In search of new or recently released 2-channel gems, I attended CEDIA Expo 2012, which was held in Indianapolis, IN from September 6-8, and will be preparing a multi-part show report.
This is the fourth section of my report and it completes coverage of new audio electronics, source components, and accessories seen at CEDIA.
Note: To make things easier for online readers, I’m covering manufacturers in alphabetical order. As always, my apologies to any manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention here. Enjoy.
CEDIA marks the 40th anniversary of Mark Levinson Audio Systems and to mark the occasion the firm debuted an all-new Reference-series flagship stereo preamplifier—the No. 52. According to Jim Garrett, Director of Marketing and Product Management for HARMAN Luxury Audio Group and Loudspeakers, the No. 52 is the finest preamplifier ever created by MLAS.
The No. 52 is a true dual-monaural design featuring two chassis, one housing critical analog circuitry and the other containing the unit’s control section. The No. 52 provides three balanced (XLR) and four unbalanced (RCA) line-level inputs, plus a dedicated MM/MC phono input with extensive cartridge loading options. In turn, the No. 52 provides two sets of XLR and RCA stereo outputs, plus an auxiliary pair of XLR and RCA outputs that “can be configured” for fixed or variable level output with independent source selection.”
Previous MLAS preamp have been praised for their openness, transparency, and neutrality, but even so Jim Garrett observed that he found it revelatory to hear the No. 52 in action, noting that in his view the new flagship is so transparent and utterly devoid of colorations of its own that it makes competing preamps (including past MLAS designs) seem a bit opaque, veiled, or colored by comparison. The No. 52 will arrive in January 2013 and will likely be priced “around $30,000.”
Recognizing that we are in the midst of a new digital revolution, McIntosh decided to show a prototype of its all-new D100 digital preamp, which sports the usual complement of balanced and unbalanced analog audio outputs but—please note—features digital audio inputs, only (two coax, two optical, and one USB input, to be exact). As you can see from the photo provided, McIntosh “prototypes” generally look more complete and finely finished than most manufacturers full production models. It is still too early for McIntosh to specify intended pricing, but expect to see the D100 released around Christmas-time of this year.
The centerpiece of Micromega’s CEDIA display was the MyDAC ($399)—a low cost but astonishingly high performance high res (192/24-capable) DAC, recently previewed by Robert Harley on theabsolutesound.com and described as a “$399 miracle.” To drive home this point at CEDIA, Micromega invited show attendees to participate in a blind listening comparison between the MyDAC and far more expensive competing products from Wadia Digital and Bel Canto—products ranging from roughly three to almost four times the price of the MyDAC. The wisely chosen listening device for these tests was a pair of very revealing Sennheiser HD700 headphones. The point, frankly, wasn’t whether the MyDAC “won” or “lost” the comparison, but rather that the results were close enough that listeners really had to stop and think carefully about which sound they actually preferred. This fact alone speaks volumes for the exceptional sound quality/dollar on offer with the MyDAC.
At CEDIA, I had a delightful encounter with Pioneer/TAD loudspeaker guru Andrew Jones, who seemed (in a sense) almost as proud of his new $130/pair bookshelf speakers for Pioneer as of his $29,800/pair TAD E-1 floorstanding speakers. But when Jones gave me an impressive demo of the aforementioned Pioneer speakers, it dawned on me that the unsung hero of the demo was arguably the terrific little Pioneer Elite series A-20 stereo integrated amp ($299) being used to power the speakers. The amp puts out a respectable 2 x 35-watts and even includes a built-in phone section, but the real draw is the amps warm, organic, naturalistic sound signature that beautifully complements Pioneer’s new Jones-designed speakers. There’s huge value/dollar on offer in this little amp, making it a product to consider as the power plant for true, entry-level systems.
Blog readers please note: My own CEDIA photos of the A-20 left much to be desired, so I’ve opted to provide Pioneer press photos of the unit instead. Thanks for your understanding.
