On Friday, the California Audio Show seemed fairly quiet, as can be expected for the first day of any show. But early on Saturday a long line to the registration desk promised a busy day of music and hi-fi.
I was delighted to see so many people at the 2011 California Audio Show so attentively listening to music, as though listening to music on the hi-fi in 2011 is as much of an event as watching an episode of “True Blood” on Sunday night, or attending a concert at a music hall. Of course, we know that listening to music on the hi-fi is a special event, an active, enriching, and entertaining experience, worthy of our time and energy for the joy and nourishment it brings our minds and souls. It’s a lot of fun. If you were present at the California Audio Show, you experienced this.
Rushing around at the end of Saturday, I spent too little time in the room hosted by Redwood City’s Loggie Audio, but, having heard similar setups at recent shows, the sound was what I remembered from Aaudio Imports’ Acapella Violoncello loudspeakers, Ypsilon amplification, and Bergmann turntable: awesome scale, well-extended highs, and a clarity that puts you there with the musicians.
Also on display in this room were updated versions of Einstein’s The Final Cut OTL monoblock amplifier and The Tube preamp. More on these come October at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
In the Amarra room, we listened to the great Cat Stevens singing “Wild World” through Focal floorstanders, Parasound amplification, Amarra’s Model 4 digital-to-analog converter ($4000), and Amarra Mini playback software ($295), which supports up to 192kHz sample rates.
The system’s overall sound was clean, detailed, and transparent, while Cat Stevens’s voice was lovely, full of wonder and painjust as it should be.
Brodmann Acoustics was demonstrating their pretty little Festival Series loudspeakers. The Austrian company has a background in piano manufacturing as well as sound engineering, and the FS speakers ($3990/pair) have an interesting design:
Typically, the mere thought of digitizing my vinyl is enough to give me the heebie-jeebiesthe process can be so tedious and time-consumingbut after watching Channel D’s Rob Robinson quickly and easily set track markers on a virtual LP using his clever Pure Vinyl software ($229), I imagined that even I could have fun with it.
Made in Sweden and now represented in the US by SimpliFi Audio, the DLS Flatbox on-wall loudspeakers come in five sizes (Mini, far right: $249 each; Midi, center: $349 each; Slim Large; Large; and XL, far left: $499 each), can be hung horizontally or vertically, and are available in variations of white and black cabinets and grilles. There are also three subwoofers, including the Flatsub8 ($799), used in the room. Partnered with Resolution Audio’s Opus 21 system and inexpensive DNM cables, the speakers threw a surprisingly wide stage, despite being mounted on temporary plywood walls. As we went up the line, I noted greater bass extension, but the Midi version seemed best balanced with the room and subwoofer.
The attractive Fritz Speakers Carbon 7 ($1750/pair) were matched with ModWright KWA 100SE power amplifier ($3995), ModWright LS 100 tube preamplifier ($3495), Esoteric SA60 universal disc player ($4995), Zesto Audio Andros PS1 MM/MC phono stage ($3900), and Thorens TD 309 turntable ($1900). WyWires provided the speaker cables ($1299), interconnects ($849-$1299), and power cords ($329). Room treatment was by GIK Acoustics and ASC. Steve Blinn Designs contributed the equipment rack ($1899). Billie Holiday’s Songs for Distingué Lovers (priceless) provided the mood.
While many exhibitors at the California Audio Show struggled with the sound of their rooms, employing careful, creative speaker placement and a variety of room acoustics treatments, SimpliFi Audio’s Tim Ryan seemed happy to ignore the room altogether.
When the hell did Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath become so hip? Has the old dude been subscribing to The Wire, hanging out in Greenpoint, going to noise-rock shows in abandoned warehouses?
McGrath used a system comprising Wilson Audio Sasha loudspeakers, gorgeous D’Agostino Momentum monoblock amplifiers, Sooloos Control 15, dCS Debussy DAC, Transparent Audio cables, and ASC Tube Traps to demo music from Pan Sonic to James Blake to Nicolas Jaar.
Nicolas Jaar? Peter McGrath? What the hell? Where am I?
A gentle, relaxed sound with well-focused images was coming from the Gini Systems/Audio Space room: Audio Space LS3/5a monitors ($1790/pair), Reference 3.1 300B integrated amplifier with tubed moving-magnet phono stage ($4290), DAC-US1 D/A converter ($2500), and CDP320 player ($800).
I almost missed the High Value Audio roomit was sort of tucked away, down a long corridor and hidden by the hotel’s West Bay Café (great breakfasts!)but I’m glad I found it because the sound in here was sweet and inviting, playing an acoustic guitar and vocals piece that just soothed my soul.
The Finite Elemente Soundboard ($995) is available in six lacquer finishes and a lovely walnut, and comes with wall brackets for easy mounting. You can hang it anywhere, just as you would a shelf. In fact, the Soundboard is a shelfa shelf that sings. There are four down-firing speakers, two front-firing speakers, a top-panel iPod charging dock, and line and USB inputs for use with televisions and computers.
We ported an iPhone and listened for a moment to a track off of Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me. The sound was surprisingly good and detailed. I think the Soundboard would look great in guest rooms or offices.
There are other examples: Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, Iron & Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days, Feist’s Let it Die, Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut, and the XX’s XX come to mind. All of these albums were darlings of the indie pop scene and embraced by audiophiles. (What the?)