B.M.C.’s exclusive advances. The channel separation produced by two separate AMP M2s cannot be surpassed.

B.M.C.’s exclusive innovations include its Load Effect Free (LEF) technology, Digital Intelligent Gain Management (DIGM), and Current Injection (CI) technology. They ensure listeners only experience the amplifier’s power and music’s finest details.The M2 delivers 200 watts into 8 Ohms, and 380 watts into 4 Ohms with a frequency response of 1Hz – 200kHz (@1W). A fully regulated power supply with a massive 2-kW toroidal transformer and balanced current capacitors contribute background silence and rock-solid stability.

LEF technology raises speaker output, the quality of the AMP M2’s audio reproduction, and the amplifier’s efficiency. It achieves these by handling speakers’ current demand separately from the voltage demand, relieving the Class-A transistor of all duties other than providing perfect signal reproduction.

DIGM technology is a volume and amplification control that lets listeners adjust left/right output balances in 1-decibel increments by setting the M2’s gain on B.M.C.’s DAC 1 Digital-to-Analog Converter. The DAC 1 optically transmits the value to the M2. This avoids unnecessary input-signal attenuation and excessive amplification, contributing to a more natural musical quality. As a result, DIGM eliminates the need for a preamp circuit, avoids unnecessary excess gain, and allows direct connection to a DAC, phono preamp or other device. Additional benefits include a very short signal path, low noise, and the ability to reduce noise further by reducing volume.

CI technology further increases signal purity and the immediacy of the M2’s musical reproduction. It does this by processing a signal source’s current until it attains the loudspeaker’s desired output voltage, replacing any gain stage by an original signal. Combined, B.M.C.’s LEF, DIGM and CI technologies draw listeners into a new world of tonal experience.

Vitus Audio is showing of it’s newest addition to their Reference Line of electronics, the $13,000 RD-100 DAC/preamplifier. I’m pretty excited about this preamp — I was blown away (a phrase I chose deliberately) by the SIA-025; I’d love to see what Vitus can do down in the more reasonably priced domains.

The RD-100, to be demonstrated for the first time at CES 2013 and shipping Q1/2013, defies simple categorization as it combines functions generally found in separate digital/analog converters (DACs) and preamplifiers. In addition to all standard digital inputs for the DAC, the RD-100 includes two analog inputs, controlled by Vitus’  well-known relay-based volume control. When an analog input is selected, all digital circuitry is shut down, allowing the lowest possible noise levels, and providing a purely-analog line stage.

The RD-100 can serve as the heart of a state-of-the-art audio system, offering greater convenience and less complexity than competing systems, while still featuring Vitus’ trademark modular construction and lifelike musical reproduction.

On the other end of the spectrum, Light Harmonic will be debuting their newest product, building off their success with the DaVinci that I first ran across back at AXPONA in 2011. That unit is an incredible DAC with an equally incredible aesthetic. But …

… even DaVinci’s amazing performance was capable of being improved-upon: a DAC designed for PCM playback will not offer optimal performance with DSD, nor will a DAC designed for DSD extract the best performance from a PCM source.

The new DaVinci Dual DAC eliminates all constraints in performance by providing completely separate and discrete decoding engines for both formats: one designed and optimized specifically for PCM, one designed and optimized specifically  for DSD — hence, the name “Dual DAC”.

Pricing for the Dual DAC hasn’t been set/released, but I expect it to be well north of the $30k mark.

In a surprise move — that is, surprising to me — Reference 3A has revamped their entire lineup. Nothing has been left unscathed! Fire! Ahhh! Ahem. Anyway, one of my all-time-favorite loudspeakers, the incomparably awesome MM De Capo I is now the MM De Capo Be — and yes, “Be” means “beryllium” — the biggest change to the lineup.

“The recent updates to the MM de Capo BE include a new beryllium tweeter which extends to 40 Khz, Surreal Acoustic Len on the driver cone to stop air vortex distortions, and the Nextel suede coated cabinet which reduces diffraction effects and absorbs surface vibrations.”

That ziggurat-shaped doohickey in the middle of the driver is the Surreal Acoustic Lens, and is common across most of the Reference 3A loudspeakers, excluding the floor standing Veena Be, Episode Be, and Grand Veena Be.

Two new models, the Nefes and the Sema, cap the new lineup. The latter is a impressively dimensioned loudspeaker, but details seem scarce — the former will be debuted at CES. The Nefes is an MTM-array design, rated at 95dB and 12 ohms, with a response window of 26Hz to 40kHz. Each 52″ tall cabinet weighs a shocking 123lbs. This thing has low/mid-power tube-amp written all over it! More details are online, here.

All I can say is this, if it has that Ref3A sound, I want one. Oh yes, yes I do.

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1 Comment on Pre-CES Coolness

  1. I’m curious as to how well Reference 3A was able to integrate their new tweeters. Be tweeters can work, or they can shout at you in a really disjointed, annoying fashion (Magico, Focal). The cabinet coating is a cool idea, but it has the side effect of making them look like studio monitors. I wonder if the market will accept that in a sea of products with gorgeous glossy wood finishes.

    I’m also curious about the use of the wave guide in the Nefes. That’s a plus with studio speakers for controlling unwanted reflections, but wave guides in many cases also have the effect of limiting the soundstage. If it’s one of those speakers were the image stops at the outer edge of the cabinet, that would be very disappointing.

    The crazy phase plug is certainly cool.

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