I never know what to expect at the "Ask the Editors" sessions, traditionally moderated by Stereophile editor John Atkinson (above). Sometimes we get a lot of people looking for advice on potential purchases of equipment, questions about arcane aspects of amplifier design, questions about cables, about double-blind testing, where the future of audio lies, and, of course, questions about what we thought of the sound in specific rooms at the Show. This time, many of the questions dealt with, of all things, music! There were opinions expressed about the major symphony orchestras of today vs those of the past, and great performances available on LPs. Don't these people know that we're all supposed to be a bunch of equipment-loving geeks?
Stereophile's traditional "Ask the Editors" session took place Saturday afternoon. A room packed with audiophiles hurled questions at the panel, who included (from left to right in Jonathan Scull’s photo): Ken Kessler, Michael Fremer, Bob Deutsch, Larry Greenhill, Wes Phillips (at rear), and Sam Tellig. (Not shown in photo but still very vocal were Bob Reina, Kal Rubinson, John Marks, and Art Dudley.) I dodged the bullet by moderating but I was well pleased by the insightful nature of the questions asked.
They were a hit at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, so I asked Bob Cordell (resting his dogs in the photo), Peter "PJay" Smith, and Darren Kuzma to give a repeat performance of their seminars on amplifier and loudspeaker performance at HE2007. These ran throughout the Show, and I kept being stopped in the corridor by audiophiles who would say something like "Now I know what tube amplifier clipping sounds like" or "Now I know what is meant by 'dynamic range.'" I was reminded by something I had been told years ago, perhaps by Jon Iverson: that the only difference between an audiophile and an ordinary person is that the audiophile had a mentor who showed them how to listen. Bob's, PJay's, and Darren's efforts will create many, many audiophiles.
Late Sunday afternoon, with only about an hour left before the show closed, it was still standing room only in the Music Hall room. Perhaps that had something to do with the choice of music. I walked in to be greeted by the naughty sounds of the Bear Family Records compilation, Eat to the Beat: the dirtiest of them dirty blues, featuring song titles I can't even mention here.
I encountered the same difficulty while talking with Red Wine Audio's Vinnie Rossi that I'd experienced the day before when chatting with Audio Advancements' Hart Huschens. Happy customers kept frigging interrupting us. "Vinnie! Vinnie!" they'd announce again and again.
The Audioengine team is also looking at alternative cabinet materials. On display was a prototype A5 housed in lovely, sustainable bamboo. While the electronics remain the same, the bamboo models will incorporate added dampening.
Several of Stereophile's editors were excited about the compact and inexpensive Audioengine 5 amplified speakers ($349/pair), which were bringing forth some sweet sounds playing files directly from a laptop. New to the Audioengine line is the tiny 2 (seen here, $199/pair), which offered a sound surprisingly similar to that of its bigger brother. The music was clean and clear, and conveyed an emotion that belied the speaker's size. Like the A5, the A2 keeps all of its electronics in the left speaker but, unlike the A5, it uses a front slot port for bass performance.
Lukas Lipinski was happy to present his L-707 speakers ($4990/pair) on special stands which discreetly house the 300Wpc L-301 monoblocks ($6000/pair). Keeping the amps close to the speakers allows for shorter cable runs, and, of course, is a clever space-saving idea. The amps slide vertically into the stands and are held in place by small screws on the back panel. The amps' glass front panel bears the Lipinski logo and can be illuminated.
We trucked across the hall to the treated room which contained several sets of RPG Variscreen free-standing variable acoustics screen ($700/each), a Modex Plate ($1000)—which offers broadband low frequency absorbtion from 50–500Hz—and two Rives Audio Sub-PARC crossover/EQs ($4500/each). The system also boasted an extra pair of VAC Alphas—Richard Rives explained that he was using the Sub-PARCs as crossovers, bypassing their digital woofer amps to kep the signals equivalent from top to bottom.
Well, few people have. In a stunning collaborative effort, Rives Audio, RPG, Modex, Talon, VAC, Wadia, XLO, and Silent Running set up two rooms designed to demonstrate that even the best audio components need a little help from intelligently applied digital EQ and room treatment. Two rooms, almost mirror images of one another, with essentially the same system—only one room used EQ and treatment and the other didn't.
Here's the system rundown: Wadia 581i disc player ($9450), 100Wpc VAC Alpha integrated amplifier ($10,000), Talon Thunderhawk loudspeakers ($25,000/pair), XLO Signature 2 interconnects ($00/m). XLO Signature 2 speaker cable ($2700/2m), XLO Argentum XP3 power conditioner ($600), and Silent Running Craz Reference isoRACK ($6000, as configured here).
The program of seminars and workshops has been an important part of the Home Entertainment Show since its inception in 1987. For the past few years, Sunday afternoon has been the time for Stereophile Senior Editor Michael Fremer's guide to getting the best from LP playback. At this year's action-packed session, he showed a packed house to how to mount and align a phono cartridge on a VPI turntable, aided with close-up video help from Dave of Show contractor Moorea Marketing.
Indeed, there were nice things from Sweden in the Sjofn HiFi room. I didn't get a taste of the snittar (Swedish finger sandwiches), but I was very impressed by the powerful bass and deep, wide soundstage created by the diminutive Guru loudspeakers. As Wes mentioned, the Gurus were designed with the room in mind, and are meant to be placed near room boundaries.