Midway through Axpona, Norbert Mundorf, maker of the fabled Mundorf capacitors, flew in from Germany to bring the Steinmusic Harmonizer H2a and H2b to the Jaton room. Although I had already blogged the room, I happened to be in the right place to learn what was going on.
Jason already blogged about the sound from the big rig in the Cary Audio room, which was being run by Florida retailer Let There Be Sound. I had enjoyed the sound of Ry Cooder's classic Jazz from LP in that room Saturday night after the Show closed, as well as a CD-R of songs from the Who's Tommy, burned from an acetate of the master by Mikey Fremer using his awesome Continuum record player. But Sunday morning, LTBS's Oswaldo Martinez was playing Rebecca Pidgeon's classic "Spanish Harlem" from CD on a system featuring the 5Wpc Cary Exciter integrated amplifier driving these beautifully finished single-driver bookshelf speakers, the Sur. Pidgeon's voice sounded smooth and natural, the double-bass accompaniment evenly balanced and more extended in the lows than I was anticipating, though when a Showgoer asked for The Doors' "Waiting for the Sun" to be played, the electric guitar sounded a little peaky in the mid-treble. To be priced at $2000/pair, the Sur features a port-loaded, full-range Fostex drive-unit and will only be available from LTBS.
I could have kicked myself. At the 2010 CES, as much as I wanted to hear and blog about the eye-catching and ultra-expensive The LARS 1 36W monoblocks ($90,000/pair), I couldn't find the room. So when the CBO/founder of Engstrom , Timo Engström (second from right in my photo), emailed to say he'd be displaying at Axpona, I assured him that if I didn't get to his room this time around, I deserved to be shot.
Stereophile Shows in the past always had full programs of live music, to allow Showgoers to recalibrate their ears. While Axpona had a live concert Friday night featuring Steve Davies on guitar and vocals and John Yurick on keyboards, with me guesting on bass, this was for exhibitors and press only. Fortunately, John Yurick performed live on piano in the hotel's lobby during Show hours, offering up some excellent jazz standards.
As much as I enjoyed many of the systems I auditioned on the first day of the show, the one that seduced me the most was assembled by Doug White's The Voice That Is of Newtown Square, PA. Powered by Vitus (pronounced VEE-toos) Audio SM-010 25W class-A monoblocks ($49,500/pair), and connected by Argento Audio FLOW power cords ($3100/2m), interconnects ($4100/m with RCAs), Master Reference interconnects ($8900/1m RCA), and Master Reference speaker cable ($24,500/2m), the dCS Puccini SACD/CD player ($17,999) with U-Clock ($4999) and Tidal Audio Piano Cera speakers ($28,400/pair in midnight black lacquer, or $36,3000 in Ebony Macassar) were producing the warmest and most beautiful midrange I had heard so far. In fact, as it turned out, it was the warmest and most seductive midrange I heard on the first two days of the show.
My loudspeaker seminar on Saturday featured Dick Diamond of YG Acoustics (to the left in Jason's photo), John MacDonald of Audience (far right) and Bill Dudleston of Legacy (immediate right with hand raised). The first half of the session featured each panelist discussing what his goals were as a loudspeaker manufacturer, what technical parameters he felt most correlates with good sound, how he balanced all the various aspects of performance to get a good balance at a specific price, and where he felt there was the greatest room for continued improvement in speaker performance. The second half of the seminar consisted of a Q&A session and there was a lively discussion, including mention of the fact that all three companies featured on the panel continue to manufacture their speakers in the US.
"That's a familiar sound," I thought as I entered the 5th-floor suite shared by YG Acoustics and Krell. It was the classic Show dem record from the early 1980s, James Newton Howard & Friends on Sheffield Lab. The speakers were the YG Anat Reference II Studios ($70,000/system), which differ from the Anat Reference II Professional reviewed by Wes Phillips a year ago in not having the powered subwoofer modules. The room was problematic at low frequencieseither there was an upper-bass suckout or there was too much upper bassand YG's Dick Diamond had spent long hours optimizing the sound on set-up day, but the effort was obviously worth it.