Given how impressed John Atkinson and I were by the combination of Acapella High Violoncello II speakers ($80,000/pair) and Einstein electronics demmed at Axpona 2010 and CES last January, I was eagerly anticipating another opportunity to enjoy these imposing babies. The opportunity came in the room co-sponsored by Loggie Audio of Redwood City and Aaudio Imports. (They were the same samples that until recently had resided in JA's listening room for his review in the forthcoming September issue.)
Every new venue presents new acoustic challenges for exhibitors. Deniz Daldal of Design Interaction in Emerald Hills (part of unincorporated San Mateo county, near Redwood City), wondered if the bass ringing in his room was due to the cement in the floor and back walls. "We need more stuff," he told me, but there was no more stuff at his disposal.
David Maeshiba, designer and partner in Acoustic Technologies LLC of Chicago, had a surprise in store. He claims that his single titanium-cone loudspeaker ($2650/pair) can be turned in any direction and you will hear exactly the same thing. Counter-intuitive as that may seem, it would be perfect for non-obsessed music lovers who don't want to spend all their listening time stacking their friends in the sweet spot.
One of the reasons for Acoustic Zen's Robert Lee journey north was to visit his extended family, part of which lives in Millbrae. When I encountered them on the final day of the show, I could not get over how beautiful his grandchildren look. No wonder Robert's tweeter sings so sweetly.
One of the high points of my time blogging the first Stereophile-sponsored Axpona Show in Jacksonville was hearing the Audience ClairAudient 16+16 loudspeakers and meeting John McDonald. This time, John went from extremely large to relatively small. Instead of the 16+16 or 8+8, he brought his smallest loudspeakers, the Audience ClairAudient 2+2 ($5000/pair), augmented by a prototype ClairAudient subwoofer ($5000).
Award-winning sound engineer Cookie Marenco had so much to offer audiophiles that it was hard to know where to start. Each day at 11 and 4, she is presenting live acoustic recording sessions with a host of different solo performers, duos and trio, complete with discussions on how to download files. Cookie promised that the recordings would be available for downloading from www.bluecoastrecords.com/freedownloads within 24 hours.
Things were all a bustle as the California Audio Show got underway at the Hilton in Emeryville, right below Berkeley and Oakland, and across the bay from San Francisco. Happily surprised by a number of last-minute exhibitors, promoters Ann and Constantine Soo had lost count at "something over 100 exhibitors/brands" and 34 exhibit rooms.
Given the size and promise of this system, I was eager to audition it with Mahler's Symphony No.2. Through the Tigris 8" tower speakers ($9500/pair), Cinénova Grande 7 seven-channel power amplifier in two front-channel mode ($5999/piece), older B&K Reference 50 processor, Cambridge Audio Azur 840C CD player ($1700), Ethereal interconnects, and Nordost Valhalla speaker cable, the low bass was disconcertingly disconnected from the other instruments in Mahler's Symphony No.2. Given that the subwoofer was not being used, I have no explanation, either for that, or for a gray and muted palette that lacked all sense of air. I prefer to think that this system was particularly hard-hit by the power fluctuations and room challenges that I describe in my show summation.
Rarely do I have time to visit a room twice, let alone space to post multiple blogs on a single exhibit. But because deHavilland/KE Engineering's Kara Chafee first showing of her KE Engineering/deHavilland Model 222 Magnetic Tape Playback Preamplifier ($1,995) was severely handicapped by the lack of her deHavilland KE 50A monoblock power amplifiers ($9995/pair), which had been delayed in shipment, I made sure to return when I learned that the amps had finally arrived.
Kara Chafee of deHavilland/KE Engineering was excited to show off her KE Engineering/deHavilland Model 222 Magnetic Tape Playback Preamplifier ($1995). It, the deHavilland Mercury III linestage preamp with remote ($4495), Sonist Concerto 3, 95dB-sensitive, floorstanding loudspeakers ($3495/pair, or $4195/pair in all wood), and top-of-the-line Wireworld Cable Technology Platinum Eclipse interconnects ($4300/1.5m/pair), Platinum Eclipse speaker cable ($13,3000 for a 2m bi-wired pair), and Silver Electra power cords ($700/2m) arrived intact at the Show. So did the Cary 306 SACD/CD player ($8000), Acoustic Revive power conditioners ($1500 and $2400), vintage 7½ips tape deck (priceless), and a small collection of eBay-sourced tapes. But the deHavilland KE50A monoblock power amplifiers ($9995/pair) that were also shipped were nowhere to be found.
The sound was especially alluring in the Eficion/Stillpoint/Berning/Exemplar room. On display were Eficion F-250 loudspeakers ($8950/pair), Berning Quadrature Z 200W ZOTL monoblocks ($33,000/pair), Exemplar XP2 preamplifier ($12,999, and due for a new chassis of zero-absorption stablewood), Exemplar Expo multi-player ($2500), Stillpoints Isolation System rack ($4800), and prototype power cords, interconnects, and speaker wire. The beauty of Oscar Peterson's playing on First Impression Music's (FIM) We Get Reports, and the rawness of 96/24 Pink Floyd master tracks, left me both wanting to hear the Eficion F-250s at Casa Bellecci-Serinus, and lusting for a Stillpoints rack. The music was so compelling that I was left wondering what the larger, two-piece Eficion F-300 loudspeaker, which I've enthusiastically blogged on other occasions, would sound like when Stillpoints isolation is used under the speaker and between its two boxes.
Electrocompaniet's display had something for everyone. In their entry room, Electrocompaniet's US distributor, Peder Beckman of Oakland, was demming a small system and a medium system. With prayers that I am not assailed in the comments section for going for Electrocompaniet's high-end system, I headed through a terribly squeaky door for the second room, where Peder's partner, Adam Piotrowski, was showing the Nordic Tone loudspeakers ($29,500/pair), EMC-1UP CD player ($7290), EMP-1 SACD/DVD player ($9990), EC4.8 preamp ($4990), and AW600 Nemo monoblocks ($8950 each). I was especially interested in hearing the Nordic Tones, which created a fair amount of buzz at CES 2010.
Once again, Acoustic Zen's Robert Lee had me lusting after his Crescendo loudspeakers ($16,000/pair). This time, they were ensconced in the elegantly appointed Elite Audio Systems room put together by proprietor Michael Woods of San Francisco.
The sound was special in Michael Gliksman's High Value AV room. "Really smooth, midrange rich," I wrote in my notes as Rosa Passos and Ron Carter created bossa nova heaven on their great Chesky CD. The soundstaging was quite lovely, with great height. Yes, the sound was a bit dark (which many audiophiles prefer), but it was also extremely mellow and inviting.