CAS 3: On With The Show!

"Hello. This is the Suzanne at the Cable Company in New Hope. How can I direct your call?" How many years have I heard that familiar voice, over and over? At last, like a very thirsty pilgrim happening upon an oasis in the desert, CAS 2012 presented my first opportunity to hug the real Suzanne Cleary.

Together with Ethan Wood, Suzanne was working The Cable Company's very active display from show sunrise (a merciful 11am) to show sunset (6pm Friday and Saturday, 4pm Sunday). Lots of time was spent on the Audiodisk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner ($3895 after the show special) that Michael Fremer wrote about in his June 2012 column. "I absolutely cried at the end of cleaning 300 LPs with another system," Suzanne declared. "It made such a loud noise that it gave me a headache. This machine is quiet, and it cleans both sides of the record at the same time. It even adjusts for platter thickness."

Other products on display were the new Synergistic Research Ss5000 headphone cabling system, and one of the eight Limited Edition headphone sets ($3500) that were impressing a Bay Area Audiophile Society member as I was looking on. Also showing were WA-Quantum stickers that you put on everything from fuses to components. "We don't know how they work," said Suzanne. "We think they have a network inside. All we know is that we give a chip away each time we sell a fuse, and people call us back and order $300–$500 worth."

One doorway away, Bob Kehn of Audio Image Ltd. in Oakland—a pretty high falutin' name for a store in West Oakland, if you ask a fellow Oaklander—was demming a tremendously impressive system that included the new Magico S-5 loudspeakers ($28,600/pair); VAC Statement 450 monoblocks ($78,000/pair) and Mk.2a preamp w/phono option ($19,500); Kronos Audio Counter-Rotating Dual Platter Turntable ($28,000) with Graham Phantom Supreme 12" arm ($6000), Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge ($15,000) and Audio Research Reference Phono 2SE ($12,995); Audio Research Reference CD-8 CD player ($9995), Accuphase DP-700 SACD player ($27,000), Aesthetix Romulus DAC/CD player ($7000), and Auraliti L-100 music file player ($4000); Audience Adept aR-12-TSS power conditioner ($10,000); Magico Q-Pods (3 & 4 sets—$2800 total); and a ton of MIT Oracle MA-X and MA-X cabling (approx $87,000 total). Certainly a high falutin' equipment line-up if ever there were one.

When I walked in, the sound of Louis Armstrong's classic track, "St. James Infirmary," was beautiful and warm, with a solid midrange foundation that many system owners would kill for. Playing Reference Recordings' sensational new disc of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra playing suites from Delibes' Sylvia and Coppélia, I found the bass a little muffled—the lowest octave of the bass drum was also MIA—but the midrange was strong and gorgeous. As for the highs, this was one of many rooms on the ground floor of the Crowne Plaza that sucked—literally sucked—treble energy from the system. Every inch back one moved from the sweet spot, another degree of treble energy was lost. Given the absorptive carpeting and walls, there's little one can do about that.

Right next door sat what I expected would be one of the contenders for Best of Show—the mbl room. I saved listening for Friday after hours, given that its presumed rival for Best of Show—Music Lovers Audio's Wilson Alexandria XLF/VTL Siegfried II etc. room—had promised me a Saturday after-hours listen. But, to jump to the chase, the mbl Reference Line Combination D ($259,700) that is headlined by mbl 101 E MKII Radialstrahler loudspeaker once again lived up to its reputation.

Among other things, I noted that the speakers were decoupled from the heavily carpeted floor with Stillpoints Ultra SS supports. I also learned that the treble and midrange of this loudspeaker are adjustable via easily switched out jumpers. Given the sucky nature of the room, once we put in the copper/silver jumper for the tweeter, and left the woofer on "neutral," the speaker did a stunning job conveying the studio acoustic and beauty of voice and instruments on a 1961 recording of dramatic soprano Eileen Farrell singing Verdi. Only a little tubbiness in the bass that mbl's Jeremy Bryan could not control with his usual mattress trick marred an otherwise stunning presentation. For more on this system, read here.

At the far end of the room sat the same mbl Corona system that John Atkinson blogged about in Newport Beach. Since I didn't have the opportunity to listen this time around, I refer you to his blog.

Across the hall, sandwiched between two active rooms, sat a room shared by a number of exhibits. First up was Jerry Metcalf of AudioLuxuries.com, hawking a ton of the vinyl that they're known to buy, sell and trade. Jerry was also showing some of the many MIT cable products the company sells.

In the rear of the room, Art Nixon, President of ASC Tube Traps, was presenting a seminar entitled "Acoustics and High-End Audio." Later on, in the Bay Area Audiophile Society Hospitality Suite, BAAS President Bob Walters pointed out the ASC Tube Traps he had used in the room, and showed me that his measurements confirmed that they had done exactly what they purport to do. The proof, in this case, was in both the listening and the measurements. (More on the sound of the BAAS room in a later blog).

Next door, on Saturday only, Veronica Bashbush, new Executive Director of San Francisco Classical Voice and Tanya Chiu, Advertising and Production Manager, were signing up folks for the award-winning website's weekly newsletter of new arts reviews and features listings. Some of these are written by your truly, who gave up reviewing an early Mozart opera so he could blog CAS. The SFCV folks were also talking up SFCV's searchable calendar of events, new ticket discount program, and ticket and MP3 download giveaways. Parents were especially excited about the listings of music teachers and events for "kids." Free CDs were distributed every half hour. And several folks were interested in the all-important corporate sponsorships that make all this free and vital content possible.

Finally, David N. Linn of Linn Audio, whose photo I have seen for years in his ads in Stereophile, informed me that his headquarters have moved from New Hampshire to Oakland, just a few miles from our casa. I've never heard his loudspeakers ($80,000/pair), which can also be used as part of a high-performance music surround system, but they certainly look like they could teach my music-blasting neighbors in the barrio a thing or two about who's really on top.

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