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2011 CES Show blog and Wish List

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Customer email newsletter dated: January 13, 2011.


Here, from seat 12c high above the Rocky Mountains, is our annual CES Show Blog, which also constitutes a 2011 Wish List of new or previously undiscovered products for further investigation.

So many products; where to begin... where better than with only the second major upgrade of Shunyata Research's award-winning Hydra line filters in over 10 years. Yes, the two top models, the Hydra 8 and V-Ray, are being replaced with new models called Triton (6 outlet) and Talos (8 outlet). These are direct replacements at the same $2995 and $4995 prices, but with the promise of a major upgrade in performance. The filtration elements of the new designs are more revolutionary than evolutionary, eschewing all capacitors in favor of a multi-element array of microfilters, with each of the 30 filters targeting specific noise components generated by the power supplies in typical components. This filter arrangement is physically dominated inside the chassis by three large cylinders, one each to allow the hot, neutral, and ground wiring to be independently noise-isolated. More later on design and performance when the new units begin shipping and samples can be evaluated, hopefully within the next 4 to 8 weeks.

Also upcoming from Shunyata are what are promised to be standard-setting new interconnects and speaker cables with performance exceeding the lofty levels achieved by the current Aeros series, but at a fraction of the price. More on these new cables just as soon as they begin shipping, and we have samples on hand.

Also upcoming on the cable front is an even higher performance USB cable from Cardas, whose close relationship with Ayre, who are focussing a lot of their energies on USB DAC technology, happily forces George Cardas to the forefront of USB cable development. Already Cardas' Clear USB cable is a value champ at lengths up to 3m, beyond which maintenance of hi rez performance standards starts to degrade. This problem of signal degradation, especially over moderate to long lengths, in USB cables is an industrywide challenge. Industry performance specifications for this format should be revisited and set to a higher standard as higher resolution from the source components becomes achievable. Certainly the better DAC's are already capable of processing the data, but for now, especially over longer runs, still best to convert USB to SPDIF.
One of the really exciting new DAC's incorporating USB capability comes from Rega, of all companies. Sometimes accused of being late to the party with their designs (just how many generations of CD players existed before Rega finally released their Planet player? And how many DAC's before now?), the Rega DAC somehow still seems timely! Hi rez up to 24/192 over optical and coaxial cables, and 44.1 over USB, all completely native with no up- or oversampling, using the same highest grade, hand-matched Wolfson 8747 DACs which are used in their exquisite Isis CD player ($9000), a class A completely isolated output stage, a toroidal transformer, a range of user switchable apodizing filters, all for a surprising and potentially giant-killing $995, this DAC is definitely on the Wish List. The company reps were insistent that the Rega DAC was not built to hit a price, rather built to sound like music, but based on the build costs over what will hopefully be a long production run, it just worked out at under $1000. They contend that it is anything but a budget DAC, and can compete with other designers' best efforts regardless of price. We will be sure to have it available soon for audition.
Other important new digital products for the Apple set include Wadia's long-delayed release ("...really, shipping in January, really"") of their 171i Transport, the upscale model of their now famous 170i Transport, the first device licensed to extract the raw digital bitsteam from the various iPod devices to allow for higher end digital to analog conversion than you get from the back end of an iPod or iPhone. Of course the new 171i also works with the iPad and incorporates a better power supply, higher-quality circuit boards and component parts, and a new superior clocking arrangement.
But Wadia is no longer the only game in town with respect to the iPod bitstream thanks to the Muse folks who developed the new HRT "iStreamer" selling for just $199!
Higher up on the digital front, a number of exhibitors were making good sound using the Ayon CD players. Ayon is the Austrian successor brand to the former VAIC firm, best known for their outstanding vacuum tube electronics, many of which continue under the well-turned out Ayon brand. Their range of CD players ($3000-$12000) incorporate tube output stages and have an involving liquidity to them, often so elusive even in the best digital designs. Both their digital sources and those gorgeous sounding amps and preamps (prices for the electronics range from $3100 for a cool integrated up to $40k for the top line SET monos) are on the Wish List. We will have more for you on these fine products soon.

