|Paradise with James Saxon
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Ladies and Gentlemen: The Jimmy Awards
A time-honored tradition at SoundStage! is the bestowal of the coveted Jimmy Awards on noteworthy audio products "heard" in Las Vegas. This year, as a result of the amount of heat taken by this writer after posting the first J.A.s last February, I have decided to seek the help of my SoundStage! colleagues to determine the winners. Also, since I was unable to visit more than a third of the exhibits, it seems unfair to omit mention of meritorious products because of my lack of low-level flying skills. Finally, I was so intimidated by the price of some of the new gear, I did not have the guts to choose one big-ticket item over a competitor. This is what friends are for.
For instance, the whopping number of expensive amplifiers introduced in 1999 left me reeling. How many over-$20k amps can one unflinchingly single-out for merit? Fortunately, this notion did not deter my Show confreres from nominating at least four automobile-priced monoblock pairs for Jimmy Awards.
Without further ado, I hereby list the awards, but please keep in mind old Jimbo is merely the handmaiden of our collective will. Please direct all hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amplifier under $1200: Audio Note, the company which brought us the $90,000 Ongaku, has lowered the ante on entry-level excellence with the introduction of its PO monaural power amplifier. A mini-block pair of these 8-watt single-ended marvels is $1199!
Amplifier under $2000: The VTL Tiny Triodes, outfitted with EL-84 tubes, sell for $1600 the pair and to these ears produced some of the best sound at CES, price-no-object.
Amplifier under $2359: I always dread the Monarchy Audio room. As a purveyor of very costly solid-state amplifiers, I can never understand how the company makes their SE-100 Delux Class A monoblocks sound so sweet and clear.
Amplifier under $2500: Solid-state 100-watt stereo amplifier from Edge ran cool to the touch, but had the sonic warmth of a big class-A design.
Amplifier under $10,001: The Wavelength Triton Signature amplifier "SET" the Bella Voce loudspeakers awash in glory.
Amplifier under $15,000: The Classé Omega might have won this award, except that two of the stereo amps bridged to mono were used to drive the new Avalon Sentinel loudspeakers. Doubling the cost to $30,000 moved the Big Whites into LAMM territory where they came in second to the ML2s.
Amplifier under $20,001: Doug Schneider said that in the absence of money he would gladly trade an appendage (see November "Paradise" regarding this possibility) to own the Blue Circle BC2000 monoblocks.
Amplifier under $21,000: The Audio Aero Prestige monoblocks warmed the hearts of all the SoundStagers who heard them and thus deserve a fudge-factored price distinction. These cap-tubed wonders cost either $19,750 or $20,750, depending on the exchange rate of the new Eurocurrency. At any rate, their price is not exactly the same as the Blue Circle BC2000s, so they win a Jimmy.
Amplifier under $25,000: The Audio Research Reference 300 pushed the Wilson Grand SLAMM IIs into previously unexplored musical regions at the Golden Nuggest and deserve a big wet award
Amplifier under $30,000: The LAMM ML2 rang one reporters chimes like Quasimodo swinging on Big Marie.
Preamplifiers under $2500: The remote-controlled VTL 2.5 mated extremely well with the ST-85, propelling Joseph Audio loudspeakers to new heights of resolution.
Preamplifiers under $6000: The Balanced Audio Technology VK-50, a design using the BATs "exclusive 6H30 tube" trumped their recently introduced VK-40 solid-state preamp in terms of my own desires.
Preamplifiers under $15,000: If power filtration and source isolation are important to good sound, the Mark Levinson Reference No. 32 should stand the audio world on its golden ear when it goes into circulation later this spring. Since the demonstration was eyes-only, I admit to guessing here.
Digital playback components
Until the multi-national conspirators who control digital design make a decision on 24/96, 24/192, DSD, and backward compatibility, I fear making any Jimmy Awards for digital components. However, heres one honorable mention to Norbert Lehmann of Lehmann Audio for bringing a new processing chip to the Show to allow me to upgrade the mighty DAC+ ($1995); and another to MSB Technology for offering a $1000 upgrade to its 24-bit 96kHz Link DAC, which lists for $349. I cant be sellin no processors for chump change, but $1395 for the Gold Series Link DAC is all right by me.
