It's time for another State of the (non) Union address before the never-ending onslaught of news and review components erases useful markers that bear some reflection. In no particular sequence, here goes. It's peculiar that just as Tripath, the grand daddy of Class D hi-end cred, has filed for protection from creditors, two product launches from Red Wine Audio and Firenze Audio -- the Signature 70 and Rosso 460B amplifiers -- show how the combination of SLA batteries and Class T outperforms other Class D solutions that rose to power in the wake of Tripath but have secured most of its market share in HiFi since.
While Tripath's relevance as a market force is highly questionable -- uCD, ICEpower, TacT and NuForce are the more established players now -- Tripath's relevance as an affordable high-performance solution is higher than ever. This is a strange rerun of the predicted death of vinyl, then CD, both of which didn't happen and have seen a resurrection or ongoing success instead. The newer and better often turns out to be anything but, whether that be hardware technologies or software carriers. SACD proved a relative no-show, DVD Audio even more so. With new format wars being fought as we speak, the good ol' CD looks to be the 3M - the medium that matters most. If you're an audiophile that is. Otherwise it's MP3 and streaming audio, video and porn.
At $8,500, Abbingdon Music Research's just-launched CD-77 is far from cheap. But what you're getting is possibly the most advanced, best-built CD player that amount can buy right now. In fact, I consider AMR the most exciting and important new company of the year as of today. Designed in the West, built in the East is far from a new mantra of course. To adapt it for UltraFi however with the requisite fit'n'finish, no-compromise construction and advanced technologies embedded is rather novel when you consider that AMR passes its cost savings on to the consumer. Unlike most the competition, they're not pricing the goods as "made in the West" and based on what they perform against -- stuff three to four times the price -- but based on a realistic multiplier of raw build cost.
Which brings us to the terrific potential of present-day Chinese manufacturing prowess. From LoFi dreck to bona fide UltraFi, Mao's descendents can supply the gamut. Left to their own industrial design devices, much of it betrays a nouveau riche penchant for the flashy and glitzy. That's no lack of ability. It's simply a different degree of design maturity. Proper guidance can easily sync it up with present-day Western sensibilities.
Whoever buys into patriotic notions or self preservation won't like to confess that nor volunteer to cover such products. After all, they compete more and more fiercely against US and EU-made merchandise. But such myopia doesn't change the fact that if proper distribution and support are in place -- admittedly an issue for many Far Eastern imports -- there is no good reason why value-conscious shoppers shouldn't seriously consider Chinese audio products. I'm set to receive a quartet of freshly minted Chinese/Canadian components in the form of Raysonic's new CD168, C200 and M100s. Based on the superb showing of their $1,690 CD128, this is an exciting assignment especially because the performance ambitions here are no longer transitional but heart-land premium stuff.
Meanwhile Melody-Europe is dispatching a CD-M10 and S9 to Cyprus with positively scary price/performance promise. The 50wpc KT88 integrated is all of €1,680, the CDP weighs a massive 75lbs. The Vietnamese Navison Audio OTL monos already are sitting in Larnaka customs awaiting clearance next week. Instead of feeling self-conscious for such pro-import support, I view our site as a global nexus for an international audience. Anything goes. If the East right now comes on strong with exciting and promising products priced for the average Joe and Jill, our coverage better reflect that.
If a $119 Trends Audio T-amp with a $40 Sony Playstation 1 can knock one out of the park with a big-league spin, you should know about it. We're not telling you what to buy. We're just presenting you with some of the more unusual options. The final decision always rests with you. That's trusting the intelligence of our audience. State your case, present the evidence, let those facts speak for themselves, then move on to the next assignment. Study the tea leaves to learn about interesting product releases, make the necessary arrangements to procure loaners of some of it, turn them around promptly to pass on the word. That's all there is to it. Drive-by reportage.
Another little confessed fact is the suitability of pro-arena amps -- cheap, monstrously powerful -- to handle bass duties in an upscale audio system. Such amps are made for bad-ass loads and stability under duress, meaning they're nearly coasting in our applications. Not only can you save serious coin that way, you'll enjoy better bass. Whether it be an Alto or Crown, next time you're concerned about sub-80Hz coverage, consider one of their ilk. Many of them will even sport front-mounted input trim pots, just what's required for biamping or tri-amping. In fact, Anthony Gallo's Reference SA amp is an unfairly overlooked perfect solution for such applications, sporting a 40-200Hz adjustable low-pass filter, dual-mono level controls, dual-mono phase controls, 160/250 watts x 2 into 8/4 ohms or 450/650 x 1.and bass EQ from -3dB to +6dB. It's a crafty machine perfectly suited to power for example my Zu Audio Definition Pro bass arrays without a separate EQ. The SA is the one box to do it all. And it sounds better than my gain clones. No replacement for displacement they say. In the bass, that remains true not just for headbangers or bass freaks and big stiff power makes it so.