CES: Highlights from Venetian Floor 30 – Electronics, Source Components, and Servers/Streamers

Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Integrated amplifiers,
Disc players,
Multi-format disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio,


OK, I’ll admit the following passage is somewhat cruel, in that it involves a description of a spectacularly great amplifier that neither I, nor you, nor anyone else can buy. I am speaking, as you may have guessed, of the Nelson Pass-designed Sony 40th Anniversary VFET monoblock power amplifiers, which are based on what turns out to be the world’s sole remaining supply of some more or less unobtanium-grade NOS VFET output transistors. Only six of these amplifiers were ever built, or ever will be built. Two belong to Nelson Pass, two belong to Sony, and two are (sometimes) used as demon units at special shows such as CES.

As I listened to the VFET amps driving a pair of Sony floorstanders, it struck me that we all need to hear dream components like these every once in a while, if only to recalibrate our notions of what the word ‘good’ really means.

The German firm T+A Elektroakustik showed its’ spectacular HV-series PDP 3000 HV CD-SACD Player with PCM-DSD DAC ($20,000), which is in every way built like an S-Class Benz (meaning it offers an uncanny blend of elegance and armoured personnel carrier robustness).

The fascinating PDP 3000 HV has completely separate DSD and PCM circuitry, right down to the level of having discrete sets of outputs for each format. Why go to such lengths? T+A says there are small, but readily discernible sonic benefits that merit the ‘separate but equal’ treatment. And, did we mention that the PDP 3000 HV’s drive mechanism appears to be more or less bombproof?

The Swiss firm Thales was showing the gorgeous (and ingenious) combination of the TTT Compact turntable ($13,200) and pivoting zero track error Simplicity II tonearm ($9,200), as fitted with an Ikeda KAI MC phono cartridge ($8,500). 

The Thales Simplicity II arm is, compared to most air-bearing-type radial tracking arms, a model—as its name implies—of functional simplicity and elegance.

For some reason I have almost always presumed most Thorens turntables would come with gimbal-bearing-type tonearms, but for CES the firm surprised we with its elegant and exceedingly affordable TD 203 turntable, which—please note—comes with a unipivot toneam.

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