Leland Leard of Music Hall is a pair of spectacles the color of Jenny Lewis' dress. My eyes grew large and happy when I saw the Watson Twins vinyl propped up beside White Stripes and Gnarls Barkley discs.
Loudspeakers based on the Lowther full-range driver have a considerable following—our own Art Dudley included—but most will admit that the driver has its limitations, including some midrange resonant peaks and less-than-impressive bass response. These have been addressed in The Second Rethm by a set of modifications to the driver and the availability of an extension to the cabinet that produces better bass response. I heard a couple of the Rethm speakers (I don’t remember which models) a few years ago at CES, and was not too impressed, but I quite liked the sound of The Second Rethm with the cabinet extension. The extension adds $2000 to the $7500/pair price, but I suspect it’s worth it.
I heard some truly excellent-sounding systems at HE 2006, but if I had to pick one listening experience at the show that transcended all others, it would have to be Kimber’s IsoMike demonstration. The system itself is described by Wes Phillips in another blog entry, and I’m sure it would have sounded very good playing back normal CDs, but what made the sound more closely approach reality was that the source material consisted of four-channel recordings made by Ray Kimber using his IsoMike setup. (Ray is shown here holding a scale model of his IsoMike baffle.) I’ve been often disappointed with multichannel music playback, but this was completely convincing. The voices and instruments present in the room in a way that was at times spooky. Wes was right: Ray Kimber should be King of the Universe.
My first visit on the Show's final day was to the Usher room. After listening to their large BE10 floorstander ($14,400/pair), paired with the 2500 amp, 2200 preamp, and CD player (combined cost $5600) and cables from Shunyata and Stereovox, I was treated to Usher’s new entry-level $400 bookshelf baby. Seen here at the left of their lineup, other Stereophile writers had been impressed. While Usher’s little babies understandably offered less low bass extension than the big floorstander, they delivered far higher sound quality than anyone in their right mind could either expect or hope for at this price point.
The South African Vivid Audio K1 loudspeakers ($20,000/pair) in the Musical Surroundings room—seen here behind Musical Surroundings’ Garth Leerer (right) and Stereophile’s Michael Fremer at the Sunday afternoon raffle—produced an impressively large, sit-up-and-listen soundstage. A similar case of a soundstage that dwarfed the speakers that produced it awaited in the Gamut room. The L-7 flagship speakers ($14,900/pair), paired with the Di150 180Wpc integrated amp ($9800) and brand new CD3 ($6000), produced an amazing sense of space and depth, as well as some mighty low bass extension. Learning that the system lacked a power conditioner and was powered by stock power cords and $300 Siltech silver cables only increased my admiration. As the audiophile press has affirmed for several years now, Gamut is on to something very, very good.
...use a unique drive-unit concept that provides breathtakingly realistic, silky-smooth treble reproduction. I always try to visit the German manufacturer's room at the end of the Show, to savor the sound of their 101E speakers. Driven by MBL's own amps and digital front-end, with Tara Labs "Zero" vacuum-dielectric cables, these lived up to my expectation, though the Show room was not completely sympatico with the bandpass-loaded woofers, which need a relatively well-damped acoustic to work at their best.
Red Dragon's Leviathan Series monoblock amplifiers deliver 500W into 8 ohms for $5995/pair. Driving Acoustic Zen Adagio loudspeakers, they sure sounded sweet—and powerful! They're packed with cool stuff, such as Neutrik silver XLR inputs and Cardas solid-copper binding posts, not to mention ERS paper, which is "employed at key locations to absorb and diffuse unwanted EMI."
Jon Iverson already posted a picture of Channel Island's D•400 amp ($4000/pair) and PCC•1 remote control passive preamp ($895), but he didn't mention how freaking powerful the combo sounded driving the Von Schweikert VR-5 ($18,000/pair). CIA's Dusty Vawter switched over to his also powerful-sounding D•200s and handed me a D•400—holy moly! The thing weighs a ton! The 0.25" side panels are all heatsink, which made me wonder, has Vawter produced a class-AB amp to join his class-D designs?
Other Stereophile writers, most specifically Jason Victor Serinus, have mentioned how good the Immedia room sounded and they are absolutely right: It sounded wonderful. I heard it twice and both times I was tremendously impressed with how relaxed and natural it sounded at moderate loudness levels. Many demonstrations rely on loudness to generate excitement, but Immedia's Allen Perkins let his system just bloom naturally.
Wes Phillips already described his reaction to the new Nagra CDT CD transport and CDC CD player/control center. As can be seen from this photo, a hidden benefit of the player is that it has two sets of analog outputs: one pair on the side to go with Nagra own's PL-L and PL-P preamps and another on the rear panel, to be used with conventional preamps.
The Black Swan loudspeaker ($30,000/pair) from Canadian manufacturer Gershman Acoustics is unusual in that it uses a separate enclosure for its woofer section, flanked by extensions of the satellite's side-panels. The speaker's finish was excellent and the sound, with the speakers driven by McCormack universal player and electronics via Magnan cable, was equally excellent, even taking the the small size of the hotel room into consideration.