Robert Harley on Electronics at T.H.E. Show Newport

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers
Robert Harley on Electronics at T.H.E. Show Newport

It’s official; T.H.E. Show Newport has become the premier U.S. hi-fi show. Following the success of last year’s inaugural event, this year’s show expanded to an adjacent second hotel and saw a 50% increase in the number of exhibitors. Moreover, Newport has morphed from a regional event to a truly international scene with the presence of many European and Asian company heads and representatives. This is one show that’s certain to become a fixture on the hi-fi calendar.

There was no shortage of product introductions and significant U.S. premiers. Here are some highlights of new integrated amplifiers, preamps, and power amps.

Wyred 4 Sound showed its mINT integrated amp with USB DAC. The diminutive mINT delivers 100Wpc of Class D power, two analog inputs, USB and S/PDIF inputs (96/24 and 192/24 respectively), preamp-out jacks, and a headphone output—all for $1499. The unit had very nice chassis work and appeared to be well made. The display was passive, so I wasn’t able to hear it. Watch for a review.

The Chinese manufacturer Raysonic seems to offer a high value for a reasonable price. This was particularly true of the $3195 SP-200, a KT-88 based 100Wpc all-tubed integrated amplifier. The unit has four analog inputs, dual output-transformer taps, and a remote control. The bandwidth is reportedly 8Hz–30kHz. Unusually, the SP-200 is supplied with premium-quality Russian Genalex Gold Lion output tubes and NOS Tungsram 12AU7s. If you prefer the mellower sound of the EL-34, the identically priced SP-300 delivers 90Wpc. The SP-300 uses NOS Tungsram 12AU7s and JJ EL-34 output tubes. This looked like a lot of amplifier for the money.

Following the great success of the Andros phonostage, Zesto Audio debuted at Newport its Leto linestage. The all-tubed unit is based on a true balanced topology with transformer-coupled inputs and outputs. Two balanced and three single-ended inputs are provided, one of them with a “theater bypass” function. The front panel offers a balance control as well as a mono switch. The Leto uses two tubes per channel, the 12AU7 and 12AX7. This $7500 unit is handmade in the USA. The sound from the system, which included TAD CR-1 loudspeakers connected with WyWires cabling, was highly present, warm, and rich with great density of tone color.

Cary Audio used the Newport show to re-launch a new line of affordable gear called Audio Electronics. Originally introduced in 1993 and then discontinued, the Audio Electronics line intends to bring Cary’s high-end designs to entry-level price points. The first product is the Nighthawk, an all-new high-quality headphone amplifier. The unit features Class A operation, an FET input stage, a fully complementary output stage, and no global feedback. The construction and chassis-work are outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a full line of affordable preamps, power amps, integrated amps, and DACs from Audio Electronics.

Triode Corporation’s new TRX-M845SE 50W Class A monoblocks ($22,500 per pair) sounded spectacular driving the Zen Acoustics Crescendo loudspeaker ($16,995). This new 120-pound-apiece amp is a parallel single-ended design with dual 845s in the output stage. The system had a stunning sense of transparency and palpability, and an uncanny ability to float images in space. This was one of the show’s best sounds despite the price disparity between the Crescendo and the other best-of-show contenders.

One of the great bargains in tubed amplifiers has to be the Dragon Mk. II 211PP monoblocks from Coincident. The amplifier is a 75Wpc push-pull design (dual 211 tubes in the output stage with a 300B driver) with a list of design and build features you’d expect to see in an amplifier five times the Dragon’s $10,995-per-pair price. These include all polypropylene caps in the power supply, interstage transformers rather than coupling caps, a massive power supply, a gorgeous mirror-finish stainless-steel chassis, and a Vishay-based stepped attenuator at the input if you want to drive the amplifier directly from a source. The Dragon Mk.II sounded terrific driving Coincident’s 94dB-sensitivity Pure Reference Extreme loudspeakers.

