T.H.E. Show Newport 2011

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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 2 comments
The big room. Focal Grand Utopia EM loudspeakers ($100,000/pair) standing at over 6' tall, dominated the room, looking like Transformers ready to devour us with music. The Burmester 911 Mk3 amplifier ($29,995) managed the Grand Utopias, the Burmester 089 CD ($28,995) and a Burmester preamplifer (I did not note the model but I bet it costs $xx,995) took care of rest, with Transparent Opus and Reference cables.

It's very difficult to ignore the pair of 573.2 lb speakers in the room but my note, just one, read "Jack be nimble." Of course, anyone interested in auditioning hi-fi for potential purchase, especially when spending this kind of money, will take their time listening and not base their judgment on a few minutes. Jack don’t be quick.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
The bigger rig from the MBL Reference line: Radialstrahler 101E MkII loudspeakers ($70,500/pair), the world premier of the piano-white lacquer with chrome finish, 9011 monoblock amplifiers ($53,000/each), 6010D preamplifier ($26,500), 1611F D/A converter with MBLMCMi asynchronous USB input ($28,700), and 1621A CD transport ($28,000). Additional equipment included a Linux-based vortexbox computer by Simple Design, Wireworld Eclipse 6 cabling, Locus design cynosure USB cable, and SRA Scuttle rack.

Fortune smiled upon me again, as I got to spend time in the MBL room with none other than Michael Fremer. If you don’t already know, Michael is very quick-witted and very funny, seemingly always on the lookout for a zing here or a gaff there. He’s also very serious about music, in a very non-serious way, and we were treated to some greatest hits from a CD he’d brought along for the show including “La Bamba” (the original), Irma Thomas singing “Time Is On My Side” (the original), and lots of other varied and equally wonderful and some wonderfully whacky music. I would also add that Michael Fremer’s informative introductions to each track added to the experience. . .

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
The Ayon Audio room used a pair of gracefully curved LumenWhite Artisan speakers ($35,000/pair) with the Ayon Orthos II monoblock amplifiers ($24,000/pair) and the Ayon CD-5 CD Player with integrated preamplifier ($11,380). The CD-5 features USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, i2S and Toslink inputs and S/PDIF (RCA), i2S, and AES/EBU digital outputs. Cable was from Synergistic Research and the equipment rack was the Bassocontinuo ($10,000) from Italy, shown here with German Plexiglas shelves. Around the room you’ll also notice the Synergistic Research Art devices inviting comment.

I noted a very strong center image, lots of body/weight, and a physical yet nimble presentation.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
The only negative I heard from exhibitors came from those whose rooms abutted the outdoor live entertainment area. When I arrived in the M•A Recording and The Signal Collection room, the band outside was in full boogie at full volume. While Chris Sommovigo from the Signal Collection did his best to overcome, the live music overcame our demo.

The promising-looking and, from what little I could deduce from listening through the live music, promising-sounding Transmission Audio MI1I loudspeakers ($4500/pair) were designed by none other than Bo Bengtsson. The speakers were coupled to a Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier, with a Korg MR 2000 playing digital files from an laptop.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Retailer Affordable Audio was showing off the very intriguing Zingali Zero Otto loudspeakers ($5999/pair) from Italy. This was the Zero Otto's US debut and I’d say they did better than fine. With its 93dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the low-powered crowd should be pleased to have another option.

Associated equipment included the Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary integrated amplifier ($3995), a Bel Canto CD2 Transport ($4999), and Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB ($3495), with cable from Cable Research Lab’s Bronze Series.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 3 comments
Kal Rubinson reviews the Sony SS-AR-1 loudspeaker ($27,000/pair) in the July 2011 Stereophile, due to hit newsstands next week, so I’d highly recommend reading his review if you want to know about these wonderful-sounding speakers. In addition to the Sony SS-AR1s, equipment in this room included Pass Labs X350.5 monoblocks, Sonoma 32 DSD multitrack recorder and editor, EMM Labs CDSD, EMM Labs DAC6SE, EMM Labs Switchman 3, with cable from Kimber Kable. System price, with two pairs of the Sony SS-AR1s, was $263,220.

