I’m not talking any music; you can get that from my ‘94 Toyota Corolla’s car radio, which is somewhat bearable at low volume. I’m talking about a system where the pace of the Fairfield Four singing something like “These Bones” in classic doo-wop fashiona Best Buy special, Walter Liederman told meor the beautiful tonality and sense of space on a recording of the Brahms Clarinet Trio made me first sit up and take notice, then sit back and wish that the music would just go on and on.
Von Schweikert's new VR-44 floorstanding speaker comes in two forms: passive ($22,000/pair), and Aktiv ($25,000/pair) with a 300W amplifier driving the 8.8" composite alloy-cone woofers below 200Hz. Both the woofers and the 6" midrange unit are loaded with labyrinths, and the tweeter is a ring-radiator type. Superbly finished with either Steinway Black Gloss or Mercedes Platinum Silver, the VR-44's produced a full, musical sound at THE Show, driven by Jolida tube amplification and with the source an open-reel recorder from United Home Audio playing a tape of Van Morrison playing "Brown-Eyed Girl."
Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound room was so hidden, tucked away at the end of a shadowy corridor, that posters were tacked to the Atrium walls, reminding showgoers to stop by.
I had wondered how anyone could possibly find their way there, so I was taken aback when I walked into a packed house of bobbing heads and stomping feet. But I shouldn’t have been surprised: Audiophiles have a way of finding great music.
I had not heard the 300W Technical Brain monoblocks ($90,000/pair) before, but driving the TAD CR1 speakers that I very positively reviewed last January ($40,600/pair with stands), they produced a sound from the Reference Recordings Nojima performance of Liszt's Mephisto Waltz that offered superb scale yet with equally superb microdynamics. The amplifier is said to run in class-A up to 120W and has "no resistors in the signal path"! Source was the Ratoc D/A converter (currently only available in Japan) fed data by a MacBook Air, preamp was also Technical Brain ($57,000) and cables were all TB designer Kurosawa-san's own. The system was powered by the Audience aR12-TS power conditioner.
Zesto was also using TAD CR1 speakers for the debut of their new Leto tubed line preamplifier ($7500, top), which, like the Andros phono stage (bottom), is made in the USA. With a system comprising a Gamut D200 power amp, a Merrill Williams turntable fitted with a Triplanar arm and a Dynavector XX2 Mk.II cartridge, a Lindemann DAC fed data from a PC running J River software, with WyWire cables used throughout, the Ozawa performance of Mahler's Symphony 1, with the Boston Philharmonic on a typically bright-sounding DG LP, had me sitting for the entire first movement, so low was the noisefloor and so high the dynamic range. AC power was being conditioned by Spiritual Audio's VX-9 power conditioner.
I first heard the Zesto Andros PS1 phono stage ($3900) at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and was impressed by what I heard. The Andros was being used in the One World Audio room in the Hilton, with a Lindemann amplifier driving speakers from Voce Audio, a name new to me. The Voce UA-3 is a large floorstander using a ring-radiator tweeter recessed behind a short horn. Source was a 1978 Luxman PD-444 turntable fitted with a TriPlanar arm and a Lyra Kleos cartridge. Cabling was all WyWires. The sound of bass player Stanley Clarke's acoustic 2009 album, Jazz in the Garden, with Hiromi on piano and Lenny White on drums, had excellent dynamics but was overall a little mellow.
The Magnepan room in the Atrium hotel had no fewer than three Californian retailers listed on its sign: Shelley's Stereo of Woodland Hills, Hi5 Stereo of La Habra, and Inland Sound of San Bernardino. But the sound in this room was not a case of too many cooks, the sidewall-mounted, motorized Magnepan MMC2 panels being reinforced by panel subs hidden in the room furnishings and a center-channel panel to give a presentation that sounded better than the total system costs of $4700 would suggest.
Tustin, CA retailer Digital Ear had several rooms at the Atrium hotel featuring Focal speakers and Devialet's revolutionary D-Premier D/A integrated amplifier ($16,500), which I am reviewing in a fall issue of Stereophile. The photo shows the Focal Utopia Scala speakers ($31,500/pair) with the black-finished Devialet hanging on the wall between them, fed digital data from a Meridian-Sooloos server. Despite the awkward-shaped room, the presentation was smooth but with plenty of recorded detail evident.
Tucked away at the end of a corridor on the Hilton's ground floor, the Estelon Model X Diamond speakers ($64,000/pair) were being driven by Concert Fidelity's new ZL-120V2 Special Edition monoblocks ($34,000/pair) via Fono Acustica cables. Preamp was the Concert Fidelity CF-090LSX2 tube hybrid line stage ($24,000) with the SPA-4C solid-state MC phono preamp ($14,000), and sources were an Esoteric SDACD player feeding the Concert Fidelity DAC-040 tubed D/A processor and a modified Denon DP-3000 direct-drive turntable. Considering the system costs, the sound from CD was a little disappointinga fine vocal presence upset by uneven low frequencies, which I put down to room acoustic problemsbut to my surprise the sound from LP was considerably better focused, with more controlled lows.
So said the flyer drawing attention to Room 1022 at the Hilton. Intrigued, I went in, to see two pairs of Acoustic Zen Adagio mounted side-by-side, driven by an inexpensive Samsung DVD player and a Rotel amplifier. The sound was good rather than great, but considering the sub-optimal arrangement side-by-side speakers with widely spaced pairs of tweeter, no acoustic treatment, very inexpensive ancillaries, etc the sound was very much better than I was expecting, with precise stereo imaging. It turned out that the speakers' interaction with the room was optimized with a digital-signal processing unit, but no further details were forthcoming.
Bijan Vahhaji of Definition Audio Video in Santa Monica presented a system made of Sony’s SS-AR1 loudspeaker ($27,000/pair; reviewed by Kal Rubinson in July 2011) with Simaudio amplification and front-end. A laptop running the Foobar media player fed signals via USB to the Sim 650D ($7999; reviewed by Mikey Fremer in November 2011). Cables were Nordost Tyr 2.