T + A
One of the most clever and versatile stereo components I encountered at CEDIA is the Cala Multi-Source Audio System ($2200) form the German firm T + A. In simple terms, the Cala is an exceptionally full-featured stereo receiver that offers input options galore. To give you an idea of what I mean by “input options galore,” consider this list:
- Streaming Client functions with support for USB 2.0, LAN (Ethernet), WLAN, and iPod via USB connectivity.
- The Cala is UPnP AV compatible, compatible with DLNA compatible servers, and provides Internet Radio service based on vTuner technologies.
- Digital audio formats supported include: MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, OGG-Vorbis, LPCM, and WAV.
- The Cala is Bluetooth enable and supports A2DP Bluetooth audio transmission protocol.
- The Cala incorporates a built-in FM/RDS tuner section.
- Finally, the Cala includes two conventional analog inputs.
But wait, there’s more. The Cala puts out 55 Wpc at 4 Ohms and provides “DSP controlled sound characteristic,” plus pre-programmed “bass extension and linearization with particular T + A speakers.” Somewhat unusually as stereo receivers go, the Cal also includes a subwoofer output with extensive, user selectable bass management options. Conceivably, the Cala could be used with a wide range of speakers, but it is said to match extremely well with T + A’s similarly styled C Mini mini-monitors ($850/pair), as covered under the Loudspeakers section of this report.
To show what loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones characterized as TAD’s very high-performance Evolution-series “lifestyle” system, TAD showed its C2000 DAC/preamp ($29,000) and M2500 2 x 500-watt power amplifier ($24,500). According to Jones, two versions of the amp will be offered: a conventional stereo version and a 4-channel version targeted toward listeners who wish to try so-called “vertical biamping.” The total cost of the Evolution system, including a pair of TAD E-1 speakers ($29,800) would be $83,300. While these prices are admittedly high, they are considerably more accessible than prices for TAD’s vaunted Reference-series components, making the Evolution package—as viewed through some lenses—as a good value.
Fresh from the successful launch of the Clarus high-end cable brand, which is an upscale sister brand to Tributaries, president Joe Perfito has turned attention back to the Tributaries product lines to create two new top-tier cable families, respectively called Tributaries Series 6 and Series 8 cables. Previously, Tributaries cable families had used odd-numbered sequences and thus had included, in ascending order, Series 1, 3, 5, and 7 (kind of like BMWs, if you stop to think about it). Now, Series 6 and 8 have replaced series 5 and 7, offering improvements both in build and sound quality.
In a brief talk, Perfito discussed the challenges involved in maintaining appropriately high quality standards in cable manufacturing whenever third-party suppliers are involved. I was struck both by Perfito’s sincere passion for the art and science of cable making, and favorably impressed by his (I think, praiseworthy) unwillingness to “cut corners” or compromise quality standards for the sake of expedience.
In its own understated way, Yamaha showed renewed interest in the traditional 2-channel audio world, introducing two new entry-level components: the A-S300 integrated amplifier ($379) and its companion CD-S300 CD player ($349).
The A-S300 puts out 2 x 60-watts, provides a “Pure Direct” circuit hat bypasses all tone controls (as also used in select Yamaha A/V receivers), a continuously variable loudness compensation control (a genuinely useful feature that debuted on Yamaha integrated back in the 1970’s), iPhone and iPod compatibility, and—interestingly—a subwoofer output.
The CD-S300, in turn, also provides “Pure Direct” circuitry; a high-performance, low-noise DAC, and a front-panel USB port for connectivity with iPods and “other devices.” Yamaha says the unit features “extremely sophisticated circuitry and layout,” “short signal paths,” and uses “high quality parts,” with attention to detail that should add up to high value for money.
Also on hand, though not technically new for the show, was Yamaha’s very impressive (and beautifully built) flagship A-S2000 2 x 150-watt integrated amplifier ($2500). The A-S2000 is a true dual-monaural design, supports both balanced and single-ended inputs, features a “fully balanced control amp” and “floating balanced power amp.” Moreover, the A-S2000 provides a built-in headphone amp for low-impedance drive and a discrete phono preamplifier.