When I judged a whistling contest in China a few years back, I got severely criticized by an unsmiling judge for favoring one little girl because she was so damn cute. I wonder what he would have thought about my reaction to the adorable little components from Napa Acoustics. You’ll have to check previous show blogs for their pictures, because this time, I focused on some of Napa Acoustics’ Chinese-manufactured larger offerings. The MT-34 35Wpc integrated amp ($1199), Bow-A3 loudspeakers ($1699/pair), and NA-208 CD player ($399), powered and connected with stock cables, did a fine job of depicting the organ on Ray Charles and Norah Jones’ “Here We Go Again.”
This non-tobacco smoker can’t attest to the quality of the merchandise, but the fabulously bedecked “cigar woman” on T.H.E. Shows’ specialty cigar booth, hosted by Havana Cigars of Tustin, CA was a joy to speak with.
It was a challenge to squeeze into the Positive Feedback Hospitality Suite, where visitors competed for space with liquor bottles. Not even co-host Carol Clark could reach the liquor table when I said “yes” to her offer to a touch of red wine. But somehow I was able to make it far enough into the room to discover, in the midst of the positive spirits, the Extreme Guitar Duo.
Hearing this duo unamplified, even in a small room, came as a shock . . .
T.H.E. Show featured a full program of live music all weekend. As they have done at many recent shows, Cardas Audio sponsored concerts by electric bassist Dean Peer, accompanied by percussionist Bret Mann, poolside at the Atrium Hotel. Dean fed his bass through a variety of effects pedals to produce a wide variety of sounds, but the music came from his hands. In vain did I peer (ha!) at those hands to see how he was producing those chords of harmonics and the underlying rhythmic pulse while floating melodies on top. The man is a monster!
I missed the Saturday night concert from six-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon, but I did catch her afternoon soundcheck, where she rocked several songs with a quartet led by Reference Recordings keyboardist Mike Garson. It was a joy to hear the interplay between Freelon and Garson, the singer in total command of the music.
I have to hand it to Stereophile’s Michael Fremer (right), who also edits AnalogPlanet.com. The man has large attachments! I find cartridge set-up intimidating and I don’t even attempt it until I am in the “zone.” But Mikey does it in public with a video camera amplifying his every motion. At one point in one of his two packed 90-minute seminars at T.H.E. Show, he even picked up the VPI turntable he was working, provided by David Weinhart (left), founder/owner of Ambrosia Audio & Video and owner of Los Angeles retailer Weinhart Design, Inc., to rotate it with the stylus still resting in the groove so the video camera could get a better view! As I said, large attachments.
Your room is the most important part of your overall sound quality,” said Anthony Grimani of MSR Acoustics, who gave two well-attended lectures at T.H.E.Show showing how room acoustics problems can be tamed. “Come learn how to use absorption, diffusion, bass filters and traps to enhance your room’s acoustics and get the best from your system.”
Roger Sanders brought more than a bit of the Colorado forest with him; he and exhibitor Stephen Mollner also delivered some of the most beautiful, airy, smooth, and totally musical sound I encountered at T.H.E. Show. Mollner was a bit apologetic that they were using the same Tascam SR1 flash recorder that I had frowned upon when I blogged their room at a previous show, but clearly they were doing something very, very right. Perhaps it was changes to two settings in the DCX2496 digital crossover, and/or boosting bass output by 1dB. There were only nine demo tracks to choose from, but the Hungarian Rhapsody sounded great. Thanks Roger and Stephen; I needed your breath of fresh air.
It was more than a bit chaotic in the Silverline room, and not just visuallyit seems every 30 seconds, one of the exhibitors tried to get my attentionbut I did manage to focus on the music for a little while. On a recording of bossa nova marvel Rosa Passos with bassist Ron Carter, the small Silverline Minuet Supreme Plus ($699$750/pair) did quite well with bassthe speaker extends down to 55Hzand did a lovely job with Passos’ voice. There was some spread on her voice, probably because the speakers were so far apart, that detracted from the beautiful depth of the presentation.
Ever since I learned that Synergistic Research planned to partner with Magico, VAC, and Anaheim, CA retailer Scott Walker Audio, I found myself extremely eager to visit the huge, Crystal Ballroom D exhibit on the Hilton’s ground floor. My reasons were many. First, I’m accustomed to hearing Magico displayed with MIT cabling, which combination, to my ears, yields a dark sound that emphasizes layering in the lower octaves. How different, I wondered, would the mighty Magico Q7 loudspeakers ($185,000/pair) sound with Synergistic Research cabling and devices?
The first time I tried to get into the Channel D room, the sound of the company’s Pure Music ($129) and Pure Vinyl ($279) software, along with their associated electronics, had drawn such a crowd that I gave up. Returning early enough on Saturday to beat the throngs of admirers, I was finally able to enjoy Stereophile’s 2010 Computer Audio Product of the Year.
The Legacy Audio Aeris Premium ($18,850/pair, outboard), with dual 500W ICEpower amps for the bass section and 24-bit DSP, certainly offers a lot for the money, but in Monarch Ballroom III, the speaker also sounded boomy and rather flat. The latter condition, I soon discovered, was easily remedied. When I played Reference Recordings’ CD of two ballet scores by Délibes, the image was pulling so far to the left that it was hard to believe that no one else had noticed the imbalance. Sleuthing revealed that someone or some dark force had messed with the balance control. Once it was returned to center position, the soundstage from the Pioneer Elite CD player and Coda 15.5 amplifier ($10,000) grew in size, and the sound, while hardly transparent, far more inviting and filled with air. As for the boominess, hopefully more attention to set-up and associated electronics would do the trick.
Ray Kimber has blown minds at previous shows with his IsoMike surround-sound exhibits. I recall, in fact, one at RMAF with huge Sound Labs electrostats that had everyone shaking their heads in disbelief at how amazing it sounded. But in this case, despite the excellence of four Sony SSAR-1 loudspeakers, Pass Labs X350.5 amplification, an extremely expensive array of EMM Labs equipment connected to a Sonoma32 super audio center, and excellent Kimber Kabling, something was not right.
Sony’s new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the September issue of Stereophile) are hardly huge speakers. Yet in a ballroom system that included Pass Labs’ highly prized X600.5 monoblocks ($22,000/pair) and XP-20 preamplifier ($8600), the Sony speakers delivered an amazingly large soundstage further distinguished by an exceedingly beautiful, warm, and clear sound.
There were two systems in Audio Summa’s room on the 10th floor of the Hilton, but I concentrated on the one with the brand new Kuzma 4-point NSE tonearm with Crystal Cable Silver/Gold ($6375) and Stabl M turntable ($18,500). Paired with Silverline Audio’s Sonatina Mk.IV loudspeaker ($5995/pair); Conrad-Johnson Classic 60SE stereo tube amp ($5000), ET-5 Triode tube preamp ($9500), and TEA2MAX triode tube phonostage ($6500); no longer manufactured BEL 101 Mk.IV stereo amps; Furutech Flux cables (Lineflux, Speakerflux, and Powerflux power cords); and HRT Music Streamer HD, MicroStreamer, and iStreamer, I was treated to a Classic Records reissue of the divine Sarah Vaughan’s 1964 Roulette platter, The Lonely Hours. The sound was lovely, but the bass seemed disconnected from the higher octaves.