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CES

2012 CES, Part VIII

Audio Research, Sonus Faber, Lamm, Onedof, Wilson Audio, McIntosh, Wisdom Audio, Dan D'Agostino Master Audio System, Enigma Acoustics, Qualia & Co.

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Audio Research / Sonus Faber
By the time I got to the Audio Research room, it was already 5:30 pm and they were serving alcohol which naturally makes it the most popular room on the floor. Luckily, I was able to get some shots without having to elbow out the crowds.

Knowing previously that they will be showing the new Reference 2 SE phono stage($12,995), I was looking forward to seeing and hearing it. Note the designation “SE”, this is an upgrade from the original model. While the Burmester room only had product literature on their 100 phono stage, AR did the opposite, they had the product but no literature handouts so we do not know much about the specs of the unit.

Sitting above the phono stage, is the new Reference 5 SE line stage preamp, also priced at $12,995.

Also making a lot of buzz around the floor is the new Reference DAC (approximately $ 15,000) which is packed with loads of features: USB inputs, ethernet and WiFi, digital inputs, a 3.5” digital display, an iPod interface, as well as a tube based circuitry. Unfortunately, an integrated Nespresso is not an available option.

Music in the room was coming through a pair of Reference 250 Monoblocks ($26,000) and a pair of Sonus Faber Aida speakers.

Sonus Faber

Sonus Faber continues on with its tradition of making some of the nicest looking speakers on the planet, probably with the highest wife acceptance factor. The $120,000-a-pair Aida has four drivers in the front, two at the back, and a 13-inch downward firing woofer at the base of the speaker. The speakers are rated 92 dB sensitive and dips down to 4 ohms.

Lamm, Onedof™, Wilson Audio

There are two reasons to go into the Lamm / Onedof / Wilson Audio room. First, if you are looking for ways to spend the $600,000 which you have just won from the slot machines downstairs, please go into the room. Secondly if you are looking for reasons to refinance your mortgage. Thirdly, if you like me, just want to see what a $150,000 dollar turntable looks like, please also go to the room.

Lamm ML3 Signature Amplifiers $139,290 / pair
Lamm LL1 Signature Line-level preamplifier $42,690 / pair
Lamm LP2 Phono stage, deluxe (2) $7,950/each
Wilson Audio Maxx 3 speakers $68,000/pair
NeoDio NR22T Transport $13,300
NeoDio NR22D Dac $12,000
Bens Micro LP S cartridge $5,000
Graham Phantom II tonearm $4,900
Graham Tonearm Cable $700
HRS SXR Signature Series Frames (3) $7,235 each
HRS M3X Isolation Base (9) $2,595 each
HRS Custom M3X Isolation Base for amps (4) $2,595
Kubala Sosna Elation Series cables (11 cables in total) $92,500
Onedof turntable $150,000

System Total: $599,000

Please remember to add sales taxes and shipping fees on top.

Money matters aside, I find the Lamm / Wilson / Onedof setup to be thoroughly enjoyable. It is the only room where I sat listening to the entire Beethoven Violin Concerto, performed by Nathan Milstein on Capital Records. Aleks Bakman, designer of the Onedof turntable, and I even delayed our interview by twenty minutes, because we both had to finish listening to the performance. Previous models of large Wilson speakers do not entice me as much as the newer Wilson models, including the Maxx 3 which were on display. I find them to be less analytical and more organic sounding than before. I believe this has to do with them being voiced differently than older models, this was also obvious with the Sashas which I find to be very different than previous Sophias or Watt Puppy’s.

Moving onto the exotic Onedof turntable, although the Onedof name does translate into “One Of” as in One of A Kind , it is instead the letters from the phrase “One Degree Of Freedom Turntable”. Designer Aleks Bakman has some serious credentials under his belt. He has a Master of Science degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology, specializing in Fluid Dynamics, Robotics, Turbodynamics, Tribology, Rheology, Advanced Dynamcis, Material Science and Vibration Theory. He is a NASA-award winning aerospace scientist by profession, and he has engaged in some very serious aeronautical projects such as structural analysis of the wing on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Boeing 747 Freighter, and the Sikorsky Helicopter. He also did structural analysis of the Phoenix Mars Lander, various satellites and rocket propellers.

