Going all out, Totem Acoustics followed up its home theater room with a second room that included two completely different systems. Just finishing up playing when I entered the room, the “Boulder System”Boulder 2060 power amp with “Made in the USA” XTC amp stand, 1010 preamp, and 1021 CD/Networking playerfed the brand new, just shipping Totem Acoustic "Forest Signature" loudspeaker in Cherry ($6000/pair). This was the same Boulder amp and preamp whose sound helped me wax ecstatic at Music Lovers Audio in San Francisco 22 days earlier. As for the all-important loudspeaker, it has the same volume as the standard Totem Forest ($4000/pair), but contains better capacitors and drivers, a different decoupling system, and a high gloss polyester finish that takes a week to complete on a cabinet whose angle can be adjusted.
That Albert Von Schweikert is an excellent speaker designer is widely known. Hence it was no surprise that the Von Schweikert Audio UniField Two three-way bookshelf loudspeakers with dedicated stands and active noise reduction ($8000/pair) were making exceptionally smooth music on an unidentifiable classical piece played on an outstanding system that included the YFS supercomputer HD.REF-3 LE ($15,500), EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,000), and Constellation Audio Centaur amplifier ($27,000) and Virgo preamplifier ($29,000). All this was powered and connected by Master-Built Signature power cords ($6200/6 ft.), ULTRA XLR audio cables ($12,000/pair), Signature RCA interconnects ($6200/pair), and Signature bi-wire speaker cables ($7500/8 ft. pair).
No one needs me to detail the strengths of McIntosh equipment, not the least of which is its consistently smooth midrange. But in a system that included the McIntosh C2500 tube preamp ($6500), MEN220 Room Perfect room correction ($4500), MC452 power amp ($8500), MPC1500 power controller ($4500), MCD1100 CD Player ($10,000), and XR100 speakers ($10,000), the tightness and impact of the bass was nothing short of startling. Call it the “Whoa! Factor.” Equally noteworthy was the very warm, large, and all-enveloping presentation.
By now, the excellence of the big TAD Reference One loudspeakers ($78,000/pair), designed by Andrew Jones, has become well-known to Stereophile readers. Less familiar, perhaps, may be TAD’s Reference electronics: the TAD D600 CD/SACD player and DAC with external power supply, the C600 preamplifier with external power supply that Michael Fremer reviews in the June 2013 issue ($42,000), and M600 monoblocks ($68,000/pair).
The warmth of the system’s midrange immediately won my heart.
When I heard the big Ventures at CES 2013, I was so impressed with their beauty of sound that I lingered far longer than my schedule allowed. John Atkinson was similarly impressed at the 2013 New York Show But here, paired with the same Phasure NOS1 DAC, XX HighEnd software, and similar if not identical electronics and cables, the bright sound led me to truncate my visit.
In all fairness, this was far from the only room at T.H.E. Show whose sound was bright.
When I poked my head into the Ayon ballroom on Friday, the first day of T.H.E. Show, the sound was too bright for my taste. A day later, listening to the Tape Project’s Master Tape of Nojima Plays Liszt, I found the sound much too subdued and flat. Perhaps, as is often the case at shows, by the end of the show the system arrived at a place of balance.
Wishing to slow down and luxuriate with trusted friends, I headed to Covina, CA-based Sunny Components’ room on the second floor of the Hilton to reunite with the Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair). Making their West Coast show debut, these handsome babies, which I initially blogged about at RMAF 2012, sang superbly through Audio Research’s ARC Reference 250 monoblocks ($13,000 pair) and, in its US premiere, the ARC Reference 10 line stage preamplifier ($30,000). Also in the digital chain were the ARC Reference DAC, which extends up to 24/192; the new Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR Signature edition rack; and a combination of Shunyata Research, Transparent, and Isotek cabling and products. Wilson specialist and sound engineer Peter McGrath (left) enlightened me and Sunil Merchant of Sunny Components (right) by playing a bit of his hi-resolution master of young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performing the second movement Beethoven’s Op.7, No. 2 sonata.
With MBL’s sonic excellence long established in these pages, I lingered in Jeremy Bryan’s room just long enough to confirm that the sound was as gratifying as usual. On a cut from the Reference Recordings’ classic of Rutter’s Requiemhappily not the “Pie Jésu” that everyone and their mother choosesI was immediately seduced by the beautiful air and warmth of the Radialstrahler 111F loudspeaker ($42,000/pair) fed by MBL’s Corona line C31 CD player ($9200), C11 preamplifier ($8800), and C15 mono power amplifiers ($25,000/pair).
