Monrovia, CA-based retailer Brooks Berdan had one of the larger suites on the 2nd floor filled with top-of-line gear, including Wilson Audio W/P Sasha ($27,900/pair), VTL TL7.5 Series III preamp ($23,000), VTL TP6.5 phono preamp ($8500), VTL MB-450 Series III monoblock amplifiers ($18,000), dCS Puccini CD/SACD player ($18,000), dCS Puccini U-Clock ($5000), dCS Debussy DAC ($11,500), Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5 Turntable ($23,000), Grand Prix Audio Silverstone Isolation Component System ($22,000), and the Grand Prix Audio with cables from Cardas.
This was one of my favorite rooms but I’m not talking about sound quality in and of itself. John Quick of Tempo Sales & Marketing, dCS's US distributor, was spinning the tunes while I was in the room and between Ella and Louie, The Beatles in all their high-res glory, and let me just say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Black Sabbath's classic "Fairies Wear Boots" blasting through a pair of Wilson Sashas. For me, the difference between good and great hi-fi resides in, and is 100% dependent upon, the music. And there a number of people in the industry who seem to really get that and John Quick is one of 'em. One hint that this may be the case is a big smile on their face as opposed to a pensivethis is very serious businessfrown. I left the Brooks Berdan room energized and ready for more.
Retailer, Melody Audio distributor, and speaker manufacturer Angel City Audio was showing off its new Trinity Monitor Series Speaker ($1899/pair) a two-way that uses a Vifa XT Concentric Ring-Radiator Tweeter and a pair of custom 7" woofers in a rear-ported cabinet. Frequency range is stated as 40Hz37kHz in their literature with sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. A pair of Melody PM 845 monoblocks ($7959/pair) handled that load without breaking a sweat, with the Melody PB101 preamp ($4490) and Melody XCD 50 CD player ($3800) handling things up-stream. All cables are custom in-house, don't ask don't tell, Type Is and there is currently no pricing information available.
On Saturday and Sunday. T.H.E. Show attendees had the opportunity to see who was the tallest reviewer among the group. And ask them questions. I was only able to stay for a few minutes but the room was nearly full with eager attendees, with at least one audiophile dying to understand why, oh why, do hi-fi publications review things that he thinks are too expensive. The panel astutely observed, they don’t.
From left to right: Steve Rochlin (EnjoytheMusic.com), Robert Harley (The Absolute Sound), David Robinson and David Clark (Positive Feedback Online), Michael Fremer (Stereophile, but you already knew that), Paul Seydor and Neil Gader (The Absolute Sound).
The MIT room was featuring Cary electronics and the Chapman T-8 loudspeakers ($9000/pair), which are sold factory-direct. Chapman is new to me; the T-8 is a 89dB-sensitive, 4 ohm speaker with a claimed frequency response of 28Hz20kHz (±2dB). It uses a side-firing 10" polylaminate fiber-cone woofer, a 5½" midrange driver with butyl surround, and a 1" soft-dome tweeter.
Cabling included the MIT Oracle Matrix HD Speaker Interface ($21,999) and the Oracle MA-X Rev. 2 Proline Balanced Interconnect ($12,999). I noted that there was "nice room dispersion" and "definitely no harshness."
Sonorus Audio was playing a complete Sonorus system during my visitthe Sonorus ATR10 Analog Tape Reproducer ($10,000), which is a reconditioned and modified Revox PR99, Sonorus VPA 11 line preamplifier and OTL headphone amp, Sonorus ESL06 200Wpc High Voltage OTL tube amplifier (driving the electrostatic speakers), an OTL09 120Wpc OTL amplifier (driving the woofers), the ESL06 full-range electrostatic loudspeakers, and a Definitive Technology BP20 "used as back-pressure compensation woofers for the ESL06s." The system price for the preamp, OTL amps, and loudspeakers is $100,000.