We often spend time in the BAT rooms at these shows listening to their good-sounding tube-based systems. This year may well have been the best sound yet for BAT which, unusually for them, was fronting the system with a turntable. A turntable? How else to debut the new BAT phono cartridges, moving iron designs from the moving iron master, the Soundsmith himself, Peter Ledermann. The sound was outstanding; the two BAT cartridges are drool-worthy, best ever efforts in this category by a true master. My notes say $4995 and $6995 for the two cartridges, well-above the price of the Soundsmith's top Sussurro cartridges, on which they are based, but absolutely worthy of the finest analog setups. Note to self - must talk more about the Soundsmith designs in 2011. No way should this designer be overlooked! Now if we could just get him to finally release the much lusted after Cartright - the Swiss Army Knife of cartridge setup tools...
Another of our favorite tube amp manufacturers, Rogue Audio, was also showing off their vinyl struts via their excellent-sounding $2k Ares phono stage. The nature of the design allows the user the flexibility to choose their favorite 12AX7s, 12AT7's, or 12AU7's for the main gain stage, and built in Cinemag step-up transformers are for the optional use of moving coil cartridge users. Very nice indeed.
As for turntables, first I have to say that the Hanss designs really do offer extraordinary value. They all sound good, and look like they cost many times their asking prices ($1900-$6900). If you are looking at tables in this price range, don't overlook what Hanss has to offer!
In the more exotic category the Bergmann turntables are pretty exciting. They incorporate their own linear tracking tonearms. Models come in a $12k, $21k, and, gulp, $48k. In these exalted price/performance categories they are something I would certainly consider.
And of course you must clean that vinyl you are spinning! Best of the best must be the ultrasonic Vinyl Cleaner from Audio Desk Systeme in Germany, and the promise of better availability for this highly desirable product should (hopefully) be realized in 2011. In the meantime, join the queue (actually we did just get a small allotment in). At the low end the all-manual Spinclean is a gift for $79. Look, it isn't the Vinyl Cleaner, or even a Nitty Gritty, Clearaudio Matrix, or VPI, but my sister's boyfriend couldn't be happier with his Christmas present!
More Buzz....
Another German import that has a buzz going is the new "Supreme" fuse from HiFi-Tuning. This is the 99% Silver + 1% Gold fuse we announced last month. You get so much "leverage" when you upgrade a weak link like the typical junky fuse in your otherwise high end components. It is worth mentioning that these are still available at the intro price of $50 small and $75 large. Beat the Feb. 1 price increase.

More German influence - I finally had a demonstration of the intriguing active acoustic treatment system from Stein Music. Wow - very impressive. They are getting their USA distribution reorganized, but we should be able to tell you all about this important product very soon. In the meantime there is an online review.

Other news in the resonance control category comes from Stillpoints, which is releasing two new upgraded designs improving upon the original Stillpoints ($299/3): one in aluminum for $675/3 and the top model in stainless steel for $900 a set. Stillpoints has also gone from aluminum to stainless steel in their super cool ESS racks. Both performance and pricing have increased as the quality of the materials has been improved.
One big name in resonance control, Symposium, is starting to become deservedly well-known for their speaker designs as well. The newest model, a ribbon/ dynamic hybrid like its big brothers, but in a smaller, easier to site package, does everything right, and I haven't heard a better (or more full range) speaker in its exalted $30k price category.
Another new component manufacturer to watch is called MC, which stands for Music Culture. As background founder and designer Wolfgang Meletzy sold his iconic MBL brand in 2008, and MC is his new venture. These products, which include both (dynamic driver) speakers and electronics, are extremely high value, especially so if viewed in the context of the MBL product range. Two speakers - a bookshelf at $3400 and a floor-stander at $9800 -preamp and amp separates in the mid $3000's, and an excellent integrated at $4500, just do everything right and really pushed my buttons. Could be the high performance value find of the year!
There is so much more, but the seat belt sign is on as we approach our landing so I only have time to quickly mention that another good sounding small monitor is the $5k/pair Audience ClairAudient 2+2.
...and another high value, and good sounding integrated amp incorporating a DAC with USB connections marks the return of the Perreaux brand to our shores...
...and Running Springs released a new entry level model called Elgar ($1000), which looks quite like the $1900 Haley, but without the carbon fiber footers, and with a lighter weight due to smaller inductors I was told...
...and the big Silver Circle line conditioners must be the best of all the balanced power units produced to date...
And, last, but hardly least....
...I had my first look/ listen to the cutting edge Devialet amplifier that has been setting fire in the UK press. Would love to try this one at home!

I apologize for all of the other good products I missed here. Did we omit something that you were especially interested in? Let us know what's on YOUR hot list!
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