We listened to a gospel track and the sound was expansive and detailed, with pinpoint imagining and all in all offered a truly moving performance. In this case, the Sonys seemed to enjoy this large ballroom, which makes me wonder what they'd be like in a normal listening room.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
San Diego-based retailer SimpliFi Audio was showing the Gradient Revolution Active loudspeaker ($11,995/pair) with the Gradient Revolution SW-D dipole subwoofer ($6995/pair), much to the chagrin of their neighbors, especially when playing organ music into the nether regions at I-think-I'm-going-to-be-sick levels. Also in use was a pair of the DSPeaker Anti-Mode 8033G ($595/each one per subwoofer) a digital room-correction device, "the cure for boomy bass." From what I heard, it works.

When I was in the room, SimpliFi was showing the Gradients with a "$500 Fosgate amplifier" and DNM $12/ft speaker wire to show that you don't need to be spendy to get flat response to 20Hz. The RA Opus 21 CDP/DAC/preamp ($3500) was being fed its music files from a laptop.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
Room 3 was owned by Burmester, no one else need apply—B30 loudspeakers ($15,995/pair), 911 amplifier ($29,995), 088 preamplifier ($28,995), 089 CD Player ($28,995), V1 rack (no price given) with, you guessed it, Transparent Cables. If Dieter from Sprockets was an audiophile, this would be his hi-fi. And Dieter loves music: "Touch my monkey."
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 07, 2011 0 comments
I was looking forward to the MBL rooms because I’ve never had the time to spend the time listening to their gear. MBL is another singular manufacturer following an extremely personal vision, yet in this case one that tries to widen the appeal, so to speak, to a larger audience. The smaller MBL system consisted of the Radialstrahler 120 loudspeakers ($21,400/pair) with stands ($1630), 9007 monoblock amplifiers ($21,400/each), 6010D preamplifier ($26,500), 1511F DAC with MBLMCMi asynchronous USB input ($11,800), and 1521A transport ($12,200). Cabling was Wireworld Eclipse 6.

This smaller system, which mixed and matched components from MBL's three lines, Reference, Noble and Corona, sounded like a smaller version of the larger system in Room 2. While this sounds like a positively idiotic thing to say, in my experience you can sometimes lose important qualities when moving down a company’s line. While this system is obviously intended for a more modest room and perhaps pocketbook, the presentation was very much cut from the same sonic cloth—resolute, incisive, powerful yet delicate when called for. I could have listened all night. And to state the obvious, the omnidirectional radiation of the Radialstrahler 120 loudspeakers energizes the room in a different way than a conventional speaker. I found MBL’s implementation enchanting. Yes, enchanting.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 06, 2011 0 comments
In an approach that's similar in some respects to the Tonian Acoustics TL-S1, the Sonist Concerto 4 ($5895/pair) marries dual, proprietary, 8" treated-paper–cone woofers to a Fountek NeoCD2.0 ribbon tweeter for a claimed frequency range of 27Hz–40kHz and 97dB sensitivity.

While Sonist had a few tube amplifiers on hand, we listened to the Audion Sterling Silver EL34 Anniversary integrated amp ($3499), the Wyred for Sound Sonos sample-rate converter ($890), which converts i2S into 96kHz, up-sampled S/PDIF, and a Wyred for Sound 32-bit DAC ($1499). The DAC has a defeatable 32-bit volume control, 2 coax inputs, 2 Toslink inputs, 1 AES/EBU input, 1 balanced i2S input via HDMI cable, and a 24-bit/192kHz asynchronous USB input. All cabling was the Cable Research Lab Bronze Series.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 06, 2011 1 comments
Sunny's mere-mortal room included two setups; Octave Audio V80 tube integrated amp ($9950), T+A Music Receiver ($3800), and the Dynaudio DM3/7 loudspeakers ($2000/pair). There was also a desktop system which consisted of the Naim Uniti ($2450) and a pair of Dynaudio Focus 100 active loudspeakers ($2400/pair).