Rumor has it that he even designed the Borg assimilator for the cybernetic-enhanced humonoids in the Delta Quadrant of the universe, which thankfully was destroyed by Captain Picard before innocent audiophile got assimilated. The bottom line is, the man knows his soup and you can probably be sure that if he has worked on a lunar lander, he probably knows how to make a good turntable bearing better than most people.

Aleks took me outside of the room and spent twenty minutes explaining to me the mechanics of his turntable. According to Aleks, all existing cylindrical bearing based turntables are subject to microscopic wobbling which will more or less contaminate the sound. The microscopic shifting of the bearing shaft is not due to manufacturing imperfection, but because by virtue of design, as a bearing must have a small gap between shaft in order for it to rotate. In a mechanism which I do not fully understand, Aleks explained that the Onedof bearing is sealed with a non-resonant liquid, and by virtue of physics, the self-centering mechanism creates a near frictionless environment for the bearing, thereby completely eliminating all shifting, wobbling, and unwanted vibrations.

The bearing of the three-inch-thick 50 lbs platter of the Onedof turntable are infused with a proprietary mix of oil and solids to eliminate unwanted resonance of the platter. The perimeter of the platter consist of a heavy outer ring which holds down the record together with a clamp. Below is a picture of the same turntable with the outer ring and record clamp remove.

Unlike most turntables, the Onedof drive mechanism does not use a brush motor. The deadly accurate motor speed is computer controlled with an error of less than one tenth-million velocity value per revolution. Residual resonance is further eliminated by the drive belt and platter suspension. To somebody less sophisticated such as myself, the good old “tap the table during play” is a better test for vibration isolation than any other. Aleks challenged me to tap the platform which holds the turntable, I obliged. There was no “thump” coming from the speakers, and the cartridge did not skip.

Aleks saw my wimpy taps so he proceeded to bang on the platform instead. We heard a faint “thump” from the Maxx 3 speakers which made people look towards our direction, but music continued playing as if nothing has happened. I was impressed!

There is but one major problem, I think it will take a while for me to come up with $150k after tax.

McIntosh

Over at the McIntosh room, I met up with Charlie Randall (President) who walked me through a few of their new products.

First up is the 50th Anniversary Limited Edition of the MC275 tube amplifier ($6,500). The first MC275 came out in 1961; fifty years later the MC275 remains one of the bestselling amplifiers of all time, and certainly one of the best selling product for McIntosh. The MC275 has the highest output of any amplifier on the market utilizing only two KT88 tubes per channel, it is rated at 75W per channel, but closer to 90W in reality. The MC275 is produced in limited quantities, and it comes with a commemorative book.

(Left: MC275 50th Anniversary Edition. Right: my very own 1961 version 1 of the MC275 which remains reliable to this day with all original parts, except for the tubes.)

The basic circuitry design of the MC275 50th Anniversary edition remains very similar to the original 1961 version, but with 50years of technological improvements you can be sure there are some very cool features incorporated into the design. The Anniversary Edition has a Power Save Circuitry built into the circuit which automatically place the MC275 into standby mode thirty minutes after there has been no audio input signal. Then there is the Sentry Monitor Tube Protection Circuitry which automatically protects the amplifier should there be an impedance mismatch with the amplifier, or there should be a short between the output terminals. The illuminated green lights below the tubes are not there for cosmetic purposes only. Tthe Green will turn into Red to signal a problem with one of the output tubes.

You also get the gold speaker terminals and a gold-toned chassis, which by the way, was not a design idea of Flavored Flav. Personally I’d prefer the LED’s to be in blue rather than green, take a look at this one modified by Mike Sastra, VP of Audioclassics.com:

The biggest surprise for me was to see McIntosh teaming up with Tributaries Cables to come up with their own line of cables which will be launched later on this year.

