The recent CEDIA Expo showed how widespread interest in computer audio has become, even (and perhaps especially) in the world of high-end two-channel audio. Want proof? Note that at CEDIA at least three major high-end players—Classé Audio, McIntosh Laboratories, and Simaudio--debuted new combination stereo preamplifiers with built-in high performance DACs.
Classé Audio CP-800 Stereo Preamp Processor (projected price ~$5000)
Think of the new Classé CP-800 as a fusion of old-school analog audio values with up-to-the-minute digital audio features including a very high performance onboard DAC with a plethora of inputs, plus—get this—an onboard EQ system and dedicated subwoofer outputs.
Features for the CP-800 include:
· Five set of analog inputs (2 pr. XLR, 3 pr. RCA).
· 24/96 DAC with ultra-precise clock.
· Nine digital inputs (USB Host & Device, AES/EBU, 3 coax, 4 optical).
· Balanced and single-ended outputs: stereo L & R, Aux 1 & 2, Subwoofer.
· Special features including Asynchronous USB, parametric room EQ, and a sub output with bass management.
So convinced is Classé that this hybrid approach represents the way of the future that, according to a company spokesman, the CP-800 will be the preamplifier the firm offers as it moves forward.
For more information, visit: www.classeaudio.com
McIntosh C50 and C48 Stereo Control Centers ($6500 and $4500, respectively)
The C48 Stereo Control Center replaces McIntosh’s venerable C46 preamp, while the C50 Stereo Control Center, which offers an even more expansive set of features, goes even further. Significantly, both preamps offer six line-level analog inputs, two phono inputs (one MM, one MC) and a set of five digital inputs (one asynchronous USB, two coax, and two optical). The onboard DAC is 32-bit/I92KHz-capable. McIntosh’s CEDIA press release on the C48/C50 pair offers the following description.
“Both the C48 and C50 Stereo Control Centers offer more flexibility and performance capabilities than any previous McIntosh Control Centers, offering exciting new options while maintaining traditional McIntosh preamp functionality. These engineering enhancements combine with smart, user programmable features to deliver a truly powerful and emotionally engaging music listening experience. Notably, where most stereo preamplifiers are designed to work primarily with analog music sources, the C48 and C50 Control Centers continues to deliver world class McIntosh analog performance while dramatically enhancing contemporary digital sources as well, including tuners, CD players, music servers and USB music storage devices.
For total flexibility, both units may be combined with multi-channel audio systems by using the Pass Through feature, which allows the stereo system to be selectively folded into a home theater system. Additionally, third party control systems are easily integrated into the operation of both the C50 and C48, which will translate third party control commands to legacy McIntosh source products for seamless functionality and convenience. In both units, phono playback at the highest level is assured with two separate phono inputs, covering all phono cartridge types. Phono playback may also be trimmed for the most pleasing response using the handheld remote control.
In the C50, McIntosh’s exclusive Eight Band Tone Equalizer is now enhanced to be deployed or bypassed by input selection. The C50’s advanced tone controls allow an audio response solution for less than perfect recordings. The C48 features exclusive McIntosh five-band tone controls in place of the normal bass and treble adjustments, which are also programmable to be deployed or bypassed by input selection as needed.
Aesthetically, both units are as beautiful to look at as they are to listen to. The iconic “McIntosh Blue” front panel meters on the C50 allow monitoring of output level (illumination may be switched on or off at any time as a user trim option – a trim command that also controls illumination on many McIntosh power amp models). Both units feature inverted, polished stainless steel chassis, with a top glass cover for the C50 and a timeless five-inch glass face plate for the C48.
C48 and C50 Technology Features:
· Both units feature advanced digital decoding, which uses the latest 32 bit/192kHz Digital to Analog conversion. All digital data is asynchronously re-sampled up to 32 bit/192kHz making the data independent of its source and jitter free, resulting in analog sound quality from digital sources. USB source data rates to 32 bit/192kHz are supported.
· Both feature eight analog inputs, two of which are phono, plus Moving Magnet and Moving Coil, both having trim adjustments from the remote control. In the C48, four additional digital inputs may be assigned to any of the eight inputs. One fixed digital USB input, combined with the eight analog inputs result in a total of nine inputs. The C50 features two additional balanced inputs and four digital inputs may be assigned to any of the eight inputs. One fixed digital USB input, eight analog inputs and one processor loop combine for ten total inputs.
· McIntosh’ proprietary USB digital audio input allows music that is downloaded, ripped from CD, or streamed from a music service or internet radio station to be enjoyed on the home audio system. Once a MAC or PC is connected and a favorite audio program is running, the C50 remote control will control the music being played on the computer.
· The C48 and C50 have both been designed so that all digital circuitry and power supplies are mounted below the plane of the steel chassis and all analog circuitry is mounted above. This separation allows the electrical shielding of steel to enhance C48 performance close to that of a two chassis preamp design.
· The C50 features one processor loop, which provides the addition of a 2- channel processor or record device monitor loop to the system. The processor circuits are located immediately after the source selection and before the volume and equalizer, allowing the C50 to operate most effectively. Both the C50 and C48 have built-in dedicated high performance headphone amplifiers, which remain active for personal listening when the main preamp outputs are muted.”
For more information, visit www.mcintoshlabs.com
Simaudio Moon 350P Preamplifier ($3000)
The simplest way for us to describe Simaudio’s Moon 350P preamplifier is to quote directly from Simaudio’s CEDIA product data sheet.
“The MOON 350P is a high-performance differential preamplifier. Using circuitry derived from the Evolution Series, the 350P is a modular design that accepts optional plug-in modules: (i) a 24-bit/192kHz high-performance D/A converter with USB, optical (TosLink) and RCA (S/PDIF) inputs, and (ii) a configurable MC/MM Phono stage. The MOON 350P’s wide bandwidth and excellent dynamic range allows it to effortlessly reproduce high-resolution audio. A well-organized and thorough rear panel allows for connectivity to virtually any audio component.
For the headphone enthusiast, the 350P is engineered with a discrete headphone amplifier stage, which allows it to effortlessly drive even the world’s finest headphones. An audiophile-grade product with a toroidal transformer-based large power supply, military-spec passive and active components, and state-of-the-art surface-mount manufacturing techniques help make the MOON 350P the finest affordable MOON preamplifier to date.
Significant Design Features:
· Optional internal digital-to-analog converter circuit for use with a PC, digital music?server or external transport, etc.
· Optional internal phono preamp circuit with adjustments for gain level as well as?capacitance and resistance loading.
· 7 line-level inputs (4 Single-ended & 2 balanced) including one front-mounted 1/8” mini-jack for personal media players.
· Discrete headphone amplifier circuit with the output on ¼” TRS jack located on the front panel.
· One single-ended input which functions as a “pass-through”, bypassing the gain?stage to accommodate a component such as a home-theater processor, whose own volume control is used instead.
· A full-function monitor loop.
· Fixed (single-ended) and Variable (balanced & single-ended) line level outputs.
· An oversized power supply using 2 toroidal transformers in conjunction with 3 stages of DC voltage regulation.
· IR input for external control and a 12 Volt Trigger Output.
· RS-232 port for i) full unsolicited bidirectional feedback in custom installation setups?and ii) firmware updates.
· SimLink controller port allows for 2-way communications between other compatible?MOON Series components.
· Optimized selection of very high quality electronic components.
· Rigid chassis construction to minimize the effects of external vibrations.
· Designed to be powered up at all times for optimal performance.
For more information, visit www.simaudio.com