Your room is the most important part of your overall sound quality,” said Anthony Grimani of MSR Acoustics, who gave two well-attended lectures at T.H.E.Show showing how room acoustics problems can be tamed. “Come learn how to use absorption, diffusion, bass filters and traps to enhance your room’s acoustics and get the best from your system.”
It was more than a bit chaotic in the Silverline room, and not just visuallyit seems every 30 seconds, one of the exhibitors tried to get my attentionbut I did manage to focus on the music for a little while. On a recording of bossa nova marvel Rosa Passos with bassist Ron Carter, the small Silverline Minuet Supreme Plus ($699$750/pair) did quite well with bassthe speaker extends down to 55Hzand did a lovely job with Passos’ voice. There was some spread on her voice, probably because the speakers were so far apart, that detracted from the beautiful depth of the presentation.
Roger Sanders brought more than a bit of the Colorado forest with him; he and exhibitor Stephen Mollner also delivered some of the most beautiful, airy, smooth, and totally musical sound I encountered at T.H.E. Show. Mollner was a bit apologetic that they were using the same Tascam SR1 flash recorder that I had frowned upon when I blogged their room at a previous show, but clearly they were doing something very, very right. Perhaps it was changes to two settings in the DCX2496 digital crossover, and/or boosting bass output by 1dB. There were only nine demo tracks to choose from, but the Hungarian Rhapsody sounded great. Thanks Roger and Stephen; I needed your breath of fresh air.
Sony’s new SS-NA2ES loudspeakers ($10,000/pair, to be reviewed in the September issue of Stereophile) are hardly huge speakers. Yet in a ballroom system that included Pass Labs’ highly prized X600.5 monoblocks ($22,000/pair) and XP-20 preamplifier ($8600), the Sony speakers delivered an amazingly large soundstage further distinguished by an exceedingly beautiful, warm, and clear sound.
Clayton Shaw, who previously developed and manufactured Evett & Shaw and Emerald Physics loudspeakers, has now moved beyond his three-year non-compete agreement with Emerald Physics’ current owner to found a new company, Spatial Computer. The 90 lb Trilogy T2 ($2398/pair), a high-sensitivity, three-way, open-baffle design loudspeaker, is sold with a 30-day trial policy. With DSP operating below 200Hz, the speaker delivered beautiful, warm, open, and colorful sound on Jane Monheit’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Those who have followed Shaw’s previous accomplishment to the Emerald City will definitely want to check these babies out.
Wishing to slow down and luxuriate with trusted friends, I headed to Covina, CA-based Sunny Components’ room on the second floor of the Hilton to reunite with the Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeakers ($48,500/pair). Making their West Coast show debut, these handsome babies, which I initially blogged about at RMAF 2012, sang superbly through Audio Research’s ARC Reference 250 monoblocks ($13,000 pair) and, in its US premiere, the ARC Reference 10 line stage preamplifier ($30,000). Also in the digital chain were the ARC Reference DAC, which extends up to 24/192; the new Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR Signature edition rack; and a combination of Shunyata Research, Transparent, and Isotek cabling and products. Wilson specialist and sound engineer Peter McGrath (left) enlightened me and Sunil Merchant of Sunny Components (right) by playing a bit of his hi-resolution master of young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor performing the second movement Beethoven’s Op.7, No. 2 sonata.
Ralph Hellmer’s Surreal Sound Audio, based in Chesterfield, VA, debuted their impressive-looking, 95dB-sensitive, customizable Fifth Row loudspeaker ($20,000$26,000/pair). Quote from the brochure: “Fifth Row was designed with the knowledge that the life of music is in the midrange.” With an Oppo player used as a transport, an ExaSound DSD-capable DAC, what appears to be an Atma-Sphere MP-1 preamp with outboard power supply ,and Atma-Sphere monoblocks, the sound of guitar sounded strangely tinkly to my ears. All in all, the sound was a little edgy and honky with an artificial spaciousness. Perhaps that’s what’s meant by “surreal sound.”
Ever since I learned that Synergistic Research planned to partner with Magico, VAC, and Anaheim, CA retailer Scott Walker Audio, I found myself extremely eager to visit the huge, Crystal Ballroom D exhibit on the Hilton’s ground floor. My reasons were many. First, I’m accustomed to hearing Magico displayed with MIT cabling, which combination, to my ears, yields a dark sound that emphasizes layering in the lower octaves. How different, I wondered, would the mighty Magico Q7 loudspeakers ($185,000/pair) sound with Synergistic Research cabling and devices?
By now, the excellence of the big TAD Reference One loudspeakers ($78,000/pair), designed by Andrew Jones, has become well-known to Stereophile readers. Less familiar, perhaps, may be TAD’s Reference electronics: the TAD D600 CD/SACD player and DAC with external power supply, the C600 preamplifier with external power supply that Michael Fremer reviews in the June 2013 issue ($42,000), and M600 monoblocks ($68,000/pair).
The warmth of the system’s midrange immediately won my heart.
I have grown increasingly fond of exhibits that seem like a welcome breath of fresh air. Hence I extend my thanks to Gene Rubin of Gene Rubin Audio and Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV, whose system provided my first listen to the fine Stein Music Aventurin cartridge ($6495). Listening to the Quartet Italiano play Mozart, I was delighted by the very warm, civilized, and totally enjoyable sound of a system that also included the Palmer 2.5 turntable ($11,990), the Stein Music Harmonizer System, and LFD photo stage ($1895) and NCSE MKII hand-assembled amplifier ($7495), and Harbeth Monitor 30.1 loudspeakers (starting at $5990/pair).
Audience was demming their tiny ClairAudient 1+1 bipolar speaker ($1800/pair, available this month), driving them with their 400W Wavepower monoblocks $18,000/pair including Au24 SE PowerChords) via Au24 cables. Front end was a Bryston BDP-1 media player and BDA-1 DAC, and Audience’s Adept Response aR6-TS conditioners cleaned up the AC. As you might expect from such small speakers using two full-range drivers, the stereo imaging from this system was superbly stable and exquisitely well-defined, though double basses did sounded more like cellos, there only being so much low-frequency energy you can extract from 3" drive-units, even when loaded with passive radiators.
Touting the bounties of their new high-end headphone library, which allows you to audition products before you commit to purchase, The Cable Company’s Steven Aug, Ethan Wood, and Robert Stein presented the first showing of the Cardas EM5813 Ear Speakers ($425). At the other end of the price spectrum was the West Coast debut of the Abyss Planar headphones ($5495), powered (I think) by the new Cavalli Liquid Gold headphone amplifier ($6450).
It was 10:10AM on Friday, 50 minutes before the start of the T.H.E. Show Newport Beach, and the lobby of the Hilton Irvine was abuzz with activity. Folks were standing 510 deep, in multiple lines, waiting to register or retrieve their pre-registration badges. Close by, at the entrance to the lobby, photographers for multiple publications and organizations were establishing turf, staking out the best spot for catching every smile, grimace, and nuance of the 10:30AM ribbon-cutting ceremony. And in the midst of it all, hotel visitors whose deepest association with audio is that it rhymes, more or less, with rodeo were eyeing the whole thing with a mixture of curiosity, incredulity, and downright dread.
It’s been a long time since I listened to a pair of Sound Lab electrostatic speakers, but the gigantic A-1Xes ($28,270/pair), powered by MSB M203 monoblocks in the room Sound Lab was sharing with San Diego dealer Blue Skies Audio, sounded as awesome as I remembered from when Dick Olsher reviewed the A-1 in the 1990s. (Review to be posted in Stereophile's free on-line archives in late June.)