Gary Leonard Koh's Genesis 7.1 loudspeaker ($7999/pair) has never sounded as good, clear, and invitingly transparent as it does right now in Marc Silver's Soundscape Audio & Video Room (Santa Rosa, CA). I was mesmerized by an LP of Les Brown and His Band of Renown, and again in love with the FIM/Puget Sound Studios remastering of Oscar Peterson's We Get Requests.
Tim G. Ryan of SimpliFi Audio was making sure no one entered his room without awareness that the Gradient Helsinki 1.5 loudspeaker ($6500/pair) is on the cover of this month's Stereophile. Sounding far better than it did at T.H.E. Show last January, this little baby was throwing a mesmerizingly large, spacious soundstage that I found quite exciting. Irresistible, in fact.
The sound was especially alluring in the Eficion/Stillpoint/Berning/Exemplar room. On display were Eficion F-250 loudspeakers ($8950/pair), Berning Quadrature Z 200W ZOTL monoblocks ($33,000/pair), Exemplar XP2 preamplifier ($12,999, and due for a new chassis of zero-absorption stablewood), Exemplar Expo multi-player ($2500), Stillpoints Isolation System rack ($4800), and prototype power cords, interconnects, and speaker wire. The beauty of Oscar Peterson's playing on First Impression Music's (FIM) We Get Reports, and the rawness of 96/24 Pink Floyd master tracks, left me both wanting to hear the Eficion F-250s at Casa Bellecci-Serinus, and lusting for a Stillpoints rack. The music was so compelling that I was left wondering what the larger, two-piece Eficion F-300 loudspeaker, which I've enthusiastically blogged on other occasions, would sound like when Stillpoints isolation is used under the speaker and between its two boxes.
Even if equipment is as excellent as it was in the Eficion/Stillpoints room, no system can sound better than its source material. On that score, I doubt any room save Cookie Marenco's Blue Coast Studios set-up, which was recording acoustic musicians live to DSD, could top Bruce A. Brown's hi-rez files. Bruce's Puget Sound Studios not only does all the mastering for Winston Ma's First Impressions Music (FIM), but also supplies all the 96/24 hi-res tracks for the Chesky Bros' HDTracks site.
The sound was special in Michael Gliksman's High Value AV room. "Really smooth, midrange rich," I wrote in my notes as Rosa Passos and Ron Carter created bossa nova heaven on their great Chesky CD. The soundstaging was quite lovely, with great height. Yes, the sound was a bit dark (which many audiophiles prefer), but it was also extremely mellow and inviting.
Kara Chafee of deHavilland/KE Engineering was excited to show off her KE Engineering/deHavilland Model 222 Magnetic Tape Playback Preamplifier ($1995). It, the deHavilland Mercury III linestage preamp with remote ($4495), Sonist Concerto 3, 95dB-sensitive, floorstanding loudspeakers ($3495/pair, or $4195/pair in all wood), and top-of-the-line Wireworld Cable Technology Platinum Eclipse interconnects ($4300/1.5m/pair), Platinum Eclipse speaker cable ($13,3000 for a 2m bi-wired pair), and Silver Electra power cords ($700/2m) arrived intact at the Show. So did the Cary 306 SACD/CD player ($8000), Acoustic Revive power conditioners ($1500 and $2400), vintage 7½ips tape deck (priceless), and a small collection of eBay-sourced tapes. But the deHavilland KE50A monoblock power amplifiers ($9995/pair) that were also shipped were nowhere to be found.
Given how good Wireworld's Platinum Eclipse cabling sounded with deHavilland and Glow electronics, I was delighted to encounter Wireworld's David Salz demming another Glow/Sonist system in the adjoining room. I'm sure Wireworld's Equinox 6 interconnects ($200/pair), Equinox 6 bi-wire speaker cables ($750/pair), Stratus power cords ($100/2m), and Matrix power strip ($120) were doing just fine. So, I expect, was the source, a Cambridge 550C CD player ($595). But the Glow 832 SET 7wpc stereo amplifier ($795) was challenged driving the 93dB-sensitive Sonist Recital 3 floorstanding loudspeakers. Things sounded okay with the volume turned down low, but when you invited singers to come out from behind the closet door and stand in front of you, the sound began to distort and fall apart. It takes an extremely efficient loudspeaker to enable those amplifiers to truly glow. To its everlasting credit, Wireworld's cabling did not mask the problems associated with the mismatch.
When I entered the Audio Note UK room, someone was in the midst of auditioning a CD of exotic Chinese instruments. The strings sounded beautiful, the highs lovely. On solo piano, the system had a very quiet, enticingly crystalline purity. Soprano Elly Ameling's voice sounded equally beautiful, the voice clear and radiant, even though her piano accompaniment was strangely bloated and over-emphasized. That was no doubt due to room problems that other exhibitors tried to tame with ASC Tube Traps.
Given how enthused my fellow Stereophile editors were over the sound of the Legacy Audio speakers at this year's Axpona Show, I was really looking forward to hearing them. I was also looking forward to hearing the pricey, eye-catching Win Analog SET electronics, which had not fared well at a recent demo for the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS).
Award-winning sound engineer Cookie Marenco had so much to offer audiophiles that it was hard to know where to start. Each day at 11 and 4, she is presenting live acoustic recording sessions with a host of different solo performers, duos and trio, complete with discussions on how to download files. Cookie promised that the recordings would be available for downloading from www.bluecoastrecords.com/freedownloads within 24 hours.
On ground level in the Design Interaction room, a pair of JBL DD-66000 Everest loudspeakers ($60,000/pair) were especially imposing in the bass department. Driven by the Mark Levinson No.326 preamp ($10,000), Levinson No.512 SACD player ($15,000), a discontinued Levinson No.433 ($11,000) on the bass, a Pass Labs XVR01 for the crossover, and a Pass Labs XA30.5 30Wpc class-A amplifier on the horns, all connected by MIT cabling, the system had great authority. The presentation had the characteristically dark Levinson sound, with some curious extra bass resonance on the voice of mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Branford Marsalis's music, on the other hand, sounded just fabulous.
Every new venue presents new acoustic challenges for exhibitors. Deniz Daldal of Design Interaction in Emerald Hills (part of unincorporated San Mateo county, near Redwood City), wondered if the bass ringing in his room was due to the cement in the floor and back walls. "We need more stuff," he told me, but there was no more stuff at his disposal.
Things were all a bustle as the California Audio Show got underway at the Hilton in Emeryville, right below Berkeley and Oakland, and across the bay from San Francisco. Happily surprised by a number of last-minute exhibitors, promoters Ann and Constantine Soo had lost count at "something over 100 exhibitors/brands" and 34 exhibit rooms.