There were plenty of fans, noisy and otherwise, in the Joseph Audio/Manley Laboratories room. Joseph was once again showing the $20,00/pair Pearl speakers, driving them with a brace of Manley gear, including a pair of 250 monoblocks running in tetrode.
Jeff Joseph ran a tightly sequenced six-song demo and, after playing a thrilling 1959 performance of Louis Armstrong's "St. James Infirmary," the audience gave it (and the system) a standing ovation. Two groups of music lovers lined up to speak to Joseph after the demo—those who wanted to discuss the gear and those who wanted the music they'd just heard. It set the bar awfully high for the rest of the day.
EveAnna Manley was showing prototypes of two interesting-looking products: the Skipjack, a two-source switching device, and the Prawn, a preamp that Manley referred to as "midpriced." Final pricing is yet to be determined.
Not content to sit on his laurels, Musical Fidelity's Antony Michaelson blew into town with the final two units in his Tri-Vista line, the massive 1000W KW monoblocks (KW, geddit?), which cost a cool $24,000/pair and the KWP preamplifier, $12,000). Fed by a Tri-Vista SACD player and driving a pair of Dynaudio Evidence Temptations, the components had drive and dynamic range that was breathtaking. It took our breath away to hear how much power a tenor voice at full-throttle can deliver. The seems like a must-hear component—even if you're convinced no one needs that kind of power.
SilverlineAudio Technology brought a new loudspeaker to the show (so what else is new?). This time, it was a handsome three-way floorstander called the Bolero ($8000/pair), crafted with a glossy tigerwood veneer and sporting a full complement of Dynaudio drivers (1.25" Esotar tweeter, 5" Esotech midrange, and 9" long-throw woofer). Driven by a Wadia 861, Conrad-Johnson's new Premier 140 stereo power amp ($6795) and ART 2 preamplifier ($15,000), the speakers sounded rich and full-bodied, with taut propulsive bass that belied their modest stature. But it was the speaker's ability to make musical noises that most impressed us. The finale from John Atkinson's recording of the Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat, Op.40 (Editor's Choice STPH016-2) was propulsive and urgent, pushed intensely forward by its own logical unraveling, until it exploded outward with its own release of its building tension. Does that make any sense? It surely seemed to in room 525!
Another musical oasis was waiting in Richard Vandersteen's room, where he was demonstrating the long anticipated Model 5As ($14,000/pair), driven by a class-D Spectron Musician II amp ($3495–$3995) and a pair of neat little gizmos from Aesthetix: the Rhea phono stage ($4100) and the Calypso line stage ($4500). Goosebump city.
A completely different experience—although one which was similarly musically sustaining—awaited us in the room from San Francisco retailer Audio Vision, where they were featuring Naim and Wilson Benesch. We walked in on a multichannel demo of the live Diana Krall DVD. Yeah, we know what you're thinking, but this wasn't home theater, no matter what the source was or whether or not we wound up watching it on a plasma screen. It was music and we were entranced by the performance and the sound (and we even dug watching the expressions on the bassist's and guitarist's faces as Ms. Krall played the bejezus out of her Steinway.
The primary speakers were the $20,000/pair WB Chimeras and the electronics included Naim's NAC 552 preamplifier ($22,400, reviewed by Mikey Fremer in the July Stereophile) and a whole slew of NAP 500 power amplifiers ($21,950 each). That's what we're talkin' about!
We were also very impressed by the nifty Lotus Elite signature loudspeakers ($8000/pair) from Alon by Acarian Systems. These dual-woofered floorstanding three-ways made beautiful music in conjunction with a pair of DeHavilland Aries 845-G 30W SET monoblocks and a DeHavilland Super-Verve Octal Tube preamp ($3000), fed by a Sony SCD-777ES SACD player and strung together with Prana wire. Coherent and cohesive, this small (by Alon's standards, at least) speaker delivered the music in spades.
But wait! We still haven't mentioned the Audio Physic Padua ($5495/pair), which were mesmerizing, or the Meadowlark Blue Herron 2s ($12,000/pair), which were exciting, or the Morel OCTWIN loudspeakers ($5000/pair in high gloss finish), which showed great promise, or so many other products that afforded us great fun.
Oh, drat! You really had to be there. Maybe next year at HE2004.