You thought ribbon cutting was simple? Not when the esteemed ribbon cuttersfrom left to right, David Robinson (Positive Feedback On-Line, in white shirt), Michael Fremer (Stereophile and AnalogPlanet.com), Robert Harley (The Absolute Sound), and John Atkinson (Stereophile)were faced with 1001 photographers, a ribbon that looked as though it was manufactured of industrial-strength mylar, and a giant golden scissors that couldn’t cut its way out of a paper bag. No wonder Bob Levi of the Los Angeles & Orange County Audiophile Society (far left) and show organizer Richard Beers look relieved when the ribbon finally snapped.
Last year, after my photo of him briefing a cadre of adoring acolytes appeared on this site, Richard Beers forbid me to ever publish pictures of him that were taken unawares. So this time, with his full knowledge and consent, the miracle man whose expertise and persistence makes T.H.E. Show(s) possible, has allowed me to reveal to the world what he looks like at 10:12AM, before his 25th cup of coffee.
A trumpet fanfare? For the opening of the largest consumer audio show in North America, nothing less would suffice. As Bob Levi (right), President of the largest audio society in North America (or perhaps the entire galaxy), gave the cue, the ribbon could be cut and the music could pour forth. The trumpet player was William Artope Jr, whose band gave concerts later in the show.
Chicago retailer Tweak Studio has been a fixture at the 2013 shows, and proprietor Arnold Martinez was demming a system featuring Elac 249 Black Edition speakers ($8000/pair) driven by a Burmester 911 amplifier ($31,000), Esoteric C-03X preamplifier, Burmester A/D phono preamplifier ($26,500), and Music Hall MMF-11 turntable fitted with a Goldring Legacy cartridge ($600). Wiring was all WireWorld Platinum series and the racks was a Stillpoints. The L-shaped lobby-level room had problematic acoustics, which Martinez had addressed by firing the Elac speakers, with their AMT tweeter and distinctive faceted lower-frequency drivers, across a diagonal, A dub version of Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain,” played from LP, was musically convincing.
Going all out, Totem Acoustics followed up its home theater room with a second room that included two completely different systems. Just finishing up playing when I entered the room, the “Boulder System”Boulder 2060 power amp with “Made in the USA” XTC amp stand, 1010 preamp, and 1021 CD/Networking playerfed the brand new, just shipping Totem Acoustic "Forest Signature" loudspeaker in Cherry ($6000/pair). This was the same Boulder amp and preamp whose sound helped me wax ecstatic at Music Lovers Audio in San Francisco 22 days earlier. As for the all-important loudspeaker, it has the same volume as the standard Totem Forest ($4000/pair), but contains better capacitors and drivers, a different decoupling system, and a high gloss polyester finish that takes a week to complete on a cabinet whose angle can be adjusted.
The price of the Duke loudspeaker from Trenner & Friedl$175,000/pairtook my breath away when I heard it at the 2011 CES. The Austrian company’s Isis ($40,000/pair), on display in Profundo's second room, uses the same compression driver for the HF as the Duke but combines it with an 8" paper-cone midrange unit and a 15" paper-cone woofer in a conventional, if large, cabinet. (Each cone is doped with six coats of lacquer.) The sound of Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, from the Witches’ Brew RCA LP on a Basis turntable, with the speakers driven by Viva Audio Aurora tube monoblocks ($43,500/pair), had huge dynamics and a natural tonal balance. The image of the solo oboe that represents the cock crow at dawn in this work was superbly well-defined, without any exaggeration of its size.
I have to hand it to Stereophile’s Michael Fremer (right), who also edits AnalogPlanet.com. The man has large attachments! I find cartridge set-up intimidating and I don’t even attempt it until I am in the “zone.” But Mikey does it in public with a video camera amplifying his every motion. At one point in one of his two packed 90-minute seminars at T.H.E. Show, he even picked up the VPI turntable he was working, provided by David Weinhart (left), founder/owner of Ambrosia Audio & Video and owner of Los Angeles retailer Weinhart Design, Inc., to rotate it with the stylus still resting in the groove so the video camera could get a better view! As I said, large attachments.
Winner of my “Tied for Best Sound on the Hilton’s 3rd Floor Award,” which must count for something in someone’s bookthe other was the Perfect8 and BAlabo room, Veloce Audio’s LS-1 battery-powered tube preamp ($18,000) and Saetta battery-powered hybrid monoblock amplifiers ($18,000/pair) were producing their customary luscious, warm, clean, and ultra-smooth sound. Using a PC source equipped with J River Media Player, a Stahl-Tek Ariaa DAC ($12,000), Purist Audio Design Corvus cables and Ultimate USB, and YG Acoustic Kipod II Signature loudspeakers ($38,800), the system sounded great on George Benson’s “Paper Moon” and Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass’ “Moonlight in Vermont.” I especially enjoyed the copious amount of air surrounding Byron Janis’ piano. Color this system maximally seductive.
Dexter Gordon was in the midst of turning head over heels, or vice versa, over the sound of his LP, Dexter Blows Hot and Cool, in the Venice Audio room. He may have blown a bit cool over the out-of-control bass, but he surely found the beauty of his tenor sax, and the clarity of the cymbals hot indeed.
When I heard the big Ventures at CES 2013, I was so impressed with their beauty of sound that I lingered far longer than my schedule allowed. John Atkinson was similarly impressed at the 2013 New York Show But here, paired with the same Phasure NOS1 DAC, XX HighEnd software, and similar if not identical electronics and cables, the bright sound led me to truncate my visit.
In all fairness, this was far from the only room at T.H.E. Show whose sound was bright.
I’ve never heard equipment from this West Sacramento, CA-based company other than at shows, but, for the last number of years, it has unfailing brought me joy. “Nice and open… tons of color… nice to hear so much color … captivating tube warmth without sounding loose or unfocused… great depth”those are the comments I wrote about the company’s two new products, the Starlet 4 50Wpc triode integrated amplifier ($3495) and VG-8 speakers ($3495/presumably for the pair). The VG-8s are claimed to extend down to 32Hz ±3dB. Cabling was from LegendLegend II speaker ($1495/10ft. pair), Lemaa interconnects ($395/1m pair), and Power 3 power ($495/6ft.)and source when I entered the room was a Marantz CD94 player.
That Albert Von Schweikert is an excellent speaker designer is widely known. Hence it was no surprise that the Von Schweikert Audio UniField Two three-way bookshelf loudspeakers with dedicated stands and active noise reduction ($8000/pair) were making exceptionally smooth music on an unidentifiable classical piece played on an outstanding system that included the YFS supercomputer HD.REF-3 LE ($15,500), EMM Labs DAC2X ($15,000), and Constellation Audio Centaur amplifier ($27,000) and Virgo preamplifier ($29,000). All this was powered and connected by Master-Built Signature power cords ($6200/6 ft.), ULTRA XLR audio cables ($12,000/pair), Signature RCA interconnects ($6200/pair), and Signature bi-wire speaker cables ($7500/8 ft. pair).
I’m afraid the answer to the question is the latter. The set-up was beyond intriguing, but time was short, and there was too much talking going on in the Voxativ room to allow the music to come through. Perhaps someone else who visited the room can post their observations in the comments section below.
Kevin Wolff of VANA Ltd., the US distributors of Vienna Acoustics and Primare products (left) joined Sunil Merchant (right) in his second Sunny Components room to show off the absolutely brand new, impressively slim and stylish Wadia Intuition 01 ($8500) shown atop the equipment rack. This new all-purpose baby combines 350 watts of class-D+ amplification with a 32-bit AD/DA digital preamp that, on USB, can decode both 384/32 and DSD files.