Robert Lee of Acoustic Zen, one the most photogenic men in hi-fi, is shown here with his Crescendo loudspeakers ($16,000/pair) and electronics from Triode Corporation (Tri)TRV-845SE amplifier ($6000), TRX-1 tube preamplifier ($3000), and the TRV-CD4SE tube CD player ($2200). Cables were from Acoustic Zen. I wrote down “gentle top end” in my scratch pad and that’s what I recallthis was an easy-to-like listen.
Retailer Affordable Audio was showing off the very intriguing Zingali Zero Otto loudspeakers ($5999/pair) from Italy. This was the Zero Otto's US debut and I’d say they did better than fine. With its 93dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the low-powered crowd should be pleased to have another option.
Associated equipment included the Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary integrated amplifier ($3995), a Bel Canto CD2 Transport ($4999), and Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB ($3495), with cable from Cable Research Lab’s Bronze Series.
Retailer, Melody Audio distributor, and speaker manufacturer Angel City Audio was showing off its new Trinity Monitor Series Speaker ($1899/pair) a two-way that uses a Vifa XT Concentric Ring-Radiator Tweeter and a pair of custom 7" woofers in a rear-ported cabinet. Frequency range is stated as 40Hz37kHz in their literature with sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. A pair of Melody PM 845 monoblocks ($7959/pair) handled that load without breaking a sweat, with the Melody PB101 preamp ($4490) and Melody XCD 50 CD player ($3800) handling things up-stream. All cables are custom in-house, don't ask don't tell, Type Is and there is currently no pricing information available.
Antelope Audio is relatively new to the consumer audio market but relatively old to the pro audio market. Their first consumer product, the Zodiac line of DACs, is available in three levelsSilver ($1899), Black ($2899) and Gold ($4500). In use at T.H.E. Show was the Zodiac Gold with the optional Voltikus Analog Power Supply ($1000). Antelope Audio made their mark in the pro world with their jitter-free clocking products and they’ve brought this experience to the Zodiac line. The Gold features include a custom USB chip that streams audio up to 384kHz and the Antelope Oven Clock “for supreme stability.” Connections include: 2x headphone outputs on ¼" TRS, trimmable balanced analog outputs on XLR, unbalanced analog outputs on RCA, balanced analog Inputs on ¼" TRS, unbalanced analog Inputs on RCA, AES/EBU digital input, 2x S/PDIF coaxial Inputs, 2x optical Toslink inputs, USB on standard B type connector, Word Clock Input on BNC, de-jittered AES/EBU output, and de-jittered 2x S/PDIF outputs. Associated equipment in the room included. . .
I got to hear both the Audience ClairAudient 2+2 loudspeaker ($5000/pair, reviewed in the July 2011 issue of Stereophile) and the diminutive ClairAudient THE ONE ($995/pair). Associated electronics and cables were also from Audience and included the Wavepower monoblocks ($14,000/pair), a class-D analog switching power amplifier that put out 200W into 8 ohms, the Wavemaster preamplifier ($13,000), and AU24e cables and power cords and an Adept Response High Resolution Power Conditioner ($5000). The source was an Audience-modified Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player, which was not for sale (priceless).
The Audience guys seemed to get no end of enjoyment watching people’s jaws hit the floor, the rug was littered with audiophile jawbones, when they played the single-driver ClairAudient THE ONE, which has nearly unbelievable bass performance for its size. Both speakers actually sounded big and solid with a nice fat midrange.
I can remember visiting a NJ hi-fi dealer with my father, back before I was old enough to drive, to hear Vandersteen speakers and enjoying them then. The diminutive Vandersteen VLR ($1195/pair) sports a coax driver with a 6.5” woofer and 1” alloy dome tweeter for a claimed frequency responseare you going to question what Richard Vandersteen says? Not me, brother!of 64Hz21kHz ±3dB. Associated equipment included the Audio Research DSI200 integrated amplifier ($6000), Audio Research DAC8 ($5000), and an Audio Research CD5 as transport. Source material was also streamed from a MacBook Pro using iTunes/Pure Music. Cable included the AudioQuest Sky interconnect, Diamond USB cable and Meteor speaker cable, and there was a Furman line conditioner in use.
We listened to Greg Brown's hysterically sleepy yet gripping "Rain & Snow" from his CD Freak Flag and it held us on the edge of our seats with smiles on our faces.
In the second room, the Vandersteen Model 5A Carbon loudspeakers ($24,000/pair) were paired with the Audio Research Reference 150 Vacuum Tube Stereo Power Amplifier ($12,995), Audio Research Anniversary Edition Reference Preamplifier ($25,000), and the Basis Audio Inspiration turntable (no price noted), which that comes with the Vector 4 tonearm with VTA Micrometer, Synchro-Wave Power Supply, Cable Isolation System, Vacuum record hold-down system, and Microthin belt. All cables from AudioQuest.
The Carbon 5A loudspeakers have a 400W subwoofer amplifier built into each speaker and Richard Vandersteen says the frequency response is 22Hz to 30kHz ±2dB, and I believe himeven in this small room, the bass was taut and fast with no bloat to be heard. The sound was relaxed and engrossing.
San Pedro, CA-based retailer Audio Summa brought along a bunch of gear from Silverline Audio, Conrad-Johnson, Parasound, Brown Electronic Labs (BEL), Blue Circle Audio, and Analysis Plus. While I was in-room, we listened to the Silverline Audio Bolero Supreme loudspeakers ($12,000/pair standing on the inside in the picture), BEL 1001 MkIV class-A solid-state amplifier (not for sale), a tube-based preamp designed and built by Alan Yun of Silverline Audio ($20,000) and the Ecstasy Model 20 tube CD player also from the mind and hands of Alan Yun ($12,000). Cables were from Analysis Plus and BEL "The Wire."
