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High End 2014: Some Announcements

Been seeing a slew of NPI (new product intro) announcements hitting the wires, perhaps targeting (or just piggybacking on) the High End Show in Munich. Thought it might make sense to set out a few that I've seen so far:

  • Astell&Kern AK 100 II and AK120 II
  • Channel D Pure Music 2.0
  • Brinkmann Spyder
  • LKV Research Line One
  • KEF Blade Two
  • AMG Giro
  • PS Audio Sprout
  • Estelon Extreme
  • Constellation Audio Inspiration Series
  • Auralic Aries
I'm sure there will be more announcements and things of note at this year's European Ultra Mega Audio Extravaganza, but lets start with these. 

Astell&Kern

AK_Gen2First up, Astell&Kern have two new portable digital players they’re showcasing. The new AK100 II and AK120 II are major revisions to their entry- and mid-level players, which were introduced maybe a year or so ago. The new players have some radically updated looks and specs — here’s the read-out.

The AK100 II and AK120 II replace the Wolfson WM8740 DAC with the Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chipset found in the flagship AK240.  The AK100 II features a single DAC chipset like its predecessor, while the AK120 steps up to two (2) DACs (Digital to Analog Converters) that output audio signals independently to each channel, making the AK120 II a true dual mono (dual monaural) setup like those found in expensive hi-fi equipment. The dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chips found in the AK120 II dedicates each DAC chip to a completely separate left and right channel. In result, the AK120 II provides far superior depth, clarity, and spaciousness to the audio. By providing a much clearer sound with lower distortion, the AK120 II truly replicates how the original music was recorded. Both players include Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing users to stream high resolution audio from a Mac or PC located on the same network via the MQS Streaming function.  Firmware updates are also preformed over the air, eliminating the need to connect the player to a computer to update software and add features. Like the flagship AK240, the AK100 II and AK120 II feature balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, giving audiophiles a wider range of listening options.  With a 3.31” AMOLED screen, both players display more information that the first generation models in a crystal clear, high resolution display.  Single-rate and double-rate DSD playback is supported via DSD to PCM conversion done in real-time via the player’s software.  In addition to DSD support, the Astell&Kern portable players support 24-bit, up to 192khz digital audio files, and Apple lossless formats in addition to many other lossy music formats users may currently have. The AK100 II features 64GB of internal memory.  The AK120 II adds 128GB of internal memory.  Both portable players feature one microSD card slot that supports up to a 128GB microSD card slot, providing up to 192GB total storage for the AK100 II and 256GB total for the AK120 II.  Both players can also be used as an USB DAC, allowing the user to connect the unit to a computer to provide higher quality sound processing than most sound cards available today. Pricing and availability of the new second-generation AK100 and AK120 will be announced soon.

Channel D

This isn’t precisely a High End 2014 announcement, but it’s been one I’ve been looking for for a while, so I thought I’d include it here. Yes, Channel D has launched Pure Music 2.0. Unlike some of the previous releases, this is a whole new take and upgrades will not be free. A limited-time-only upgrade path exists for previous customers, priced at $44.95 with a special coupon. Miss the window and the price floats to the full retail offering of $75. There’s a long list of features, so I figured I’d just list those here:

Brand new features:

  • New user interface for main controller / meter bar window
  • Supports “Cocoa” UI for AudioUnit Plug-Ins
  • LINK button allows disabling Pure Music and iTunes automatic window docking
  • Meter bar now automatically resizes to full width of iTunes window (with LINK engaged)
  • Meter bar can be resized independently of iTunes window
  • New Transparency control to make the meter / controller a see-through window
  • New FLOAT function keeps Pure Music window on top of all others
  • Jog-style Volume slider with 0.1 dB precision
  • Volume balance knob with precision 0.1 dB control
  • Menu command to save all plug-in settings and window positions at once
  • Menu command to show or hide all plug-in settings windows at once
  • Added 48 dB / octave Linkwitz – Riley crossover option to all crossover configurations
  • New Quick Playlist feature for quickly playing FLAC or DSD files (and other formats) via ad-hoc playlists, independent of iTunes and without needing to create Bookmarks
  • Can add groups of files or folders to Quick Playlist with OPEN… command
  • File Converter now provides choice of converting to Apple Lossless or AIFF
  • File Sample Rate Converter can downsample DXD format (352.8 kHz) files
  • Supports having more than one music storage volume with the same name

There’s more, of course, so click through for all the enhancements and bug fixes included in the new release.