The New Zealand manufacturer Plinius has a new U.S. distributor and some exciting new products. The company showed off nearly the entire line in conjunction with Dynamic Sound Systems, one of Southern California’s premier high-end retailers. The product that caught my attention was the brand new Hautonga integrated amplifier. This 200Wpc unit is a refinement of the company’s previous integrated amps that Neil Gader has been so enthusiastic about. The Hautonga includes a mm/mc phonostage, balanced and single-ended inputs, a great remote control, and beautiful build-quality. Watch for a review of this $5750 unit in an upcoming issue.

The 26-year-old German company AVM has made rapid inroads in the U.S. market since its recent introduction here—and with good reason. Its products combine good sound with elegant design and German engineering (see Wayne Garcia’s review of the Inspiration C8 CD-Receiver in the last issue). The company used the Newport show to introduce its flagship Ovation MA8 monoblock amplifiers ($23,760), the Ovation SA8 (a stereo version of the MA8, priced at $11,880), and the PA8 modular preamplifier ($9250). The MA8 mono is a massive amplifier, delivering 1200W. The stereo SA8 has the same circuitry found in the MA8, but with less power (“only” 450Wpc) and a single chassis. The SA8 was intriguing; it’s built like a card cage that can accept a variety of input boards for phono, additional balanced or unbalanced line inputs, a tuner, tubed output stage, USB DAC, SPDIF or TosLink DAC with upsampling to 192/24, and other capabilities.

Concert Fidelity had a tremendous showing in one of the show’s larger ground-level rooms. The room featured the new Concert Fidelity ZL-120V2SE monoblocks ($34,000 per pair). These “Special Edition” amplifiers are designer Masataka Tsuda’s latest statement in solid-state design. The ZL-120V2SE combines the audio circuits of the original ZL-120V2 with the massive power supply of the ZL-200. The SE version’s power transformer is nearly double the size of that in the standard edition, and power supply storage has increased by 50%. Concert Fidelity claims these improvements result in greater macro-dynamics and bass impact while maintaining the resolution and purity of the ZL-120V2’s minimalist circuitry. I don’t know if those claims are justified, but I do know that the ZL-120V2SE produced one of the show’s best sounds driving the Estelon X Diamond loudspeakers ($64k) with all Fono Acoustica cables and AC power treatment. As is Concert Fidelity’s tradition, they used a vintage modified direct-drive Denon DP3000 turntable as the source. The system had that elusive sense of “fool-you” realism with its palpable timbres and the way images hung between the loudspeakers. The brass and woodwinds on 88 Basie Street had amazing immediacy and liquidity, and the system conveyed the band’s joyful swing. Unlike many rooms where visitors wander in and out talking, the audience was transfixed by this system. Watch for Jonathan Valin’s review of the Estelon X Diamond and Dick Olsher’s review of Concert Fidelity’s CF-080LSX2 linestage in upcoming issues.

Robert Harley’s Best of Show

Best Sound (cost-no-object)

Magico S5 driven by Constellation Performance Series electronics with MIT cable and WideaLab Aurender music server (The Audio Salon); Estelon X Diamond driven by Concert Fidelity electronics and Fono Acoustica cables (Eastwind Import); Scaena Spiritus 3.6 loudspeaker driven by VAC fed from the Kronos turntable with MIT cable (Audio Image); Vandersteen 7s driven by Audio Research with Basis turntable and AudioQuest cable (Optimal Enchantment).

Best Sound (highest value)

Audience Wavepower amplifier and Wavemaster preamp driving Audience’s ClairAudient 1+1 loudspeaker (see below).

Most Significant Product

The Magico S5 loudspeaker. This is an overachiever of the highest order, delivering a sound quality that would not be out of place at twice its price (The Audio Salon).

Greatest Bargain

Audience’s new ClairAudient 1+1 loudspeaker. This tiny cube, priced at $1800 per pair, combined the transparency of a one-way crossoverless design with the dynamics and extension at the frequency extremes you’d expect from a larger conventional system.

Greatest Discovery

The Aurender W10 music server from WideaLab of Korea. The W10 appears to be the most sophisticated and advanced music server extant. The iPad interface is brilliant. I want one. Price: $15,000. (The Audio Salon)