We listened to Pink Floyd on open-reel tape and it soundd appropriately ethereal and spacey. My one issue with this room was the heatmy guess is those OTL amps were due some degree of blame. If you live in an igloo you may want to look elsewhere.
I’ve been hearing about Fritz Loudspeakers, which are available via direct sales only, for years but I hadn’t heard any until now. The Fritz Carbon 7 speakers ($1795/pair$2395/pair) were connected to the 100Wpc Modwright KWA 100 SE stereo amplifier ($4295), which was connected to the Modwright LS 100 preamplifier ($3495). This has a phono stage but there was also a Zesto Audio Andros 1 tube phono stage in the room ($3900), which I'm assuming was in use since Zesto was also listed as one of the exhibitors in this room. Sources were the Thorens TD 309 turntable ($1900), an Esoteric SA60 universal disc player ($4995), and a PS Audio DAC Link III ($995) connected to a laptop. Cables were from Wywires, power cords were plugged into a Cryo-Parts Power Strip ($299), and everything sat on a Steve Blinn Designs Reference Equipment Rack ($1899).
I’m embarrassed to admit that I somehow neglected to take a photo of the inside of the Fritz Loudspeakers room, so the photo was supplied by Fritz Heiler. I did note that we listened to Jimmy Rogers' "Blue Bird" on vinyl and it sounded finely detailed yet not too etched. Harmonica in particular, which can be a difficult instrument to get right, sounded very natural.
Sometimes who's who in high-end audio can get confusing. Napa Acoustic is, according to their website, the US Representative for Mistral Audio tube gear and the US importer for NBIEN loudspeakers and JIB-Germany cables. But if you search for NBEIN loudspeakers online, you’ll find the Xcellus website, which claims they're the US importer for Mistral Audio and JIB-Germany. They also say "Come and visit us during June 35, 2011 T.H.E. SHOW Newport Beach, California at room 319," which is the same room that Napa Acoustics was in. You say Napa, I say Xcellus?
In any event, the NA-208S speakers ($199/pair) that I nearly got to hear in the Napa Acoustics room were being powered by the NA-208A hybrid tube integrated amplifier ($399), which has inputs for CD, iPod and Aux. . .
In an approach that's similar in some respects to the Tonian Acoustics TL-S1, the Sonist Concerto 4 ($5895/pair) marries dual, proprietary, 8" treated-papercone woofers to a Fountek NeoCD2.0 ribbon tweeter for a claimed frequency range of 27Hz40kHz and 97dB sensitivity.
While Sonist had a few tube amplifiers on hand, we listened to the Audion Sterling Silver EL34 Anniversary integrated amp ($3499), the Wyred for Sound Sonos sample-rate converter ($890), which converts i2S into 96kHz, up-sampled S/PDIF, and a Wyred for Sound 32-bit DAC ($1499). The DAC has a defeatable 32-bit volume control, 2 coax inputs, 2 Toslink inputs, 1 AES/EBU input, 1 balanced i2S input via HDMI cable, and a 24-bit/192kHz asynchronous USB input. All cabling was the Cable Research Lab Bronze Series.
The Episode V ($12,500/pair) is a "ground-breaking wide-dispersion speaker" and you can pretty much intuit from the photo of the speaker the angle they’ve taken. The 88dB/4 ohm Episode V was driven by the Simaudio Moon 600i integrated amplifier and a Simaudio Moon SuperNova CD player handled the discs. (Both Simaudio components were courtesy of Definition Audio.) All cable was, and I quote, "audio grade cable." I'd like to tell you more about the dispersion characteristics of this loudspeaker and if it in fact broke any ground but there was not enough time for me to play musical chairs. Sitting centered, out of habit, I found the Episodes sounded airy.
Covina, CA-based retailer Sunny's put one of their best feet forward with a pair of Wilson Audio Sashas ($27,700/pair), coupled to Boulder electronics that included the 2060 Stereo Power Amplifier ($46,000), 2010 preamplifier ($46,000), 1008 phono preamplifier ($12,000), and 1021 disc player ($27,700). Everything sat on a Finite Elemente Pagoda Signature rack and was cabled with Transparent Opus wire.
