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Vol. 11, No. 1 Spring/Summer, 2008



NEW PRODUCTS

Audio Research

Audio Research VS115 power amplifierAudio Research has replaced their VS110 amplifier with the new VS115 at $6495. While the VS115 cosmetically resembles its predecessor, there are some major upgrades internally that yield seriously better performance. For example, the VS115 is a fully-balanced design with XLR as well as RCA inputs on the back panel. Drawing upon the design for the Reference Series' REF110 input stage, the VS115 uses an FET input with two 6H30 SuperTube triodes in each channel for gain. This allows for both balanced and single-ended connections in a true differential topology, yielding a much wider power bandwidth (110 kHz in contrast to 40 kHz for the VS110). There is a new power transformer, and power output from the four matched pair of 6650C output tubes is 120 watts/channel, providing excellent drive and control. The VS115 immediately makes clear its wider power bandwidth, with more speed, top-end air, improved resolution and more articulate, high-impact bass. Textures and timbres are finely rendered and silky-smooth, with the grainless resolution of which only Audio Research Reference series amps have previously been capable. In short, the new VS115 is highly engaging, musically rewarding, and an unparalleled performer at its price.

Audio Research SP17 preamplifierAs the VS115 amplifier has replaced the VS110, the SP17 preamplifier is the successor to the previous SP16. The new model is available with a phono stage at $3495 and as a line stage only at $2995. Internally, much has been improved. The SP17 features low-noise JFET inputs in both the line and phono stages, and instead of 12AX7 tubes, there is a 6H30 tube in each section. (All of the Audio Research preamplifiers now employ this high performance, long-life SuperTube.) The same high-voltage regulator and the same 103-step volume control found in the LS17 and LS26 preamplifiers are now used in the SP17. As is the case with all other Audio Research preamplifiers, the SP17 is pure Class-A. Additionally, bandwidth has increased and output impedance has been lowered, improving the SP17's ability to drive long cables and low impedance amplifiers. Finally, the signal-to-noise ratio has been significantly improved for lower background noise. All of these changes yield greater articulation, better image focus and apparent speed, and lack of smearing. Bass definition and control are improved, and dynamics simply pop. Because the SP17 is so quiet, music stands out in bold relief against a black background. Individually, each of these attributes is easily identified and meaningful, but combining them in the SP17 provides the same magic offered by costlier Audio Research line-stages. Once again, trickle-down technology from more expensive products has yielded an affordable product with impressive performance.

Audio Research has also replaced the venerable CD3 Mk II CD player with an updated model, the CD5 at $5995. Like the CD3 Mk II, the CD5 relies on the substantial Philips PRO2M laser mechanism with the Audio Research proprietary mounting system and damping for ultra-low mechanical jitter. New high-performance circuit board material and an all-new FET direct-coupled analog output stage with robust regulated power supplies yield measurably-better performance. Comparing the CD5 to the CD3 Mk II sonically, the CD5 approaches the attributes of the flagship REFCD7, with a larger, more dimensional soundstage, higher resolution of subtle dynamics, fewer digital artifacts, and less grain. The top end is airier without dryness, while bass definition and control are both more precise and powerful. There are also noteworthy improvements in the overall sense of transparency and purity, resulting in a sense of relaxed intimacy with the recorded performance. It may be a bit of a cliché, but the CD5 will allow you to rediscover your entire CD collection.

Finally, there is the new DAC7, a $3495 USB DAC designed to allow you to retrieve music stored on your computer with Audio Research fidelity. (For a more complete discussion of what USB DACs are and how they function, see the article on Wavelength Audio in this issue.) The DAC7 uses the same digital-to-audio circuitry as the CD5 described above and, thus, offers the same kind of sound quality as that stand-alone CD player. In addition to the USB input, there are also several other types of digital inputs to allow you to send music to the DAC7 from a variety of different sources. Also, the included remote control will allow you to navigate music files stored on your computer when using popular software products such as iTunes and Windows Media player. Thus, Audio Research enters the era of computerized music retrieval with a very strong first offering.


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