From left: Barbara Lamb Hall, Melanie Berzon, and Sybil Bolivar of San Mateo’s listener-supported KCSM, 91.1FM. Not only is KCSM one of Sam Tellig’s favorite spots on the FM dial, it’s one of the last all-jazz stations in the world.
I noted generous scale, midrange detail, full body, and an overall effortlessness to the presentation of this system: Wilson Sophia loudspeakers, Pass Labs amplification, and the new Light Harmonic Da Vinci 384K USB DAC ($15,000 [NOTE: The actual retail price ended up at $20k-ed.]).
At a hi-fi show, the halls, stairwells, and elevators talk. If you listen closely, they’ll tell you where the show’s best sound can be found. On the show’s first day, I kept hearing whispers about Jonathan Tinn’s Blue Light Audio room.
In another large, difficult ballroom, beautifully finished LumenWhite Artisan loudspeakers ($45,000/pair) were mated to the 250W, class-A Ayon Orthos 2 monoblock power amplifiers. The source was Ayon’s CD5S ($11,380), which combines a tube preamp with a tube DAC and transport. Cables were the Swiss-made Vovox. The system created a large sound to match the large room, with big-hearted bass.
Though they were also seen at the Munich Show, Magico’s Q1 monitors ($24,950/pair) are making their US debut here at the California Audio Show. The speaker incorporates much of the technology and design philosophy used in Magico’s Q5, reviewed by Mikey Fremer, but puts it in a smaller package. Like the Q5 and Q3, the Q1 is a sealed-box design with extensive internal bracing.
I walked into the Margules room and was welcomed by Peter Frampton’s funny cover of Soundgarden’s late grunge-era hit, “Black Hole Sun,” with all the fuzzy, phasey, talk boxy effects you might expect from Frampton held perfectly in check, well-focused within the wide soundstage.
Too often I’m more impressed by a system’s high price than by its high performance. But, in the case of this MBL system, the $260,000 price tag seemed completely understandable. I’m also fascinated by how a system’s sound can be transported from room to room, show to show, across oceans and states. The MBL system I heard at the California Audio Show sounded a lot like the MBL system I heard at the Munich High End Showa good thing, indeed.
1. I had never seen speakers spread so far apart. 2. I had never seen a room that could make the Wilson Audio MAXX Series 3 loudspeakers look small. 3. By 4pm on Saturday afternoon, which is when I made it to this room, just about everyone at the California Audio Show was in a very loose mood (and getting looser).
Walking down the short, narrow corridor which led to the block of rooms hosted by Audio Vision was sort of like walking down the short, narrow length of Lucky 7 Tavern on a Saturday night: It was loud, crowded, and people kept asking me if I wanted a beer.
There sure is a lot of drinking going on at this show, I thought to myself.
Napa Acoustic seemed to have a million and one pretty little things on display.
We listened to the Mistral 35Wpc MT-34 tubed integrated amplifier ($1199) and Mistral BOW-A3 loudspeakers ($1699/pair). Delivering a violin piece, the system created a thrilling sound, full of speed and sibilance.
Moving to the larger, 4-way BOW-A2 loudspeakers ($2299/pair) and 150Wpc MM6 hybrid integrated amplifier resulted in a darker tonal balance, with just as much speed and better image focus.
There was a jovial, festive vibe in Philip O’Hanlon’s On A Higher Note room, featuring Luxman amplification and source components, Vivid loudspeakers, and music courtesy show attendee, Raymond.
As I walked into the room, O’Hanlon explained that Raymond had been knocking everyone’s socks off with his vinyl selections.
“As much as I like the music I brought, I’m also kinda sick of it,” O’Hanlon chuckled. “What’s next, Raymond?”
Raymond dug through his bag of vinyl and handed O’Hanlon a record. The charming host took that record and placed it on Luxman’s PD-171 belt-drive turntable ($6200, including tonearm and dustcover), the first turntable to come from the Japanese company in 28 years.
In the Audioengine room, I heard a familiar sound: Fun, exciting, clean, and physical, with tight, lovely bass. The company was using their A5 loudspeakers, which I enjoyed a few months back, to play music via a MacBook Pro running plain old iTunes through an HRT Music Streamer II.
I noted deep silences, good spatial effects, good low-end impact, and a fine sense of scale in this room occupied by Salk Sound and Van Alstine: Salk Sound Soundscape loudspeakers ($12,000/pair) and 300Wpc Van Alstine hybrid amplifier ($3000).