11 AM Thursday, my first room at HE2005: I've just spent way over an hour listening to VTL gear in two completely different configurations. The first, in a hotel suite whose dimensions are similar to rooms in many smaller homes or larger apartments, paired the new VTL MB-450 monoblocks, TP6.5 phono preamp, and just upgraded Reference TL-7.5 linestage preamp with the Jadis JD1 Mk.II transport and JS 1 DAC, VPI Aries 3 turntable with JMW 10.5i tonearm and Benz LP cartridge, Wilson Sophia 2s, and Cardas cabling.
My final audition before attending the warm, "family affair" Classics Records press conference took place in Elliot Midwood's Acoustic Image room, which displayed gear he sells at his store in Studio City, CA. Once I spyed the same ESP Concert Grand SI speakers ($40,000/pair ) that drove John Marks into ecstasy in April, I had to listen. Amplification came complements of Wavestream Kinetic V8 monoblocks, which output 250–300W in triode mode ($35,000). Also on hand were the fabled Messenger preamp and the Lector four-chassis CD Drive and DAC ($9000).
The rebirth of Reference Recordings is one of the feel-good stories of audio. Here’s RR’s Marcia Martin, holding up two of their new releases, from pianist Joel Fan and from Keith Lockhart conducting the Utah Symphony in works by Bernstein.
A CD player that combines the transport from a Sony PlayStation, an output section using rare New Old Stock tubes, and no remote control? That’s the DynaStation II CD player ($6000), said to have a cult following in Germany, and now imported by Avatar Acoustics. You can have it somewhat cheaper if you want less esoteric tubes, or pay more if you want even more esoteric ones. The system with Ascendo System E speakers, using the DynaStation II as the source, sounded really good, though.
David Wilson seems excited about his new Series 8 Watt/Puppy speaker system, and, having heard the demo, I can appreciate why. The company gets bonus points for listing the music used on a poster outside the door of the dem room.
Those who’ve admired the sound of the speakers from TAD, but could not get past the prices, will be interested in the new line from Pioneer, which use trickle-down versions of the TAD drivers and cabinets just slightly less elaborate in resonance-damping characteristics, and much lower prices ($6000 for the S-1EX pair on demo). Designer Andrew Jones is obviously pleased by the sound, as well he might be.
I met Pete Roth, who owns an Ayre system, in, of all places, the Ayre/Vandersteen room, where he was checking out the MX-Rs. Pete says I'm his favorite Stereophile writer, so I'm now Pete's biggest fan. I posted his picture simply to prove to my wife that someone actually does read the stuff I'm always too busy working on to help with the chores.
Richard Vandersteen can't leave a good thing alone. He got to tinkering with his Quatro ($6995/pair, reviewed by Mikey Fremer in the forthcoming July issue of Stereophile) by replacing the fabric shells with wood, reinforcing the speaker's base with X material, and replacing the tweeter with the model from his 5 Signature. The result is a small, floorstanding loudspeaker with huge sound. The Quatro Woods run $10,000/pair.
They're so small, you'd almost have to bet they're class-D, but the $16,500/pair 300W MX-Rs are linear all the way. The tiny brutes were fed by Ayre's C-5xe universal player ($5950) and K-1x preamplifier ($8600 with phono section), and Ayre cables. The system, which included Vandersteen Quatro Wood speakers, sounded far more detailed and lithe than the MX-Rs did at CES. MAybe it's the smaller room, or maybe it's those Quatros. Heck, it could even be that Ayre's Charlie Hansen can't leave a good thing alone either.
Gamut makes everything from source components to loudspeakers, so the Gamut room really was the Gamut room. Lars Goller designed the $14,800/pair l-7 three-way floorstanders and I was knocked out by how relaxed and natural acoustic music sounded though them. They looked fabulous, too.
Gamut was driving the L-7s with its $6000 CD3 and $9800 DI 150 180Wpc integrated amplifier. The CD 3uses Burr Brown's PCM 1792 converter and upsamples the signal to 24-bits/192kHz. I didn't get many details about the DI 150, but it does have balanced and single-ended inputs and balanced preamp output. The line in Gamut's product literature that I loved was: "Life is a process of constant discovery and refinement. For this reason, we reserve the right to change without advance notice." Me too.