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).
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.
WLM stands for Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur, and their product literature states that the company’s ambition is "to keep the Viennese heritage of music alive." While this might appear to give short shrift to institutions like the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera, the system featuring WLM Lyra speakers, Audio Aero SACD player and electronics sounded was exceedingly musical in its presentation.
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.
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.
Leonid Korostyshevski, who hails from Saratov Russia and has written for the Stereophile web site in the past, checks out headphones and some music. When asked what he liked best about the show, Leonid said "everything."
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.
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.
I always enjoy Ray Kimber's IsoMike demos more than almost any other HE Show demo. It's not the room full of pedigreed high-end gear, although he always has that. This time he demoed with four B&W 800d loudspeakers, two pairs of Pass Labs X350.5 power amplifiers, Genex Audio GX9000/DSD-BNC interface, and four channels of EMM Labs DAC8 MkIV DSD feeding EMM Labs Switchman (four channels worth, natch), not to mention a whole bunch of Kimber KableD-60, Kimber Select KS-3038, and Word Clock D-60 cables. Nor is it the meticulously recorded music that Ray has captured with his IsoMike process.
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.