For some system configurations, hotel rooms present near impossible challenges. Such was the case in one padded cell on the 5th floor of the Marriott Denver Tech Center, where the frustrated purveyors of a modestly priced A/V surround system raided the linen closet in a desperate attempt to tame errant sound. I didn’t have the heart to ask if the reflective surface of the black plastic tape might be making matters worse.
At the suggestion of a fellow BAAS (Bay Area Audiophile Society) member, I abandoned futile attempts to cover every room on a given floor, and instead pinpointed systems that had turned my brothers on. In this case, it was the room shared by Flying Mole Digital and Green Mountain speakers.
Photographed in a state of mild panic, as your truly was trying to figure out what was wrong with his new Canon digital camera [Answer: nothing but his brain], the dedicated Serinus RMAF work area at the Marriott is pictured in its characteristically unglorious state.
Those are the words that came to me as I began listening to the diminutive set-up in the room sponsored by Acoustic Sounds. As Eric Bibb & Needed Time made beautiful music on their Opus 3 LP, Good Stuff, I gazed at a pair of Manley Labs Snapper Monoblocks ($4250) and Stirling Broadcast LS3/5a V2 Speakers ($1695/pair) sitting on Target Audio MR 28 Speaker stands ($299), as well as a Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0 power transformer ($5000 with Vesuvius power cord). Interconnects, power cords, and loudspeaker cables were also from Silver Circle Audio.
Given the firepower and reputation of a system comprised of the Kharma Midi Exquisite Mk.II speakers, MBL 1621a/1611e digital front-end, MBL 6010D preamp, MBL 9008a power amps (total cost $184,420), plus Kharma Enigma Cables ($8000/1st meter pair), I figured I had finally entered the right room in which to risk auditioning Ivan Fischer’s new recording of Mahler’s Symphony 2, the "Resurrection" (SACD, Channel Classics). Indeed, at the start of the glorious vocal section that ends the symphony, the MBLs' euphonic signature captured the violins with wonderful delicacy. Soprano, alto, and chorus too sounded wonderful, the soprano especially radiant. Given that the system’s sweetness was delivered with an enrapturing sense of air and depth, the sound swept me away. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
Somewhere on the 5th floor, around the corner and through the woods on the way to Grandma’s house, I discovered a lovely woman distributing CD Clarity, a water-based, non-toxic spray said to clean, protect, and restore CDs and DVDs. ("Reduce background noise, improve tracking and enhance musical balance, while cleaning and protecting discs from future scratches," says the label). Developed by the late Dave Herren of Oregon, CD Clarity joins an assortment of highly touted treatments, some of which include products from Walker Audio, Jena Labs, Audiotop, Classic Records, and Optrix. Add to that batch Nordost’s Eco3 static inhibitor, which can be sprayed on the label side of CDs.
Gazing at the prototypes of Peter Bizlewicz’s forthcoming Panorama loudspeakers, I couldn’t help wondering if our beloved canine Baci Brown would either attack them as hostile intruders or try to mount them in a futile assertion of alpha dominance. Yes, not only the closest thing to alien invaders so far encountered at the show, but also visually hilarious, these speakers demanded a listen.
It's hardly news to see Moscode’s 401HR 200Wpc hybrid amplifier ($4995, factory-direct price until January 1) heaped with praise. But let me tell you, after walking in and out of countless rooms powered by single-ended triode amplification that got some things right while they pretended others simply didn’t exist, encountering Moscode’s full-range sound was tantamount to setting foot on terra firma. Mated with Joseph Audio RM33LE speakers ($10,500/pair) and Cardas Golden Reference cabling, the configuration had me smiling. Three cheers to the show attendee who played the song about pay phones by the Hunger Mountain Boys.
Peter Ledermann, former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation and winner of numerous IBM awards, has spent the last 16 years developing the Soundsmith Corporation product line. Amplifier, preamplifier, phono cartridges, and now speakers—Soundsmith has it all. Available factory-direct from the Soundsmith website, the Strain Gauge cartridge and preamp and just-introduced loudspeakers especially caught my ear. The most expensive speaker, the Mantis 300, lists for $5800/pair and is equipped with dual 10" high-power woofers, a 6" long-throw midrange unit, and "zero diffraction," time-aligned 1" tweeters. Specs include 42Hz–22kHz frequency range and 91dB sensitivity. All speakers include amplifier clipping indicators and tweeter protection circuitry. Next January or so promises a $3800, 100Wpc integrated amp. This is exceptionally fine-sounding gear, a must hear for vinyl lovers.
My photo of the system in the Acoustic Sounds room featured the Manley Labs Snapper monoblock amplifiers. This was the system front-end, comprising (from top to bottom): Funk Firm Vector Turntable with MK3 tonearm and Lyra Dorian phono cartridge; Sutherland Direct Line Stage; Sutherland's new battery-powered Ph3D phono preamp; and Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0 power transformer. Rack is the Symposium Acoustics Isis.
Having read and heard copious praise of the two-chassis Metronome T2i-Signature CD player ($20,600), at times accompanied by claims that it can make CDs sound as good as SACDs reproduced in two-channel mode, I was eager to hear the new one-piece Metronome CD5-Signature player, distributed in the US by Jim Ricketts of tmh audio (above). The CD5-Signature, whose somewhat plain Jane appearance conceals both a tube output stage and variable volume control that can obviate the need for a preamp, retails for a "mere" $18,000. Introduced at the RMAF, it was powered by borrowed-at-the-last-minute Boulder monoblocks feeding Zerobox 109 loudspeakers (40Hz–35kHz response for $7500/pair) via Xindak cabling.
Mated to MBL electronics via Kubala-Sosna Emotion Series cabling, the Kharma MP-150se produced a huge, "how could it possibly come from such small speakers" soundstage and superior slam. Most important, the system showed no fear either on the top or the bottom of the audible spectrum. It may not match our carpet, but I love the blue. Another system that left me smiling.