The South African Vivid Audio K1 loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) in the Musical Surroundings room—seen here behind Musical Surroundings’ Garth Leerer (right) and Stereophile’s Michael Fremer at the Sunday afternoon raffle—produced an impressively large, sit-up-and-listen soundstage. A similar case of a soundstage that dwarfed the speakers that produced it awaited in the Gamut room. The L-7 flagship speakers ($14,900/pair), paired with the Di150 180Wpc integrated amp ($9800) and brand new CD3 ($6000), produced an amazing sense of space and depth, as well as some mighty low bass extension. Learning that the system lacked a power conditioner and was powered by stock power cords and $300 Siltech silver cables only increased my admiration. As the audiophile press has affirmed for several years now, Gamut is on to something very, very good.
My first visit on the Show's final day was to the Usher room. After listening to their large BE10 floorstander ($14,400/pair), paired with the 2500 amp, 2200 preamp, and CD player (combined cost $5600) and cables from Shunyata and Stereovox, I was treated to Usher’s new entry-level $400 bookshelf baby. Seen here at the left of their lineup, other Stereophile writers had been impressed. While Usher’s little babies understandably offered less low bass extension than the big floorstander, they delivered far higher sound quality than anyone in their right mind could either expect or hope for at this price point.
I heard some truly excellent-sounding systems at HE 2006, but if I had to pick one listening experience at the show that transcended all others, it would have to be Kimber’s IsoMike demonstration. The system itself is described by Wes Phillips in another blog entry, and I’m sure it would have sounded very good playing back normal CDs, but what made the sound more closely approach reality was that the source material consisted of four-channel recordings made by Ray Kimber using his IsoMike setup. (Ray is shown here holding a scale model of his IsoMike baffle.) I’ve been often disappointed with multichannel music playback, but this was completely convincing. The voices and instruments present in the room in a way that was at times spooky. Wes was right: Ray Kimber should be King of the Universe.
Loudspeakers based on the Lowther full-range driver have a considerable following—our own Art Dudley included—but most will admit that the driver has its limitations, including some midrange resonant peaks and less-than-impressive bass response. These have been addressed in The Second Rethm by a set of modifications to the driver and the availability of an extension to the cabinet that produces better bass response. I heard a couple of the Rethm speakers (I don’t remember which models) a few years ago at CES, and was not too impressed, but I quite liked the sound of The Second Rethm with the cabinet extension. The extension adds $2000 to the $7500/pair price, but I suspect it’s worth it.
Leland Leard of Music Hall is a pair of spectacles the color of Jenny Lewis' dress. My eyes grew large and happy when I saw the Watson Twins vinyl propped up beside White Stripes and Gnarls Barkley discs.
While the focus of HE2006 was clearly on consumer equipment, two recording engineers stopped me in the halls to show off a hot professional recording device from Sound Devices. Todd Garfinkle from M•A Recordings first alerted me to the two channel version of the portable recorder, which retails for around $2,400. About the size of a small book, it sports pro inputs and the ability to save to a flash card or host computer.
The Moscode 401HR driving the Joseph Audio RM25si loudspeakers were sounding mighty fine. I actually thought they had more moxy than most really expensive systems I heard at the Show, particularly with acoustic music, such as Alison Krauss and Union Station. The top end really sparkled in a most believable way.
Former Stereophile scribe (now PR person) Jonathan Scull (left), blogger Stephen Mejias (center), and surround-sound maven Kal Rubinson—plus webmaster Jon Iverson, Ultimate AV's Fred Mantegian, and your humble servant, taking the picture&151;were having a good
time, about to go out to dinner. Then, in the cab on the way to the restaurant,
Jonathan realized that he had left his new digital camera back at the Sheraton,
on the table that you see in the picture. A frantic call to the Sheraton,
asking them to look for the camera, was to no avail. Then, after dinner, when we
got back to the hotel, as we got out of the cab, we were spotted by Maureen
Jenson, Editor of Home Theater magazine, who called out to Jonathan: "Did you get your camera?" It turns out that Maureen found the camera, and had passed it on to one of the Stereophile staff to return to Jonathan. Disaster averted!
Over at the other end of the Nagra/Verity Audio/Silversmith/Sonic Euphoria room, there was a far more modest system set up: Ayre C-5xe universal player, Sonic Euphoria PLC ($1295), Audio Silver Night Mk.III monoblocks ($9300/pair, 18Wpc), and Verity Fidelity Encore loudspeakers ($11,994/pair), all connected by Silversmith's silver cables.
HE2006 had DJs Ming & FS, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and jazz from the Anthony Wilson Nonet, alto saxophonist, Zane Musa, John Heard and Company on Friday; jazz from guitarist Chris Standring and singer Melora Hardin, along with the incomparable Dr. John doing his Dr. John thing on Saturday; and my own trio doing jazz on Sunday. But classical music enthusiasts were not forgotten at the Show: Sunday saw the Arroyo String Quartet, joined by soprano Kathleen Winters for Mozart's sublime Exultate Jubilate, perform a fine set. A treat for the ears!
Information travels by jungle telegram at these shows, so by Sunday, I'd heard that I had to hear Nagra's set-up about 50 times. As a result, when I walked into the Nagra/Verity Audio/Silversmith/Audion/Sonic Euphoria room, I was startled to see, not one, but two systems—and the pricier of the two was off in the room's corner with its back to a curved bank of windows, leaving the $35,000/pair Verity Sarastros firing into the room at a more acute angle than I'd ever attempt. It sounded good, though. In fact, it sounded fantastic!
For the fourth year in a row, the Home Entertainment Show was the venue for a raffle organized by analog specialty distributor Musical Surroundings. Shown here with the grand prize, a Pathos Classic One integrated amplifier is winner Stanley Moore (center), with Musical Surroundings' Garth Leerer (left) and Stereophile's Michael Fremer, who pulled the winning entries from a box in the time-honored, double-blind manner. Our congratulations to all the winners.