Monday, March 26, 2007

Clearaudio Performance package

German hifi-magazine Audio gave in 3/07 issue 100 points for Clearaudio's Performance turntable with Satisfy arm and Maestro MM cartridge, referring combo as one of the best buys in euro 2000 price point. And the French hifi magazine Prestige Audio Video in March/April issue gave the same trio equally good recommendation - "...not even very expensive considering its performance".

What is behind this performance? First, the very latest and patented technology from Clearaudio, the Ceramic Magnetic Bearing, which negates the need for a ball bearing at point of contact as there is no contact! BTW, the same invention is available for existing Clearaudio turntables as an upgrade.

The chassis is precision manufactured from High Density Fibreboard within an aluminium frame, which is then sandwiched between two layers of STARON™ artificial stone. The separate motor is entirely isolated from the chassis, driving the precision-machined 40mm thick acrylic platter via a joint-less silicon based drive belt.

As for the Satisfy Carbon tone arm, it features an unbroken run of Clearaudio’s own Direct Wire from the cartridge to phono plugs. The Maestro is the top of the line cartridge in Clearaudio's range of Moving Magnet cartridges, outputting 3.6 mV.

Cool looking deck, prices for the package appears to vary between 1.990 - 2.495 euros, depending which part of the Single Market you purchase it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Current state-of-the-art digital gear

It is paradoxical that at the same time as music servers and computer audio are gaining popularity and turning the CD-players into "legacy" sources, CD/SACD-players are reaching the new pinnacle. Witness Naim's CD 555 or Accuphase's DP-78. It seems that current pecking order of state-of-the-art digital re-production is decided between two combos: Accuphase's SACD transport DP-800 / DC-801 digital processor and Esoteric P-03 universal transport / D-03 DAC. Accuphase 25.000 euros combo received from German Audio hifi-magazine all-time-highest 140 points for both CD and SACD re-production, Esoteric combo in the same magazine got "just" 135 for CD sound. Soundstage has a positive review of Esoteric on-line as well. In the Absolute Sound April/May 2007 issue Robert Harley evaluated the same Esoteric combo in TAS cover story, and named it as one of the best sounding digital source he has heard. However, there appears be two hot new rivals.

Spectral Audio has been developing some 5 years SDR-4000 Reference Processor, and rumour is that this 17.500 USD player sounds fabulous. BTW, it has an Esoteric drive modified exclusively for the SDR-4000.

The other rival dCS uses equally Esoteric drive in its new Scarlatti flagship combo which replaces Elgar/Verdi Encore/Verona pack. Scarlatti is a three component affair (transport, DAC, clock), where DAC is the latest version of renowed dCs' Ring DAC.

Quad II-eighty

Arguably one of the most memorable products in the history of hi-fi was the Quad II power amplifier. Quad has nowadays the Quad II-forty and the Quad II classic power amplifier in its product portfolio, and has announced model Quad II-eighty. As its moniker indicates, the II-eighty will deliver 80 watts/channel into 8 ohms, and will be available around mid-year 2007. This all-tube, monoblock design is expected to cost about $10,000 per pair. Quad enlisted legendary designer and founder of EAR-Yoshino, Tim de Paravicini, to boost output and to refine the original circuit.

BAT new preamps

Balanced Audio Technology has announced new family of line stages to complement the solid stage model VK-42SE. On top of the line sits an eighteen-tube, two-chassis REX replacing model VK-51SE. BAT claims quite revolutionary approach for overall power supply of REX, and power module comes with 10 tubes.

