Everyone who knows Dan Meinwald of EAR USA looks forward to his exhibits, as much for their wonderful sound as for the opportunity to discover sometimes unusual, musically engrossing vinyl titles. This year was no exception. Once an attendee who was dominating the proceedings finally settled down, and Dan played a master tape-sourced file of Heifetz and Smith playing Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata and a hi-rez copy of the Concierto de Aranjuez (I think), the room transformed from a showcase for a loudmouth into an island of warm sanity. It was luscious.
Here shown in striking white, the F300 is a 3-way, two section ported loudspeaker whose two sections hold a total of four drivers. (The supertweeter is hidden in back.) The F300 boasts a frequency response of 25Hz40kHz and, with the right jumper cables between its two sections, an especially warm midrange. Special to this loudspeaker is its Heil Air Motion Transformer tweeter, which produces striking detail.
As familiar as I am with Eficion's flagship F300 three-way loudspeaker, which I discussed earlier I've spent little time with its smaller brother, the F250 ($10,000/pair). The wonderful sound in this room made me regret our late acquaintance. Although not ideal for my large listening room, the 3-way vented Eficion F250 with an Air Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter has found its made-in-heaven complement in Z-Infinity Audio electronics.
I’m not talking any music; you can get that from my ‘94 Toyota Corolla’s car radio, which is somewhat bearable at low volume. I’m talking about a system where the pace of the Fairfield Four singing something like “These Bones” in classic doo-wop fashiona Best Buy special, Walter Liederman told meor the beautiful tonality and sense of space on a recording of the Brahms Clarinet Trio made me first sit up and take notice, then sit back and wish that the music would just go on and on.
In the more extensive of its two set-ups, Emotiva produced lovely, welcomingly smooth sound. Although bass control was elusive, as it was for many systems in these small "sleeping rooms" at the Hilton, the system's impressive clarity on top and nice tonality confirmed its reputation as a bargain bonanza. Playing were the XRT 6.2 tower loudspeakers ($699/pair), XPA-1 monoblock amplifiers ($999/each), XSP-1 stereo preamplifier ($899), ERC-2 CD player ($449), and XDA-2 Reference DAC ($399). Watch for Bob Reina's rave review of Emotiva's smaller XRT-5.2 towers in the August issue of Stereophile.
Late on Saturday afternoon, Emotiva's hall-end room at the Hilton shifted into college fraternity mode. The Emotiva Stealth 8s ($1499/pair) and ProDAC ($699), connected with Emotiva cables, were blasting mono-tonality assaultive rock that, for all I could tell, was sourced from MP3. The bass was huge, the highs searing, the outcome lamentable. I'll bet, if John Atkinson had analyzed what was playing for one of his seminars on how compression is ruining the pop music industry, his meters would have read red, red, red.
As you will read in the next story, it was a very different story in Emotiva's second room. Thank God.
Empirical Audio's Steve Nugent was showing three new products in the Atrium Hotel, demmed with the TAD E1 speakers that had impressed me in the TAD room at the Hilton, driven by Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks. Steve is pointing to the two-box Overdrive SE DAC ($5999), which has BNC, S/PDIF, asynchronous USB, and i2S data inputs, and a volume control, making it "all you need for computer audio." There is now an Off-Ramp 5 asynchronous USB converter ($1299), which now has HDMI in addition to S/PDIF and i2S outputs and replaces the Off-Ramp 4 that I very favorably reviewed in December 2011. The third new Empirical product is the Synchro-Mesh reclocker ($599), which dejitters the datastream for a source such as an Apple TV, Squeezebox, or CD transport.
This was the first time I've encountered ESS Labs at a show. Rico Caudillo, CEO, explained that after an eight-year cessation, the company returned to the scene maybe four years ago. Pictured here, left to right, are the imposing, all-dipole Transar ($19,000/pair) and smaller AMT Limited ($4495/pair).
Finally I had a chance to hear the loudspeakers lauded by Stereophile equipment reviewers, the Voxativ Ampeggio Signature by Schimmel ($32,500/pair). This single-driver, ultra-sensitive speaker headlined an excellent line-up from Alfred Kainz's highend-electronics, Inc. that led me to write in my notes, "Beautiful. Remarkably close to natural sound. The highs are wonderful, especially the cymbals."
One of my favorite displays of T.H.E. Show Newport: Focal’s sleek XS Book multimedia speaker system ($399) was making big sound, playing music from a laptop (through plain-old iTunes, I think) and connected to Cambridge Audio’s smart DacMagic Plus ($599). My mind raced, counting all the friends who could use a system like this.
Tustin, CA retailer Digital Ear had several rooms at the Atrium hotel featuring Focal speakers and Devialet's revolutionary D-Premier D/A integrated amplifier ($16,500), which I am reviewing in a fall issue of Stereophile. The photo shows the Focal Utopia Scala speakers ($31,500/pair) with the black-finished Devialet hanging on the wall between them, fed digital data from a Meridian-Sooloos server. Despite the awkward-shaped room, the presentation was smooth but with plenty of recorded detail evident.
As someone who reviews speakers infrequently, and usually listens to floorstanders, I find the world of mini-monitors and bookshelf speakers confusing. There are so many different price points for the latter, with a pair of monitors listing for under $300 somehow meriting the same adjectives (at least from some reviewers) as those that cost 10, 20, and 30 times more. With FritzSpeakers, however, I have no question about quality.
Tucked in back of the FritzSpeakers room was a display from eNetFusion's Fusion Plinths. As explained by company owner Sunil, the company's made-to-order plinths are precision crafted to your turntable using exotic woods.