High End pt.2

MSB Select 2
It seems like only last year that MSB announced its ultimate DAC, the Select came with a guarantee that any upgrade that came along within a year of purchase would be incorporated gratis. At $60,000 they had to offer an incentive, what I hadn’t expected was that this investment would turn into a $90,000 Select 2 DAC, not a bad return. Housed in all new casework and featuring no fewer than 16 ladder DAC modules Select 2 has modular in and outputs to suit almost any requirements. It also has so much current in the DAC that the output stage has been omitted, something that MSB tells me is a game changer.

Arcam Solo Music
If the name seems familiar Arcam has used it before but not like this, the new Solo Music is still in prototype form but constitutes a CD/SACD player, DAC and amplifier with 80 Watts per channel that accommodates AV sources with a handful of HDMI inputs. The idea is that the modern household is watching as much as it’s listening and will have set top boxes and consoles that would benefit from good sound. A genuinely real world approach the like of which is pretty unusual at this show, the price likewise will be sensible at around £16-1700.

Constellation Virgo III/Centaur II
Rave reviews and beautiful casework are not enough for Constellation Audio, the Californians want better products too. The Virgo III (above) preamplifier has a repositioned remote eye for easier control and more importantly stabilises instantly and no longer needs a long warm up for optimum performance. The Centaur II power amplifier (below) available in stereo and mono varieties now has ten  times the power supply capacitance of its predecessor, this doesn’t increase the 250 Watt output (stereo) but does mean a faster and more open sound. Centaur II is $40,000 while Virgo III comes in at $30,000, no wonder the metalwork is gorgeous.

Musical Fidelity
You don’t come across many fully balanced phono stages for £700 so Musical Fidelity’s MX vinyl (above) piqued my interest. This compact unit joins the MX DAC and headphone amp and offers five capacitance settings for MM cartridges and nine impedance options for MCs, with balanced and single ended inputs.
There is also a new integrated in the line, the M5si is a 150 Watt dual mono design with the connectivity of the M3si and comes in at £1,700. Finally come November there will be a NuVista CD player (below) at around £8,000, this will have a tube output stage and fully balanced configuration to make it MF’s top disc spinner. When asked why build a CD player in the streaming age I was told that “people want a tangible” medium, fair enough.

CAD 1543 MkII
Scott Berry made his Munich debut with a tweaked version of the dedicated USB DAC that brooks no compromise. One USB input, one RCA phono output, fixed power cable, that was it. Now however there is another socket, for a 4mm banana plug of all things (see below), this is for a device that Scott has devised to kill noise on the ground plane, a device he hopes to make available for third party components in future. Internal changes include a new four layer PCB, all new internal cabling and Black Ravioli feet that fix to the chassis. Price has increased slightly to £7,250.

TechDAS Air Force III
Another year means another slightly more affordable TechDAS turntable it seems. The €20,000 Air Force III is the most affordable model so far and yet offers the ability to run up to four tonearms (9 – 12inch). It is based on the essence and features of the Air Force One including an air bearing that floats the platter and vacuum disc clamping. Relative costs are kept down with a high mass aluminium platter (other platters will be made available) and by omitting the isolation feet found in the bigger designs. An isolating table based on air suspension will also be available in future.


Onda Ligura Reflector 218Q
If you like dynamics and bass you’ll love the truly extraordinary Reflector 218Q (€15,000) from Onda Ligura of Latvia. This speaker breaks all the rules by eliminating any form of cabinet and running four 18inch bass drivers in true bi-polar fashion alongside a horn loaded mid/tweeter. Even with 800 Watts of active power it shouldn’t work, but it does in remarkably convincing fashion. And it does so at high power, anyone looking for live sound in the living room should be interested.

AudioQuest Beetle
AQ continues to offer audio upgrades to the uninitiated, this year it unveiled the Beetle DAC. Compact and beetle black this is the first converter to offer asynchronous Bluetooth, a technology previously only associated with USB connections that means the DAC controls clocking. AQ’s Steve Silberman explained that unlike aptX, which is only available on a few high end phones and tablets, their approach will benefit any source. Physical connection is available via Toslink optical, a real world interface available from the majority of set top boxes, TVs etc. Price over there is $149.

Swissonor
I have remarked in the past about the quality of sound that Swissonor makes and this year they maintained that standard. Their systems have more vivacity and thrill power than most, they may not be the last word in finesse but you get a real sense of the musical energy, the joy in fact of the music. This year they achieved this with one of their refurbished Thorens TD160 turntables running a modest Ortofon Quintet Blue cartridge plugged into two Historic 8910 mono phono stages (SF 1,120 each, picture below) that offer EQ for different cutting styles including acoustic and Blumlein varieties. A VSOP integrated tube amp (SF 3,540) and BACH 8d (SF 3,120) speakers completed an extremely entertaining picture. At the time of writing a Swiss Franc (SF) is worth £0.69/$1.07.

D’Agostino
Dan D’Agostino (below) has been busy since we last met, his range has been expanded with the introduction of three power amplifiers in relatively straight forward casework, a streamer and a phono stage. The Master Power amp range includes two multi-channel designs and the Classic Stereo ($12,000), this is a substantial beast that contains the guts of a Momentum and offers 300 Watts into eight Ohms and doubles it twice to get to 1200 Watts into two. The M-Life inhabits Momentum casework and offers a streamer, preamplifier and 200 Watt power amplifier for its $48,000 asking price. It comes with an iPod Touch and its own control app and streams Tidal as well as from Bluetooth devices, oh and it’s a media server.
The Reference Phono Stage (below) is a mini Momentum in style and has two inputs for both MM and MC cartridges, so it you have the four arm TechDAS it’s the obvious choice. With adjustable gain and five EQ settings it comes in at $28,000.

Jason Kennedy

High End pt.3