I was unfamiliar with the Vapor Audio Nimbus speakers Empirical Audio’s Steve Nugent was using, which combine a 15” woofer with an MTM array based on a Raal ribbon tweeter, and cost $7895/pair. But with the speakers driven by 40W single-ended, class-A mono amps from Arte-Forma ($7495/pair), each using an 845 output tube, vocals, whether it was Frank Sinatra singing “What’s New?”, Julie London “Cry Me a River,” or Diana Krall “Girl in the Other Room,” sounded effortlessly real, with an ease to the presentation. (Note the corner traps and ATS Diffusors used to tame the room’s acoustics in the photo.) and RPG Diffusors used to tame the room’s acoustics in the photo.)
It’s been a long time since I listened to a pair of Sound Lab electrostatic speakers, but the gigantic A-1Xes ($28,270/pair), powered by MSB M203 monoblocks in the room Sound Lab was sharing with San Diego dealer Blue Skies Audio, sounded as awesome as I remembered from when Dick Olsher reviewed the A-1 in the 1990s. (Review to be posted in Stereophile's free on-line archives in late June.)
German electronics manufacturer Einstein had made a virtue out of necessity, using the packing crates as stands for their The Source player and The Amp integrated amplifier (approximately $19,000). With Audio Machina CRL speakers ($10,000/pair), a recording of the operetta Die Fledermaus offered an enormous yet stable soundstage, with the whistling featured on the chosen cut set well back.
I was familiar with the unique concentric, point-source, multiway drive-unit from French manufacturer Cabasse, as Michael Fremer had reviewed the spherical Baltic II speaker that used it back in 2005. But the floorstanding Pacific 35A speaker ($19,900/pair), which complements the smaller spherical Riga(inboard, on stands) with a pair of powered 7" woofers was new to me. In a system featuring Esoteric’s A-02 monoblock amplifiers and K-03 disc playerEsoteric distributes Cabasse in the USand WireWorld cables, the late Eva Cassidy’s voice on “Field of Gold” was reproduced with rock-solid stereo imaging and a natural tonality.
Bill Evans’ piano sounded palpably real in the room featuring Angel City Audio’s Trinity Monitor speakers ($3000/pair), driven by Melody Valve HiFi P2688 tube preamp ($6999) and MN845 tube amps ($13599), MG Audio Design interconnects and speaker cables, Triode Wire Labs power cables, and AC conditioning supplied by Spiritual Audio. The Trinity is a largish two-way standmount, combining a VIFA ring-radiator tweeter with two 7” woofers. Frequency response is specified as 40Hz37kHz, ±3dB, with a 90dB sensitivity.
“That’s the speaker I am holding,” explained Exelway’s representative, “it includes a 20W amplifier and a Bluetooth connection. It is called the Slimspeaker.” Slim this Korean speaker certainly was and sounded bigger than I was expecting, given a degree of low-frequency reinforcement from the wall it was mounted on.
I was taken back more than 20 years when I entered the Musical Surroundings room in the Atrium, as Garth Leerer was playing “Le Temps Passé” from Michel Jonasz’s LP La Fabuleuse Histoire du Mr. Swing. This cut from the French singer used to be a staple at shows in the late 1980s. Played on the AMG Viella 12 turntable and arm ($17,000) that Michael Fremer describes as a “good value” in our August 2013 issue, fitted with the same sample of the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge that Mikey reviewed, with Wilson Sasha W/Ps driven by an Aesthetix Atlas amplifier ($10,000), Aesthetix Janus Signature preamplifier ($10,000), the LP produced a wall-to-wall soundstage with excellent dynamics.
“That sounds like the Crusaders,” I said as I sat down to listen to the Kharma DB9 Signature speakers ($36,000/pair) driven by Exquisite Signature monoblocks ($88,000/pair) and an Exquisite preamplifier ($40,000), hooked up with Transparent cables. It was, the Second Crusade LP from the Jazz Crusaders, played on a Spiral Groove SG1.1 turntable with a Zesto phono preamplifier sounding very good indeed.
The Hungarian Heed speakers in the first of the two Profundo rooms were new to me. The odd-looking Enigma speaker ($3850/pair), similar in appearance to the Direct Acoustics Silent Speaker combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with an 8" woofer in a vented cabinet that is claimed to combine the benefits of a quarter-wave transmission line and a reflex design. Louis Armstrong performing “Mood Indigo” had excellent presence, though the clarinet sounded a little "hooty."
The price of the Duke loudspeaker from Trenner & Friedl$175,000/pairtook my breath away when I heard it at the 2011 CES. The Austrian company’s Isis ($40,000/pair), on display in Profundo's second room, uses the same compression driver for the HF as the Duke but combines it with an 8" paper-cone midrange unit and a 15" paper-cone woofer in a conventional, if large, cabinet. (Each cone is doped with six coats of lacquer.) The sound of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, from the Witches’ Brew RCA LP on a Basis turntable, with the speakers driven by Viva Audio Aurora tube monoblocks ($43,500/pair), had huge dynamics and a natural tonal balance. The image of the solo oboe that represents the cock crow at dawn in this work was superbly well-defined, without any exaggeration of its size.