Oh, did I love the sound in this room. When I initially entered, Sunil Merchant, aka Sunny of Sunny Componentsone of three Sunny's displaying at the show, but the only one with four roomswas playing a so-called jazz LP that, for worse rather than better, whisked me back to the time that my very nuclear and highly combustible family of three joined my Uncle Herman and Auntie Anna at a resort in the Catskills. The music was so late 1950s that I could almost hear the women at the card table as they commenced yet one more round of canasta.
Finally, after encountering Israel Blume and his wife in the gym at several shows, I got a change to hear the Coincident speakers and electronics that have garnered so much praise in multiple publications. Although I may not have heard the system at its besta discussion with Israel during a serious morning workout revealed that his tube sound was fluctuating from clear to soft, depending upon where the Hilton’s voltage was at any particular momentI found the sound a bit warm and opaque, but remarkably extended on the low end.
Tucked away at the end of a corridor on the Hilton's ground floor, the Estelon Model X Diamond speakers ($64,000/pair) were being driven by Concert Fidelity's new ZL-120V2 Special Edition monoblocks ($34,000/pair) via Fono Acustica cables. Preamp was the Concert Fidelity CF-090LSX2 tube hybrid line stage ($24,000) with the SPA-4C solid-state MC phono preamp ($14,000), and sources were an Esoteric SDACD player feeding the Concert Fidelity DAC-040 tubed D/A processor and a modified Denon DP-3000 direct-drive turntable. Considering the system costs, the sound from CD was a little disappointinga fine vocal presence upset by uneven low frequencies, which I put down to room acoustic problemsbut to my surprise the sound from LP was considerably better focused, with more controlled lows.
In the second of four rooms from Sunny Components, Inc., Michael Manousselis paired Dynaudio's Confidence C2 Signature loudspeakers ($15,000/pair) with Boulder's 1021 Digital Player ($24,000), 1010 preamplifier ($14,000), and 850 monoblock amplifiers ($11,500/pair). Arrayed on a Finite Elemente Reference Rack ($15,000). Everything was connected with Transparent cable. The superb highs on this system immediately clarified why Dynaudio's Esotar2 tweeter has garnered so much praise.
A surprise was in wait for me as I sat in front of Magico's new S5 speaker ($28,600/pair) in The Audio Salon room at the Atrium Hotel. With the speakers driven by Constellation's Centaur 250Wpc amplifierthe amp in the photo is a dummy; the real one was behind mewith MIT cables throughout, Constellation's Peter Madnick selected a file on his iPad and told me I'd recognize the music. Indeed I did: it was Cantus performing Curtis Mayfield's "It's Alright," which I had recorded live in concert at Minneapolis's Southern Theater in May 2008. It had been released on a limited edition CD but I had completely forgotten I had given Peter a file of the final mixdown. Wow, the band was hanging there in space between and behind the speakers. And when the audience started clapping along with the music, they sounded above and to the sides of the speakers, as I had intended.
Blue Coast Records’ Cookie Marenco, one of the more gifted recording engineers around, is a firm advocate for DSD and SACD. But in the Sony room at THE Show, she demonstrated a disturbingly audible difference between one of her recordings of a solo violin in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral played from SACD via a Meitner DAC and from the original DSD file played back via a PC running Foobar, a USB link, and the new $1000 Mytek DAC. Yes, the converters are different, but the Meitner is no sonic slouch. Even so, the file had more of a luminous halo around the solo instrument and that space was better integrated with the direct sound. Huh?!?! This isn't PCM. A DSD bitstream is a DSD bitstream is a DSD bitstream!
It may seem strange to introduce a huge show reportactually my final blog, since, in time-honored biblical fashion, the last shall always be first in the blogisphere with a photo of a Bentley Mulsanne (over $400,000). But inside this gorgeously outfitted automobile, a machine that even closes its doors for you should you be too occupied trading stocks via iPhone to pull the handle, is a custom-enhanced sound system by Reus Systems of Orange. (It was part of the exotic car exhibition that was part of T.H.E. Show.)
Not sure whose idea it was to put gigantic scissors in Michael Fremer's hands. Luckily, everything worked out. No CDs were harmed. The ribbon was cut, marking the start of the 2nd annual T.H.E. Show Newport Beach.
Bijan Vahhaji of Definition Audio Video in Santa Monica presented a system made of Sony’s SS-AR1 loudspeaker ($27,000/pair; reviewed by Kal Rubinson in July 2011) with Simaudio amplification and front-end. A laptop running the Foobar media player fed signals via USB to the Sim 650D ($7999; reviewed by Mikey Fremer in November 2011). Cables were Nordost Tyr 2.
The first time I encountered the Napa Acoustic display at a show, I thought these little babies so adorable that I wanted to take all of them home so that our canine daughter, Daisy Mae Doven, would have a system of her own. But then I remembered that Daisy plays only one tune"Get Da Bone"and came to my senses.
Okay. I know what you're thinking. I'm an audiophile. I've never come to my senses. Touché.
Jeffrey Catalano’s High Water Sound room was so hidden, tucked away at the end of a shadowy corridor, that posters were tacked to the Atrium walls, reminding showgoers to stop by.
I had wondered how anyone could possibly find their way there, so I was taken aback when I walked into a packed house of bobbing heads and stomping feet. But I shouldn’t have been surprised: Audiophiles have a way of finding great music.
SimpliFi's Tim Ryan was demming the Gradient Revolution speakers and Bladelius amplification he had shown at the New York Show, but now with two pairs of dipole woofers. But pride of place in his room was the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 Dual Core processor from the VLSI company ($1099) shown in the photo. Tim was using the fully remote-controlled DSPeaker box as a D/A preampit has a volume control, shown on the front panelbut it can do so much more: digital-domain parametric equalization; digital room correction up to a user-selectable upper limit of 80Hz to 500Hz; it can even be used as a two-way digital-domain crossover with fully adjustable slopes and crossover frequencies. Kal Rubinson is scheduled to receive a sample for review forthwith.
Dynamic Sound Systems of Carlsbad, CA demmed bi-amped Plinius 310Wpc stereo amplifiers ($10,300 each), Plinius stereo preamplifier ($11,350 line, $12,500 phono), and Plinius Tiki DLNA compatible Digital Audio Renderer ($4775) in a system that also included the PMC IB2 three-way loudspeaker ($18,490/pair), and Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables as well as Solo Crystal interconnects and Power Oval 2 power cables.
On tracks from Nils Lofgren and Vivaldi, I found the sound solid and dynamic, but also hard, and opaque, perhaps due to the sub-optimal room acoustics. Yes, traps had been used in the corners of this room, but an exhibitor at a Show is always at the mercy of whichever room they have been allocated.
During the brief amount of time I spent at CES 2012 in Las Vegas, one of my most impressive acquaintances was with the new Dynaudio Xeo 5 ($4500/pair) floorstander and Dynaudio Xeo 3 ($2300/pair) bookshelf wireless loudspeakers. Sold complete with a wireless transmitter and remote control, these loudspeakers deliver astonishingly good sound without need to spend money on speaker cables and the like.