While I was in-room we listened to vinyl spinning on the Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable ($20,000) and there was a lot of musical slam.
Sunny's mere-mortal room included two setups; Octave Audio V80 tube integrated amp ($9950), T+A Music Receiver ($3800), and the Dynaudio DM3/7 loudspeakers ($2000/pair). There was also a desktop system which consisted of the Naim Uniti ($2450) and a pair of Dynaudio Focus 100 active loudspeakers ($2400/pair).
I took a few minutes to speak to Sunil Merchant, President of Sunny's . . .
Distributor Fidelis AV was showing products from its worldly stable, including the Harbeth Compact 7ES speaker ($3950/pair in Rosewood, $3650/pair in Cherry), the Perreaux Audiant 80i, an 80Wpc integrated amplifier that comes with an internal USB DAC and phono stage ($2995), the Palmer Audio 2.5 turntable ($6000), with an Audio Oragami tonearm ($3000) and Dynavector 20X2 cartridge ($850), all tied together by LFD cables. The more astute observer may notice a little black box sitting on a thin white stand behind the left loudspeaker. That's . . .
Apple Valley, California-based retailer and distributor HighEnd Electronics was showing the Voxativ Ampeggio, a single-driver horn-loaded loudspeaker from Germany ($29,750/pair), which will be reviewed by Art Dudley in the August issue of Stereophile. The KR Audio VA 340 MkII, a 300B-based SET handled the Ampeggio's light-weight, 100dB-sensitive load. A modified (by HighEnd Audio) Sony XA9000ES transport ($3000) fed an Audio Synthesis DAX DAC Discrete ($6000). Components sat on a Gregitek Stabtower 2 ($4790) and a Griegtek Stab 1 Platform ($765). Cables were provided by Synergistic ResearchGalileo Universal Speaker Cell ($2500) and Galileo Universal Interconnect Cell ($1500). Power cables included the Audio Magic Liquid Air ($500), Synergistic Hologram D ($2600), and the Synergistic Hologram A ($2600). Power conditioning was courtesy Synergistic PowerCell 10 SE ($5000), Audio Magic Ground Disrupter ($700), and a Kemp SNS Plus ($195).
Dynamic Contrasts manufactures the RTS Racking System, an equipment-support system that squeezes the bad vibes out of your gear. Okay, so that’s my interpretation but if you want to know what they’re talking about, I’d recommend a visit to their website. A three-shelf RTS Racking System will run you $12,900 and each additional shelf adds $2200. It's difficult to see in this picture (you can see part of an empty rack on the right side in front of the speaker), but this rack is very unconventional and instead of having support shelves, it has support arms that clamp your gear in place. So in effect, your gear is not "sitting," it's being gripped in place. Sort of like a medieval kind of rack. . .
Distributor Grant Fidelity was showing a bevy of products from China. On active display were the 89dB-sensitive Shengya V218 Wood Horn Monitors ($1900/pair), the Grant Fidelity W-30 Integrated All-In-One tube amp, which includes a built-in 24/192 DAC (though the DAC-part was not being used), a Consonance D-Linear 7 HD Interface ($1250), and a Consonance D-Linear8 Wireless HD D/A converter. Cables were the Grant Fidelity MRCA-1 Gold Coated Copper Reference Interconnects ($350/1m) and the Grant Fidelity MSC-2.5 Pure Copper Reference Speaker Cables ($450/2.5m).
A new line of electronics from Grant Fidelity called Psvane come with Treasure Tubes vacuum tubes from Grant Fidelity. These tubes are made in the Shuguang tube factory. Sitting on the outside of the other amps in the picture are the so-new-no-one-knows-about-'em Psvane T845 monoblock amplifiers ($8995/pair).