According to BAT's marketing material, "REX incorporates a unique feature that allows the user to optimize its sound, tailoring it to one’s individual taste or system requirements. The vacuum tube current sources incorporated in REX, being part of the signal gain stage, have a direct impact on the unit’s sound. Changing the tube type used in that circuit, allows the user an extra degree of control over the final sound achieved. In its standard configuration, the REX current sources use the Russian 6C19 tubes. This tube is basically a miniature version of the famous 6C33 tube, and provides, in our view, the best combination of sonic characteristics and electrical performance. However, the unique design of REX allows you to also use other tube types as current sources. Currently (no pun intended), the user has the following three choices for vacuum tube current sources:
  1. The standard 6C19 tube current source (installed at the factory).
  2. The 6H30 SuperTube current source (which requires the purchase of the X-PAK accessory).
  3. The 5881 tube current source.
In order to change the tube type, the user needs to remove the installed current source board, replace it with either another board (designed for a particular tube type), or install the 5881 tubes as a direct plug-in."

The other new line-stages are VK-52SE (no details yet), the VK-32SE (see picture), a successor to its highly regarded VK-31SE, and non-se version VK-32. All these line-stages use new capacitors about which BAT is excited. The VK-32SE has the same tube rolling feature than REX (the standard 32’s module utilizes a 6C19) and the VK-32 in its part trades a smaller power supply and fewer of new caps against a lower price.

Interesting point is that after pretty much everybody in audio business has started to use Victor Khomenko "discovered" 6H30 tubes (e.g. Conrad-Johnson + Chinese manufacturers), BAT feels compelled to move on towards 6C19 tube.

Shanling MC-30 Music Center

In Shanling MC-30 Music Center cuts thru generations as it combines high quality CD player, tuner, dedicated iPod input and classic tube amplification in stylish, all aluminum retro chassis.

The specs include Philips VAM-12 pick-up mechanism, Burr-Brown PCM1738 DAC chip, 2x6P1 single-ended tube output stage, flea-power 3 Wpc, remote control, and iPod integration thru docking. The input selector and volume controls are concealed and mounted atop those front cylindrical supports. Some sources state that it comes with a pair of matched speakers, all that USD 995. A true conversation piece.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Simon Yorke Designs

Continuing in analogue stories, check out the latest Simon Yorke "Zenish" turntable designs, model S9. This compact, euro 8.000 design brings SY for masses, so to speak. I once saw and listened to model S7 with Jan Allaerts cartridge in HE-shop in Munich, Germany, and after that memorable experience I've drooled over owning this industrial design par excellence turntable.

Upgrade for SME Series V tonearm

Although SME Series V was introduced some 20 years ago, the arm has been constantly upgraded since - proof why audiophiles should always invest in products from companies with solid engineering and constant improvements aka SME. The latest edition, and available as an upgrade, has new low tolerance bearings and more significant, new internal wiring of silver. According to SME upgrade is pretty much a complete rebuild of this venerable arm.

Continuum's Copperhead tonearm

It's not an exaggeration to say that Stereophile's analogue guru Michael Fremer set on fire Australian HE-outfit Continuum Audio Lab in his review of Caliburn turntable & Cobra tonearm, and later actually purchasing the review equipment. The equipment equally picked up Stereophile's "Analog Source Product of 2006" and overall "Product of the year" for 2006. BTW, MF dryly noted afterwards that since going public with his purchase he experienced a new height of hate email. Ah, how this hobby unites melomanes.

Company has introduced a new Copperhead tonearm, which is Rega-mount compatible, i.e. you can install this USD 6.000 tonearm pretty much on everything. See details on Continuum's Web-site, be warned that this is one of those sites where 20-years old web designers went over-the-board with Flash ... Nevertheless, as a passionate advocate of outside-the-box thinking and great engineering I personally regard
highly Continuum's approach.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vacuum State cables

There is no shortage of small audio outfits providing modifications to audio equipments. Personally I'm in favour in mods as I've very good (sonic) experience with Perpetual Technologies P-3A Signature mod from ModWright and GNSC modified ARC LS25 Mk2 pre-amp. Some years ago a big thing was Sony SACD players mods, and Vacuum State's mods received very good reviews in DAGOGO and Positive Feedback.

