See this little guy? It's the Gradient Helsinki ($8000/pair). I'm a big fan of this weird-ass speaker. Rather than placing its drive-units within a cabinet, the drive-units are laid bare, free for the world to see, mounted onto the speaker's narrow body. Why? Free love. Free love! Cabinet resonances are eliminated. The Helsinki's dipole-radiation woofer projects sound from side to side, canceling out top-to-bottom sound waves and minimizing deleterious room reflections.
I had the great pleasure of meeting Ann Poor. That's Ann there, two-fisting it, standing beside On A Higher Note's bow-tied Philip O'Hanlon. Audiophiles may be more familiar with Ann's husband, Balanced Audio Technology's Geoff Poor. Oh, yeahI got to speak with Geoff, too, but Ann was way more interesting.
I literally breathed a sigh of relief when I entered this room. Not that anything was wrong with the exceptional sound of the vast majority of rooms I visited. But of all the systems I auditioned, this one felt most like a safe haven. It was like coming home.
How I wish I could have seen Stephen Mejias' reaction to the Montegiro Lusso Komplet turntable ($33,000), distributed in the US by Koetsu USA. This thing looks like a cross between a tray of black and white ice cream parfaits and something from a Fellini movie. But it sure sounded good. Equipped with two arms, from SME and DaVinci, and two Koetsu cartridges, the Coral Stone Platinum ($15,000) and Onyx Platinum ($8000), the KMLK (for short) was making magic through Chario Serendipity Sovereign loudspeakers ($17,000/pair).
Over in the Tech Center Hyatt, Mark Schifter's AV123 corralled a huge room in which to showcase their soon-to-be-shipped flagship LS9 Focus Line Source speaker ($5999/pair). Powered by gorgeous Dodd Audio KT-88 monoblocks (approx. $40,000/pairthere was no literature on hand), the brand new Ultra Fi Music Stream USB-connectable DAC ($3499) with a proprietary analogue output stage designed by Larry Moore, a Ridge Street Audio USB cable that he waxes ecstatic about, and a laptop equipped with every kind of classical music (except what I wanted to hear), the system was creating astoundingly large-scale, believable images and enveloping sound. While designer Danny Richie's proprietary woofer array was issuing tremendous bass, a touch of brittleness on the highs gave evidence of the fact that the planar-magnetic tweeters had hardly broken in. You can bet that I'll be back again on Sunday to hear how they sound with some more hours on them. What this speaker does for the price is astounding.
Standing beside my friend, the Gradient Helsinki, is the Harbeth M40.1 ($12,995/pair), recently reviewed by Art Dudley. It's actually larger than it appears in this photo. I love its old-school wide-baffle design.
Not every breakthrough product available through cable manufacturer Nordost costs an arm and a leg. The new Quantum Resonant Technology products distributed worldwide by Nordost Corporation are a prime example. While the QX-2 costs $1700, and the larger QX-4 costs $2500, their amazing effects on sound suggest a product I'd expect to cost far more.
Headroom's Tyll Hertsens and Ivy Scull. Tyll is the president and CEO, and Ivy is the VP of sales and marketing. These two know headphones and they know headphone amplifiers and they know which headphones to use with which headphone amplifiers. Beyond all that, they're really nice people to be around.
I was walking through the lobby of the Marriott when I heard the most wonderful, realistic music. Some system was recreating the sound of a marching band rocking some really badass beats, with such immediacy and impact and such wealth of color and emotion that it was almost like the real thing. It sounded like the guys in the parking lot at Shea Stadium after a Mets victory. In fact, it was extraordinarily realistic.
Oh my God. What a sound! The lighting and my distance from the speaker doesn't allow you to see it clearly, but there's a little cross inside the radiating grille atop the workings of MBL's Radialstrahler Reference mbl 101 Mk.II speakers ($59,990/pair) that drives home the religious experience that listening to an all-MBL system can create.
In one of Musical Surroundings' many rooms in the Denver Tech Center Marriott, the Clearaudio Anniversary AMG CMB turntable ($10,000), with its 80mm platter and Ceramic Magnetic Bearing of the Master Reference; Benz-Micro LP S-Class Cartridge ($5000), the company's new flagship; and Helius Omega Silver Ruby 10" tonearm ($4750) were paired with the Aesthetix Rhea Signature phono stage ($7,000) and Aesthetic Atlas stereo power amp ($8,000); Focal Diablo Utopia speakers and stands ($14,000/pair); Tara Labs ISM The One speaker cable ($3850/pair for 8') and The One ISM onboard 1m interconnects ($2495/pair; and Running Springs Audio Jaco ($2500) and Audio Duke ($1900) Powerline Conditioners.
Veteran speaker engineer Albert Von Schweikert wasn't in the room at the time, but his astounding VR-9SE ($90,000/pair) was making the quite a sound in his absence. The smaller sibling of the flagship VR-11SE, this 350 lb, two-module mini-behemoth was paired with VAC's brand-new Phi-200 100Wpc amplifier, Signature linestage ($14,000), and recently-released Phi Alpha D/A Converter ($7500). An older Oracle transport and what appeared to be Cardas Golden Cross cabling completed the system. Any notion that tube equipment lacks control in the bass was blown to pieces by this system's tremendous authority in the bass region and beautiful presentation on high. Fabulous sound.
And here is Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV, importer for Harbeth and Gradient loudspeakers. Here you can get a better sense of the size of the M40.1 loudspeakers. To Walter's left is the newest member of the Gradient family, the Laura ($3995/pair). Intended for use in conjunction with the Helsinki or as a stereo pair, the Laura employs a coaxial drive unit and is designed to be positioned in close proximity to the front wall of your listening room. It's pretty, too.
The room was standing-room only, with three rows of chairs, both side walls, and the back walls filled with folks eager to hear one of the dream systems assembled by Denver retailer Audio Unlimited. Where shall we begin: the dCS Scarlatti Stack which consists of the CD/SACD transport, DAC, master clock, and upsampler/digital-to-digital converter (by my math $81,000 total, and by anyone's math a fair hunk of change); the BAT REX linestage ($20,000), BAT VK-P10SE phono stage with new Super Pak Premiere ($16,000), BAT VK-600M SE monoblocks ($26,000); Running Springs Audio Dmitri Conditioner Premiere ($4,000); Hansen's new Audio Emperor loudspeakers ($60,000/pair); or the little bundle of TARA Omega Gold and 0.8 cables that together cost at $36,000 but probably far more? The take-no-prisoners sound was stunning. So stunning that some of the people were pinned to the back wall. Wow!