Flying Mole Electronics is the whimsical name of a company that makes some compact, relatively inexpensive, and, from what I heard in their room, very good-sounding audio electronics. How compact? Well, just look at the picture of their CA-S3 integrated amp, with a CD box next to it for scale. The amplifier is described as "proprietary bi-phase PWM," with an output of 20Wpc, and sells for $850. The larger—but still compact—CA-S10 ($1500) puts out 100Wpc. Both are claimed to have a tube-like sound. The little CA-S3 did a good job driving both a custom system based on JBL components and a more conventional bookshelf-sized speaker from Von Schweikert.
Horns’n’triodes go together like...well, horses and carriages—and those who view both horn loudspeakers and tube electronics as antiquated technology might say that the simile is particularly apt. Although I would not want to argue that the way to sonic bliss is obtainable only by pairing horn loudspeakers with triode tube amplifiers, the combination can be magical, as was the case with the Acapella Audio Arts speakers and Wavac Audio Lab electronics on demo at HE 2006.
Saturday’s first taste of the real thing for this writer came in the form of midrange truth. The location was the third floor Santa Cruz room put together by Optimal Enchantment, a Santa Monica-based high-end retailer whose 25 plus-year history in the business perhaps grants it the right to so audacious a name. The amps were Audio Research REF 610 monoblocks, each of whose twenty glowing 6550 output tubes help account for their 600W output and $40,000/pair price tag. Speakers were an industry given, the Vandersteen 5As, the cable Audioquest, and the turntable a Basis Debut Signature ($10,900) outfitted with a Transfiguration Orpheus cartridge ($5,000) and Basis Vector Model 3 tonearm ($3750).
HE2006 had DJs Ming & FS, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and jazz from the Anthony Wilson Nonet, alto saxophonist, Zane Musa, John Heard and Company on Friday; jazz from guitarist Chris Standring and singer Melora Hardin, along with the incomparable Dr. John doing his Dr. John thing on Saturday; and my own trio doing jazz on Sunday. But classical music enthusiasts were not forgotten at the Show: Sunday saw the Arroyo String Quartet, joined by soprano Kathleen Winters for Mozart's sublime Exultate Jubilate, perform a fine set. A treat for the ears!
Sonneteer/Bardaudio also makes a wireless receiver that houses a 25Wpc stereo amplifier. The Bardthree amp/receiver comes in several varieties, priced $1,225-1,350, and can be used to stream full-bandwidth tunes to another room, or to a set of rear channels in a hard-to-wire spot.
Canadian Totem Acoustic specializes in manufacturing loudspeakers that are small is size and price but big in sound. Perhaps no speaker of theirs exemplifies this better than the cheapest model in the line: the $450/pair Dreamcatcher. Here’s designer Vince Bruzzese with the Dreamcatcher.
John Atkinson and I were musing yesterday about modern tribes, riffing off the concept writer Corey Doctorow proposed in Eastern Standard Tribe, that you choose your tribe these days based upon shared passions and shared goals. In that sense, the HE shows are a gathering of our tribe and the high point of all of them is meeting (and recognizing) fellow tribe members.
Sporting a great music collection spread around the room, Zu Audio had two models of speakers up and running. Shown here is the company's $9k/pair Definition speaker, which Sean Casey assures me can be coated in any color the buyer can imagine including "matte, iridescent frost, high gloss, flames, stripes . . . anything." Of course the company chose the understated RED speaker for display at the show.
Over at the other end of the Nagra/Verity Audio/Silversmith/Sonic Euphoria room, there was a far more modest system set up: Ayre C-5xe universal player, Sonic Euphoria PLC ($1295), Audio Silver Night Mk.III monoblocks ($9300/pair, 18Wpc), and Verity Fidelity Encore loudspeakers ($11,994/pair), all connected by Silversmith's silver cables.
The Immedia room proved an isle of sanity amidst the clamor. As I entered, the folks were playing Analogue Productions’ HQ-180 pressing of Chet. Heard through Joachim Gerhard’s somewhat diminutive, 90 lb Sonics Allegria speakers ($15,000/pair, shown above with Immedia’s Allen Perkins), the trumpet sounded far bigger and lifelike than speakers this size “should” make it sound. Equally impressive were the amazing depth, height, and width of the soundstage. No small part of the credit is due Perkins’ Spiral Groove SGI turntable ($20,000), Immedia RPM tonearm ($2995), Lyra Skala cartridge ($2500, a replacement for Lyra’s Helicon), the Lyra Connoisseur 4-2LSE preamp ($25,000), and Ayre V5XE 150 Wpc amp ($4500).
For the fourth year in a row, the Home Entertainment Show was the venue for a raffle organized by analog specialty distributor Musical Surroundings. Shown here with the grand prize, a Pathos Classic One integrated amplifier is winner Stanley Moore (center), with Musical Surroundings' Garth Leerer (left) and Stereophile's Michael Fremer, who pulled the winning entries from a box in the time-honored, double-blind manner. Our congratulations to all the winners.