Inside the McIntosh demo room, Ron Cornelius was demonstrating the new XR100 ($10,000) full range floor stander and the XR50 ($4,000) bookshelf speakers. They come in four finishes: Black, Maple or Red Walnut wood veneer finish. Everything from the titanium dome tweeter to the speaker drivers are all made in-house at the Binghamton factory. The floor stander comes with high wife-acceptance, factory aluminum feet which extends out form the sides. Both speakers has a greenish McIntosh logo which lights up.

Other new products include the MC8207 7-Channel power amplifier, the MX121 A/V Control Center, and the MVP891 Universal player. The MC8207 ($6,000) utilizes digital meters rather than the traditional blue meters.

Wisdom Audio

One of the biggest speakers I saw at the show was the Wisdom Audio LS-4 ($40,000 ea). Despite their rather large appearance (84” x 32” x 12”), the LS-4 can actually be mounted on the wall. The LS-4 consists of four 2-way planar magnetic modules (2 per unit), and are designed to be bi-amplified. The LS-4 has a sensitivity of 100 dB and requires amplifiers which can handle a 4 ohm load. Hidden at the back of the LS-4 is pair of gigantic STS subwoofers ($ 10,000 ea) capable of handling 5000W. The entire system is designed to work with the Window Audio SC-1 System controller ($6,500) which basically is an electronic crossover combined with electronic acoustic room correction.

Dan D’Agostino Master Audio System

Dan D’Agostino had two new products on display together with his previously released Momentum monoblocks ($50,000/pr).

The new Momentum Stereo Amplifier ($25,000), which is rated at 200W and can be upgraded to Monoblock operation. A black anodized finish is an upgraded option for $1,500.

A prototype version of the Momentum Preamp was on static display ($28,000). The new preamp will be based on a balanced circuit topology which is fully discrete, with no op amps and has zero negative feedback. The volume control is an optically controlled stepped ladder attenuator.

Enigma Acoustics

Speaker manufacturer Enigma Acoustics was showing off a very unique looking speaker. The Finale is priced at $50,000 a pair and utilizes the company’s own Presto Electrostatic tweeter which is made in Taiwan.

The Presto Electrostatic super tweeter is the world’s first electrostatic design which does not require the need for external power. Enigma Acoustics devised a technology to embed a constant electric field onto a non-conduction super thin nano-film, resulting in a tweeter capable of delivering a flat frequency response up to 40k Hz. The Presto can be bought separately at $1,300.

Qualia & Co.

Over at the Immedia room, I was thrilled to discover that they have picked up a cost-no-object exotic line of product from Japan: Qualia & Co.

Qualia’s principal designer Masanori Stansfield Fuji, and U.S sales representative Tim Vogt gave me a tour of their products.

Qualia basically has three high end products, the Indigo Line Preamplifier ($65,000), the Indigo USB DAC ($45,000), and the Indigo Phono Stage ($75,000). Yes, those are U.S dollars and not Yen.

The phono stage you see above is a two-chassis design, the second box being a power supply unit with five discrete transformers. The chassis of the main preamp unit is machined individually from a massive solid block of aircraft-quality aluminum, which further undergoes anodizing treatment and hand polishing, a process which takes two weeks to complete.

The Indigo Phono Stage is a triple-chassis design, with two separate and discrete transformer unit for each channel. It has one gain setting of 69 dB for MC cartridges only, and it is achieved through a single gain stage and without negative feedback, pretty impressive indeed.

The Indigo USB DAC features four ESS 9013 32-bit Hyperstream DAC chips, implemented in parallel in monaural output mode. It supports four digital inputs: AES/EBU, SPDIF, Optical Toslink, and USB 2.

(Top Right: Qualia DAC; Left: The triple chassis Qualia Phono Preamp)

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