Audio Physic is celebrating their 25th anniversary with the special edition Virgo 25 ($12,500/pair-$14,000/pair, depending on finish), “a miniature version” of the company’s top-of-the-line Cardeus. Partnered with the Virgo 25 at the time I visited was the Trigon CD II CD player ($4000), Trigon Dialog preamplifier ($9000), and Trigon Monolog monoblocks ($18,000/pair). Also on display was the Trigon Energy integrated amplifier ($5000). Supporting the gear was a Creaktiv Trend-Line 1-3 audio rack ($1300) and Creaktiv amp stands ($1000 each).
The Audio Alternative had a number of rooms on the 9th floor of the Denver Marriott Tech Center Tower, the largest of which boasted an impressive set-up. Audio Research Corporation's Anniversary Edition Reference Preamplifier ($24,995), Reference 210 amplifiers ($19,900/pair), Reference Phono 2 ($11,995), Reference CD8 ($9995) and DAC 8 ($4995) were dancing with Vandersteen 7 speakers ($45,000/pair); Linn LP12 turntable, Ekos SE tone arm and Lyra Titan cartridge ($24,000 total); AudioQuest Wild Blue Yonder XLR interconnects ($16,800 for 26'). Wildwood speaker cables ($11,600 for 8'), NRG WBY AC power cords ($4400 for 12'), and WBY XLR interconnects ($4200 for 3'); and Harmonic Resonance Systems SXR 1921 isolation stand ($4995), M3X 2123 isolation base ($2895), and R1-1921 ($1095). (Whew!) The room was full of people making too much noise; the sound loud (there was no choice), impressively big and solid. Short of blowing a whistle, there was nothing I could do except collect literature and promise myself that at the next show, I'll finally get a chance to hear the Vandersteen 7s that received raves at the 2010 CES.
As I learned when he did a demo for members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society in my home some years back, Duke LeJeune is one of the sweetest people in an industry that has its share of sweet people. When I walked into his room, his 95dB-sensitivity, 16-ohm AudioKinesis Strato Prism loudspeakers ($4400/pair) were playing some New Age music of dubious worth. The sound through an Oppo BDP-83 used as a transport, Neko D100 Mk2 DAC ($1395), and Atma-sphere's MP-1 linestage ($4850) and S-30 amplifier ($3950) was enveloping, with particularly warmth in the midrange.
Audioaero’s LaSource ($44,000) combines an SACD/CD player with a preamp and DAC, and its “hybrid circuitry” makes use of 32-bit re-sampling technology and a “subminiature” tube output stage. It uses an Esoteric VRDS-NEO/VMK 5 transport mechanism and has a dedicated master clock for jitter and noise reduction.
A dream machine for the used LP lover: AudioDeskSysteme’s record cleaning machine cleans both sides of an 12” record simultaneously, quietly, and thoroughly, without any effort from the user. Just push a button and walk away. Five minutes later, the record is clean and dry. At $3495, however, it’s expensive. Such luxuries don’t come cheap.
I wonder if our expectations drop somewhat when walking into a room occupied by small, inexpensive, neatly organized gear. The contrast from the massive, overwrought, wildly expensive components found in some rooms is undeniably refreshing, and might allow the music to take center stage. Such is always the case with Audioengine, makers of adorable loudspeakers whose quality belies their small size. The more I learn about the company and the more time I spend with their speakers, the more it seems that they’re here to stay. In fact, I expect great sound from Audioengine. The company simply continues to surpass my expectations.
The name sounds somewhat cold and diabolical, but the sound was quite inviting. Machined from a full solid slab of aluminum (FSS aluminum), this was the first time that the CRM reference monitors ($8000/pair) and prototype fully active CRS subs ($12,000) were played at a show. You'll note from the photo that, for height's sake, the CRM sits atop the not-auditioned CRG compact reference grand. The CRM has 84dB sensitivity and an impedance of 8 ohms, a response that extends from 45Hz to 20kHz, and claims a "technologically far ahead" crossover.
I was delighted to discover that AudioPrism, originators of the infamous green pen (aka the AudioPrism CD Stoplight), is still in business. For newbies who do not know about the green pen, Collett and those who reviewed it shook skeptics to the core when they declared that painting the edge of CDs with the green pen lowered digital edge and improved data retrieval. The backlash was tremendous. Then Krell began bathing its CD tray in green light, some people found that green-tinted CD-Rs and then black discs sounded better, CD mats with green undersides made a demonstrable improvement in sound, and the skepticism was transferred to the next tweak on the horizon.
Audioquest's Joe Harley showed off a system using Ayre electronics and Vienna Acoustics speakers, whose lovely midrange and easy-on-the-ears presentation was made possible by Audioquest Sky interconnects, Meteor Flat Rock Series speaker cable, Energy 100 power cords, and the new top-of-the-line Diamond USB cable (the latter shown in the photo with Harley). All of these cables, including the USB, utilize Audioquest's DBS dielectric bias system to keep the cables at peak capability 24 hours a day. (A FireWire cable is in development).
Boulder-based retailer Blu Note Design had a passive display in the Marriott's loby, but its active room on the second floor of the Tower was debuting the Avalon Transcendent speaker ($15,000/pair). One of my best sounds at the Show, the 2-way, 3-driver speakers were being driven by a Jeff Rowland Design Group 625 amplifier, a Jeff Rowland Corus preamp, an Ayre C-5XEmp disc player and QB-9 DAC, with Cardas Clear cabling.
In his Avatar Acoustics room, Darren Censullo put together a system featuring a Feickert Analogue Blackbird turntable ($7495) with Feickert’s DFA 10.5 tonearm ($1000) and Lyra Kleos cartridge (review to come from Michael Fremer), Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) CD-77.1 CD player ($10,995), AMR PH-77 phono preamp ($11,995, recently reviewed by Michael Fremer and John Atkinson), and AMR AM-77.1 integrated amplifier ($9995). Speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords were Acoustic System International’s LiveLine ($995/1m interconnect; $2100/2.4m cable; $1195/1.8m power cord). The gear was supported by an Acoustic System 3-shelf rack ($3500) and Acoustic System International Top Line feet ($750). Power distribution came from an Avatar Acoustics Mach 4 ($1995) and Avatar Acoustics Afterburner 8 wall outlet ($80). Acoustic System International Resonators were carefully placed around the perimeter of the room, near where the walls met the ceiling.
It was awesome to see the limited edition Dynaudio Sapphire, cloaked in a stunning clear blue piano lacquer over a veneer of bird’s eye maple. The sound was just as fine: cymbals and horns had a natural bite, without edge or glare, blooming and blooming and blooming into the room.
Philip Bamberg's Bamberg Audio was playing the Series 5 TMW ($8800/pair) and displaying the Steries 2 TMM ($4800/pair) when I entered. The 5 is a 3-way design with a 375W active woofer, parametric EQ, and separate monitor. It is said to descend flat to 25Hz, and down to 18Hz 6dB.
The pairing of Benchmark Audio and Studio Electric Loudspeakers had a new face, the Studio Electric Monitor ($2295/pair, or $2450/pair with handsome retro custom grill). With a frequency response of 44Hz22kHz (±4 dB), the 6 ohm impedance two-way offers 87dB sensitivity. The sound was impressive and musical, inviting extended listening.