Vacuum State is a HE company founded in Australia in 1982 by Allen Wright, and VS is currently located in Switzerland. Company is receiving growing recognition for its HE tube amps, see e.g. review of RTP-3D preamplifier. What I personally found intriguing in their Web-site was a reference to the comprehensive speaker cable and interconnect shoot-out by Italian internet magazine. See report in their web-site. Take the test with a pinch of salt as any other cable comparison, but according to test VS' silver interconnect performed admirably against interconnects from Crystal Cable, DACT Dual Connect, Legenburg etc.

If you are in DIY you can order 1 meter Vacuum State silver interconnect for 195 euros from VS' on-line shop. I'm giving VS a try as I need 1.5 meters long XLR interconnects, and I'll report back my observations when I've received my kit.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sonus Faber Elipsa

At 37.000 € / pair Sonus Faber's Stradivari homage is out of reach for most audiophiles. However, now SF has introduced a slim-down version of Stradivari called Elipsa, which sets you back "modest" 17.000 € / pair. The 3-way Elipsa shares Stradivari's gorgeous elliptically curved cabinet profile, but is smaller and has one woofer less. Elisa shares drivers with other SF speakers, woofer is same as in Stradivari , tweeter comes from the Cremona, but a new midrange driver is designed specifically for Elisa.

Best high-definition CES 2007 photos

Please check Highend Palace's glorious high-definition photos from CES 2007. When visiting the site, sample also their selection of second-hand high-end gear. Mouth watering pictures, if you are in HE fetishism.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Lansche Audio 4.1 speaker

Lansche Audio, a German speaker manufacturer, might be in a position to change pecking order of high-end speakers - at least based on specs. Like other German speaker company Acapella, LA utilizes ion tweeter in its 4.1 speaker (PDF in English here). CORONA Ion tweeter, according to LA, has frequency response 1.5kHz - 150 kHz. The other noticeable features of 4.1 are LA in-house developed 20cm paper cone midrange driver, which only weights 8 grams and two active side positioned bass units per speaker. Cross-over is minimalist, one component for tweeter and two for mid-range driver. Furthermore, user adjustable control are provided for bass with cut-off frequencies and +/- 9.5db level control. Ion tweeter has control level as well. Interior wiring is all silver, efficiency is a whopping 99 dB / W / m and each speaker weights 76 kg. Company has also developed GOA horn speaker and cinema speaker line to complement both 4.1 and GOA.

Mark my words, we'll hear more from this company.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Audio Research HD 220 hybrid amplifier

ARC continues to roll out aggressively new products. The company has so far renewed its entire Reference family (widely lauded by reviewers) and introduced a number of new line stages. In CES 2007 ARC announced a ground-breaking product for them, a hybrid HD220 amplifier.

As in the REF110, a JFET input - for low noise - feeds a 6922 dual triode gain stage, which in turn feeds a 6H30 dual triode cathode follower which drives the output circuit thru ARC's proprietary coupling capacitors (as used in the REF3 preamplifier). The output stage is comprised of twelve "Thermal Trak" bipolar output devices per channel, delivering 220 wpc into 8 ohm and 410 wpc into 4 ohm. Price estimated as $8,995.

ARC has also announced that digital amplifier 150.2 is discontinued.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Legend upgraded - Linn Sondek LP12

It's hard to believe but Linn introduced Sondek over 33 years ago. The new LP12 SE series comprises three new upgrades, the EKOS SE tonearm, KEEL one-piece sub-chassis, armboard and collar, and new metal TRAMPOLIN base board. According to the press relase:

• EKOS SE tonearm
Its successful predecessor, EKOS, has been completely re-engineered, taking advantage of the latest manufacturing techniques and advanced materials, resulting in a much more rigid design for an even greater musical performance.

• KEEL sub-chassis & armboard
A combined sub-chassis, armboard & collar machined from one solid piece of aluminium, to provide rigid support to the tonearm & platter, for even more accurate reproduction of your vinyl collection.

• TRAMPOLIN base board
A new base board which uses aluminium in place of melamine (as used in the original TRAMPOLIN) for increased rigidity, to provide even better audio performance.

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