Given the size and promise of this system, I was eager to audition it with Mahler's Symphony No.2. Through the Tigris 8" tower speakers ($9500/pair), Cinénova Grande 7 seven-channel power amplifier in two front-channel mode ($5999/piece), older B&K Reference 50 processor, Cambridge Audio Azur 840C CD player ($1700), Ethereal interconnects, and Nordost Valhalla speaker cable, the low bass was disconcertingly disconnected from the other instruments in Mahler's Symphony No.2. Given that the subwoofer was not being used, I have no explanation, either for that, or for a gray and muted palette that lacked all sense of air. I prefer to think that this system was particularly hard-hit by the power fluctuations and room challenges that I describe in my show summation.
David Maeshiba, designer and partner in Acoustic Technologies LLC of Chicago, had a surprise in store. He claims that his single titanium-cone loudspeaker ($2650/pair) can be turned in any direction and you will hear exactly the same thing. Counter-intuitive as that may seem, it would be perfect for non-obsessed music lovers who don't want to spend all their listening time stacking their friends in the sweet spot.
Grant Fidelity of Calgary, Canada specializes in low-cost, high-value equipment from China. To get an idea of the huge number of components on display by the company whose motto is "Hi-End, Not High Priced," please check out the list on their website. There you'll find a complete list of components on display, descriptions, and pricing. You'll even discover a host of photos taken at the show.
Music Lovers Audio of Berkeley and San Francisco had the big and small of the Wadia line on display. When I entered the room, the Wadia 571 CD/digital preamp/DAC ($13,950) was on standby, and Wadia's diminutive 170 Transport iPod dock ($379) and 151 PowerDACMini ($1195) were doing the iPhone.
The Simon Yorke S10 Record Player ($19,950), now imported into the US by Tim Nguyen's Tone of Audio in San Francisco, is the replacement for the former Simon Yorke S7. That's the table Michael Fremer used as his reference for 10 years until the far, far more expensive Continuum Labs Caliburn entered his life in 2006. The new S10 is completely hand-machined on a lathe by Simon and his son Spencer from solid raw blocks of aluminum and non-magnetic iron.
The California Audio Show welcomed the debut showing of the eye-catching JIB line of cables. I say eye-catching because the diminutive sound system at one end of the room was intended solely to provide soft background music for a static display.
An experience in the impressive room assembled by highend-electronics of Apple Valley, CA emphasized the importance of carefully choosing your demonstration discs. As I settled into my seat, a very assertive visitor asked if he could audition two CDs that he brings along to check out deficiencies in equipment. Once obliged, he began to assault us with two tracks of raucous, ear-burning music. I watched the folks next to me wiggle with discomfort as I put my fingers to my ears on the second track.
Teresonic's pairing with Garth Leerer's Musical Surroundings was full of surprises. I confess that I have not enjoyed Mike Zivkovic's single-driver Lowther-powered speakers in the past, finding them unduly bright. Here, they sounded very warm and inviting.
How this Oakland resident has lived all these years without knowing about the Profundo distributors in El Cerrito, just two cities over, is beyond me. Regardless, I'm sure glad I got to meet them, because their combination of Transfiguration, Trenner & Friedl, and Heed was making extremely mellow sound. Whether it was Norah Jones singing "Not Too Late" or Bruce Springstein's LP, Ghost of Tom Joad, the system sounded beautiful, smooth, and extremely musical.
One of the high points of my time blogging the first Stereophile-sponsored Axpona Show in Jacksonville was hearing the Audience ClairAudient 16+16 loudspeakers and meeting John McDonald. This time, John went from extremely large to relatively small. Instead of the 16+16 or 8+8, he brought his smallest loudspeakers, the Audience ClairAudient 2+2 ($5000/pair), augmented by a prototype ClairAudient subwoofer ($5000).
Electrocompaniet's display had something for everyone. In their entry room, Electrocompaniet's US distributor, Peder Beckman of Oakland, was demming a small system and a medium system. With prayers that I am not assailed in the comments section for going for Electrocompaniet's high-end system, I headed through a terribly squeaky door for the second room, where Peder's partner, Adam Piotrowski, was showing the Nordic Tone loudspeakers ($29,500/pair), EMC-1UP CD player ($7290), EMP-1 SACD/DVD player ($9990), EC4.8 preamp ($4990), and AW600 Nemo monoblocks ($8950 each). I was especially interested in hearing the Nordic Tones, which created a fair amount of buzz at CES 2010.
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.
Back in the Audio Image room, one day later, Bob Kehn was showing the King Audio The King electrostats ($8500/pair). Before I arrived, these lovely panels were paired with VAC amplification. Unfortunately, those babies didn't have enough juice for the Kings. Upon the urging of Bob Walters, coordinator of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, the VACs that sounded so good on the Magico V-2 were traded for Aesthetix's Atlas Hybrid amp ($8000) and Janus Signature preamp/phono ($10,000).
The imposing Lotus Group Granada UB II loudspeaker ($125,000/pair), complete with an active crossover and Feastrex Type II field-coil driver, was sounding the best I've ever heard it. The system as a whole was a bit dark for my taste, but a track from Esperanza Spalding's new disc, Chamber Music Society, was just beautiful. Everyone in the room loved it.
I wish I could say more about the prototype MartinLogan Ethos loudspeakers ($6499/pair). But in a 5.1 home theater set-up that made extended listening to the Genesis 7.1 loudspeaker next door an impossibility, some extremely compressed, overly loud rock DVD that wasn't functioning properly truncated the listening experience. Other speakers from MartinLogan and Velodyne, electronics from Sherwood, and cabling from Nordost and Tara Labs completed a system that held promise of good sound from better source material. The subs sure did an excellent job of slaying Oscar Peterson next door.