The Music First Audio system, which included the Music First Audio Step-up and Music First Audio Baby Reference preamplifier (in front, in red), helped create a midrange-strong system that, on a recording by Eva Cassidy, sounded very smooth indeed. Favoring the midrange over brilliance in orchestral fare, the system transmitted the natural resonance of horns, and credibly communicated the full and meaty sounds of violins.
All that and more found a home in room 417 of the Hilton, where Fritz Heiler’s Rev 7 towers ($3500/pair) produced some fine sounds on a Chesky LP of Rosa Passos and Ron Carter singing Bossa Nova. On the major plus side, the midrange excelled; the midrange timbre of the guitar sounded just right, and Passos’ voice was ideally smooth. But despite GIK Acoustics room treatments and Custom Audio rack and amp stands, bass was unfocused, and Passos’ voice lacked ultimate clarity.
When I judged a whistling contest in China a few years back, I got severely criticized by an unsmiling judge for favoring one little girl because she was so damn cute. I wonder what he would have thought about my reaction to the adorable little components from Napa Acoustics. You’ll have to check previous show blogs for their pictures, because this time, I focused on some of Napa Acoustics’ Chinese-manufactured larger offerings. The MT-34 35Wpc integrated amp ($1199), Bow-A3 loudspeakers ($1699/pair), and NA-208 CD player ($399), powered and connected with stock cables, did a fine job of depicting the organ on Ray Charles and Norah Jones’ “Here We Go Again.”
This non-tobacco smoker can’t attest to the quality of the merchandise, but the fabulously bedecked “cigar woman” on T.H.E. Shows’ specialty cigar booth, hosted by Havana Cigars of Tustin, CA was a joy to speak with.
It was a challenge to squeeze into the Positive Feedback Hospitality Suite, where visitors competed for space with liquor bottles. Not even co-host Carol Clark could reach the liquor table when I said “yes” to her offer to a touch of red wine. But somehow I was able to make it far enough into the room to discover, in the midst of the positive spirits, the Extreme Guitar Duo.
Hearing this duo unamplified, even in a small room, came as a shock . . .
T.H.E. Show featured a full program of live music all weekend. As they have done at many recent shows, Cardas Audio sponsored concerts by electric bassist Dean Peer, accompanied by percussionist Bret Mann, poolside at the Atrium Hotel. Dean fed his bass through a variety of effects pedals to produce a wide variety of sounds, but the music came from his hands. In vain did I peer (ha!) at those hands to see how he was producing those chords of harmonics and the underlying rhythmic pulse while floating melodies on top. The man is a monster!
I missed the Saturday night concert from six-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon, but I did catch her afternoon soundcheck, where she rocked several songs with a quartet led by Reference Recordings keyboardist Mike Garson. It was a joy to hear the interplay between Freelon and Garson, the singer in total command of the music.
I have to hand it to Stereophile’s Michael Fremer (right), who also edits AnalogPlanet.com. The man has large attachments! I find cartridge set-up intimidating and I don’t even attempt it until I am in the “zone.” But Mikey does it in public with a video camera amplifying his every motion. At one point in one of his two packed 90-minute seminars at T.H.E. Show, he even picked up the VPI turntable he was working, provided by David Weinhart (left), founder/owner of Ambrosia Audio & Video and owner of Los Angeles retailer Weinhart Design, Inc., to rotate it with the stylus still resting in the groove so the video camera could get a better view! As I said, large attachments.
Your room is the most important part of your overall sound quality,” said Anthony Grimani of MSR Acoustics, who gave two well-attended lectures at T.H.E.Show showing how room acoustics problems can be tamed. “Come learn how to use absorption, diffusion, bass filters and traps to enhance your room’s acoustics and get the best from your system.”
Roger Sanders brought more than a bit of the Colorado forest with him; he and exhibitor Stephen Mollner also delivered some of the most beautiful, airy, smooth, and totally musical sound I encountered at T.H.E. Show. Mollner was a bit apologetic that they were using the same Tascam SR1 flash recorder that I had frowned upon when I blogged their room at a previous show, but clearly they were doing something very, very right. Perhaps it was changes to two settings in the DCX2496 digital crossover, and/or boosting bass output by 1dB. There were only nine demo tracks to choose from, but the Hungarian Rhapsody sounded great. Thanks Roger and Stephen; I needed your breath of fresh air.