CAS 2014: Stunt Systems, Sony, Pass Labs and Blue Coast

Ignore the misleadingly soothing pianist in the lobby. One of the real pleasures at an audio show comes when the big guns bring out all of their dogs and ponies. Some may systems are stunt systems by virtue of their cost, but they’re otherwise modest and unassuming. Other exhibits are just stunts.

Sony‘s second floor partnership with Blue Coast Records was a much more subtle and comprehensive stunt. Cookie and Patrick from Blue Coast again brought their full portable rig to record live performances. We walked in just as the always-animated (and so often blurry) Cookie was enthusiastically describing her methods of mixing DSD and analog recording techniques to an audience.

Sony’s John Bolin, meanwhile, gave us a tour of the perfectionist construction used in Sony’s SS-AR1 loudspeaker ($27,000) and a gawk at the insides of one of ten you-can’t-have-one amps that Pass Labs has built from Sony’s supply of NOS VFETs.

Paraphrased from Stereophile: The transistors, Sony Vertical Field Effect Transistors or VFETs were developed in 1972 to mimic the transfer function of a 300B triode tube. Sony and Yamaha both made amplifiers using this unique device, but discontinued them in the early 1980s when lower-priced power MOSFETs became available soon after. Nelson Pass many years later uncovered a stash in Singapore and bought all of them, enough to make the single pair of “Sony VFET Amplifier 40 Year Commemorative Edition” amplifiers at CES. This uses 24 pairs of VFETs as complementary followers and front-end/driver circuitry based on a Pass Labs’ XP topology.

A second trip allowed us to hear some of Cookie’s DSD served from Sony’s own HAP-Z1ES ($2000) through a Pass XP-20 preamp ($8,600), a pair of those VFET monsters, and a pair of the SS-AR1. Sweet, powerful, and detailed covers just about everything. Between the gear lust, the attention to detail, and the constant exuberance, Sony reminded everyone who walked into this room just why we love this stuff.