I took a few minutes to speak to Sunil Merchant, President of Sunny's . . .

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 06, 2011 0 comments
So you want cutting edge? Innovation? I’d say the team in the HiFi One room have you covered. I hope I can do this elevator-speech version justice—the Wadax PRE1-Phono solution provides you with a custom RIAA curve optimized for your turntable to nanovolt level signal precision. They refer to this process as "mapping." How do they do it? Wadax created a laquer "master" that is played on your turntable and the Wadax musIC chip in the PRE-1 captures the associated data and sends it, wirelessly via the Internet, back to Wadax where they analyze and optimize the RIAA curve in your PRE1-Phono based on the data they captured directly from your turntable. Or maybe I should say!

And really, that's not even half the story since that PRE1 can be configured as a line-level preamplifier, preamp with integrated DAC, with the above mentioned phono stage, with "WADA optimized PureDAC mode," and as a phono stage with step-up amplifier. You should visit the Wadax website for the whole story.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 06, 2011 1 comments
The good folks from PFO had a "Hospitality Suite" mainly manned and womanned by Dave and Carol Clark. "Hospitable" is an understatement. Serving refreshments and lots of great stories of the many, many concerts they’ve attended and the music they love, Dave and Carol Clark are some nice people.

What was even nicer about the PFO Hospitality suite, in a hi-fi sense, is it also housed a system that was part of a project Dave Clark organized for the school where he teaches—Zu Audio donated a pair of unfinished Soul Superfly cabinets and Dave’s students finished 'em. I think they did a great job. They also got to listen to a cool hi-fi that included the Bel Canto C5i DAC/integrated amp, Nordost Purple Flare cabling, XLO/Ultra Power AC Power Strip, Wadia 171t, Oppo BDP-85SE universal player, and Pure Music Software.

I hate to repeat myself (not really) but if you want to attract younger people into our hobby you’re going to have to do more than talk. Bravo Mr. Clark for just doing it!

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 06, 2011 0 comments
Monrovia, CA-based retailer Brooks Berdan had one of the larger suites on the 2nd floor filled with top-of-line gear, including Wilson Audio W/P Sasha ($27,900/pair), VTL TL7.5 Series III preamp ($23,000), VTL TP6.5 phono preamp ($8500), VTL MB-450 Series III monoblock amplifiers ($18,000), dCS Puccini CD/SACD player ($18,000), dCS Puccini U-Clock ($5000), dCS Debussy DAC ($11,500), Grand Prix Audio Monaco 1.5 Turntable ($23,000), Grand Prix Audio Silverstone Isolation Component System ($22,000), and the Grand Prix Audio with cables from Cardas.

This was one of my favorite rooms but I’m not talking about sound quality in and of itself. John Quick of Tempo Sales & Marketing, dCS's US distributor, was spinning the tunes while I was in the room and between Ella and Louie, The Beatles in all their high-res glory, and let me just say you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Black Sabbath's classic "Fairies Wear Boots" blasting through a pair of Wilson Sashas. For me, the difference between good and great hi-fi resides in, and is 100% dependent upon, the music. And there a number of people in the industry who seem to really get that and John Quick is one of 'em. One hint that this may be the case is a big smile on their face as opposed to a pensive—this is very serious business—frown. I left the Brooks Berdan room energized and ready for more.

Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jun 06, 2011 0 comments
The MIT room was featuring Cary electronics and the Chapman T-8 loudspeakers ($9000/pair), which are sold factory-direct. Chapman is new to me; the T-8 is a 89dB-sensitive, 4 ohm speaker with a claimed frequency response of 28Hz–20kHz (±2dB). It uses a side-firing 10" polylaminate fiber-cone woofer, a 5½" midrange driver with butyl surround, and a 1" soft-dome tweeter. Cabling included the MIT Oracle Matrix HD Speaker Interface ($21,999) and the Oracle MA-X Rev. 2 Proline Balanced Interconnect ($12,999). I noted that there was "nice room dispersion" and "definitely no harshness."

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