CAS 2014 Day 3: Touchdown

Snatching my prize for best sound on the third floor, the world premiere of the new Wells Audio Innamorata Signature amplifier ($13,000), enhanced by the new crystal technology in Jack Bybee's A/V Signal Enhancers ($119.95) and Bybee Technologies power cables ($1500), blew me away. Whoever expected, on Reference Recordings' new Kansas City Symphony recording of the suite from Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges, such impeccably detailed, superbly controlled full-range sound in such a small room?

True, Jeff Wells is gifted with set-up acumen. This is reflected in his use of Shakti Halographs ($1200/pair), Gingko Mini Clouds ($100/set) and Cloud 10 platform ($349), and such Bybee Crystal curiosities as a droll, half-naked AC module, already in use by Oppo England. I can't help but note that this baby, which reportedly affects the energy of the presentation, even when positioned all by its lonesome, reminds me of the droll antlers Falstaff is saddled with in the marvelous final act of Verdi's opera, Falstaff.

But set-up means nothing if the equipment (including cabling) is not up to snuff. Hats off, then, to the equipment mentioned above, as well as to Chapman T-7 loudspeakers ($12,995 with special finish), Wells Audio "Looking Glass" power conditioner ($5500), Jolida Fusion preamplifier modified by Wells Audio ($5000), Music Hall 25.3 modified DAC ($3500), Jolida DAC/Transport ($2299), and a host of Dana Cables Diamond Reference cabling. Given how clear naturally balanced, timbre-neutral and true, and musical this system sounded, I'd say the Wells Audio Innamorata Signature amplifier, reportedly carried by 12 dealers, deserves a place in a Stereophile reviewer's system and on John Atkinson's bench.

I really enjoyed LREAudio's set-up the first time I encountered it at a show. But here, the LRE Clara loudspeakers ($6000/pair), which are designed to be placed against a wall, sounded extra lively.

Matters got less noisy and far more listenable when, at my request, the curtains behind the speakers was closed. Nonetheless, even through the excellent Pass Labs XA30.8 amplifiers, Murray Perahia's piano had a metallic ring, and sounded far too distant and echo-laden. Given that the speaker cabinets are made of glass, which is claimed to have four times the density of wood, and its drivers are all open-baffle and configured in a way that "creates ideal acoustic conditions independent of listening room acoustics," I can't blame the room for what I heard. And I sure know the problem didn't lie with the amplification.

Linn Audio Loudspeakers of Oakland, CA paired its Lyceum speaker system ($19,500/pair) with the beautiful sound Pass Labs XA100.5 class-A amplifiers ($16,500/pair), a Sony XA9000ES player ($3000), a Linn Audio passive preamplifier (gain control) with remote ($1000), and AudioQuest cabling. The sense of air around Beverly Sills' heart-touching soprano on her priceless recording of Richard Strauss' "Breit über mein Haupt" was superb—p;the best I've ever heard—but the sound was a bit thin and wiry. Ditto for the recording of Piazzolla's Oblivion on Yarlung Records' Antonio Lysy at the Broad. Nonetheless, the superb treble reproduction and warmth of the Pass amplifiers came through. I'd love to hear this same system with a Pass Labs active preamp in the chain.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." Such thoughts come to mind as I reflect on the room dominated by Teresonic's Ingenium XR loudspeakers ($19,995/pair). Also in the room, in hardly shabby company, were Teresonic's new Clarison Silver EXP speaker cables (variously listed as $4485 and $4995/6ft pair), Gold interconnects ($3495/pair), and new Clarison Digital Gold BNC ($1995) and Gold AES ($2995). These joined Lamm Industries ML2.2 single-ended power amplifier ($37,950) and LL2.1 tube preamplifier ($6190); the new Berkeley Audio Design Reference DAC ($15,500); the new Baetis Reference Media Server ($13,995); and Stillpoints resonance control supports.

By all accounts, one would have expected this room to sound fantastic. Instead, music sounded more than a little thin, wiry, and metallic. The midrange was of realistic proportions on Andy Bey's "Tuesdays in Chinatown"—the core of his voice sounded gorgeous—but the piano was noticeably harsh and metallic. Ditto for the sound of soprano Julia Lezhnova's voice, also sourced from files on the Baetis server. Despite Mike Zivkovic's wonderful taste in music, something was very off.

Boy oh boy, has the newly envisioned San Francisco Audiophile Society, formerly the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS), come a long way in a short amount of time. Thanks to the graciousness of Constantine Soo, head honcho of the California Audio Show and DaGoGo.com, and the organizing acumen of Alón Sagee (blue t-shirt) and Leslie Lundin (orange top), not only did the organization receive a gratis hospitality suite in which it signed up at least 200 new members, but it also showed a brand new face. That included . . .

