When I poked my head into the Ayon ballroom on Friday, the first day of T.H.E. Show, the sound was too bright for my taste. A day later, listening to the Tape Project’s Master Tape of Nojima Plays Liszt, I found the sound much too subdued and flat. Perhaps, as is often the case at shows, by the end of the show the system arrived at a place of balance.
A fabulous soundstage and air for days distinguished an already-distinguished recording of the great Shirley Horn. Ms. Horn, who was making beautiful music in several rooms at the Hilton, seemed especially at home in the second room sponsored by Tim Miner’s Pacific Coast Audio Video, where Wilson Audio Sophia 3 loudspeakers ($17,900/pair) mated beautifully with Ayre’s new AX-5 integrated amp ($9950) and QB-9 DAC ($2750); Parasound’s Halo JC 3 phono preamp ($2395), Rega’s RP8 turntable ($2995) outfitted with Ortofon’s Redondo Blue cartridge ($879), and Synergistic Research’s Element Series cables, Tranquility Base, and Acoustic A.R.T. System.
The second Aaudio Imports room I visited featured the German-designed but China-manufactured components from BMC. The Arcadia bipolar speakers ($36,300/pair with external crossovers) were being driven by AMP M2 monoblocks ($15,980/pair), connected with Stage II speaker cables and interconnects. Front-end components included a Hartvig battery-powered Gramophone ($28,400 plus $5400 for battery supply) and BMC’s MMCI current-input phono preamplifier that Michael Fremer raved about in the June 2013 issue ($3890). I have a sample of the MCCI in for a follow-up and provisionally, my reaction echoes Mikey’s
It’s not just a sign that proclaims this turntable a work of art; to those heavy into industrial design, the Basis Work of Art with Super 9 tonearm ($179,000) is what it proclaims. I will leave a detailed assessment to Michael Fremer, but on preliminary listen, in a major industrial-strength system that included the Lyra Atlas phono cartridge ($9500); four Audio Research components, including the Ref 250 monoblock amplifiers ($26,000/pair) and Ref 10 phono preamp ($30,000); Vandersteen 7 loudspeakers ($48,000/pair); and AudioQuest WEL Signature interconnects and speaker cable ($124,000 total), the system’s extremely warm and mellow sound shone through a bit of shoutiness and boominess.
Monrovia, CA store Brooks Berdan Audio is now run by the late Brooks Berdan’s widow Sheila. Her room at the Hilton heavily featured products from importer Bluebird Music: Spendor A9 speakers ($7995/pair), Jadis JA80 tube amps, and Jadis JP80MC preamplifier, hooked-up with Cardas cables. Source was Amarra running on a MacBook Pro feeding data to a McIntosh D100 DAC. Stands and racks were Grand Prix Audio. A blues recording by Eric Bibb, “Saucer and Cup,” from the CD Good Stuff, with acoustic guitar and mandolin, was reproduced with appropriate immediacy.
Having entered Larry Kay’s BSG room at RMAF 2012 just as he was in throes of packing, after having missed the Bay Area Audiophile Society’s demo of his BSG qøl Signal Completion Stage, I was relieved to finally be able to take a brief listen to the device (pictured on the second shelf, below the MacBook Pro). Although my time in the room was briefLarry paused just long enough from a discussion to mug for the cameraI definitely heard a larger and more convincingly realistic qøl soundstage with the unit switched in. You can find John Atkinson’s February 2013 review here.
“I recognize those speakers,” I thought to myself as I entered Cary Audio’s room. They were ADAM Audio’s Column MK3 towers ($7500/pair), that Kalman Rubinson had very favorably reviewed in August 2012. New in the room was Cary’s promising DAC-100T tubed D/A processor ($2995), which uses an ESS Sabre 9023 DAC chip with a USB input using an XMOS USB chip running Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength asynchronous code. There are also two each coaxial and TosLink S/PDIF inputs and both balanced and single-ended analog outputs.
The first time I tried to get into the Channel D room, the sound of the company’s Pure Music ($129) and Pure Vinyl ($279) software, along with their associated electronics, had drawn such a crowd that I gave up. Returning early enough on Saturday to beat the throngs of admirers, I was finally able to enjoy Stereophile’s 2010 Computer Audio Product of the Year.
Dusty Vawter’s CIAudio, which stands for Channel Islands Audio rather than a governmental overseas espionage agency, was making really nice sound on a recording by Ben Harper. Doing the honors in this reasonably priced system were CIAudio’s Transient Mk.II asynchronous USB DAC ($699), VDC5 Mk.II 5V upgraded power supply ($329), PLC1 MKk.II passive line controller ($899), and D200 Mk.II 200W monoblocks ($3500/pair). Von Schweikert VR-22 loudspeakers ($2895/pair) completed a chain that began with a MacBook Pro equipped with Pure Music software, and also included a PS Audio P10 power regenerator, Billy Bags equipment rack, and GIK room treatments.
Speaker manufacturer Chapman was demming the T-8 Mk.II ($9995/pair) with the 120Wpc Innamorata solid-state amplifier from a Californian company new to me, Wells Audio. The hefty three-way T-8 (it weighs 100 lbs) combines a 10” polyaminate-fiber cone woofer with a 5.5” midrange unit and a 1” silk-dome tweeter. Frequency response is specified as 28Hz30kHz, ±3dB, sensitivity as 89dB/W/m, and Chapman claims it specifies all the drivers to within ±.025dB. The Innamorata is heavily biased into class-A and features Jack Bybee’s “Music Rails” to lower its noisefloor.
This non-tobacco smoker can’t attest to the quality of the merchandise, but the fabulously bedecked “cigar woman” on T.H.E. Shows’ specialty cigar booth, hosted by Havana Cigars of Tustin, CA was a joy to speak with.
Audio Machina speakers were featured in the Coffman Labs room, driven by Manley New Classic SE/PP300 monoblocks, but my attention was drawn to this superbly finished tube preamp from Coffman, the G1-A ($5495, $5795 with remote), which includes a phono stage and headphone output, and is being produced in a limited edition of 500 units. The rest of the system included Music Hall’s MMF9.1 turntable fitted with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge, Parasound’s great-sounding Halo CD1 CD player, and an Audience Adept Response power conditioner.
Although plagued by “Noisy Neighbor Syndrome,” Colleen Cardas Imports impressed me with the great sound they got from a 45rpm Acoustic Sounds test pressing of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing “Tin Pan Alley,” reproduced by the Opera Seconda loudspeakers ($3995/pair). Yes, that characteristic Hilton room mode was still in evidence, but these big two-and-a-half-ways produced an otherwise smooth, sonically compelling balance.
T.H.E. Show featured a full program of live music all weekend. As they have done at many recent shows, Cardas Audio sponsored concerts by electric bassist Dean Peer, accompanied by percussionist Bret Mann, poolside at the Atrium Hotel. Dean fed his bass through a variety of effects pedals to produce a wide variety of sounds, but the music came from his hands. In vain did I peer (ha!) at those hands to see how he was producing those chords of harmonics and the underlying rhythmic pulse while floating melodies on top. The man is a monster!
The first Aaudio Imports room I visited featured the DEQX Room Correction Processor ($4500). I had been gob-smacked at the 2012 RMAF, when I heard how this processor turned a pair of RadioShack PA horns into acceptable hi-fi speakers. However, the correction being demmed at T.H.E. Show was more subtle, mainly involving a firming up of the stereo imaging, as the system was sounding good without correction. (Competing noise from the room across the corridor did make the improvement difficult to hear at first.)