Philip O’Hanlon may call his distribution company On a Higher Note, but it was the beauty of his system’s midrange that impressed me the most in his intentionally low-lit room. I couldn’t spend much time hereI lamentably missed playback of the Channel Classics DSD master filesbut on a master tape of guitarists Roy Gaines and Anthony Wilson, I was immediately captivated by the inherent rightness of the sound produced by the Brinkmann Bardo II turntable ($9500), Luxman D-08 CD/SACD player ($17,000) and DA-06 DAC ($6000), Mola Mola Kaluga preamp ($10,000) and Makua monoblocks ($15,000/pair, rave-inducing Vivid G3 Giya loudspeakers ($40,000/pair), Kubala Sosna Elation cabling, and Sonorus ATR10 open-reel tape deck ($13,000).
YG Acoustics’ Sonja 1.2 passive loudspeakers ($72,800/pair), which is basically the Sonja 1.3 that JA will be reviewing in the July issue, with one less woofer, sounded gorgeous in a not-so-modest $250,000 system. Sharing the honors were Tenor Audio’s 1755 stereo amplifier (Cn$55,000) and Line1/Power 1 preamplifier (Cn$75,000), Luxman’s DA-06 DAC ($6000), and $34,700 worth of Kubala Sosna Elation cabling and Sextet Power Distribution box.
It’s not just a sign that proclaims this turntable a work of art; to those heavy into industrial design, the Basis Work of Art with Super 9 tonearm ($179,000) is what it proclaims. I will leave a detailed assessment to Michael Fremer, but on preliminary listen, in a major industrial-strength system that included the Lyra Atlas phono cartridge ($9500); four Audio Research components, including the Ref 250 monoblock amplifiers ($26,000/pair) and Ref 10 phono preamp ($30,000); Vandersteen 7 loudspeakers ($48,000/pair); and AudioQuest WEL Signature interconnects and speaker cable ($124,000 total), the system’s extremely warm and mellow sound shone through a bit of shoutiness and boominess.
Having entered Larry Kay’s BSG room at RMAF 2012 just as he was in throes of packing, after having missed the Bay Area Audiophile Society’s demo of his BSG qøl Signal Completion Stage, I was relieved to finally be able to take a brief listen to the device (pictured on the second shelf, below the MacBook Pro). Although my time in the room was briefLarry paused just long enough from a discussion to mug for the cameraI definitely heard a larger and more convincingly realistic qøl soundstage with the unit switched in. You can find John Atkinson’s February 2013 review here.
Although they looked the same, the Audio Note UK E/SPe HE 98dB-sensitive loudspeakers ($9300/pair plus $650 for the stands) were a larger version of what I heard at AXPONA Chicago. In a system that also included Audio Note UK’s CDT Three top-loading CD transport ($12,000), DAC3.1x / II Balanced ($10,000), and OTO SE Signature integrated amplifier ($5500, or $6300 with phono), a very warm and mellow midrange triumphed on Jane Monheit’s “More than You Will Ever Know” from the album, Neverland. A further listen to a cut from Hazmat Modine’s Bahamut convinced that this is a system for midrange lovers über alles.
T.H.E. Show Newport Beach presented two opportunities to hear the encouraging debut of the Nola Micro Grand Reference Gold loudspeaker ($22,200/pair with stands). On both occasions, the speaker was paired with Nordost cabling, this time top-of-the-line Odin throughout.
Given that I’ve heard Audioquest’s price-busting DragonFly USB DAC ($249 and change) on other occasions, I only lingered long enough to hear a bit of Shelby Lynne’s “Just a Little Lovin” and a 24/96 file of a song by Mark Knopfler. The sound was lovely and smooth. The system, which also included Vandersteen Quatro Carbon loudspeakers ($12,500/pair), Audio Research VSi75 ($7500), AudioQuest Castle Rock speaker cable and Angel interconnect, Harmonic Resolution Systems rack and shelf, and Furman PL-8 C power conditioning, didn’t have the ultimate bass control or color, but, my God, the DragonFly can be had for under $250.