. . . a wonderful video presentation, some smiling new faces amongst familiar ones from the old days, and, as the photo attests, a Sunday afternoon visit by Channel D's Rob Robinson and his fabulous wife, Claudia.

Truth be told, the energy in the room was more significant than the hodgepodge system, which changed frequently during the course of the weekend. Plans to compare equipment were abandoned when nothing sounded quite up to snuff. (Not to say that everything else in the adjacent rooms did either) But, hey, with 200 new members, for whom all new membership charges were waived, who's complaining? Now all the organization has to do is figure out is how to put on quality events that can serve large numbers of people without compromising sound quality or transforming the audio society into a source of raffle prizes that are subsequently unloaded on EBay by members with a seemingly lifelong dedication to either talking over the music or leaving once the raffle is over. This former BAAS president wishes everyone loads of luck on that score.

He may be mugging a bit here, but you should have seen the look of genuine disappointment on Gary Alpern's face when, after he walked into the SFAS room to thank his neighbors and let them know that his True Audiophile room was packing up early, he learned that he was doing so before I could blog the room for Stereophile.

"You're missing the big buzz of the show," I was told.

"Oh my," said I. But when I entered the room, I was relieved to discover, instead of any buzz, that I had at least covered Spatial Audio's loudspeakers in the past. New this time was the Spatial Audio Hologram M1 Open Baffle loudspeaker Turbo edition ($4000/pair) on Isoplane mechanical-diode platform ($295).

It was too late to get a shot of the active system, but this photo does give you an idea of the Audion 300B Special Edition Stereo amplifier ($6649), Revelation Audio Labs cabling, and IsoTek EVO3 Aquarius power conditioner with Premiere C19 AC cable ($2250) that joined Spatial Audio's open-baffle loudspeakers.

My head tucked between my legs, I shamefully shuffled into the Wyred 4 Sound room. This compact $4700 system delivered, on a Stevie Ray Vaughn track heard in nearfield, an amazingly high soundstage and very nice, fast, extremely three-dimensional sound. The combination of MartinLogan Motion 15 loudspeakers ($799/pair) and Wyred 4 Sound's W4S mINT integrated amplifier ($1499), new W4S bLINK Bluetooth reclocker ($499), W4S MS-1 music server ($1999), and the company's cabling ended the show on a high note.

Just as I was leaving, I learned that classical and baroque multi-instrumentalist Ida Riegels had graciously invited people in for one final set. The ceilings may have been low, and the dryness of the acoustic hardly tailor-made for baroque instruments, but Riegels' baroque recorder playing music from Corelli's La Folia provided a welcome breath of fresh air after so much fine and not so fine canned sound. I extend thank yous to Riegel and show promoter Constantine Soo for music that satisfied far beyond the demands of the obligatory "live reference."

After the sun set on San Francisco Bay, I gazed back at the Benihana Restaurant where I had eaten dinner the night before the show began, and reflected upon what I had just experienced. First came the regrets that, due to time constraints, I had no choice but to skip Napa Acoustic's room, the second system in Sight & Sound Home Theater's room, VK Music's display, and all panels except the two I was on. I also had to pass on compelling headphone exhibits from Audionerd, Bob's Devices, HeadAmp, Olive Media, Oppo Digital, Sony, and the chance to bypass an offending tonearm cable and hear tapes on Genesis Audio loudspeakers.

Nonetheless, it was a joy to attend the grand opening AudioVision SF's new store—separate blog forthcoming—and experience all the good sound and musical revelations that the Fifth California Audio Show delivered. It was also great to discover the Wells Audio/Bybee /Jolida/Music Hall/Dana partnership joining a list of repeat show favorites that included Wilson Audio/Audio Research/Transparent/Synergistic Research/Grand Prix, YG Acoustics/Bryston/Esoteric/Audio Reference Technology, Dynaudio/Simaudio/Nordost, Audeze/Nordost, Sony/Pass Labs/Kimber, and Magico/Constellation/Berkeley Audio Design/Aurender/MIT. I can't speak for attendees and exhibitors, to whom attendance and exhibitor numbers mean more, but I thought it a very good show.

Now that we've relocated to Port Townsend, WA, I don't know when I'll next have the opportunity to see a lot of my Bay Area audiophile friends and cohorts. I thank you, one and all, for all the good energy and support you have shared with me and brought to Casa Bellecci-Serinus over multiple decades. Here's hoping we can all reconnect at the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, which I will again cover for Stereophile.

