OK, there is an elephant in the room when it comes to audio amplification this year – Naim Audio. By upping the ante by an order of magnitude, to make its Statement NAC S1 preamp and NAP S1 mono power amplifiers, by building them big (263.5kg/581lb all up), by building them powerful (one horsepower per channel, capable of reputedly 9kW peaks) and by building them with a price tag in excess of $200,000, it was the talking point of the show. I wore down a camera battery or two showing people in other rooms this picture:
Just because the “What The F…” comments that hit home afterward were so entertaining. The raw specs don’t really do the Statement justice (when do they ever?), but some of the interesting factoids surrounding this freestanding BBQ-sized amplifier bear some repeating – Aluminium Nitride transistors, all sited on individual ‘nano’ diamond thermal conductors (as used in low earth orbit satellites). 4kVA transformers, a mass loaded vertical suspension system that looks like steampunk-meets-sci-fi, a stepped attenuator volume control that moves in and out of the circuit in milliseconds, just leaving the volume setting behind.
No one really knows whether this was designed to showcase Focal’s Utopia Grande EM loudspeakers (as the gossip suggested) or just to prove what Naim is capable of when the breaks are taken off (designer Steve Sells has been squirrelling away at this design since forever, apparently… he just didn’t think anyone would go this ape crazy enough to actually build the thing), but the myths behind the Statement almost add to the amp’s cachet, and the reputed 20+ pre-orders for an amplifier that costs almost as much as a new Cessna, show that there really is perhaps no upper limit to the buying power of the modern audiophile.
The interesting thing was this wasn’t the only $200,000 amplifier launch. Constellation Audio released the Hercules II Mono power amplifiers, at a healthy $90,000 per channel. Moving to a more conventional form factor from its predecessor, the new Hercules II Mono delivers 1.1kW up to 100kHz, but the amps are more than just about power. Constellation Audio was one of the first brands to reach this über-high-end market with its Reference series, and - while it now has a Performance range and more to follow, it hasn't abandoned it's top-notch roots.
Also, Kondo from Japan also launched the mighty Kagura mono power amplifiers. To prove just how much power they deliver, Kondo was playing the beast amplifiers into B&W 801D loudspeakers – a loudspeaker that demands heavy driving. This massive 211-based single-ended triode 55W monoblock has been seen before at shows, but in prototype form, and with no fixed price tag. Now it is finished and has a price tag, and it’s stuffed full of zeros!