Brinkmann Audio

spyder Brinkmann has launched a new turntable, called “Spyder”, slotting between the Bardo at the Balance. I haven’t seen pricing and availability stuff yet, but here’s the teaser:

The Spyder shares many tried-and-true elements of Brinkmann’s Bardo and Balance turntables, and yet has a fresh design and capabilities that are all its own. It’s a belt-drive that employs the Balance’s Sinus 4-Phase, 12-pole motor, and the hydrostatic, maintenance-free bearing used in all Brinkmann ‘tables. The minimal-plinth design and aluminum alloy/crystal-glass platter will look familiar to those who know the Bardo, and while the tonearm towers remind one of the Balance the Spyder’s great innovation is that it can be configured with as many as four tonearm towers!

LKV Research

Following on the successful launch of their fantastic-sounding phono preamplifier, the 2-SB, Bill Hutchins has finished his preamplifier, the Line One.

This new preamplifier provides features and flexibility that suit virtually every high end system:

  • Two balanced and four single ended inputs
  • Two balanced and two single ended outputs.
  • Three levels of user-selectable gain 4dB, 10dB and 16 dB
  • Volume control via an Elma stepped attenuator.
  • Mute function via front panel switches.

The Line One is a dual mono design. It achieves very low distortion and noise using zero-feedback, fully differential (balanced) Class A amplifier circuitry executed with discrete, hand matched jfets. Volume control is provided by an Elma stepped attenuator with 0.1% metal film resistors. All other resistors are Vishay/dale 1% metal film, and all signal path caps are Wima polypropylene. The power supply uses a custom designed toroidal transformer, low noise HEXFRED rectifier diodes and numerous stages of regulation and filtering. The Line One is made in America and is sold direct from the factory through the LKV website. Its retail price is $3500.

KEF

BladeOne_Two If you’ve been pining for the svelte curves of the Blade, but haven’t had the wallet for it, well, the new Blade II might be of particular interest.

At the heart of the Blade Two system lies KEF’s signature Uni-Q ‘point source’ driver array–a 25mm vented aluminium dome tweeter placed at the exact acoustic center of a sophisticated 125mm midrange driver, providing direction-agnostic high- and mid-range response that floods the listening space evenly with a flawless, natural sound field. Blade Two incorporates four powerful 6.5” bass drivers, delivering distortion-free low frequency response, rendered beautifully despite the engineering challenges associated with their placement. The parabolic curvature of Blade Two’s high-density polyurethane enclosure increases cabinet rigidity and, with the drivers fully decoupled, sound is only generated from driver movement and not from the cabinet. Blade Two is smaller in height and depth than the original Blade: its size retains the integrity of the iconic visual design and the acoustic prowess while making placement within smaller environments easier. KEF Blade Two – Key Features

  • Single Apparent Source Driver Configuration
  • Latest iteration of the Uni-Q Driver Array and Tangerine Waveguide
  • New Bass Technologies/4 Bass Units with Force Cancelling
  • Distinctive Design with ultra-high density polyurethane Cabinet

Standard Finishes: Piano Black, Snow White, Racing Red, Warm Metallic Grey, Light Metallic Silver Kent Engineering and Foundry Editions: Frosted Blue and Frosted Copper Black Price: $24,000 / pair Availability: August 2014

AMG

Giro

AMG is launching two new bits at High End, a turntable and a cartridge. The matching tonearm is currently available.

AMG Giro turntable

$9,900 in US, €7,900 in Germany

Introducing our second turntable, the Giro is built in the AMG factory in Germany. The Giro features the AMG 9W2 9” tonearm and brings the AMG sonic and visual excellence to a new price level. The belt-driven platter is a combination of synthetic and aluminum materials and uses the decoupled spindle design of the highly-acclaimed AMG Viella turntable. The platter bearing is a scaled version of the Viella platter bearing. The Giro’s “double circle” plinth is machined from aircraft grade aluminum. The Giro feature both 33 and 45 RPM via electronic control. Anticipated availability is late 3rd quarter 2014.

