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New Twists In 2-Channel Audio At CES

Two-channel audio components haven’t gone the way of Chubby Checker, Vaughn Meader, and audio-only magazines.

The audio industry embraced its two-channel heritage here at CES with the introduction of stereo integrated amps, CD transports and vacuum-tube products brought up-to-date with multi-channel-era technology.

Marantz, founded 50 years ago when the industry was moving from mono to stereo, stepped up its two-channel commitment at the show, said product marketing director Kevin Zarow, because so many companies have left the two-channel business, leaving more opportunities for Marantz. Two-channel margins, he added, are better than multi-channel margins.

For its part, McIntosh has maintained a strong presence in two-channel with updated technologies. The company’s new integrated amp, for example, “uses tubes without the negatives of the old days,” said sales and marketing director Steve Mulnick. To prevent clicks when switching, for example, McIntosh sealed the switching mechanism with an inert gas to prevent oxygen from degrading the parts. A new CD D/A converter upsamples to 768kHz sampling and 24-bit resolution not to add information to the music but to”recover music without loss,” he said.

Here’s a sampling of two-channel products unveiled at CES:

Magnum Dynalab: The analog-specialty company launched its Triode series of four tube-based FM tuners priced at $3,995, $3,195, $2,195 and $1,595.

The top model features a glowing Magic Eye tube indicator to assist in fast, precise tuning.

McIntosh: The company showed an integrated tube amp at a suggested $6,100, a $7,000 CD transport and an $8,000 D/A converter.

The MA2275 integrated amp creates a new opening price point in tube gear for McIntosh, at $6,100. It joins a more powerful tube amplifier, tube tuner and tube preamp. The 2275 features 2×75-watt output into multiple loads, moving-magnet phono input, one set of balanced XLR inputs, six sets of unbalanced inputs and tape recorder loop. It ships in early 2004.

Available since December, the MCD1000 CD transport features five digital outputs, digital servo control, 20-track random programming, two-way repeat functions, and in another nod to modern technology, it features fiber-optic front-panel lighting, making it unnecessary to replace burned out light bulbs.

A floating subchassis and laser pickup, cast-aluminum CD tray, and machined-aluminum top and side panels provide vibration isolation to ensure accurate data retrieval, the company said.

Also available since December, the MDA1000 D/A converter is designed to ensure accurate data conversion from digital to analog, McIntosh said. It features 24-bit, 768kHz sampling-rate up-conversion on all inputs to improve resolution and signal-to-noise ratio, and a balanced parallel D/A design cancels noise and distortion artifacts created during the conversion process and reduces conversion step errors.

Marantz: The company, with a strong presence in home theater audio and video, is reasserting its high-end two-channel heritage with an integrated amp, monoblock power amp, preamp and a high-end two-channel SACD player.

After a lapse of more than a year, the company is reintroducing a two-channel SACD player because of “huge” customer demand, the company said. The $2,999-suggested SA-14, due last month, can be mated with the new $7,500 MA-9S1 300-watt (into 8 ohms) monoblock amp and the $7,500 SC-7S1 preamp, the latter with 3Hz-150kHz frequency response. The company said it hasn’t offered an amp and preamp at these price points in years. Both were due in December.

Also new is a $599-suggested stereo integrated amp, the PM7200, marks the company’s return to Class A amplification after about a decade. It can be switched to operate at 2×20 watts in Class A mode or at 2×75 watts in Class AB mode. It ships in February or March, around the same time as a new $399 CD player.

NAD: The company’s new C 372 and C 352 integrated amps are shipping at a suggested $899 and $599, respectively.

The 372 delivers 2×150 watts of continuous power with both channels driven at rated distortion into 4 or 8 ohms. It’s bridgeable to 350 watts. The C 352 is rated at 2×80 watts with both channels driven at rated distortion into 4 or 8 ohms. Both amps are fully remote controlled and come supplied with the all-new NAD SR 5 system remote control, which operates many other NAD products. They feature 12V-trigger and AC-switched outlet.

The $599-suggested C 162 stereo preamp features MM/MC phono inputs and two line-level preamps for biamping.

The $699-suggested C 272 power amp delivers 2×160 watts of continuous power with both channels driven at rated distortion into 4 or 8 ohms. It is bridgeable to 300 watts. The C 272 can be used for the main amplifier in a stereo or multichannel, multiamp system or as a standalone amplifier for a passive subwoofer.

Two new CD players have separate power regulators for the digital and analog sections for electrical isolation to reduce RF interference. The C 542 uses 24-bit Burr-Brown DACs, and the C 521 BEE is equipped with 20-bit high resolution Burr-Brown S-D DACs. They retail for a suggested $499 and $299, respectively.

The C422 tuner features RDS, 30 presets and 12-volt triggers at a suggested $299.