When I judged a whistling contest in China a few years back, I got severely criticized by an unsmiling judge for favoring one little girl because she was so damn cute. I wonder what he would have thought about my reaction to the adorable little components from Napa Acoustics. You’ll have to check previous show blogs for their pictures, because this time, I focused on some of Napa Acoustics’ Chinese-manufactured larger offerings. The MT-34 35Wpc integrated amp ($1199), Bow-A3 loudspeakers ($1699/pair), and NA-208 CD player ($399), powered and connected with stock cables, did a fine job of depicting the organ on Ray Charles and Norah Jones’ “Here We Go Again.”
I missed the Saturday night concert from six-time Grammy nominee Nnenna Freelon, but I did catch her afternoon soundcheck, where she rocked several songs with a quartet led by Reference Recordings keyboardist Mike Garson. It was a joy to hear the interplay between Freelon and Garson, the singer in total command of the music.
T.H.E. Show Newport Beach presented two opportunities to hear the encouraging debut of the Nola Micro Grand Reference Gold loudspeaker ($22,200/pair with stands). On both occasions, the speaker was paired with Nordost cabling, this time top-of-the-line Odin throughout.
Intrigued by Ariel Bitran’s initial assessment of Nordost’s new Valhalla 2 line, as well as the repeat responses of website readers who seem determined to answer the modern koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping in the hot wind?” I spent awhile listening to Valhalla 2 in Nordost’s room in the Hilton. Paul Ritchotte (L) and the ultra-modern Rune Skov were only too happy to oblige, switching between Valhalla 2 and the original Valhalla line (including the power cables that are currentlypun intendedon my desktop’s iMac and Dynaudio Focus 110A self-powered loudspeakers).
As in many rooms, “Keith Don’t Go,” Nils Lofgren’s live paean to the Stones’ Keith Richard was playing when I went into the Nuforce room. As much as I liked this song the first time I heard it, this must have been the 10,000th! The Angel City Trinity speakers ($3000/pair) that I had liked in the Spiritual Audio room were being driven by Nuforce Ref.18 monoblocks, which offer 335W into 8 ohms and cost $3800 each. Preamp was the P20 ($5000) and source the DAC9 ($1795) fed data buy an Oppo universal player. Much as I was weary of Keith being begged not to go, the guitar sounded full-bodied and clean in this room, perhaps due in part to the careful use of acoustic treatment from LA Sound to tame the ubiquitous 80Hz hump in the Hilton’s smaller rooms.
Philip O’Hanlon may call his distribution company On a Higher Note, but it was the beauty of his system’s midrange that impressed me the most in his intentionally low-lit room. I couldn’t spend much time hereI lamentably missed playback of the Channel Classics DSD master filesbut on a master tape of guitarists Roy Gaines and Anthony Wilson, I was immediately captivated by the inherent rightness of the sound produced by the Brinkmann Bardo II turntable ($9500), Luxman D-08 CD/SACD player ($17,000) and DA-06 DAC ($6000), Mola Mola Kaluga preamp ($10,000) and Makua monoblocks ($15,000/pair, rave-inducing Vivid G3 Giya loudspeakers ($40,000/pair), Kubala Sosna Elation cabling, and Sonorus ATR10 open-reel tape deck ($13,000).
Latvian enterprise Onda Ligera, manufacturer of loudspeakers and integrated amplifiers, made a very impressive U.S. debut at T.H.E. Show. With products not yet distributed in the US, the company mated its biggest loudspeaker, the 3-way WAVE 168D ($35,000/pair), with what I believe was their IPA 006 integrated amplifier ($15,000). (The speaker’s nominal impedance is 4 ohms, and the 006 is said to be capable of outputting 600W into that load.) Ensuring that the front end would be of similar quality, Onda Ligera used the excellent Esoteric K-01 CD/SACD player ($19,500). I wish I had asked about the cabling and power treatment.
This system sounded extremely fine. On a gorgeously reproduced recording of John Coltrane, for example, bass was tight, and the sound of cymbals seemed very natural.
This bad photo moment gives no hint of the delicacy of touch and smoothness of midrange registers that I heard from Murray Perahia’s piano in Pacific Coast Audio/Video’s room. Admittedly, highs were toned down, but they were certainly more enjoyable than this bottom of the barrel excuse for a photo. Doing the room far more honors than I were Herron Audio’s VTSP-3A (r02) vacuum-tube preamp ($6550), VTPH-2 tube phono stage ($3650), M1A power amplifiers ($6850/pair), and interconnects ($225/1m pair); MartinLogan’s Montis loudspeakers ($9995/pair); Ayre Acoustics’ CX7 CD player ($3500); VPI’s Aries 2 turntable ($4000) and SDS motor drive ($1200); and Synergistic Research’s PowerCell 6 SE ($2595).
PBN’s Peter Noerback always gets a good sound at shows and Newport Beach was no exception. The KAS2 speakers ($38,000/pair) might have thought to be too big for the room, but driven by the 200Wpc Olympia-AX amplifiers, bridged for mono operation when they deliver 800W into 8 ohms ($22,000 each), they produced a delicious full-range sound, even one that was a touch too mellow, on Madeleine Peyroux’s rendering of “Bye Bye Love.”
Using a similar line-up as at CES 2013, the public show premiere of the Playback Designs' IPS-3 ($13,000), which contains a remote controlled amplifier/preamplifier/DAC with USB input that can handle up to 384kHz PCM and 6.1MHz DSD, paired with Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne loudspeakers with integrated stands ($4000/pair), sounded very solid and musical on a big band selection. I would have stayed longer, but rather than interrupt an intense conversation, I added this room to my “next show wish list.”
It was a challenge to squeeze into the Positive Feedback Hospitality Suite, where visitors competed for space with liquor bottles. Not even co-host Carol Clark could reach the liquor table when I said “yes” to her offer to a touch of red wine. But somehow I was able to make it far enough into the room to discover, in the midst of the positive spirits, the Extreme Guitar Duo.
Hearing this duo unamplified, even in a small room, came as a shock . . .
Orange County, CA-based Precision Transducer Technology had loaned me a pair of active monitors for my lead-off seminar on hearing and how recordings are made. As I had only previously been aware of the phono preamplifier, my first visit on Day Two of the show was to the PTE room. PTE’s Phoenix SG powered speakers ($9500/pair) offer a more domestically acceptable veneer finish than the speaker I used for my dem. They combine a modified ScanSpeak tweeter with twin Peerless woofers, ad include class-AB amplification based on an LM386 chip with analog equalization.
It was a treat to visit the Red Wine Audio room, which featured Harbeth Super HL5 monitors ($5690/pair) driven by Red Wine’s battery-powered Liliana Renaissance Edition monoblocks ($5995/pair) and Isabella Renaissance Edition 6H30 preamplifier ($3995), and hear Grammy-winning engineer David Reitzas mixing songs from Madonna and Barbra Streisand from his MacBook Pro running Pro Tools.
The lovely Jan Mancuso, beautifully bedecked in bountiful floral bouquet, beams positive vibes throughout "The Marketplace" as she smilingly extols the praises of Reference Recordings’ ever-expanding catalog of superbly recorded classical, jazz, and blues, including Stereophile’s "Recording of May 2013," Doug MacLeod’s There’s a Time, which is now available on LP and which Jan co-produced.