AMG Teatro MC phono cartridge

$2,000 in US, €1,950 in Germany

A special titanium body houses a generator using separate coils wound with Ohno cast (OCC) mono-crystal high-purity oxygen-free copper wire. Neodymium magnets are combined with a special soft magnetic alloy yoke to produce an output of .4mV at 5cm/sec. Coil impedance is 12 ohms. A solid boron cantilever with a diameter of .26mm is fitted with a line contact stylus (40 x 7µm) and the dynamic compliance is 18 x 10-6 cm/dyne. The Tiodize Type III titanium body is tapped for 2.5mm mounting hardware and features an aluminum stylus guard. Anticipated availability is late 3rd quarter 2014.

PS Audio

PSAudioSprout

Following on the heels of the new DSD DAC from PS Audio is a headphone amplifier (or, more properly, an integrated amp, DAC, Bluetooth receiver and phono pre) called Sprout.

‘Sprout’ is the brainchild of Scott McGowan, PS Audio’s Sales Director, and son of Paul McGowan. Designed as the simple but high-quality hub of a home music system, ‘Sprout’ is a 50 watt/channel integrated amplifier which includes a phono preamplifier, DAC, headphone amp and a Bluetooth receiver. ‘Sprout’ can thus play music directly from a turntable, any digital input, and wirelessly from a smartphone.
 
“Many of my friends want the concert-hall sound of PS Audio’s products, “ said Scott, “but they can’t afford them, and they don’t have room for them in their homes.  ‘Sprout’ will give them the kick-ass sound and build-quality of PS’ traditional products, in a simple, small unit whose design will fit in modern homes. ‘Sprout’ will play music from any source, in the way that people listen today—at a price they can afford.”
 
‘Sprout’ is being shown as a pre-production prototype; it will be introduced to a mass audience soon, by means of a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. “Most people of my generation—in their ‘20’s and ‘30’s—have grown up with earbuds and cheap plastic home-theater systems, and have no idea how great music at home can sound,” said Scott McGowan. “This product is our first step in growing awareness of awesome home audio—so we think ‘Sprout’ is an appropriate name. We expect big things from this little guy.”
 
‘Sprout’ is being shown as a pre-production prototype, and some details may change before it reaches production. Projected MSRP is $799.99 in the US, subject to change and variance in other markets.

Estelon

Estelon

I remember the first time I saw an Estelon loudspeaker, and I remember that reaction I had to the shape and swirling curves. I remember asking a young woman there what she thought of it. Turns out, that “young woman” was Alissa Vassilkova, the daughter of designer Alfred and an altogether impressive woman who is apparently running the company. She told me the design was “very Euro” and that women particularly would find it appealing. She was very matter-of-fact. I must have raised an eyebrow because she smirked at me, leaned in, and whispered sotto voce, “Well, find it appealing.” I’m pretty sure I blushed some completely unnatural shade of crimson. Yep. I really don’t get out much. Needless to say, I’ve been following my altogether-too-rare Estelon sightings with no little interest.

The High-End finds a brand new addition to the growing line-up. This time, Alfred and Alissa have reached for the very high-end for High End with their newest, the Extreme.

The proprietary marble-based composite material with the finest aesthetic finish presents the familiar sculpture-like design that Estelon has trademarked over the years. The most noticeable change in Exteme’s design is that it is built of two modules. The upper module allows the speaker to be adjustable by user for optimizing the sound in regard of room specifics (speaker height is changeable from 177 to 207 cm).  The two module design also isolates the high, medium and mid-bass drivers from the vibration that the lower positioned bass drivers provide. Symmetrically arranged bass drivers work in equal conditions, which results in outstanding bass performance.  To achieve the maximum performance, the listener can also adjust the tweeter to his listening position.

The design features best components available, including new aluminum woofers (2 x 10“) and mid-woofer (10“), ceramic midrange (7“) and diamond tweeter (1,5“), all custom designed by Accuton.

Suggested retail price in Europe 170,000 EUR.

Constellation Audio

The new, lower-cost Inspiration Series from Constellation Audio was formally announced late last week. I covered that in the AXPONA show coverage. Hit the link for the details and some photos.

Auralic

Auralic’s new Aries “streamer” also took a formal bow, just in time for Munich. I spoilered that also, however, in the AXPONA show coverage. Hit the link for the details and some photos.

More High End

As I mentioned, I’m sure there will be much more forthcoming from our Audio Traveler Du Jour, Dr Panagiotis Karavitis, as he wanders the labyrinthian vastness of High End 2014. Can’t wait to see what he digs up.

About Panagiotis Karavitis (190 Articles)
Doctor and Editor @ Part-Time Audiophile Publisher @ Audiohub.gr