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COMMENTS
ChiDave1's picture

Thanks for the great coverage. Here's a modest proposal for the audio industry: don't leave shows early! I'm glad you posted Mr. Alpern's mug. I was burned going to Axpona a couple of years ago when I missed a bunch of rooms because people had closed shop early. What a great way to leave a very bad taste in a buyer's mouth. This one especially sticks out since I've got a pair of M1 Turbo's on order. Closing shop early when you're featuring the world premier of a speaker by a new producer who's already gotten favorable mentions???

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The person whose flight left early was Clayton Shaw of Spatial Audio. I understand your frustration, but please, let's not condemn anyone before knowing why they had to leave. Life sometimes gives us no choice.

ChiDave1's picture

I'm glad you did clarify that point. Still, the point about bailing early remains unchanged. This just means that it was the mfr shooting himself in the foot.

kursten's picture

I noticed quite a few rooms had shut down early on Saturday, which really ruined the show for me. Nothing like trudging all the way down to Millbrae from San Francisco to be snubbed by the presenters.

I did have a chance to speak with Mr. Shaw about his speakers and I certainly share his enthusiasm for his product and wish you could have had a similar opportunity.

I understand it is draining for the presenters, but nobody wants to be turned away or walk into a room of presenters just carrying on when we're here to listen to music. It is very unprofessional and turns away people who are serious about spending considerable amounts of money on audio gear.

drubin's picture

In the interest of accuracy, the San Francisco Audiophile Society signed up more than 150 new members during the show. Jason may have heard the 200 number from me. By Sunday afternoon, I was sufficiently fried that I had apparently lost the ability to do simple arithmetic.

Dan Rubin
Director of Membership Development
San Francisco Audiophile Society

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

What Dan did not lose was the ability to organize the room. The SFAS Hospitality Suite would not have been possible without the huge outlay of effort on his part.

As for the 200 number, I don't think Dan was responsible. We could always blame it on the Devil... Or better yet, treat it as a psychic prediction of the 50 additional Bay Area audiophiles who will want to sign up as soon as they read the report. How about extending the no sign-up fee special until the end of the month?

untangle's picture

As another former SFAS (BAAS) President, I was floored by the terrific conception and execution in the hospitality room. (I liked the Costco cookies.) Great job, all.

Check out the cool SFAS blog (http://sanfranciscoaudiophilesociety.com) to learn more.

Also, it's a shame that Jason did not get to hear Clayton's new open-baffle speakers. They are IMO an exceptional design at a great price.

Bob

TrueA's picture

Wow, I'm glad people are so passionate about the shows and gear. I'm sorry for any confusion or misunderstanding. This is 'mugging Gary' and I swear the camera did add 10 pounds to my face. :-)

Let me put this into context. If you see other reviews you'll see one where I was in the room at midnite on Thursday and let a reviewer in and stayed another 40 minutes. I stayed late on Friday and Saturday allowing attendees in the room long after closing and heard about it from the hotel who pounded on the door. What?! You don't like the walls vibrating from 8.2 Watts of Audion muscle and purity into the wonderful new M1?

On Sunday we opened early. Clayton had to catch a flight and the moving company insisted on packing and having the speakers ready asap. We only closed about 15 minutes early at around 3:45PM with the show ending at 4:00 PM. I could've kept the room open for all to admire the glory of Audion and imagine what it sounded like without speakers but, well, er, not a very good idea.

Jason is very funny and I think I'll be cautious to use the word 'buzz' when referring to an audio room. We were very grateful that our room was always packed and in the rare times Clayton or I took a short separate break we always heard people talking about our room throughout the halls and floors.

People came back many times a day and some every single day. I tried to give as much personal attention as possible and even catered to many who had a bundle of CDs playing what they wanted to hear.

My sheer shock and dismay at finding Jason hadn't, and at that point couldn't, hear the room after 3 days of incredible response to Audion and Spatial (many people wanted to know the 'trick' as they couldn't believe 8.2 watts was creating all the dynamics and delicacies within the music) I honestly felt Jason would've quite enjoyed himself.

One note. The photo of the ravaged table shows the Audion KT120 (world's first and only single ended KT120) and not the brand new 300B Special Edition with its all new chassis. It was kind enough of Jason to come in and even cover a room full of boxes and suitcases. Next time I'll make sure to handcuff him and drag him screaming or not into a working room.

I want to thank all the hundreds of people who came into our room and I am sincerely sorry if anyone was left out by the final 15 minutes. The intense response was both gratifying and humbling. Give us a call or email if you have any questions or just want to give me a piece of your mind for the lost 15. We appreciated every single show goer and all their audio questions.

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