Upper-End Preamps and Amps at Rocky Mountain

Show report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers
Upper-End Preamps and Amps at Rocky Mountain

My beat at the sixth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was upper-end preamplifiers and power amplifiers. This show started out as a showcase for ultra-expensive exotic gear, but as it shifted toward the mainstream, the price points became much more democratic. Nonetheless, this show saw a wide range of preamplifiers and power amplifiers from established names as well as from companies new to me.

The most interesting single piece of electronics at RMAF was undoubtedly the Behold Gentle G192 from Germany’s Ballman Electronics (distributed by Laufer Teknik). The G192 is ostensibly an “integrated amplifier,” but that categorization doesn’t begin to describe the unit’s capabilities. Although it functions as an integrated amplifier, the G192 is a custom-configurable control center that, fully loaded, will perform A/D conversion, D/A conversion, provide DSP room correction, drive bi-amplified loudspeakers through its four amplifier channels and integral DSP crossover, can operate in a 5.1-channel system, and is software-updatable. Moreover, the unit contains no DAC; the PCM audio signal is converted to a pulse-width modulation signal that turns on and off the transistors in the Class-D output stage. The whole thing is controlled by a 7** front-panel touch-screen display. The price starts at $15,000 and can reach $30,000 fully loaded. This is an extremely sophisticated piece of audio engineering. Watch for Anthony Cordesman’s upcoming review. 

Abbingdon Music Research showed the PH-77, the most ambitious new phonostage I’ve seen at this or any other show. This $11,995 unit offers three inputs with independently selectable gain and loading on each input with the ability to adjust gain and loading on the fly by remote. That’s cool, but for those of you who want to archive your LP collection to a digital media, the PH-77 has an integral A/D converter with a USB output. Wait! There’s more. The PH-77 offers 23 different equalization curves, with the ability to add more via a software update. But here’s the really interesting part; you can connect a PC to the PH-77 and fine-tune your cartridge alignment with software from Dr. Feickert Analog.

Speaking of ambitious phonostages, Accuphase introduced its first phonostage in 33 years. (What does that tell you about the state of analog?) The C-37 offers three inputs with separate gain and loading for each input. Sensibly, a subsonic filter can be switched in. The $12,000 C-37 offers balanced inputs and outputs. As you would expect from Accuphase, the build quality and cosmetics are first-rate.

Accuphase also launched its M-6000 monoblock power amplifiers that are certified to deliver 2000W into 1 ohm. The M-6000 will double its 250W (into 8 ohms) rating when the impedance is halved (500W into 4 ohms, 1000W into 2 ohms, and 2000W into 1 ohm). It takes an exceptional power supply and output stage to perform this feat. The M-6000 is stunning looking, with beautiful metalwork, large front-panel meters, and rounded heatsinks coated with a softish material. The system in which the amplifiers were used (Hansen Emperor speakers, Running Springs conditioning, Tara cables) was one of the best at the show (presented by Denver retailer Audio Unlimited).

Despite having been to about 70 hi-fi shows in the last 20 years, I never fail to come across a long-established company that’s new to me. At this show, I discovered the Octave line of electronics from Germany, who has been making audio electronics for more than 20 years. The mostly tube-based line spans a huge price range, from entry-level integrated amplifiers to the impressive $67.5k Jubilee monoblocks. This tall, vertically oriented amplifier delivers 250W into 8 ohms and has a very low noise floor. The Jubilee’s output stage is based on eight 6550 tubes. The build and metalwork was exceptional. Octave Audio, now distributed in the US by Dynaudio, also demonstrated the matching Jubilee linestage ($35k) which features tube circuitry augmented by solid-state output buffers, zero negative feedback, and an external power supply. The company also offers the $10,000 HP 500 linestage, which is available with a mm/mc phonostage for $11.500. Finally, the MRE 130 is a 140W monoblock that sells for $16,000 per pair.

The most striking-looking products at RMAF were the preamplifier and power amplifiers from a company called Win Analog. The rectangular-shaped preamplifier, which measures 15** wide and 13*8 high, look like a shrine to the unusual complement of vacuum tubes on glorious display. The Z845 preamp uses seven tubes, on of them an usual 5R4. Inside, the unit is point-to-point wired with Teflon-coated silver wire, and the transformers employ silver wire. The 100-pound device costs $45,000. The matching V833-135W monoblocks are rated at 135W and also feature an unusual tube complement, including an oval-shaped RCA 833. As the literature says, “The input RCA 12BH7 has a warm sound. The GEC KT66 driver has a clear midrange. RCA tube 833 output has a full-boded bass sound.” The units weigh a hefty 200 pounds each and carry an equally heft price tag of $110,000 per pair.

Veloce Audio, a new company I described in last year’s CES report, showed full production versions of their $15,000 LS-1 battery powered tube preamplifier and $12,500 V6 monoblock power amplifiers. That’s right—a 180W battery-powered power amplifier. The power amplifiers can run on batteries because they have Class-D output stages which are highly efficient. Veloce believes they have improved on Class D by replacing the driver stage with a vacuum tube, among other innovations. Veloce’s new product for the show was the LS1-P battery powered phonostage module ($2750) that plugs into the LS-1 linestage.

A company new to me called Jones Audio showed their $19,800 PA-M300 monoblock power amplifiers. The units can increase their output power to 560W into 4 ohms. The matching Pre-S-1 linestage is a dual-mono, fully discrete Class-A unit that sells for $9800.