The sound in the Audio Summa room was fast and a bit furious, leaving little time for decay. "Pace-y" read my notes.
While there was nothing new to report on in the Audio Engine room, at least nothing I could tell you and let you live, it’s always worth reporting on the inexpensive and even better than good-sounding-for-the-money AudioEngine speakers. Our daughters each have a pair of the AudioEngine 2.0s ($199/pair) for use with their iDevices and even they brag about the sound quality.
The Ayon Audio room used a pair of gracefully curved LumenWhite Artisan speakers ($35,000/pair) with the Ayon Orthos II monoblock amplifiers ($24,000/pair) and the Ayon CD-5 CD Player with integrated preamplifier ($11,380). The CD-5 features USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, i2S and Toslink inputs and S/PDIF (RCA), i2S, and AES/EBU digital outputs. Cable was from Synergistic Research and the equipment rack was the Bassocontinuo ($10,000) from Italy, shown here with German Plexiglas shelves. Around the room you’ll also notice the Synergistic Research Art devices inviting comment.
I noted a very strong center image, lots of body/weight, and a physical yet nimble presentation.
Monrovia, CA-based retailer Brooks Berdan had one of the larger suites on the 2nd floor filled with top-of-line gear, including Wilson Audio W/P Sasha ($27,900/pair), VTL TL7.5 Series III preamp ($23,000), VTL TP6.5 phono preamp ($8500), VTL MB-450 Series III monoblock amplifiers ($18,000), dCS Puccini CD/SACD player ($18,000), dCS Puccini U-Clock ($5000), dCS Debussy DAC ($11,500), Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5 Turntable ($23,000), Grand Prix Audio Silverstone Isolation Component System ($22,000), and the Grand Prix Audio with cables from Cardas.
This was one of my favorite rooms but I’m not talking about sound quality in and of itself. John Quick of Tempo Sales & Marketing, dCS's US distributor, was spinning the tunes while I was in the room and between Ella and Louie, The Beatles in all their high-res glory, and let me just say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Black Sabbath's classic "Fairies Wear Boots" blasting through a pair of Wilson Sashas. For me, the difference between good and great hi-fi resides in, and is 100% dependent upon, the music. And there a number of people in the industry who seem to really get that and John Quick is one of 'em. One hint that this may be the case is a big smile on their face as opposed to a pensivethis is very serious businessfrown. I left the Brooks Berdan room energized and ready for more.
The Channel Islands Audio room featured two brand spankin' new products; the Soul Sister loudspeakers ($5000/pair with an optional up-charge of $1000 for custom veneer) which reach down to 27Hz and have a 90dB sensitivity according to Dusty Vawter of CI Audio. They should be available within two months. The other new product is so new it showed up in prototype plain clothesthe upcoming Asynchronous USB DAC ($1500 projected price), which should be available in the near future and feature 3 coax inputs, 3 Toslink inputs, and a USB input and will handle resolutions up to 32 bits and sampling rates as high as 384kHz. All electronics were. . .
These brands were located in the California Room, which oddly enough was in the opposite direction of everything else at T.H.E. Show. I very much enjoyed my brief time with the 90dB Reference 3A Grand Veena loudspeakers ($7995/pair), which carry on Reference 3A-s tradition of relatively easy-to-drive loudspeakers, the brand-new Concert Fidelity ZL-120V2 monoblock power amplifiers ($28,000/pair), Concert Fidelity CF-080LSX line-stage preamplifier ($20,000), Concert Fidelity DAC-040 D/A converter ($10,000), and the Concert Fidelity SPA-4C phono stage ($14,000). The turntable was the Perpetual Technology TT 1 ($2500); a Copland CCDA 825 CD player ($6500) was also in use; and all cable was from Cable Research Lab.
We listened to Aimee Mann and Leonard Cohen on CD and it sounded lovely.
Retailer Digital Ear from Tustin, CA was all over this show. I had to keep checking my notes since I began to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day"I'm in the Digital Ear room, again? But I just left." Room 1 was the Revel/Levinson roomRevel Ultima Salon2 speakers ($21,998/pair), Mark Levinson No.53 monoblock amplifiers ($25,000, the first-ever switching amp from Levinson), Mark Levinson No.326S preamplifier ($10,000), the No.512 CD/SACD Player ($15,000), with cabling from Transparent Audio. I felt this tiny room did not allow you to fully appreciate what you might hear if you were in a more appropriately sized room with this kind of gear. As is, I would not recommend the Revel Salon 2sa JA favoritefor near-field listening.
Next up was Digital Ear's MartinLogan and McIntosh room. While I was there, the new MartinLogan ElectroMotion EM-ESL loudspeaker ($1995/pair), which "features both electrostatic and compact Folded Motion thin-film transducer technologies," was playing very nicely with a McIntosh MC452 amplifier ($6000), McIntosh C50 preamplifier ($5000), which includes a USB DAC and phono stage, a Cambridge Audio id100 iPod/iPad dock ($1299), all tied together with Transparent Audio Reference Series cables.
While this room sounded very inviting and was doing all those things MartinLogans are known to do, I almost wished they'd used a less expensive amp/pre combo to show off a sleek, relatively affordable system. One of the McIntosh integrated amps comes to mindless muss, less fuss.