Bob Kehn of Oakland retailer Audio Image Ltd. had a lot to be happy about. Not only were the 10 chairs in his midsize room totally full, but at least 10 other people were also standing in the back and on the sides. Even more gratifying, 20% of those people were women. And this was on a Friday, when I thought the traffic would be light.
Women don't often sit still when the sound is loud and strident, because their hearing in general is more sensitive than men's. Bob had nothing to fear. Even when, at the request of an attendee, the Magico V-2s ($18,000/pair) were played so loud as to overload the room, the system sounded too loud rather than oppressive. When the selection was switched to Frank Sinatra, and the volume set to ideal, the voice and all that surrounded it sounded gorgeous.
Kehn's room was doing a dance, alternating over three days between Magico V-2/VAC, Magico V-3/VAC, Magico V-2/Aesthetix, Magico V-3/VAC, and the King Audio "The King" electrostats, switching between VAC and Aesthetix amplification. I heard the V-2 paired with the VAC Phi 200 tube amplifier ($9900) and VAC Renaissance Mk.III preamp ($9900) with optional phono stage ($2000). Sources were, for digital, from AMR, Accuphase, and Aesthetix; for analog, the Transrotor Dark Star with OEM arm ($5500) and Shelter 901 Mk.II moving-coil cartridge ($2100). Cables were all Kubala-Sosna: Elation speaker cables ($6000+), Elation interconnects ($6000+) and Elation power cords ($1800+). The Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner ($3100) and Pagode Master Reference HD03 rack ($7200) and HD09 amp stands ($1600) helped put the icing on the cake.
Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque from While You Are Alive, John Atkinson's superb swan-song recording of male vocal ensemble Cantus, created a huge soundstage with tremendous depth. True, the sound had a definite midrange-strong tube signature, and was a bit dark, but the speaker's ability to clearly and accurately differentiate the timbre and pitches of different male voices was first-class. In fact, after two days at the show, I'd have to say second to none. And this was with what, for Magico, is a low-priced loudspeaker.
Equally arresting was the sound of Ebony Band's recording of Revueltas' Sensemaya. For relatively modest-sized floorstanders, the size of images was remarkably large and well-proportioned. The differences between the sound of different wind instruments was also more clearly delineated than on any other system I heard.