You tell me why Steve Rochlin of EnjoytheMusic.com was fielding a cell-phone call during the first of T.H.E. Show’s two Ask The Editors panels. Pictured to his left, not necessarily in order of bemusement, are David Clark and David Robinson (Positive Feedback On-Line), Robert Harley and Neil Gader (The Absolute Sound), and John Atkinson (I’ll bet you know).
Because the show was too big for one person to see it all, Jason Serinus and I split our responsibilities: he would cover the Hilton and I would cover the Atrium Hotel, plus some of the rooms at the Hilton that he failed to visit. The first room I visited at the Atrium was the large ballroom on the mezzanine featuring Dynaudio’s new Evidence Platinum loudspeaker ($85,000/pair). Did I say “large”? I meant to write “enormous”! The room was way too big, but with acoustic treatment from Vicoustic, the system produced much better sound than I was anticipating. I listened to Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” (from Grace), Bill Evans in hi-rez, and a live Dutch recording from David Crosby with an electric band performing a song called “Morrison”; with all three recordings, the imaging was solid and tangible, the low frequencies rich but well-defined, and the midrange uncolored.
Earo Acoustics of Woodland Hills, CA demmed three different models of their Swedish-made self-powered loudspeakers. Listening to the white, single point source horn floor-standing Ulf ($6900/pair, I believe), a smaller cousin to the red Earo Eight, I loved the realism of the whistling and singing on Livingston Taylor’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” “Sound Fabulous” I wrote in my notes of the sound from speakers driven by Hypex class-D amplification, with more than a little help from a NuForce DAC. Not auditioned were the other two speakers and a DAC that I know to be excellent, because I have one here at home: the Antelope Zodiac Gold.
German electronics manufacturer Einstein had made a virtue out of necessity, using the packing crates as stands for their The Source player and The Amp integrated amplifier (approximately $19,000). With Audio Machina CRL speakers ($10,000/pair), a recording of the operetta Die Fledermaus offered an enormous yet stable soundstage, with the whistling featured on the chosen cut set well back.
From an engineering standpoint, Emerald Physic’s CS2.3 Mk.II loudspeaker ($5950/pair in gloss black with outboard DSP crossover), appears to do many things wrongthat large-diameter midrange unit, the coaxial tweeter with no apparent attempt at dealing with the symmetrical acoustic environment, the cavities between the 15" woofer cones and the front bafflebut I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard. The speakers sounded better than I was expecting on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Tin Pan Alley,” producing a big, easy-on-the-ear balance.
I was familiar with the glass-cabinet Waterfall speakers in Room 239, but not the brightly colored speakers flanking them, from Arizonan company Emme Speakers. The white speakers are the New Gamma ($30,000/pair), the red ones the New Beta ($12,000/pair). Offering “Fashion and Passion,” the Emme speakers are available in 24 designer colors from two retailers, in Arizona and Malibu, CA.
I was unfamiliar with the Vapor Audio Nimbus speakers Empirical Audio’s Steve Nugent was using, which combine a 15” woofer with an MTM array based on a Raal ribbon tweeter, and cost $7895/pair. But with the speakers driven by 40W single-ended, class-A mono amps from Arte-Forma ($7495/pair), each using an 845 output tube, vocals, whether it was Frank Sinatra singing “What’s New?”, Julie London “Cry Me a River,” or Diana Krall “Girl in the Other Room,” sounded effortlessly real, with an ease to the presentation. (Note the corner traps and ATS Diffusors used to tame the room’s acoustics in the photo.) and RPG Diffusors used to tame the room’s acoustics in the photo.)
Enigma Acoustics of Irvine, CA introduced the Sopranino, “the world’s first electrostatic supertweeter.” Winner of a CEA 2013 Innovations Award, the Sopranino claims a flat response beyond 40kHz and fully passive operation without the need of external bias. I confess that, when I walk into a room to encounter someone telling me everything I’m supposed to hear, I tend to shut down; I prefer to hear what I hear without being pre-programmed with a set of expectations. Regardless, as I soon discovered, only folks with severe hearing loss would have missed how the sound opened up when the Sopranino was switched in. The company highly recommends them as an addition for Quads.
I was familiar with the unique concentric, point-source, multiway drive-unit from French manufacturer Cabasse, as Michael Fremer had reviewed the spherical Baltic II speaker that used it back in 2005. But the floorstanding Pacific 35A speaker ($19,900/pair), which complements the smaller spherical Riga(inboard, on stands) with a pair of powered 7" woofers was new to me. In a system featuring Esoteric’s A-02 monoblock amplifiers and K-03 disc playerEsoteric distributes Cabasse in the USand WireWorld cables, the late Eva Cassidy’s voice on “Field of Gold” was reproduced with rock-solid stereo imaging and a natural tonality.
“That’s the speaker I am holding,” explained Exelway’s representative, “it includes a 20W amplifier and a Bluetooth connection. It is called the Slimspeaker.” Slim this Korean speaker certainly was and sounded bigger than I was expecting, given a degree of low-frequency reinforcement from the wall it was mounted on.
All that and more found a home in room 417 of the Hilton, where Fritz Heiler’s Rev 7 towers ($3500/pair) produced some fine sounds on a Chesky LP of Rosa Passos and Ron Carter singing Bossa Nova. On the major plus side, the midrange excelled; the midrange timbre of the guitar sounded just right, and Passos’ voice was ideally smooth. But despite GIK Acoustics room treatments and Custom Audio rack and amp stands, bass was unfocused, and Passos’ voice lacked ultimate clarity.
I suppose the glow around the speakers is apt in this case, given that I was listening to the Glow Amp Two ($1500), Glow Voice One loudspeakers ($420/pair), and Glow Sub One ($388). Connected to the Audiowood “Big Easy” Rega-based turntable w/matching stand ($1400 without arm) via Cable Research Lab cabling, Betty Carter and Ray Charles sounded smooth indeed.
The Hungarian Heed speakers in the first of the two Profundo rooms were new to me. The odd-looking Enigma speaker ($3850/pair), similar in appearance to the Direct Acoustics Silent Speaker combines a 1" soft-dome tweeter with an 8" woofer in a vented cabinet that is claimed to combine the benefits of a quarter-wave transmission line and a reflex design. Louis Armstrong performing “Mood Indigo” had excellent presence, though the clarinet sounded a little "hooty."
In a room dominated by Cessaro Horn Acoustics Chopin loudspeakers ($40,000/pair), whose tweeter reminds me of the donuts I gave up many decades ago, I found the sound on a recording of electric guitar extremely direct and realistically bright. I didn’t get the name of the blues recording that Leslie Mazer was playing on the platter, but the music was great. This wasn’t a room for those who like their sound sugar-coated, but for music lovers who want it served up straight, it was heaven.