Riding a strong wind from Canada is news that the Rega Planar 25 turntable, which sells for $1250 complete with RB600 tonearm, was the one to beat at CES. I wouldnt know, having adopted digital ten years ago. At CES, I refused to listen to demonstrations using vinyl, which I regard as cheating. Any system sounds good when clean vinyl is played back using a good table, arm and cartridge. The real challenge is how it sounds with 16-bit digital. Ironic, isnt it?
Loudspeakers under $700: The RBH minimonitors that list for $699 (without stands) offered nice detail amid the warmth.
Loudspeakers under $900: Anthony Gallo and his entourage presented the fabled Gallo Nucleus Solo with pipe-stem stands and matching subwoofer, which complete retails for $899. No home should be without them.
Speakers under $1000: Matching the tonal balance of its floorstanding speakers, Meadowlarks Vireo monitor can be purchased either in pairs for music or singly for center-channel purposes in a 5.1 system.
Speakers under $3500: Revel, a company that makes loudspeakers that look like R2D2, introduced a real-wood-veneer line called Performa. The floorstanding Performa F30 had the deep bass, urgent dynamics, and fit and finish of a much more expensive loudspeaker.
Speakers under $4500: How can a geezer like me ignore a company called Greybeard Audio? Not likely. Tim Wright, Greybeards eponymous designer, wrung rich sound out of his 75-pound "minimonitor," which at $4480 might be the speaker of choice for someone with a small room and a hefty budget.
Speakers under $5500: The most utilitarian-looking design at the Show was among the most musically compelling. Green Mountain Audios Continuum 2 mounts midrange and tweeter to a pole, thereby avoiding the problems of cabinetry design. The musical results were stunning.
Speakers under $7000: A renascent Snell Acoustics debuted its "Expanding Array" line of A/V loudspeakers featuring active woofers. The XA 90ps, mated to an XR55cr center-channel and flanked by a pair of XA75ps ($4200) to form a shallow arc, produced the most convincing demonstration of a DTS music disc Ive heard so far.
Speakers under $10,000: Tie. (1) The Transcendence Eights from Hales Design Group produced lifelike vocals without the rasp I heard from most cone and dome loudspeakers; (2) Revels Ultima Studio induced Canadian Ian White to send a write-in vote, saying this well-appointed loudspeaker is the kind that the President of the United States would own, whatever that means.
Speakers under $12,501: I finally got to hear the Von Schweikert VR-6 under tranquil conditions and have to agree with the purple prose written about it: To hear it is to want it. This may be the most inexpensive super-speaker on the market.
Speakers under $35,000: I give half-a-Jimmy to the new Silverline Audio Grandeur, which sounded great but made no attempt to hide its "stacked box" design, which I thought looked out of date, already. For $35k, Id expect something a little more creative in the looks department.
There were almost as many cables, equipment racks, amp stands, power-line filters and magic props on display at CES as there were rooms. Therefore, it seems unfair to single out a given product for special notice. Nevertheless, the world is unfair and so I award a Jimmy to the VansEvers Pandora ($425), the only power cord I have ever seen that comes with an owners manual. With the Pandora one may "tune" the sound of the electric current feeding a component. This is hard to believe, but it is, unfortunately, true. As soon as I can string together a couple of weeks in anal-retentive isolation, I plan to issue a full report. Stay "tuned."
This last entry, appropriately enough, concludes the 1999 Jimmy Awards Ceremony. Hope I havent opened a Pandoras box of trouble for SoundStage! publisher, Doug Schneider, but thats why he earns the big bucks. Given the popularity of the Jimmies, I plan to make this rite of passage a semi-annual affair. Look for more fanfare in June when the Jimmy Awards emcee returns from HI-FI 99, unless Doug offers to buy me off first.
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