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CES

2009 CES & T.H.E Show Coverage 1

Wadia (Pass Labs, Dynaudio, XLO), Teresonic, Aaudio Imports

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WADIA DIGITAL / XLO / DYNAUDIO

It is official, my friends: The matching SACD transport for Wadia’s top-of-the-line Reference Series 9 Decoding Computer System is now in full development.

Wadia showcased the prototype 971 Reference Transport in its Venetian Exhibit, a transport featuring the Esoteric VMK-5 Full Disc Clamping SACD/CD transport mechanism, 24-bit Resolution Enhancement technology, ClockLink™ , etc.. The projected MSRP is between $15k and $20k. For the CES attendees who visited he Wadia Exhibit on Thursday, they wouldn’t have seen the 971 prototype, for it arrived in the late morning of Friday the 9th.

Year after year, the Wadia Exhibit represented the best in digital audio; this year, the stakes are several notches higher: While the 931 Controller remained unchanged for the time being, the 921 Decoding Computer monoblocks have been upgraded to the 922 status with improvements to component quality. The new retail of the 931/922 Reference Series 9 is $36,000. The result, along with the Pass Labs XA100.5 monoblock amplifiers driving the Dynaudio Sapphire Anniversary loudspeakers, was the best high-end digital audio system as complemented by some of the best solid-state amplification and loudspeaker designs.

▼Wadia’s latest 151 Digital Amp (left) and 121 Decoding Computer (right). Specifications and price to be announced. For 151, less than $1,000 121 $1,000 without headphone, $1500 with headphone stage

On the top shelf was the 170 iTransport; docked in the iTransport was my iPhone! We were playing 16-bit/48kHz music imported from CDs into Apple’s iTune software, and the sound had amazing resolution and powerful dynamics. Hardly surprising when you have the likes of Pass Labs pure class A monoblocks driving a pair of the Dynaudio loudspeakers.

Beneath the iTransport was the new 571 CD transport, a direct replacement for the celebrated 270. Retail will be at $7,950, shipping will begin at end of March. The 571 features new output board and dithering technique to bring bit rate up to 24-bit. Beneath the new 571 was the Reference Series 9’s 931 Controller. Under that was the new 381 CD player. With shipping to begin at end of February and a projected retail of $6,950, the 381 was touted by John Schaffer of Wadia as the CD-only version of the 581 SACD/CD player. It was supposed to have the same CD performance of the $10,000 581, without the added cost of SACD playback. Cost cutting measures were also implemented by changing the internal aluminum constructions into sheet metal.

Not pictured in this report but on static display at the show was the Wadia 981i SACD player prototype. Incorporating the latest inductor filtered and Power Factor corrected power supplies for digital and analog circuits, SwiftCurrent™ 3 Discreet (SC-3D) Current-to-Voltage conversion, DigiMaster™ 2.5 Oversampling Algorithm, 4 user selectable inputs and outputs, Direct-Connect™ with digital volume control, ClockLink™ jitter reduction system and a host other amenities, the 981i, along with the 971 Reference Transport, is but just the product of a slight flexing of the resource muscles from this American gem of a company.

Teresonic

The Teresonic room was meticulously treated by Mike Zivkovic, and within the confines of the narrow room was an fantastic display of the prowess of the $14,000/pair, Lowther DX4 Silver-equipped, single-driver Ingenium Silver, producing dynamics and outputs seemingly unthinkable from the company’s own, matching 2A3 Reference Amplifier, both of which were also reviewed by Dagogoan Jack Roberts.

(top to bottom) Clearaudio turntable, Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player ($3,500) and preamplifier, Teresonic 2A3 Reference Amplifier ($15,000).▼

True, the 2A3 did not harness the extension of powerful solid-state monoblocks, nor did the Ingenium Silver intend to overwhelm the listener with extreme bottom end. Yet, dazzling moments abounded during my visit. For instance, I thought the Teresonic demo was a little soft and warm during my own classical pieces, then came pouring the up-and-jumping jazz number from BB and the Film’s Further Adventures, which sounded tamer in my own system. So, the Teresonic system was not slow after all.

I also thought the extensions were not there during a Telarc piece, then came the drum rolling from a contemporary symphonic piece. The Teresonics could pound the room explicitly.

A 2-watt amp and a 100dB single-driver ETQWT (Enhanced Tapered Quarter Wave Tube, not horn) speaker. This was pure magic. Complex rock and heavy metal were reproduced without dynamic compression or chaos. One driver. Easily the equivalent of a 500-watt amp driving a 88dB, 5-driver loudspeaker system. On Ondekoza, the system rendered the background in a manner that was among the most discerning in memory, single-driver or not. Just when I thought I had squeezed all the performance from the system with my custom demo disc, along came Joe Fratus of Art Audio with his custom dance-music disc, which produced the most amazing dynamics and bottom-end from the Teresonic. There must have been unbelievable turbulence created inside the ETQWT loudspeaker in order to create such power.

Aaudio Imports (Acapella, Einstein, Isoclean, Stage III)

The top-end sparkle of the $64,300/pair of the Acapella High Violon IV was absolutely addictive. As driven by a $32,700 pair of the Einstein OTL monoblocks, with Einstein’s $16,900 “The Source” tube balanced CD player, the top-end definition and extension of the Acapella showed an exemplary level of tonal sophistication and control. It was not soft and serene, but well-formed and true to the source. I am not a big OTL fan, partially due to the fact that Brian never sent a pair of the OTLs to me for auditioning, hence the lack of qualification on my part to offer review impressions. That said, my numerous encounters of the two pairs of the OTLs driving Acapella’s $198k Triolon Excalibur tell me that the Einstein OTL is a legend in the making.

Magic also abounded with the High Violon IV playing piano solo, especially when it was a Deutsche Grammophon disc with Emil Gilels playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. You’ve got to hear what the ion tweeters are doing to the piano sound. Never had I heard piano with so much textural liquidity, and at the same time not devoid of substance, that possessed so much tonal richness that it was utterly convincing.

▼Einstein OTL monoblock amplifier, with two of the 19lb Acapella Big Block ($1,400 each) atop the transformers for mechanical resonance damping.

Isoclean continued to have a pronounced presence, this time with no less than 3 of the $3,500 PT 3030G III power transformers, 3 of the $4,200 80A3 power filter and a sleuth of the company’s best cables. In my personal experience, the company’s $2,100 2-meter Super Focus power cable can elevate any component’s performance significantly, while the $4,000 Supreme Focus went beyond improving equipment’s performance in my review of it and made the connected components sounding unrecognizably superior. For an audiophile, the Supreme Focus is serious fun; but for the reviewer, the Super Focus is good enough to push the performance envelope of equipment without making them sound out of character.

▲A buffet of top interconnects and cables
Brian Ackerman, Aaudio Imports (left), Herman Winters, Acapella (right)▼

This portion of the 2009 CES & T.H.E. Show
by Constantine Soo

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