CAS 2013: Day 2 Moves On and Up
While I didn't reach anywhere near the altitude of the planes leaving SFO's runways, I was finally making headway on the Westin's 3rd floor. The home of many of CAS' exhibits, it got even homier when I entered the room sponsored by Pass Labs. Pass rarely if ever makes an appearance at a consumer show, but with no dealer in the greater Bay Areathe closest is Reno Hi-Fi, which happily arranges in-home demos for CA consumersthe company's Desmond Harrington and Kent English finally decided to let "local" consumers hear why so many critics rave about Pass products.
Neither Desmond nor Kent had ever heard their products with YG Acoustics loudspeakers, but the pairing with YG Acoustics' Carmel loudspeaker ($18,000/pair) proved felicitous. In an untreated and apparently un-power conditioned room in which Pass Labs' XP-25 phono stage ($10,600), XP-20 line stage preamplifier ($8600), and X-250.5 power amplifier ($8250) cozied up with a Merrill Williams R.E.A.L 101 turntable ($6000$7200, depending upon accessories), Tri-Planar Mk.VII tonearm outfitted with an Ortofon MC Anna phono cartridge ($8500), and, for digital Neanderthals such as myself, an Oppo BDP-105, all connected by Kimber Kable "Select" interconnects and speaker cable and, in one case, a Kimber Kable power cord whose inability to reach the wall outlet necessitated a yellow extender cord from M.I.T., the system provided far more air and spaciousness than I have in this ridiculously run-on sentence.
Patricia Barber's Smash SACD (Mobile Fidelity) produced a very grounded, solid sound whose truthful and honest midrange substituted for the extra glamour, frosting, and glare that some systems impart to her music. The smoothness and warmth of Antonio Lysy's cello on his fabulous-sounding CD, Lysy at the Broad (Yarlung Records) were absolutely seductive. Having Pass Labs XA 200.5 monoblocks in my reference system, I know how much tmore his system would have yielded with additional aftermarket power cabling and power treatment. Nonetheless, it sounded lovely as is.
Oopsie. Music Lovers Audio had at least four rooms at CAS, not three as stated in my previous Wilson Duette-Series 2/Ayre entry. On floor 3, they presented the premiere of the seductively shaped and equally seductive-sounding Sonus Faber Olympica 1 loudspeaker ($6500/pair, $7700 with stands). When paired with Audio Research's Vsi75 amplifier ($8000) and DAC8 ($5000), Pro-ject's xtension 10 turntable w/Blackbird cartridge ($3699) and Stream Box DS ($999), an Ayre L5-XE power conditioner ($1500), and AudioQuest's top-of-the-line speaker cable and interconnects and pre-production NRG1000 power cables, a 44.1/16 file of Ani DiFranco's "Zoo" led them to produce a very clean and open sound that excelled in conveying AR's great midrange.
When someone played Bob Marley and the Wailers' "I Shot the Sherriff," someone behind me mumbled, "Now we can hear what it really sounds like." Can there be any finer compliment?
First Impression Music (FIM) and Eficion paired up for a blind listening test. Using the excellent and extremely musical Eficion F-200 loudspeakers ($3400/pair), a Plinius SA-100 amplifier, an Exemplar Audio preamplifier (approx. $3950), and Furutech cabling, the system yielded an extremely nice, smooth sound.
Representing both FIM and Eficion, Peigen Jiang invited me to hear the difference between the original Telarc pressing of Jacques Loussier Trio Plays Bach and the FIM 32-bit Pure Flection remastering. The latter was so much more colorful and rich that I was astounded. I think I need to hear more of these remasterings, and find the best one to use when I go room-to-room at shows.
Hearing the new, 25th Anniversary re-recording of Jennifer Warnes' justly famous Famous Blue Raincoat, I marveled at the beautiful, clean sound and gorgeous midrange of the Music First Audio system. The top was lovely, if a bit attenuated in the natural shine and shimmer department, but the overall warmth of the system led me to write "nice nice nice" in my notes.
Behind the front and center Music First Audio Baby Reference passive preamplifier ($7000) sang, with able assistance of Zu Audio Event silver cabling (including for the tonearm), a PS Audio P10 Power Plant, and GIK Acoustics 244 bass traps with Scatter Plates, an AMR CD-77.1 CD player, Otari MX5050 Mk. III-2 tape deck equipped with RMG International Studio Master 911 tape, and Audio Note AN-E Lexus HE silver-wired loudspeakers. Oh wait, I left out Triangle Arts Symphony table, Rega RB-300 with Audio Origami mods, Denon DL103D cartridge, Music First Audio Step-up (set to 1:5, 30k output resistor, $3500), and Conrad Johnson Motif phono preamp set to 20k input impedance.
Not having heard MartinLogan electrostats in a long time, and remembering how much their smaller babies blew me away at one of the first audio shows I attended (the year that everyone was in the throes of Sara K, whose same song was playing in at least six if not eight rooms), I was especially eager to hear the CLX ART loudspeakers ($25,495/pair). Unfortunately, in Marc Silver's Soundscape Audio & Video roomMark is on the left in the photo, next to Paul from MartinLogan and Richard Schram of Parasoundwhat I heard was a brand-new, somewhat dry and stiff-sounding pair that was called into service at the 11th hour when the originally intended, broken-in pair was damaged in shipment. (Note to dedicated blog readers: This is shit happens incident #3, the other two being damaged equipment and/or cabling in the Von Schweikert/Raven and Loggie Audio Acapella/Einstein rooms.)
Nonetheless, paired with MartinLogan's Dynamo 1500X subwoofer ($1595) and Parasound's Halo JC1 monoblock amplifiers ($9000/pair), Halo JC 2 BP preamplifier ($4500), Halo JC 3 phono stage ($2350), and Halo CD 1 CD player ($4500), all of which were singing, thanks to Nordost Tyr2 cabling and a Monster HTPS7000 Signature line conditioner ($2495), the system offered simply beautiful, breath-slowing soundstaging on a recording by soprano Beverly Sills. The sound was also very clear and detailed. It was toward the end of the day, and the atmosphere in the room was a little too lubricated to allow for prolonged listening without interruption, but what I did hear left me longing for the opportunity to hear the MartinLogan CLX ART loudspeakers perform at full capacity.
I note there were two other systems in the room, neither of which was playing when I entered. My guess is that everyone wanted to hear the big boys.
It's been six years since Audioengine's A2 first made a splash at the Stereophile Show, and the time for A2's next incarnation has come. The A2+ ($249/pair) has a built-in DAC equipped with a Texas Instruments 44.1/16 chip, as well as USB, RCA, and mini-jack inputs. (You can pair these babies with a TV, as we do at home with their big brother A5s.) They also have line-level RCA outputs for a subwoofer, upgraded binding posts that accept bananas, and an improved power connector. Made in the USA, with manufacture overseen by Brett Bargenquast (pictured), his wife Morgan Day, and his brother Brady, expect them to ship in the fall.