I never thought that yet another listen to Rebecca Pidgeon's "There is a Rose in Spanish Harlem" would hold my attention, but, on the set-up from Avatar Acoustics' Darren Censullo, the recording sounded irresistible. I was especially seduced by the system's compelling warmth in the midrange and correctly proportioned bass. But really, everything in this room sounded really good.
Scores of DIYers are familiar with Madisound, a company that distributes raw drivers, passive crossover parts, and speaker building supplies, some in kit form. On display were the SEAS of Norway A26 loudspeaker kit with a 10" SEAS A26RE4 woofer and the T35C002 1.5" dome tweeterover 1 million sold, I was toldand the Scan-Speak Nada, with a 7" Illuminator woofer and 1" Beryllium dome tweeter.
Emotiva, the Tennessee-based company whose Chinese-manufactured components have been providing a genuine taste of the high-end to large numbers of audiophiles, previewed their all-new pro line. The combination of the Stealth DC-1 24/192 DAC ($699) and Stealth 8 powered Studio Monitors ($1499/pair), due by the end of the year, was making great sound for the price.
I wish I could tell you how the music sounded in the main Emotiva room. Alas, there were so many people talking about the sound of Emotiva's XSP-1 Differential Reference preamp ($899), ERC-2 Differential Reference CD player/ digital transport ($449), XPA-1 Differential Reference monoblock power amplifier ($999), XRT-6.2 Xref Tower speakers ($699/pair), and due-by-Christmastime XDA-2 fully balanced Differential DAC ($399) that I was unable to take a serious listen. Definitely good for Emotiva, if not necessarily for you the reader.
In a second Audio Alternative room, I was again treated to that old, familiar Boz Scaggs classic, “Thanks to You.” I had just come from the Fidelis AV room, where I had heard the song presented with impressive speed, precision, and clarity, the sound still fresh in my mind. So, I was surprised to hear something different.
It’s no surprise that Sam Tellig likes Harbeth’s Monitor 30.1 loudspeaker ($6490/pair in rosewood; seen here on Resonant Woods stands) as much as he does. (You can read about that in our November issue.) The speaker is handsome, understated, and it just looks right. Driven by Bret D’Agostino’s Bully Sound Company BSC-60s, a 60Wpc power amp built around a 1300VA toroidal transformer, the Harbeths sounded right, too. Bricasti’s M1 DAC ($8495; a favorite of both John Atkinson and John Marks) accepted signals from a Music Vault Music Streamer ($2495). Tellurium Q cables tied everything together.
What else was in the system?
Oh, yes: The Stein Music Harmonizers. And, I almost hate to tell you this, but:
Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Paragon Sight & Sound put together another high-performance, cost-no-object system: Wilson Audio MAXX Series 3 loudspeakers ($69,500/pair); Doshi Audio (“Audio Products for Music Lovers”) Alaap v3.0 NAB tape preamp ($10,995), Alaap v3.0 line stage ($14,995), Alaap v2.1 phono stage ($10,995), and Jhor 160 monoblock power amplifier ($28,995/pair); SME 20/3 turntable ($15,500 with SME’s Series V tonearm) and Koetsu Urushi Vermillion cartridge ($5850); and Transparent Audio cables. The gear was supported by Harmonic Resolutions Systems racks. I didn’t listen to any digital while I was in the room, but digital was being handled by a Wadia S7i CD player and a Playback Designs MPD-5 Reference DAC.
I walked into the Audio Alternative room with a nagging headache and walked out cured. I credit the system: Vandersteen Model 7 loudspeakers with M7 crossovers ($50,000/pair) driven by Audio Research’s Reference 250 monoblock and new two-chassis Reference 10 preamp ($30,000); AMG Viella 12 turntable fitted with a Lyra Atlas phono cartridge; and AudioQuest cables.
The song, believe it or not, was “Here Comes the Sun.”
Here’s a picture of Ayre’s Michael Wiedmaier pretending to enjoy a martini. I also have a picture of someone pretending to take a hit from an oversized bong; a picture of someone else looking mesmerized by a lava lamp; a picture of someone dancing on a shag rug; a picture of someone else putting out an imaginary cigarette in a real-life ashtray; and a few other funny pictures, too.
I have no pictures of Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amplifier, no comments on the sound quality of the system, no recollection of even listening to music while in the amazing Ayre room. I do recall very pleasant conversations with readers, exhibitors, and attendees. At any hi-fi show, there are rooms that are all about the gear; rooms that are merely about the technology; rooms that are stuffy or solemn; rooms that are even empty and quiet.
I loved the pure, clean sound and sense of touch and bloom that came with Ben Webster’s tenor sax on “Stars Fell on Alabama” from Billie Holiday’s great Songs for Distingué Lovers. And, in “A Foggy Day,” Lady Day’s voice was as rich and true as can be.
Later, I noted fine snap and brassy pluck to the sound of acoustic guitars during “Chuck E.’s in Love,” the opening track to Rickie Lee Jones’ self-titled debut, an album that people often love or hate.
Salk’s beautifully finished SoundScape 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange unit, and 12” side-firing passive radiators as the company’s larger SoundScape 10 and 12 floorstanders, but where those designs use single 10” and 12” woofers, respectively, the SoundScape 8 employs two 8” drivers. While the base price for the SoundScape 8 is $8000/pair, custom-finished models such as those seen here, which had a marble-like appearance, can cost up to $12,000/pair.