The LARS Meets Scaena
I could have kicked myself. At the 2010 CES, as much as I wanted to hear and blog about the eye-catching and ultra-expensive The LARS 1 36W monoblocks ($90,000/pair), I couldn't find the room. So when the CBO/founder of Engstrom , Timo Engström (second from right in my photo), emailed to say he'd be displaying at Axpona, I assured him that if I didn't get to his room this time around, I deserved to be shot.
To those readers who wish I had once again missed Timo's display, I have disappointing news. I made it this time. And John Atkinson, who joined me midpoint in my listening, is my witness.
The LARS 1 monoblocks powered impressive set up included the Scaena Model 3.2 loudspeaker system ($54,000/pair), the none-too-shabby dCS Scarlatti digital playback system ($70,000), about $60,000 worth of Silversmith Palladium cabling (the speaker cables, for example, cost $9800/6ft pair), Critical Mass Systems racks and stands, three Nordost QX4 Quantums, at least one Nordost Odin power cable, and a custom-made music server. This was not a system for the financially faint of heart. (Scaena, by the way is pronounced sane-ah by all except folks who think nothing audiophile can possibly be sane and was being represented at Axpona by company principal Sunny Umrao, second from left in the photo; also shown are are Jeff Smith of Silversmith (left) and Alan Eichenbaum of Scaena.)
I was immediately impressed by the compelling sense of acoustic space the system conveyed. Listening to cymbals, I was awed by the complexity of colors in a single cymbal clash, then by the enrapturing sense of air surrounding it and the other instruments playing simultaneously. A track showcasing Patricia Barber in a soft and romantic mood sounded so warm and inviting that I had trouble believing it was Patricia Barber. This system, I began to realize, is very special.
At the same time, I felt what I often feel with SET amplification: some of the high frequency illumination and bright leading edge of voices seemed tamer and darker than I would like. Take, for example, the already ultra-smooth, soulful voice of mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, which I have heard both live and on recording. There are certain recorded performances by this great artist that almost always seize my heart. But for some reason, an oft-played recording of Hunt Lieberson singing Handel didn't have the same emotional impact as usual. Was this due to the lack of shine on the voice? I don't know. It's a case of different strokes for different folks. I left the room feeling that the system was truly special, and capable of making many who could afford it very, very happy.